Every Rebuilding NBA Team's Biggest Need Right Now
Every rebuilding NBA team needs something.
If they didn't, their rebuilding project would be complete, right?
These clubs are in the process of restructuring their rosters. While most are predictably coming off abysmal seasons, not every team that flopped in 2018-19 is now a rebuilder. Non-playoff participants like the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks, for instance, have assembled enough young talent that they're much closer to built than still building.
The following eight teams, though, are still setting up their infrastructures. Some have solid foundations that just need the proper supporting pieces. Others are operating with blank canvasses and require complete overhauls.
By combining past production with future projections, we have pinpointed the most critical need for each of these clubs.
Atlanta Hawks: Center
The Atlanta Hawks are almost ready to take flight. Nearly every position has at least one prospect with good-to-great potential.
Point guard Trae Young seemingly took a superstar turn after the All-Star break, averaging 24.7 points and 9.2 assists. Power forward John Collins is already a near-nightly supplier of 20 points and 10 boards. Shooting guard Kevin Huerter boasts a lethal long-range stroke. The wing spot might have a three-and-D ace in De'Andre Hunter, plus a high-ceiling wild card in Cam Reddish.
It all sounds so enticing until you glance at the center spot.
Alex Len is a 2013 top-five pick who's spent the past six seasons climbing to the level of sorta OK. Damian Jones is a three-year pro with all of 49 games under his belt. Bruno Fernando is a second-round rookie with obvious tools but indeterminate skills.
Last season, Atlanta's centers ranked 26th in NBA.com's player impact estimate. This season, the group might regress since steady veteran Dewayne Dedmon departed in free agency. Unless the Hawks plan to lean heavily on small-ball units, they'll need an upgrade at the 5 to complete their rebuild.
Charlotte Hornets: Star Potential
Name one person who sees superstar potential in Terry Rozier.
Actually, let's try that again. Name one person not named Terry Rozier (or Aaron Turner, his agent) who sees superstar potential in Terry Rozier. You can't.
With career marks of 38.0 percent shooting from the field and a 12.8 player efficiency rating, the jury is very much out on whether he can be a legitimate starting NBA point guard, let alone a difference-making talent. Even Charlotte Hornets general manager Mitch Kupchak, who deemed Rozier worthy of a three-year, $58 million pact, could only offer this half-hearted endorsement on a conference call: "I believe he can score in this league."
Rozier shouldn't be any team's top talent, but who else would get that label in Buzz City?
Nicolas Batum is an average role player who just happens to be paid like a star ($25.6 million this season, $27.1 million player option the next). Malik Monk is a scoring guard who doesn't score efficiently (career 37.6 percent shooting). Miles Bridges and PJ Washington might top out as solid support pieces.
Unless principal owner Michael Jordan laces back up, this team has no identifiable superstar for the present or the future.
Chicago Bulls: Playmaker
The Chicago Bulls potentially found their point guard of the future when Coby White fell into their laps as the seventh overall pick of the 2019 NBA draft. But they may soon discover their itch for a quarterback remains unscratched.
White is a blur in the open court and an ignitable shooter from range. Those assets will help the Windy City—he and Zach LaVine should put on fast-break fireworks shows—but won't change the fact this is one of the Association's worst passing teams. In 2018-19, the Bulls ranked 27th in assist percentage, 27th in assists, 29th in potential assists and 30th in hockey assists.
White could top out as a secondary playmaker, which is also the best hope for LaVine. Lauri Markkanen can find his own shots but doesn't create them for others. Newcomer Tomas Satoransky likes to share the sugar, but if he snags a starting spot, he's probably only keeping the seat warm until White is ready to claim it.
The Bulls have more scoring options than last season's 29th-place finish in offensive efficiency would have you think. They just need a natural floor general to connect all the dots.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Stoppers
Last season, the Golden State Warriors set the league's all-time mark for offensive efficiency. They shot 49.1 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from distance.
Impressive stuff, right?
But do you know who was almost equally proficient on the point-producing end? The Cleveland Cavaliers' opponents. In fact, they outshot the Dubs from the field (49.5 percent) and nearly matched them from range (38.0). Not coincidentally, the Cavs set their own all-time record by raising the bar for defensive inefficiency.
One might assume, then, that Cleveland raced out this offseason to find players capable of stopping the bleeding, but nope.
The Cavs' biggest addition was No. 5 pick Darius Garland, who Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman succinctly said "won't add any value on defense." Up next was 26th pick Dylan Windler, who could be targeted for lacking NBA strength and quickness. They also didn't unload Kevin Love, who struggles to defend both at the rim and on the perimeter.
It might be impossible for this defense to get worse, but it won't get better without substantial personnel changes.
Memphis Grizzlies: 2-Way Wings
Death, taxes, the Memphis Grizzlies needing difference-making wings—some things in life never change.
While Beale Street is justifiably buzzing about the potentially transformational pairing of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., the wings remain the same soft spots they were in the Grit-'n'-Grind era. The good news is a multitude of internal candidates are available to address that problem. The not-so-great news is all those players have question marks.
Dillon Brooks is coming off an injury-riddled campaign and is still in search of his first double-digit player efficiency rating. Josh Jackson arrives after he was sent packing by the rebuilding Phoenix Suns only two years after they spent the fourth overall pick on him. Grayson Allen was, statistically speaking, one of last season's five worst players. Bruno Caboclo has appeared serviceable for roughly two months of his five-year NBA career.
Kyle Anderson and Jae Crowder will enter the wing mix out of necessity, even though both are best utilized as small-ball 4s in today's game. European import Marko Guduric is entirely unproven at this level. Andre Iguodala is only as valuable to this team as whatever he brings back on the trade market.
Even if the Morant-Jackson pairing proves elite, Memphis might be stuck in the mud until it significantly improves the perimeter spots around it.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Long-Term Point Guard
Jeff Teague is a 31-year-old who just posted his worst PER in nearly a decade. While injuries surely contributed to his struggles (he missed 40 games), this could also have marked the onset of his decline.
Even if it didn't, the Minnesota Timberwolves need a younger floor general to lead the future of their rebuild.
Both Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones departed in free agency, and neither was really replaced. The only incoming point guard with a guaranteed contract is Shabazz Napier, an undersized scoring guard with a career 39.3 field-goal percentage. Otherwise, they have a non-guaranteed deal with Tyrone Wallace, an athlete with limited range, and a two-way pact with Jordan McLaughlin, who spent last season in the G League.
Minnesota must upgrade this spot, preferably sooner than later since Karl-Anthony Towns is about to start his fifth season.
New York Knicks: Talent
So much for the New York Knicks totally redeeming themselves this summer.
But reality hit the Knicks harder than prime Mike Tyson, and they were forced to send a damage-control statement on the opening night of free agency. When their superstar plan fell apart, they shifted to Julius Randle, a 2014 top-10 pick headed to his third team in three years, and seemingly every other power forward on the market. They didn't sabotage their future flexibility, but they also didn't snag any stars.
They should have at least a few keepers among their young core, but Mitchell Robinson could emerge as the best of the bunch and never see his offensive range reach beyond the restricted area.
In other words, they don't have an established star. And with question marks surrounding RJ Barrett's shooting range and one-on-one game, they may not have an elite prospect, either.
Phoenix Suns: 2-Way Players
It's possible the Phoenix Suns have already found their franchise anchors in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, which would give them a leg up on several of their rebuilding brethren. But neither youngster qualifies as a two-way contributor, and that's an issue that plagues nearly this entire team.
Booker might be on a short list of the Association's most electric scorers, but he's also one of the game's most generous defenders. Last season, he ranked 496th out of 514 players in ESPN's defensive real plus-minus. Ayton, meanwhile, landed 51st among 70 centers.
Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr. have theoretical three-and-D upside, but neither wears that label just yet. Bridges shot a below-average 33.5 percent from distance as a rookie. Oubre's career perimeter conversion rate is a disappointing 32.1, and he's graded out as a negative defender in each of his four NBA seasons.
Ricky Rubio can't shoot. Aron Baynes doesn't score. Cameron Johnson is a shooting specialist. Tyler Johnson struggles as a shot-creator and defender. Ty Jerome faces substantial physical challenges to make a successful NBA transition. Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky aren't locking anyone down.
For a rebuilding team, the Suns have a decent amount of talent, but too much of it only contributes on one end of the floor.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.