The 1 Flaw Every NBA Team Can't Ignore

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 11, 2019

The 1 Flaw Every NBA Team Can't Ignore

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    There's no such thing as a perfect NBA team.

    Take last year's Golden State Warriors as an example. Despite posting the highest offensive rating in league history, the Dubs' lack of bench shooting, an affliction that persisted throughout the now-completed dynasty, loomed large when stars went down with injury.

    The Warriors' 2018-19 reserves made just 248 threes, the second-lowest total in the league. Injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson were the main reason Golden State failed to three-peat, but if one or two backups could have chipped in from the perimeter, maybe things would have turned out differently.

    Even the most imposing teams have to paper over a key frailty somewhere. Move further down the NBA food chain, and weaknesses multiply. In fact, the worse the team, the harder it is to isolate just one critical shortcoming.

    All 30 teams have a glaring flaw, and we're here to point them out.

Atlanta Hawks: Backup Point Guard

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    Evan Turner has never had much value off the ball, so there's a logic to the Atlanta Hawks' putting the rock in his hands as an oversized backup point guard.

    In fact, this isn't quite as bizarre of an experiment as it may seem; Turner logged 48 percent of his minutes at the 1 last year with the Portland Trail Blazers. Despite a 2018-19 attack that hummed overall, Portland's Turner-at-point minutes produced an offensive efficiency that ranked in the 19th percentile when he played without CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard.

    That suggests that while Turner could play the point, he couldn't play it all that well.

    When the Hawks took Trae Young off the floor last year, their offense dipped by 6.6 points per 100 possessions. Turner represents a creative approach to the problem, but there's not much evidence he's good enough at the job to avoid a similarly ugly split this year.

    For a Hawks team that isn't going to stop anyone, another punchless bench offense could mean trouble.

Boston Celtics: Pick-and-Roll Defense

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    Boston Celtics opponents won't have to expend much mental energy deciding how to attack. With Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter slated to start (though Kanter's status may now be uncertain), the 1-5 pick-and-roll should be every team's first, last and best option for easy buckets.

    Kanter allowed 1.23 points per possession to roll men last year, which ranked in the 18th percentile. And let us never forget "Can't play Kanter."

    Walker, passably, graded out in the 56th percentile for points allowed to ball-handlers. But his lack of size rules out switches, and if we assume Kanter is in drop coverage, Walker won't have the length to bother shooters when he chases them over the top of the high pick without help.

    So much of quality defense depends on short-circuiting an opponent's preferred method of attack, on forcing them to employ plan B. Unless Boston breaks out some funky coverages, every team it plays will gladly run a classic point guard-center pick-and-roll all night.

Brooklyn Nets: The Importance of Taurean Prince

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    The idea of Taurean Prince has always intrigued. A wing with good size, tools (and a rookie performance) that suggested considerable defensive upside and a career 38.0 percent hit rate from deep all weighed in Prince's favor.

    Yet there he was, coming back seemingly as a throw-in, at best a flier, when the Brooklyn Nets dumped Allen Crabbe's salary on the Hawks. And now here he is, the likely starting power forward and wing stopper for a Nets team that lacks better alternatives for either gig.

    As a reclamation project in a small role, Prince makes sense. But the Nets seem to be foisting far too much responsibility on a player whose reputation exceeds his production. There's no ignoring Prince's reliable shooting; that'll help stretch the floor in Brooklyn. But his court vision and playmaking are among the worst of any forward in the league, and Atlanta's defense performed better without him on the floor in each of the last two seasons.

    If he replicates a 2016-17 performance that hinted at real defensive prowess (which now feels like an outlier), maybe Prince can give Brooklyn the two-way boost it needs in a thin frontcourt. With Kevin Durant (injury), Wilson Chandler (suspension) and Rodions Kurucs (assault charge) unsure bets to fill the void, Prince is suddenly a critical piece in Brooklyn.

    That's not ideal.

Charlotte Hornets: A Kemba-Less Offense

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    With Kemba Walker on the floor, the Charlotte Hornets scored 112.1 points per 100 possessions, a figure that matched the seventh-ranked Denver Nuggets' full-season figure for offensive efficiency. When Walker sat, the Hornets scored at a rate more than a full point below the league-worst New York Knicks.

    Few teams depended on a single player for offensive success more than the Hornets did on Walker last year, so his absence creates a void only a superstar could fill.

    Terry Rozier is not a superstar.

    In four seasons, Rozier has never ranked above the 37th percentile at his position in points per shot attempt, and his assist percentage topped out in the 44th percentile two years ago. Compounding the problem, Charlotte projects to give its backup point guard minutes (occupied primarily by Tony Parker last year) to sophomore Devonte' Graham.

    The Hornets are going to miss Walker...and a whole lot of shots.

Chicago Bulls: A Strange Frontcourt Logjam

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    The Chicago Bulls won 22 games and ranked 27th in net rating last year, so they offer plenty to choose from in the flaw department. Wing depth behind starters Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. is a major issue, and 2018-19's No. 28 effective field-goal percentage illustrates across-the-board offensive woes.

    We'll hit sketchy wing rotations with several other teams, though, and the Bulls have a fascinatingly paradoxical problem to solve up front.

    The jury is out on whether Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. can share the floor effectively. The duo logged just 871 possessions together last year, largely because of Carter's injury-shortened season, and the result was a minus-14.0 net rating. Chicago simply couldn't score when those two played simultaneously, and the defense wasn't anything special either.

    The Bulls have every incentive to see if their pair of lottery-selected bigs can function together; they are keys to the organization's long-range plans. But the addition of Thaddeus Young almost certainly means one or the other will sit out high-leverage minutes. Young's days of even occasional use at the 3 ended a decade ago, and it certainly appears he's on the roster as a veteran defensive presence who, in theory, will settle the kids late in games.

    Chicago intends to make the playoffs, and playing Young may be one of the best ways to realize that goal. It just doesn't seem worth it to marginalize a potential cornerstone in the bargain.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Historically Crummy Defense

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    No defense has ever been worse than the one the Cleveland Cavaliers fielded in 2018-19, which set an all-time record by allowing 117.6 points per 100 possessions.

    Cleveland's rebuild is in its infancy, so we're dealing with an expected dearth of experience, depth and talent across the board. Still, it's startling to think the Cavs could actually be worse on D than they were a year ago.

    David Nwaba, probably the team's best perimeter stopper, is gone. Kevin Love, who saw action in just 22 games last season, is healthy and primed to play more as the Cavs (hopefully) showcase him for a potential trade. He's not going to help generate stops.

    Maybe pride will compel Cleveland to shore things up, and it's possible Collin Sexton's Very Intense Defense Face (pictured above) will frighten opposing guards more than it did last season. Or perhaps the Cavs' luck will turn, and opponents won't shoot a league-best 38 percent from deep again.

    One can hope...

Dallas Mavericks: Small Forward

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    Dorian Finney-Smith can defend, Tim Hardaway Jr. will get shots up and Justin Jackson is, well...let's just say there's a line between extremely low usage and invisibility, and Jackson lives on it.

    The Dallas Mavericks are among a gaggle of teams that'll vie for one of the bottom playoff spots in the West. Their margin for error will be small, and the difference between a postseason trip and the lottery could depend on a clutch minute here or there.

    That's where the Mavs' lack of a trustworthy two-way small forward could hurt.

    Maybe Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will produce enough offense on their own to make Finney-Smith and his career 30.3 percent conversion rate from deep playable late in games. Or maybe Jackson will take an improbable leap forward in his age-24 season.

    As it stands now, though, Dallas has a clear hole in its starting (and closing) unit—one that may determine its playoff status in the cutthroat West.

Denver Nuggets: Ignoring the Corners

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    Nobody surrendered more corner threes than the Denver Nuggets last year. If Mike Malone's team isn't careful, the defensive gains that propelled Denver to 10th in opponents' points per possession last season could evaporate.

    The Nuggets weren't necessarily lucky last year, as opposing offenses hit a middling 38.4 percent of those short-corner looks. But it still seems like a suboptimal strategy to give up so many high-expected-value shots.

    There may not be much Denver can do about it. The Nuggets might be making a conscious choice in their coverage strategy, shutting down the high-pick-and-roll as best it can with Nikola Jokic's limited mobility and committing to bringing a little too much help off corner shooters.

    Denver could vary its coverages and experiment with hiding Jokic elsewhere (Jerami Grant's defensive versatility may make that easier), but we should expect teams to continue attacking in ways that produce a similar shot profile.

Detroit Pistons: Close-Range Woes

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    If the Detroit Pistons want to improve on last year's bottom-10 finish in offensive efficiency, they should start by tweaking their shot profile.

    The Pistons took just 35.2 percent of their shots at the rim, which ranked 22nd in the league. They converted 61.0 percent of those attempts, which ranked 23rd.

    If it were easy to get to the cup and finish, everyone would do it. Detroit's subpar performance at close range is indicative of a 2018-19 roster short on backcourt creators. Point-blank looks are hard to come by if a perimeter player can't pierce the defense and either finish himself or draw enough attention for a drop-off pass.

    Derrick Rose drove 610 times last year, the second-most by any player with under 1,400 minutes of action. He should help the Pistons get a few more chances at the kinds of looks efficient offenses tend to get. Rose aside, the Pistons didn't add much in the way of downhill attackers.

Golden State Warriors: Wing Defense

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    Nobody truly stops the league's top offensive wings, but a critical part of the Golden State Warriors' five-year Finals run was having a handful of great options to slow down the likes of LeBron James, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and all the rest.

    Klay Thompson won't play until after the All-Star break. Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant are gone. Even Shaun Livingston, who seemed to lose a half-step each of the last three years before retiring after the 2018-19 season, is off the table. So now, when the Dubs square up with imposing wing threats, they'll summon...Alfonzo McKinnie?

    Draymond Green has always made an impact as a roving, switching, play-reading force, but even he can't make up for the dearth of stopping power on this dramatically altered roster.

    Stephen Curry will light it up, and D'Angelo Russell can keep points coming at a respectable clip whenever the Warriors' two-time MVP sits. But it'll be a miracle if Golden State fields a better-than-average defense with this personnel.

Houston Rockets: Russell Westbrook Standing Around

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    Despite Russell Westbrook's status as one of the most dynamic athletes the league has ever seen, his lack of movement is equally noteworthy.

    Over the last four years, which is as far back as's publicly available tracking data goes, he's never finished more than 1.9 percent of his offensive possessions with a cut. That was 2015-16; last year, he was at 1.5 percent.

    Two years ago, he set just 24 ball screens in 86 games.

    Historically, whenever Russ doesn't have the ball, he's divorced from the action, standing still, often so far above the three-point line and out of the play that he's not even in the TV broadcast picture.

    Some of this inactivity is excusable. Westbrook has been as ball-dominant as any player in the league, and charitable observers might contend he earned the rest. Even that specious argument is off the table now.

    Westbrook is a second option to James Harden, perhaps the single greatest individual generator of offense who has ever played. So Westbrook will either spend a whole lot more time standing around, passively observing plays and generally being unhelpful...or he can get moving.

    As a second-side weapon attacking a scrambling defense, Westbrook could be a devastating force. After years of attacking defenses with eyes trained solely on him, he has an opportunity to catch the ball on the move and zip past opponents who haven't even turned their heads yet.

    Westbrook's willingness to get moving could be the difference between a historically potent Houston offense and one that spends too much time playing four-on-five.

Indiana Pacers: Playmaking...Until Victor Oladipo Returns

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    Malcolm Brogdon is a fine combo guard (who'll spend most of his time at the point with the Indiana Pacers), but he's not the type to break down a defense and create chances for others. He can hit a shot, drive a closeout and finish effectively, despite a lack of top-end lift, but Indy won't get consistent creation from him.

    Aaron Holiday could pop in his second season, but he has a long way to go after finishing in the 7th percentile among point guards in assist percentage as a rookie. T.J. McConnell tries hard, but he's never been a high-usage threat at the 1.

    If Victor Oladipo is back in 2017-18 form when he returns, the Pacers will have the defense-shatterer they need. Nobody could stay in front of him during his breakout campaign two years ago—whether in the pick-and-roll or in isolation. When he had a head of steam, the play was already over.

    Until then, though, Indiana will have to manufacture points without a reliable playmaking guard.

Los Angeles Clippers: Passing

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    Lou Williams is the only player on the Los Angeles Clippers who ranked among the top 50 in assist percentage last year. While he's a shifty pick-and-roll savant who seems to share a mind meld with Montrezl Harrell, he's not a conventional, keep-the-ball-hopping distributor.

    This probably doesn't matter. The Clips have enough spacing and star power to stretch defenses all across the floor. Nothing mitigates underwhelming passing like clear sightlines and wide-open windows through which to fling the ball.

    Still, effective passing is a skill, one that's hard to quantify. It takes feel, timing and touch—not to mention deeper strategic thinking and unselfishness.

    Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are serviceable passers. When defenders close down scoring routes, they're capable of getting rid of the ball to an open teammate or making the obvious read in the pick-and-roll. But giving the ball up can feel like a last resort for them (which is understandable; they're both dynamite scorers).

    Neither is the type to intuit the action three moves ahead, manipulate the defense and set up a teammate, intending that result all along.

    A lack of natural ball-movers will only hurt L.A. against the very best defenses at the very highest level of competition. But that's exactly what they're likely to see in the final stages of their title pursuit, so it seems worth pointing out this (admittedly small) issue now.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Potential for Coaching Controversy

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    Pair up LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and you've got a solution for virtually any problem that might crop up during the course of a season.

    The Los Angeles Lakers' lack of a quality point guard hurts less with James, as dangerous a primary ball-handler as there has ever been. He and Davis are versatile and skilled enough to paper over holes everywhere. In fact, the wins those two will produce could even prevent the emergence of a coaching controversy.

    All the same, there's potential for tumult.

    Frank Vogel wasn't the Lakers' first choice, and he's got Jason Kidd a couple of seats over, which is scary because Kidd has angled for others' jobs from much further away than that.

    James tends to make things tough on new coaches—just ask Erik Spoelstra and David Blatt—which only adds to the potential for discord. If Kidd senses an opportunity amid unrest, perhaps to leverage a relationship with James into Vogel's job, his history suggests he'll try to capitalize.

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grind

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    Grind (and its close cousin, Grit) used to represent the best parts of the Memphis Grizzlies' identity. Now, a very young Grizzlies squad will find itself at risk of being ground down by a season of steady pummeling.

    Oh, the irony.

    Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant are both just 20 years old, and they're the pillars of a team projected to be one of the worst in the West. If the Phoenix Suns make a leap, Memphis could be the only in-conference pushover opponents see on the schedule. Forget the Wolves; the Grizzlies are about to get thrown to the Kings, Mavericks, Spurs and everyone else they play (East patsies excluded).

    Sustained underdog status can sometimes breed resiliency, but the Grizz are going to be at a talent and experience deficit most nights. That can wear on a young team, potentially ingraining bad habits and leading to a roster-wide checkout sometime in February.

    New head coach Taylor Jenkins has plenty of teaching to do with this promising young core, but his toughest job might be keeping everyone engaged as the losses mount.

Miami Heat: Rim Protection

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    After last year's No. 26 finish in scoring efficiency, focusing on anything but the Miami Heat's offense feels like a mistake. But Jimmy Butler, a healthier Goran Dragic and the inevitable, glorious emergence of cult figure Tyler Herro should be enough to drag the Miami Heat's attack toward respectability.

    A lack of rim defense might be the larger concern.

    Hassan Whiteside chased blocks at the expense of defensive positioning, and the Heat's defensive rating was consistently better with him off the floor. But he was a clear deterrent inside, knocking 5.4 percentage points off opponents' accuracy at the rim last year, a figure that ranked in the 95th percentile among bigs. His trade to the Portland Trail Blazers leaves the Heat short on rim protection.

    Bam Adebayo is a more dynamic and versatile defender than Whiteside, but he ranked 53rd in field-goal percentage allowed at the rim among 72 players who defended at least 230 shots last year. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard project to play most of the center minutes behind Adebayo, and both are worse at defending the rim than he is.

    If Adebayo makes a leap in his third season, it could render this hand-wringing moot. If he doesn't, the Heat's defense, long a strength, could take a hit.

Milwaukee Bucks: Guard Rotation

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    Though injury limited him to seven of a possible 15 playoff games, Malcolm Brogdon was arguably the Milwaukee Bucks' best backcourt weapon when the games mattered most. He led all Bucks guards in postseason minutes per game and, perhaps more importantly, average plus-minus per game.

    With him gone, the Bucks will lean heavily on the demonstrably unreliable (in the playoffs, anyway) Eric Bledsoe and veteran holdover George Hill.

    If Hill reprises his 2019 postseason efforts—11.5 points and 2.8 assists on a 53.4/41.7/81.8 shooting split—maybe the Bucks will be fine. But if Hill's 2020 playoff numbers regress as expected, and if Bledsoe continues his streak of big-game disappearances, Milwaukee may have to put greater trust in Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo and Sterling Brown. All three can contribute in limited ways, but asking them to sop up significant high-leverage minutes feels risky.

    The Bucks have all season to evaluate their backcourt options, and it's possible Bledsoe will finally pull it together in April and May. But for now, on a team with few frailties, the backcourt rotation is a relatively conspicuous weakness.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Wing Scoring

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    It's a good thing Karl-Anthony Towns is practically a quality offense unto himself, because the Minnesota Timberwolves may struggle to find efficient scoring from anyone else—particularly their wings.

    We'll exclude Robert Covington from this. He's a career 36.0 percent shooter from deep on substantial volume and makes such a big defensive difference that head coach Ryan Saunders would be justified in playing him if he couldn't shoot a lick.

    Rookie Jarrett Culver has yet to prove himself, Josh Okogie shot 27.9 percent from deep as a rookie and Andrew Wiggins' offense has become so reliably empty that we should think about labeling any 6-of-17 shooting night "a Wiggins."

    Minnesota could absolutely score at a top-10 clip this season, but it'll be in spite of a wing rotation that projects to pile up the bricks.

New Orleans Pelicans: Health Risks

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    Brandon Ingram is fresh off a frightening end to his 2018-19 season, and Lonzo Ball has missed 65 games over two years. If those two can't stay healthy, the New Orleans Pelicans will be short a pair of critical distributors, leaving Jrue Holiday and perhaps Zion Williamson as the team's only trustworthy playmaking options.

    You know what, though? Pegging health as the biggest potential flaw is actually a positive for the Pels. It underscores their depth of talent on both ends.

    Few teams have more young upside, and the sheer breadth of lineup combinations is overwhelming. Holiday and Ball can play either guard spot, and both are useful defensive options against three positions. Williamson, a walking matchup nightmare, can initiate offense and score from any frontcourt spot, while JJ Redick, E'Twaun Moore and intriguing newcomer Nicolo Melli stretch the floor.

    That's to say nothing of the conventional heft up front. Derrick Favors, Jahlil Okafor and rookie Jaxson Hayes can all contribute.

    If New Orleans keeps its key figures healthy, the sky is the limit—even in what some expect to be a developmental season.

New York Knicks: All of the Flaws

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    At the risk of rejecting the premise behind this whole exercise, there's no way to dial in on just one New York Knicks flaw.

    None of the point guards on the roster can shoot, which basically means the Knicks begin every pick-and-roll at a disadvantage. The two guys on the roster you'd trust to hit a shot—Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock—are limited role-fillers who'll only be in the way of the youth New York should be trying to develop, like RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox. Bullock won't even be re-evaluated until November following offseason neck surgery, so it's possible he won't be an option for a chunk of the season.

    There are 47 power forwards (rough count) on the roster, none of whom project as long-termers, and lone beacon of hope Mitchell Robinson will have far too many messes to clean up inside. If the Knicks want to hone his defensive instincts in a sensible system, they built a nonsensical roster (except for Taj Gibson; he's got wisdom to impart).

    When you win 17 games and spend the summer adding pieces in such a haphazard fashion, you don't get to escape this analysis like the other 29 teams.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Looming Uncertainty

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    A scenario exists in which the veteran-led Oklahoma City Thunder complete the season without making a significant trade and reach the playoffs looking dangerous. There are worse combinations to bring to the postseason than experience and a feeling that there's nothing to lose.

    The likelier outcome, though, is that the Thunder struggle to overcome the uncertainty sure to define their season.

    Chris Paul will be the subject of trade chatter until he's moved. Danilo Gallinari is on an expiring deal. Even Steven Adams could go as OKC leans harder into the rebuild that began with the offseason trades of Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Jerami Grant.

    Even in the best circumstances, it can be tough to generate unity and buy-in on a roster fresh off significant turnover. With everyone expecting further change in Oklahoma City, the challenge will be even greater.

Orlando Magic: That Ugly Free-Throw Rate

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    The Orlando Magic retained the entire core of last year's 42-win team. If they're going to juice that win total, last year's No. 7 seed will need its stretch-run improvement on D to carry over. Steps forward from a handful of young players wouldn't hurt, either.

    Aaron Gordon is a perennial breakout candidate, Jonathan Isaac probably deserves that designation even more than Gordon, and the early signs on sophomore Mo Bamba (whose excision from the rotation coincided with the Magic's defensive surge last year) are promising.

    All that said, it's going to be tough for the Magic to lift their ceiling if they don't find a way to avoid another last-place ranking in free-throw rate.

    Orlando ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency last year, the lowest finish of any playoff team. If it can't generate a few more easy (or free) points, all the defense in the world may not be enough to produce a return playoff trip.

Philadelphia 76ers: Clutch Butler Replacement

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    The Philadelphia 76ers' fourth-quarter offensive rating was 8.3 points per 100 possessions higher with Jimmy Butler on the floor last season.

    Joel Embiid led Philadelphia in clutch usage, but Butler was right behind him. And perhaps more tellingly, it was Butler, not de facto point guard Ben Simmons, who topped the Sixers in clutch assist percentage. In the playoffs, Butler's crunch-time role only got bigger.

    With him gone, it'll be fascinating to see who shoulders that responsibility.

    It's possible this won't turn out to be a real issue. Embiid will overwhelm opponents late, living at the line, and Al Horford adds another slick facilitator to the mix. It's not like the Sixers will have nowhere to go for a bucket without Butler.

    Still, they'll have to find an approach to replace the one they clearly favored when stakes were highest last season.

Phoenix Suns: Defensive Rebounding

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    When you win 19 games and rank in the bottom three of both offensive and defensive efficiency, you've got more than your share of problems. Focusing on any one flaw for the Phoenix Suns is a little like looking at a dinghy with 50 softball-sized holes in the hull and saying with certainty, "There, that one! That's the hole that made this thing sink."

    Let's try to get past the sheer breadth of options and zero in on defensive rebounding rate, where the Suns ranked dead last in 2018-19.

    Deandre Ayton held his own underneath as a rookie, grabbing a strong 26.1 percent of available defensive rebounds. But he'll need help.

    Aron Baynes has long been a decent glass-cleaner, but he slipped into the 43rd percentile at his position last year, and Dario Saric was even worse among his positional peers. Phoenix's two main frontcourt additions don't have much to offer here.

    While offensive rebounding rate can fluctuate depending on a coach's schemes, defensive boardwork is generally about effort, positioning and physicality. Some teams punt on the offensive glass in the interest of getting back in transition. Everyone wants to keep opponents from getting second shots.

    If the Suns get better on the defensive boards, it may signal they're bought in and ready to compete at a higher level than they were a year ago. If they don't, it'll be hard to imagine them with a win total beyond the mid-20s.

Portland Trail Blazers: Defensive Disruption

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    The Portland Trail Blazers weren't built to generate turnovers before they swapped out their rangy and tenacious forward combo of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless for Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood. Heading into 2019-20, they're even less likely to make opposing offenses uncomfortable.

    Head coach Terry Stotts has long preferred to drop his center in pick-and-roll coverage, which is effective in keeping the pick-and-roll action in front of the big man. But it isn't exactly the most aggressive approach. Neither Damian Lillard nor CJ McCollum are ballhawks, and the new wing rotation lacks disruptive forces.

    Hassan Whiteside will prevent clean looks at the rim, but he isn't mobile or attentive enough to do damage further out on the floor. Stotts will likely be even more conservative with him than he was with Jusuf Nurkic last season.

    Unless Zach Collins improbably becomes a turnover-generating force, the Blazers are likely to be even less effective at forcing mistakes than they were last year...when they ranked 29th in opponent turnovers.

Sacramento Kings: Half-Court Offense

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    Transition play defined the 2018-19 Sacramento Kings. With rocket-propelled De'Aaron Fox leading the charge, Sacramento put an extreme emphasis on pushing the pace.

    It was a sound strategy. Sacramento ranked first in transition frequency and second in points added via transition plays per 100 possessions. The Kings struggled whenever defenses slowed them down, though, ranking 22nd in half-court scoring efficiency.

    Following a 39-win season that demanded opponents' attention, the Kings can't expect to surprise anyone with their relentless running. The book is out, and while it won't be easy to keep Fox from breaking games open with his speed, everyone the Kings play will have "limit transition opportunities" underlined on the pre-game whiteboard.

    Sacramento hopes to make the playoffs, and it has a real chance to do so. Its fate may depend on finding ways to score when the defense is set.

San Antonio Spurs: Too Many Cooks in the Backcourt

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    Dejounte Murray was supposed to be last year's breakout San Antonio Spur, but a torn ACL shelved him and allowed Derrick White to fill that role. Those two will both deserve major minutes in 2019-20, but so will veterans Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli, who helmed one of the league's most effective reserve units last year.

    Don't forget about gunner Bryn Forbes and his career 40.6 percent hit rate from long range. Or second-year guard Lonnie Walker IV, who had some eye-opening moments in summer league and should be eager to prove himself after playing in just 17 games as a rookie.

    Oh, there's also this DeMar DeRozan guy who's been an All-Star four times and has the ability to generate moderately efficient offense at high volume, an underrated skill.

    That's six guards to juggle even if DeRozan slides to the 3 as often as he did a year ago.

    San Antonio can't ride veterans such as Mills, DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge forever. It has to develop its young guards and determine which warrant the largest roles. It's a good problem to have, but a roster glut like this one is still a real issue.

Toronto Raptors: Wing Rotation

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    Chances are, the Toronto Raptors will close games with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet on the floor together. They'll be undersized, but VanVleet's defensive tenacity works against larger opponents, and Lowry is as tough and savvy as they come.

    When the minutes really matter, Toronto should be fine. It's just that there are so many other minutes to fill at shooting guard.

    Norman Powell projects to start there, and OG Anunoby is a good bet to rebound after a lost sophomore season. Neither are locks to be above-average contributors at their positions, though, and the Raptors have very little off the bench behind them. Patrick McCaw is unproven, and this season feels like Stanley Johnson's last chance to demonstrate he's an NBA player.

    Pascal Siakam could play the 3, but sliding down a position would remove the quickness advantage he has over opposing power forwards while also pressing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into a non-small-ball center role. Not ideal.

    The Raps look like a playoff team. But without Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, they're nowhere near as deep on the wing.

Utah Jazz: Frontcourt Heft

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    Say this for the Utah Jazz: When they decide to pivot, they pivot all the way.

    The Rudy Gobert-Derrick Favors frontcourt couldn't score and didn't offer enough spacing for an offense that also had to contend with Ricky Rubio's inability to threaten defenses from the perimeter. Gobert-Favors minutes produced a 105.3 offensive rating that was right in line with the Suns' 2018-19 offensive rating, which ranked 28th in the league.

    Utah has Mike Conley in Rubio's spot now, a substantial upgrade, but an overhaul of the forward spots might be just as meaningful. Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic figure to start unless Royce O'Neale's defense forces head coach Quin Snyder's hand. Regardless, Utah won't have Favors' size up front anymore. Jae Crowder, a sturdy option in his own right, is also gone.

    When you've got Gobert patrolling the back line and a history of offensive collapses in the playoffs, this type of retooling makes sense.

    But the Jazz are starkly, meaningfully different now. And unless Jeff Green is ready to throw his weight around, there's really not a trustworthy conventional 4 on the roster. Fortunately, there aren't exactly a ton of teams trotting out bulky 6'10" power forwards who'll overpower Utah's downsized options.

    Additional good news: Whatever weakness this shift might generate on defense and on the glass should be offset by vastly improved spacing, passing and shooting on the other end.

Washington Wizards: The Hopelessness of It All

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    Unless you're a true believer in the powers of Ish Smith and Thomas Bryant, the Washington Wizards have precisely one unquestionable NBA-caliber starter on their roster.

    That guy, Bradley Beal, has been and will be the subject of trade rumors until the Wizards finally realize their only sensible way forward (and the only way to avoid losing him for nothing in 2021 free agency) is to turn those rumors into reality.

    It's not a great sign when the most compelling angle of a season is the inevitable trade of your best player.

    Washington heads into 2019-20 with John Wall's albatross deal on its books, Beal's looming departure and a rotation bereft of hope-inspiring youth. It's going to be an epic struggle to keep this roster (and the fans) engaged beyond November.


    Stats courtesy of, Cleaning the Glass and Basketball Reference unless otherwise indicated. Salary information via Basketball Insiders.