Your Favorite NBA Team's Biggest Problem

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterNovember 7, 2019

Your Favorite NBA Team's Biggest Problem

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    Every NBA team has a weakness, despite what its roster or record may indicate.

    Whether it be sloppy perimeter defense, a turnover-happy point guard or a lack of leadership, an Achilles' heel can be found, even on the best teams in the league.

    With nearly 10 percent of the season complete, here's every NBA team's biggest flaw thus far.

Getting Defensive

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    Charlotte Hornets: interior defense

    The Hornets aren't as good as their 4-3 record would indicate, but it's still a better team than most expected for a franchise left for dead by Kemba Walker's departure.

    One major weakness has been opponents' success at the rim. Charlotte is only blocking 3.4 shots per game (next to last overall) and is allowing opposing teams to shoot 67.0 percent at the rim, 27th overall.


    Houston Rockets: defensive desire

    The declining play of Eric Gordon gets a shoutout here, but even more concerning is the team's awful defensive start.

    Outside of PJ Tucker, it's tough to find anyone who takes defense seriously on a possession-by-possession basis. At times Houston looks bored, eager just to get the ball back and go to work offensively.

    The Rockets' defensive rating has fallen from 110.1 (17th overall) a season ago to 113.6 (28th). Giving up 158 points in regulation to a woeful Washington Wizards squad should have sounded the alarms.


    Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James' midseason defensive slumber

    The blueprint for James' seasons have become well-known.

    Get off to a strong start on both ends of the ball, set the tone and try to get all teammates involved. With a superstar in Anthony Davis and some talented role players, that shouldn't be a problem.

    Usually, James' teams are featured in a big Christmas Day matchup as well. The intensity is still high at this time. From about Christmas until the February trade deadline, James' defensive effort, well, leaves much to be desired.

    This midseason hibernation may be necessary to prepare his body for a potentially long playoff run, but it can also lead to bad habits and those around him picking up the defensive slack. For a Lakers team thriving, we'll see how teammates react to James' now-expected lack of effort.

Getting Offensive

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    Brooklyn Nets: inability to post up

    Even without Kevin Durant, the Nets aren't having any problems scoring the basketball.

    Five players are averaging 14.0 points per game or more, headlined by Irving's 31.7. The 27-year-old remains one of the game's best isolation players, and there's plenty of shooters to surround him with.

    One problem? With no traditional power forward and rim-running centers in DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen, the Nets have no one who can post up for a bucket.

    Brooklyn ranks dead last in post-up points per game (0.3), going 0-of-2 from the floor in just four total attempts over seven games.


    Memphis Grizzlies: three-point shooting

    Rookie Ja Morant already looks like the real deal, averaging 19.5 points, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals and shooting 50.0 percent from three.

    While his outside shooting is well above average, the rest of the Grizzlies have been lost outside the arc.

    Memphis is shooting a league-worst 26.5 percent on 30.2 attempts per game. Outside of Morant and veteran reserve Solomon Hill, the rest of the Grizzlies are converting just 23.9 percent of their threes, a mark so bad it can't possibly be sustained.


    New York Knicks: offensive creation

    The 1-6 Knicks, per usual, are a complete mess in most areas. When it comes to offense, it's anyone's guess where the points will come from on any given night.

    New York's offensive rating is 28th in the NBA (99.6), and rookie RJ Barrett (18.3 points on 43.4 percent shooting) has been the Knicks' leading scorer.

    Point guard play has been a disaster between Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina, resulting in a 28th-ranked assist ratio. While there's talent on the roster, a veteran pass-first point guard would go a long way.


    Portland Trail Blazers: playmaking

    Outside of Damian Lillard and occasionally CJ McCollum, there is no one to create shots.

    Much of that responsibility fell on Evan Turner in the second unit last year. Even Jusuf Nurkic was a talented passer from the center position before breaking his leg.

    Getting Hassan Whiteside has helped on the glass and provided a third scorer, but he's a black hole offensively (0.7 assists per game). Portland is assisting on just 42.5 percent of all made baskets, the lowest mark in the NBA, and that's with Lillard averaging a career-high 7.3 assists per game.

    A league-low 17.7 assists per game is the only thing holding back what's otherwise been a top-10 offense.


    Utah Jazz: offensive rebounding

    It's no surprise the Jazz are the NBA's best defensive team, and Donovan Mitchell looks like he's taken the next step in year three.

    One major weakness? On the offensive glass, where Utah is last in the league in grabbing its own misses (5.3 per game). Of all contested offensive rebounds, the Jazz pull down just 35.1 percent of their opportunities, also last in the NBA.

    For a team with Rudy Gobert and Ed Davis, these numbers are far too low.

Roster Management

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    Los Angeles Clippers: too much load management

    The Clippers have few weaknesses, even before Paul George returns. From Kawhi Leonard playing at an MVP level to a terrific supporting cast, the Clippers' biggest opponent may be themselves.

    The 28-year-old Leonard has already sat out two games for rest, a number that seems excessive this early on considering George still hasn't returned from offseason shoulder surgery. If Leonard is truly hurt and needs the rest, fine, but no one outside of the Clippers locker room knows for sure.

    The Clippers are in title-or-bust mode, but sitting Leonard too often could result in a fall out of the top four seeds in the West, costing L.A. home-court advantage.


    Miami Heat: non-traditional point guard play

    Even with Miami off to a sizzling start, choosing to bring veteran point guard Goran Dragic off the bench has led to some wacky ball-handling numbers.

    While the Heat are third in assists per game (27.0), they also rank first in turnovers (20.3), putting their 1.33 assist-to-turnover ratio at 21st in the league.

    Jimmy Butler leads Miami with 7.3 helpers per night, but forward Justise Winslow (5.8) and center Bam Adebayo (5.2) do their fair share of ball-handling as well. While this team-wide ability to share the ball is great, not using a traditional point guard more has resulted in more turnovers than any other team.


    Milwaukee Bucks: choosing to pay Eric Bledsoe over Malcolm Brogdon

    While it wasn't expected the small-market Bucks would retain all of their key free agents last offseason, it was a big mistake to choose Bledsoe over Brogdon.

    Milwaukee kept Bledsoe out of free agency by signing him to a four-year, $70 million extension in early March, and he responded with just 10.2 points on 29.4 percent shooting in an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors. This kind of financial commitment, combined with the contracts given to Khris Middleton (five years, $177.5 million), Brook Lopez (four years, $52 million) and George Hill (three years, $28.8 million) meant Brogdon was priced out.

    Instead, the Pacers gave him a four-year, $85 million offer sheet that ultimately resulted in a trade. Brogdon, 26, has responded with 22.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game this season while the 29-year-old Bledsoe is giving Milwaukee 13.7 points and 4.9 assists on 43.5 percent shooting.

    Letting Brogdon go will come back to haunt them.


    Oklahoma City Thunder: not finding trade partners for Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder

    New franchise point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been better than expected, averaging a team-high 21.8 points to go along with 7.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 46.1 percent from the field.

    While he's justifiably leading the Thunder in usage (26.2 percent), Schroder (23.9 percent) and Paul (22.0 percent) are taking the ball out of his hands far too often.

    Perhaps more importantly than making the playoffs is the ability to find trade partners for Paul (three years, $124.1 million) and Schroder (two years, $30.1 million), both to clear up future salary and to increase a role for their prized 21-year-old point guard.

Roster Management, Part II

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    Orlando Magic: unbalanced roster

    The Magic have five players worthy of a starting power forward or center job and arguably zero at either guard position.

    Nikola Vucevic is an All-Star center, but putting two bigs around him with Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac is a clunky fit considering all three are either average or below-average three-point shooters.

    Combine this with an awful start from point guard DJ Augustin (8.4 points, 4.0 assists, 18.8 percent from three), and it's no wonder Orlando has put out the league's worst offense (95.3 rating).

    Orlando desperately needs a trade or two to shake up this roster and get a backcourt upgrade.


    San Antonio Spurs: balancing win now vs. player development

    With 70-year-old head coach Gregg Popovich on the sidelines, the plan in San Antonio should be title-or-bust. With their roster stacked with young guards, there's far more development needed before the Spurs are serious championship contenders.

    Veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, DeMarre Carroll and Patty Mills are all either in the twilight of their primes or well past them, while Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes and Lonnie Walker IV look like the future of the team.

    There's no one on the roster between the ages of 27 and 29, typically when a player is in his prime. For now, this is an odd mix of young and old that should still win 50 games but ultimately get bounced in the first round.


    Toronto Raptors: bench depth

    The defending champs are off to a strong 4-2 start, thanks primarily to Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

    The addition of VanVleet to the starting lineup has been great for his production (16.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists) but also means a blow to the Raptors bench.

    Toronto's starting unit has outscored opponents by 46 total points this season, third-best in the league. Its bench, however, is tied for 19th with the New York Knicks. The 26.7 points per game scored by the Raptors' collective bench is fifth-lowest in the NBA.


    Washington Wizards: failing to completely embrace the rebuild

    This Wizards team was never going to be good with John Wall out. What constitutes a successful season is letting the young core shine as much as possible while getting Bradley Beal even closer toward superstardom.

    Instead, Washington is now starting 30-year-old Isaiah Thomas at point guard, who's already up to third on the team in shots per game (12.8). He replaces 31-year-old Ish Smith.

    Letting Thomas play such a big role will also make everyone work harder on the defensive end to make up for his deficiencies.

X's and O's

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    Boston Celtics: rebounding

    When 6'7" small forward Gordon Hayward leads a team in rebounding, there's a problem.

    Such is the case with these Celtics and Hayward, whose 7.5 boards per game are tied with Jayson Tatum for the team lead.

    Boston ranks 28th overall in rebound percentage (47.9 percent), a combination of losing Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris this summer and having a healthy Enes Kanter for just one game thus far.

    While Kanter's eventual presence will help, this is still a team lacking size and experience in the frontcourt.


    Denver Nuggets: pace/transition

    Even at 4-2, these Nuggets should be better than the version we've seen.

    Part of this minor fall has been a lack of pace and transition scoring, something Denver should take advantage of given Nikola Jokic's passing ability and a roster full of young, athletic guards.

    Denver ranks dead last in pace (96.98) and transition points per game (11.5) despite averaging a respectable 1.08 points per possession when running. The Nuggets have the tools to push more for these easy baskets.


    Philadelphia 76ers: who takes the last shot?

    On most nights the Sixers won't have this problem because they'll have the game in hand.

    In their first six contests, the Sixers have only played 13 total minutes of "clutch" time, with a positive response (plus-nine in scoring overall).

    There's still no definitive answer when the shot clock starts ticking down, however. Ben Simmons is the best ball-handler, but he's yet to even attempt a three-pointer this year and still hasn't made any in his career. Joel Embiid will almost certainly get double-teamed in the paint if he gets it. That leaves Tobias Harris, Al Horford or Josh Richardson, and none has a history of being a go-to clutch player.


    Phoenix Suns: lack of drives

    A 5-2 start to the season could be legit for the Suns, with Ricky Rubio playing a perfect veteran role as ball-mover and backcourt partner with Devin Booker.

    Phoenix has a top-10 offense to begin the season, with only one real element lacking: a driver.

    Having a few guys able to take a pick at the arc and get into the paint collapses a defense and leads to open shooters. Thus far, these sneaky-good Suns are dead last in drive points per game (18.4) and shooting a measly 42.6 percent on drives overall.


    Sacramento Kings: ball movement

    The 2-5 Kings have lost the momentum of a surprisingly good 2018-19 season, and it's probably Luke Walton's fault.

    The Kings' ball movement has slowed to a grinding halt, ranking dead last in passes made per game (198.6). This is down almost a full 100 passes per game from last season (292.1) under Dave Joerger.

    The results are a 26th-place ranking in assists (20.1) and last-place finishes in both potential assists (30.6) and assist points created (37.7).

Player and Player-Pairing Concerns

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    Chicago Bulls: Lauri Markkanen taking a step back

    Markkanen is at the heart of the Bulls' rebuild after putting together a strong sophomore season.
    So far, year three has been a disappointment.

    After a 35-point, 17-rebound performance against the Charlotte Hornets on opening night, Markkanen has averaged just 12.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting 32.9 percent overall and 28.6 percent from deep.

    While Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr., Coby White and Otto Porter Jr. can carry the team for stretches, the Bulls need a more productive Markkanen to have any chance at the playoffs.


    Cleveland Cavaliers: rookies not looking like franchise pieces

    The highlight of this Cavs season was supposed to be the debut and development of the three first-round picks: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and Kevin Porter Jr.

    While there's still plenty of time for this to happen, the trio has been a combination of underwhelming, injured and suspended.

    Garland, the No. 5 overall pick, is averaging 7.6 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 29.2 percent as the team's starting point guard. Windler has yet to play a game after suffering a stress reaction in his leg during training camp. Porter Jr. was recently suspended for a game after making contact with an official, and he is averaging 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 30.3 percent from the floor.

    More than anything, the Cavs need to see progress and potential from their rookies this season.


    Dallas Mavericks: making the Doncic-Porzingis pairing work

    On the outside, it appears that Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are working.

    The Mavericks have the best offense in basketball and are off to a 4-2 start. Both stars are putting up big numbers, with Doncic a nightly triple-double threat.

    So what's the problem? The Mavs have a net rating of minus-5.0 in the 26 minutes per game the two share the court. When Porzingis sits, the rating skyrockets to plus-22.8 with just Doncic on the court.

    For Dallas to maximize its potential, both players need to learn how to complement each other.


    Minnesota Timberwolves: Andrew Wiggins

    While Wiggins has been slightly better this year, the Timberwolves are still a far better team when he's out of the game. For a player on a max contract, that's a big problem.

    The Wolves are 11.3 points per 100 possessions better with Wiggins on the bench, and the 24-year-old forward is shooting just 43.3 percent overall and 33.3 percent from three.

    Advanced stats continue to not be kind to Wiggins, either, as his box plus-minus of minus-1.5 is the sixth straight negative rating in his six career seasons.


    Indiana Pacers: the Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner fit

    While both big men have been banged up to start the season, early results and previous years tell us this hasn't been a good on-court pairing.

    Both Turner and Sabonis are at their best at center, but each has more than enough talent to warrant a starting job. That means Sabonis is being pushed outside the paint to power forward, forcing him on some nights to defend smaller, quicker 4s.

    In four games together this season, the pairing has a net rating of plus-3.9 when sharing the court, compared to plus-7.9 when Sabonis plays and Turner sits. Similar results were produced last season, with Indiana posting a net of plus-2.8 when both big men were on the floor and a jump to plus-5.2 with just Sabonis.

Health and Suspensions

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    Atlanta Hawks: John Collins' suspension

    Collins was off to a great start in year three before being hit with a 25-game suspension that could take a promising Hawks team out of playoff contention before the ban has run its course.

    The 22-year-old big man was averaging 17.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks on 52.5 percent shooting from the floor and 47.4 percent from three.

    Without him, Jabari Parker, De'Andre Hunter, Alex Len and Bruno Fernando should all see more playing time, but they can't match what Collins offers as the perfect big man for point guard Trae Young.


    Detroit Pistons: Blake Griffin's durability

    The Pistons barely squeaked into the playoffs at 41-41 a season ago, and that was with Griffin missing just seven games all year.

    Griffin has already surpassed that mark this season, sitting out the first eight games and counting with hamstring and knee soreness. The Pistons have slumped to 3-5 as a result.

    History isn't on Detroit's side, either. Before his 75-game performance last year, Griffin hadn't played that much since the 2013-14 season.

    With averages of 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 2018-19, Griffin is the unquestioned leader of this Pistons team, one that's going to miss the playoffs altogether if the 30-year-old power forward misses any considerable time.


    Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry's hand

    The Warriors could withstand Kevin Durant bolting for Brooklyn. Even waiting on Klay Thompson to recover from a torn ACL was doable, especially if Golden State didn't need him until the postseason.

    Losing Curry for three months with a broken hand? That's too much.

    Even ignoring their league-worst defense (117.6 rating) for a second, not having Curry on the floor for his offense and leadership through what was always going to be a trying season should officially put a dagger in Golden State's playoff hopes.


    New Orleans Pelicans: knees

    Knee issues have hampered or completely held out the Pelicans' top two players, leading to a dismal 1-6 start to the year.

    Rookie sensation Zion Williamson is out until December following surgery on a torn meniscus, while veteran guard Jrue Holiday has already missed a pair of games with a knee sprain. His numbers (14.2 points, 6.0 assists, 37.3 FG%) are down as a result.

    While this isn't a team with true championship aspirations, getting Williamson and Holiday on the court together as soon as possible will be crucial to New Orleans' fading playoff hopes.