Every Team's Biggest Need at 2021 NBA Trade Deadline

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2021

Every Team's Biggest Need at 2021 NBA Trade Deadline

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    He may not have written it about the NBA trade deadline, but English poet Alexander Pope's famous phrase, "Hope springs eternal," sure seems to apply to plenty of fanbases this time of year.

    Contenders, playoff fringe dwellers, lottery-bound teams and others in between can convince themselves there's a deal out there to push them closer to their goal or satisfy a need.

    The latter is the present subject. Regardless of where a squad is in the standings, each has at least one need. Some have many. Identifying the biggest for all 30 organizations was the aim.

Atlanta Hawks: Playmaking

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    After finishing second in the league in offensive real plus-minus last season, Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young is knocking on the door of the top 10 in 2020-21.

    At 22 years old, he is already one of the NBA's premier offensive engineers. Atlanta's problem is an inability to score without him. In his career, the Hawks have tallied 10.1 fewer points per 100 possessions without Young. And the trend is getting worse in Year 3.

    The offseason additions of Rajon Rondo and Bogdan Bogdanovic were supposed to improve the non-Trae minutes, but that hasn't happened. Injuries have contributed to that, but the offensive numbers haven't been good when those two are playing. And Hawks not named Trae have totaled just over half as many pick-and-roll possessions as he has.

    For the foreseeable future, the Atlanta offense is going to be better when Young is on the floor. That's what happens when you have this kind of superstar. The Hawks just need someone who can help them be respectable without the leader of the cast.

    Whether it's a traditional backup 1 or some other position player who can be an offensive hub, Atlanta needs more playmaking.

Boston Celtics: Size

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    You couldn't fault anyone with the Boston Celtics for feeling a little non-buyer's remorse right about now.

    In November, the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn reported the Indiana Pacers offered Myles Turner and Doug McDermott for Gordon Hayward. Boston wanted T.J. Warren or Victor Oladipo instead of McDermott, and the deal never got done.

    Hayward is now a Charlotte Hornet, Turner is still with the Pacers, and Boston's consolation prize, Tristan Thompson, has done little to help fans forget those rumors.

    Boston is surrendering the sixth-highest opponents' field-goal percentage within three feet of the rim and is barely in the top half of the league in defensive rebounding percentage.

    The ability to play positionless on both sides of the floor is a plus, but in the Eastern Conference, with potential matchups against Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the horizon, bigger options than Thompson (6'9"), Daniel Theis (6'8") and Robert Williams III (6'8") might help.

    More trust in Williams, the most athletic of the bunch, may be the eventual answer to this problem. But size could help in the short term.

Brooklyn Nets: Rebounding

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    You have to get nitpicky to find a need for the Brooklyn Nets. If Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden are healthy, it's hard to imagine many teams keeping up with their offense.

    If forced to choose, though, rebounding is the call. Their latest acquisition, Blake Griffin, isn't likely to help with their bottom-third-of-the-league ranks in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Ditto for the NBA-worst 15.3 second-chance points they allow per game. If he offers much, it'll be more through his playmaking 4 abilities.

    Solving the rebounding woes will likely fall on a more traditional 5. Someone such as, oh, Andre Drummond?

    The all-time leader in rebounding percentage has been linked to the Nets by multiple reports, assuming he's bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers. And though there's plenty of skill set overlap between him and DeAndre Jordan, there's no question Drummond can help on the boards.

Charlotte Hornets: Size

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    With loads of playmaking, an up-and-down style and the captivating Rookie of the Year front-runner in LaMelo Ball, the Charlotte Hornets have become a League Pass darling.

    Taking the next step, particularly in Joel Embiid's conference, may require more size, though.

    Charlotte is in the bottom half of the league in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, field-goal percentage allowed at the rim and blocks per 100 possessions.

    Adding someone who can clog up the paint on defense, clean the glass and drag defenders to the rim with hard cuts in the pick-and-roll could do wonders for Ball, Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham.

Chicago Bulls: A Point Guard

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls have one of the game's most dynamic offensive wings in Zach LaVine, but with the virtues of positionless basketball aside, playing him without a traditional point guard hasn't been terribly successful.

    Tomas Satoransky may be the closest to that on the roster. When he plays with LaVine, the Bulls are plus-12.1 points per 100 possessions (compared to minus-7.0 when LaVine plays without Satoransky), but even that combination has a whale of a time slowing opposing attacks.

    What LaVine may need is a Patrick Beverley-type 1 who derives most of his value from his defense while also providing a steady hand on the other end.

    Satoransky and Coby White probably aren't that. And even if Chicago acquires such a player, neither has to forfeit all his playing time alongside LaVine. The Bulls just need more stoppers, particularly in the backcourt.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Shooting

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    There aren't many teams in the league that could reasonably say they don't want more shooting. So, while this may feel like a cop-out with some squads, it's certainly a need for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    They're 29th in the NBA in three-point percentage and dead last in threes made per 100 possessions.

    Core guards Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are above average from deep this season, but they need help from the rest of the roster. The other Cavs are shooting a combined 32.5 percent.

    Perhaps improvement from Isaac Okoro or Dylan Windler is in the works. And on Cleveland's timeline, maybe that's the best bet. But more reliable kick-out options around Sexton's and Garland's drives could help the Cavs make a push for the play-in tournament.

Dallas Mavericks: Shooting

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    After finishing second and 10th in made threes per game and three-point percentage last season, the Dallas Mavericks have fallen to 10th and 21st in 2020-21.

    Their percentage has recovered a bit over the last several weeks, but Dallas still has the second-worst mark in the NBA on wide-open threes (when the nearest defender is six-plus feet away from the shooter).

    Losing Seth Curry, one of the greatest three-point shooters of all time, certainly didn't help. And Josh Richardson's below-career-norms connection rate compounds that. Generally speaking, not having top-tier shooters undercuts one of Dallas' most lethal weapons: Luka Doncic's drive-and-kick game.

    Few players in NBA history were more effective at breaking the perimeter, collapsing the defense and finding the best option outside. The Dallas offense is, in large part, tied to those options being able to make shots.

    Again, things are already moving in the right direction, but adding one more reliable marksman around the three-point line could accelerate that.

Denver Nuggets: Wing Defense

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    In its explanation of the catch-all metric box plus/minus, Basketball Reference cautions, "the defensive numbers in particular should not be considered definitive"—but also notes that they can be used as a guide.

    And this season, Facundo Campazzo is the Denver Nuggets' only non-big with an above-average defensive box plus/minus. A lot of time watching this team backs up the number's assessment.

    There are occasional moments of stoutness from wings such as Gary Harris and PJ Dozier, but the effectiveness of the Denver defense is wildly inconsistent.

    Jerami Grant's defense was probably oversold in 2019-20, but he was at least a believable option against the Western Conference's top wings. Denver has no such player this season.

    Adding someone with a little size and switchability could go a long way toward boosting Denver's 19th-ranked unit.

Detroit Pistons: Playmaking

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    Jacob Kupferman/Associated Press

    The Detroit Pistons' issue for this exercise is the opposite of the Nets': There are plenty of options for "biggest need." We'll settle on a lack of playmaking.

    Detroit's leader in assists per game, Delon Wright, ranks 47th in the league. The next two players in that category, Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, have moved to the Atlantic Division.

    Mason Plumlee has been an underrated passer in his career, but when he's your second-best creator, you have a problem.

    With Jerami Grant, Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson scoring at below-average efficiency levels, it stands to reason that easier looks would help. A player who can manufacture those for the scorers would help.

Golden State Warriors: Scoring

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The league-average offensive rating this season is 112.6. When Stephen Curry is off the floor, the Golden State Warriors are mustering just 94.6 points per 100 possessions.

    Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., James Wiseman, Eric Paschall and Draymond Green, second through sixth on the team in field-goal attempts, are posting below-average true shooting percentages.

    The lack of scoring beyond Curry should be alarming for those who think this team will stay in the playoff hunt.

    And though there likely isn't a scorer available who'll solve the Warriors' offensive woes, there is no doubt they need help on that end of the floor.

Houston Rockets: Draft Assets

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Stick a fork in the Houston Rockets. They're done.

    Owners of a 15-game losing streak, the Rockets are on a fast track to top-three odds for the lottery. And there's no reason to do anything to change that.

    That means anyone who is movable and doesn't have a long-term future should be available. P.J. Tucker, Victor Oladipo, you name them. I'd add John Wall and Eric Gordon, but those contracts will likely scare off any suitors. Really, the only player who should probably be safe is Christian Wood.

    Other than that, Houston should do all it can to pile up draft assets in an effort to recoup what it lost during the Daryl Morey era.

Indiana Pacers: Rebounding

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    For a team starting a more traditional frontcourt that includes Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, you'd think rebounding wouldn't be an issue. But the Indiana Pacers are in the bottom third of the league in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. And the Nets and Warriors are the only teams that allow more second-chance points per game.

    In fairness to the two bigs, the problem likely stems from the rest of the roster, though a boost in Turner's raw production (6.6 boards per game) wouldn't hurt.

    Wings and guards have a responsibility to box out and rebound too. And plenty of Pacers can do more in that regard.

    Regardless of position, the Pacers should be on the lookout for those who might help on the glass.

Los Angeles Clippers: Interior Defense

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    This selection may be surprising for a team that includes Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Paul George, but the numbers suggest things break down for the Los Angeles Clippers once opponents break through their stout perimeter defense.

    The Clippers are allowing a 65.0 percent conversion rate at the rim, 21st in the NBA. They're also 21st in blocks per 100 possessions and 22nd in defensive rating.

    Once upon a time, Serge Ibaka was one of the game's best rim protectors, but age has contributed to his drastically different level of production these days. Ivica Zubac takes up plenty of space inside, but he's not as nimble as some of the game's top interior presences.

    Another big who could occasionally offer a different look to opposing offenses could raise L.A.'s already high ceiling.

Los Angeles Lakers: Non-LeBron Offense

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Like the Hawks without Trae Young and Warriors without Stephen Curry, the Los Angeles Lakers struggle to score efficiently without their best player, LeBron James.

    Of course, common sense dictates that minutes without the best offensive player would be a problem for most teams, but L.A. appears uniquely challenged.

    Anthony Davis' health remains a question mark. Dennis Schroder's production has fallen off from the numbers he posted with the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. And Marc Gasol's playmaking from the 5 spot isn't as effective as it was in his prime.

    After that, there may not be any other sources of reliable, high-volume creation, which is part of why the Lakers have a middle-of-the-road offense.

    If LeBron and AD are healthy in the postseason, this may not matter much, but L.A. could use some more punch, particularly when LeBron is out.

Memphis Grizzlies: Wing Depth

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The Memphis Grizzlies boast one of the NBA's most intriguing young cores. They're seemingly set long-term in the backcourt with Ja Morant and De'Anthony Melton as well as inside with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke.

    The next frontier may be the wings. Starting 2 Dillon Brooks sure isn't scared to put it up, but he's never posted an average true shooting percentage. In fact, among players with as many attempts, he has the lowest true shooting percentage in the league in his career.

    There are varying levels of upside with Justise Winslow, Desmond Bane and John Konchar, but none of them seems like a sure thing. Shoring up depth behind the top four, or even finding someone to leapfrog them, could move this already impressive rebuild up another step.

    The Grizzlies aren't likely to sacrifice long-term goals for a short-term bump, though.

Miami Heat: Rebounding

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    Precious Achiuwa and Bam Adebayo are solid rebounders, ranking 35th and 40th in rebounding percentage.

    But the Miami Heat don't have a dominant glass cleaner, and their group rebounding approach has led to ranks of 28th and 18th in offensive and defensive rebounding percentages.

    Some of that may be by design. Plenty of teams intentionally turn their noses up at offensive boards in favor of transition defense. But more second-chance points per game would be a welcome boost for an offense that ranks in the bottom third of the league.

    That doesn't necessarily mean Miami has to chase someone such as Enes Kanter, but a big who brings a bit more balance to the roster wouldn't hurt.

Milwaukee Bucks: Reserve Defense

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    With the second-best net rating in the league, the Milwaukee Bucks are better than their 25-14 record suggests, but they're far from the defensive juggernaut they were last season.

    The biggest reason for the drop-off is the philosophical shift the front office engineered this past offseason. Gone are defensive-minded veterans like Robin Lopez, George Hill and Wesley Matthews. In their place are offense-first players like Bobby Portis, D.J. Augustin and Bryn Forbes.

    The Bucks still have enough defense to slow opponents down when the starters are in. Their defensive rating ranks in the 84th percentile when Giannis Antetokounmpo plays. But things start to fall apart as reserves enter the game.

    Milwaukee might hope for a little more defensive pop from the likes of Torrey Craig, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Pat Connaughton as the season goes along, but acquiring a specialist could be a shortcut.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Draft Assets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Like the Rockets, the Minnesota Timberwolves have little to play for other than pride. And that pride leading to wins probably isn't a good thing.

    Assuming the Wolves have players not named Karl-Anthony Towns who would command much of a return in a trade, they should entertain just about anything.

    A deadline crystal ball may not reveal many incoming first-round picks, but even a few extra bites at the apple with second-rounders might be worth it.

    Any approach other than selling makes next-to-no sense for Minnesota right now. One could argue that diving further into a tank could sour the relationship between star and franchise, but the current talent isn't adding many wins either.

New Orleans Pelicans: Defense

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Pelicans are an absolute mess on one end of the floor. And their best players might be the biggest culprits for the 28th-ranked defense.

    When Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are both on the floor, the Pelicans give up a whopping 117.7 points per 100 possessions (it jumps to 119.4 when you add Eric Bledsoe to that group).

    Better individual defense from the players already on the roster is a must for New Orleans to become a solid playoff team, but reinforcements might be necessary too.

    And outside of center, where Steven Adams has been solid, pretty much any position could use an infusion of defensive talent. On the other end, Lonzo Ball, Zion and Ingram are all versatile enough to accommodate just about anyone.

New York Knicks: Scoring

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Julius Randle is averaging 23.2 points with a 58.0 true shooting percentage, making him one of 21 players with those numbers in the league this season.

    The New York Knicks' No. 2 scorer, RJ Barrett, has averaged 19.5 points while shooting 53.1 percent from three over their last 10 games.

    After those two, though, New York offers little in the way of reliable scoring. Elfrid Payton, Derrick Rose, Immanuel Quickley, Alec Burks and Reggie Bullock all have below-average effective field-goal percentages. And the Knicks are 23rd in points scored per 100 possessions.

    To overcome the second-most difficult remaining schedule in the Eastern Conference, New York likely needs more firepower.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Draft Assets

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Shortly after the All-Star break, the Oklahoma City Thunder sent an intriguing young player, Hamidou Diallo, to the Detroit Pistons for Svi Mykhailiuk and a 2027 second-round pick.

    Diallo is a year younger, a better athlete and tops Mykhailiuk in 2020-21 box plus/minus, rebounding percentage, assist percentage and true shooting percentage.

    Moving him for a player who hasn't been as good this season and a second-rounder that won't convey for six years is further confirmation that OKC is still very much in asset-accumulation mode.

    And if Diallo was that easy to take off the Thunder's hands, it's hard to imagine anyone not named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being off limits.

    Al Horford, George Hill and maybe even Mike Muscala, a 6'10" big with an above-average three-point percentage for his career, could probably land OKC more picks.

Orlando Magic: A Point Guard

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Injuries have annihilated the Orlando Magic this season. At last count, early in March, Man Games Lost NBA had them as the league leader in games missed to injuries.

    Jonathan Isaac hasn't been able to play a single game this season. Evan Fournier missed a significant amount of time. And the first- and second-string point guards, Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony, are out.

    Michael Carter-Williams has had a sizable and positive impact, but Orlando's offense has clearly been impacted by the lack of playmaking from the perimeter. On the season, the Magic are 27th in the league in points per 100 possessions.

    Nikola Vucevic's creation from the 5 spot is nice, but he needs help. Even if it's someone who can just provide some stability as a reserve for MCW, he's probably worth pursuing.

Philadelphia 76ers: Shooting

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Daryl Morey went a long way toward solving the Philadelphia 76ers shooting woes this offseason when he acquired Seth Curry and Danny Green. Moving Tobias Harris to the 4 full-time helped too.

    But as long as Ben Simmons is running the show, Philadelphia should perpetually be on the lookout for additional outside shooting.

    The Sixers are in the top half of the league in three-point percentage and offensive rating, but they're tied for 28th in threes made per 100 possessions.

    They would inch closer to bona fide contender status with a little more firepower and volume from the outside.

    Of course, when he's healthy, defaulting to Joel Embiid inside is generally a good option. But more shooting would help him too. The more options Philly has on the outside, the harder it is to double Embiid.

Phoenix Suns: Backup Big

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    It's remarkable how quickly the Phoenix Suns went from perennial lottery team to fringe title contender. With Chris Paul on the roster, all of the pieces from last season just sort of clicked together.

    Suddenly, the Suns are one of the teams about which we have to get a little nitpicky. They have one of the league's most talented backcourts, switchable three-and-D forwards, stretch bigs and Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick from the 2018 draft.

    Right now, Phoenix is quite a bit better with Ayton off the floor. Those lineups often feature Dario Saric at the 5, giving the Suns the ability to spread the floor and open up driving lanes for CP3 and Devin Booker.

    That may be a recipe for offensive success against some of the West's top bigs in the playoffs, but Saric trying to guard Nikola Jokic or Anthony Davis could be a problem.

    If there's a big available who can both stretch the floor like Saric and body up opponents like a traditional 5, he could help Phoenix. Of course, that player is easier said than found.

    A wing or forward who could supplement the rotation that includes Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cameron Johnson might help, too.

    Either way, when you're as good as Phoenix is, small moves are often the key to inching closer to a championship.

Portland Trail Blazers: Backup Guard or Wing

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    With CJ McCollum recovered from a broken foot, the Portland Trail Blazers once again have a starting backcourt that can go toe-to-toe with any other. The backups for he and Damian Lillard leave something to be desired, though.

    Gary Trent and Anfernee Simons have shown flashes, but both have played below replacement level, according to box plus/minus. And Rodney Hood, exactly the kind of guard-wing hybrid who makes sense with Lillard and McCollum, has been one of the worst players in the league this season.

    Finding someone who can both spell Lillard or McCollum or play alongside them is easier said than done. And Trent or Simons may still become that type of player. But if the Blazers want to solidify their playoff position this season, they may need to make a move.

Sacramento Kings: Defense of Any Kind

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    The Sacramento Kings have, by far, the worst defense in the NBA this season. They're giving up a whopping 120.0 points per 100 possessions. When veteran Harrison Barnes is off the floor, that number balloons to 124.4.

    Look up and down the roster, and you won't find a single player with an above-average defensive box plus/minus. De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III (recently lost to a broken hand) aren't even close.

    Fixing defensive woes this severe will take more than just a single acquisition. Everyone on the roster needs to be more engaged. But adding a defender at any position who might motivate those already in Sacramento could kick-start that.

San Antonio Spurs: A LaMarcus Aldridge Taker

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Earlier this month, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters, "We've mutually agreed for [LaMarcus Aldridge] to work on some opportunities elsewhere."

    Given Aldridge's age (35) and last two seasons (in which San Antonio has been significantly worse when he plays), it's hard to imagine the Spurs landing a great haul for the seven-time All-Star.

    But getting anything for him is likely preferable to the buyout route, which is in play, according to The Athletic's Shams Charania.

    This season, when Aldridge is off the floor, San Antonio has been a clear plus, playing mostly with modern lineups that include Rudy Gay or DeMar DeRozan as a nominal power forward.

    If LMA can help the Spurs land another tweener who can move around in positionless lineups, it'd be a win.

Toronto Raptors: A Center

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The loss of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka may have been a bigger deal than the Toronto Raptors anticipated.

    They're currently 19th in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. Aron Baynes has been a disaster, averaging 6.3 points on a way-below-average true shooting percentage. And coach Nick Nurse has been hesitant to play Pascal Siakam at the 5 (though those lineups have been good).

    Chris Boucher has been a bright spot, but he's only playing 24.1 minutes per game. Unless Nurse wants to get more aggressive with small ball, Toronto likely needs another center.

    With players like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Siakam on the roster, it's hard to believe the Raptors will finish the season below .500, but avoiding that distinction may require moving Boucher to the starting 5 spot and adding a new backup behind him.

Utah Jazz: Perimeter Defense

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Notwithstanding a recent skid, the Utah Jazz are another team that looks more or less set from top to bottom.

    They have two All-Stars in the backcourt, plenty of shooting and switchability on the wings, the Defensive Player of the Year front-runner at the 5 and the Sixth Man of the Year front-runner coming off the bench.

    If you had to pinpoint one specific need, it might be perimeter defense.

    Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are having strong offensive seasons, but both stand just 6'1". That causes some natural defensive limitations.

    Utah can adjust for stretches by moving Mitchell to the 1 and going positionless 2-4 with Royce O'Neale, Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic, but there's a tradeoff there. Conley's steady hand has made him one of the most positively impactful players in the league this season.

    Like Phoenix, Utah may simply be in need of a move on the fringes. One more perimeter defender who the Jazz can throw at an opponent in a pinch would make them more dangerous in the playoffs.

Washington Wizards: Shooting

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    When Russell Westbrook is your point guard, shooting all over the rest of the roster is imperative.

    Westbrook takes 18.8 shots per game and has an effective field-goal percentage a whopping 6.5 points below the league average. That has, in part, led to a team effective field-goal percentage that ranks 22nd and a three-point percentage that ranks 27th.

    What may be less known is the fact that Bradley Beal is also posting a below-average effective field-goal percentage (though his true shooting percentage is slightly above).

    To overcome your top two scoring options being that inefficient, you need loads of shooting from elsewhere. And the Washington Wizards only have three players with at least 500 minutes and an above-average three-point percentage: Garrison Mathews, Davis Bertans and Raul Neto.

    Beal improving and Bertans getting back to the level he was at in 2019-20 could be in the cards, but adding another shooter should be a priority.


    All stats accurate through Monday's games and courtesy of Cleaning the Glass, Basketball Reference, Stathead, NBA.com, ESPN and PBP Stats.