Every NBA Team's Biggest Problem After Free-Agency Madness

Greg Swartz@@GregSwartzBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterAugust 14, 2021

Every NBA Team's Biggest Problem After Free-Agency Madness

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    As NBA rosters take shape across the league, we can get a good idea of where every team's strengths and weaknesses lie.

    While many franchises have filled vacancies through the draft, free agency and trades, no roster is perfect (no, not even the Brooklyn Nets). Work remains for all 30 teams, although more for some than others.

    Here are the roster problems every NBA team needs to address before training camp.

Atlanta Hawks: Backcourt Stoppers

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    Atlanta has put together one of the best—and deepest—rosters in the NBA.

    The Hawks boast a good mix of young talent and win-now vets at every position, meaning they should be near the top of the East for a long time.

    If they have a weakness, it's the inability of the backcourt to get stops, primarily players like Trae Young and Lou Williams. The Hawks surrendered 2.4 more points per 100 possessions with Young in the game and were even worse (plus-3.7) with Williams on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.

    Playoff teams will probably always work to get Young or Williams on a switch before attacking, so exploring a trade for a big, defensive-minded guard (a la Marcus Smart) would do a lot for this roster.

Boston Celtics: Bench Experience

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    The Celtics should have a solid starting lineup this season, one that likely features Dennis Schroder, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.

    New head coach Ime Udoka may want to stagger some of his veterans, however, given the team's young and inexperienced group of reserves.

    With a bench of Payton Pritchard, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Josh Richardson, Grant Williams, Robert Williams III and Enes Kanter, only two (Richardson and Kanter) are no longer on their rookie deals.

    Boston may have to bring players like Schroder and/or Horford off the bench to mix in with the young guys for the Celtics to maximize what's become a borderline playoff team, even in the East.

Brooklyn Nets: Wing Defenders

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    This team can get buckets with its eyes closed, and bringing in Patty Mills as insurance at point guard behind Kyrie Irving was huge for Brooklyn.

    If 22-year-old Nicolas Claxton can continue to add muscle, the Nets could have a lockdown defender in the paint, solving their center woes.

    One area of concern? Long, athletic defenders who can switch on the perimeter. Kevin Durant fits the bill, but he'll primarily be the team's starting power forward. Bruce Brown can defend, but at 6'4", he can struggle with bigger wings.

    Losing Jeff Green to the Denver Nuggets hurt. This is a spot the Nets have failed to fill.

Charlotte Hornets: An Alpha Scorer

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    While the Hornets won't have any trouble putting up points, who gets to take the last shot at the end of games isn't clear.

    LaMelo Ball will be the primary ball-handler and playmaker after his Rookie of the Year season, but even he fell in line behind Terry Rozier (20.4 points per game) and Gordon Hayward (19.6 points) in scoring last season.

    Charlotte also picked up James Bouknight in the draft (18.7 points per game as a sophomore at UConn) and signed Kelly Oubre Jr. (15.4 points per game) away from the Golden State Warriors.

    Again, there should be no shortage of scoring in the Queen City.

    Ball could take the jump as the go-to fourth-quarter bucket-getter, but it seems more in his nature to pass. With no official No. 1 option, the Hornets could go with whoever has the hot hand on any given night.

Chicago Bulls: Frontcourt Depth

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    Trading for DeMar DeRozan provided the Bulls with more star power but also depleted their frontcourt depth.

    Chicago sent Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu to the San Antonio Spurs as part of the sign-and-trade, leaving Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Williams and Tony Bradley as the only power forwards and centers on the roster. Lauri Markkanen is a restricted free agent but has stated his desire to leave Chicago.

    DeRozan can spend time at the 4, but he's not a traditional big. If the Bulls don't bring back Markkanen, signing a veteran like Paul Millsap or Aron Baynes would help fill the frontcourt hole.

    Loaded with guards and wings after the additions of DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, the Bulls need more size up front.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Three-Point Shooting

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    After finishing dead last in three-point accuracy (33.6 percent) and 29th in made threes per game (10.0) last season, the Cavaliers have done nothing to address their shooting woes.

    Swapping Taurean Prince for Ricky Rubio solved the backup point guard dilemma, but it meant trading a 40.0 percent outside shooter for one who made 30.8 percent of his attempts last year.

    Third overall pick Evan Mobley was just 12-of-40 (30.0 percent) from three at USC, and his frontcourt mate, Jarrett Allen, rarely ventures outside either.

    Cleveland is yet to sign anyone in free agency despite holding the full mid-level exception and looks set to rely on internal improvements.

Dallas Mavericks: A Reliable Second Star

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    The Mavericks have to find a second All-Star to play next to Luka Doncic. The NBA is too good to win with one star.

    Kristaps Porzingis is the best Dallas has, although he's been a disappointment in the last two playoffs runs. New head coach Jason Kidd is saying all the right things about Porzingis, but what choice does he have?

    Kidd told reporters last month:

    "I think he's excited, he's ready to work, and I think you're going to see a different KP. This is a positive summer for him. He's healthy. I think he's really excited about this opportunity. I think he's a perfect fit for Luka. He has a skill set that a lot of people don't have in this league. As a coach, I'm very excited to be able to work with him."

    Dallas had the cap space to sign a max free agent yet came away with Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock, Boban Marjanovic and Sterling Brown. All are good role players, but this roster really needed another star instead.

    This is probably Porzingis' last chance to prove he can be the guy next to Doncic before Dallas seriously shops the 7'3" forward.

Denver Nuggets: Rim Protection

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    While a frontcourt of Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon is one of the NBA's best, it hasn't done a good job of stopping opponents underneath the basket.

    Denver ranked last in 2020-21 in opponent field-goal percentage within six feet (64.7 percent) and field-goal percentage difference (plus-2.8 percent). Before trading for JaVale McGee at the deadline, the Nuggets were tied for 25th in blocked shots per game (4.3) as well.

    With McGee's departure for the Phoenix Suns, the Nuggets may have no choice but to unleash Bol Bol, the 7'2" 21-year-old who only averaged 5.0 minutes in 32 games last season.

    Getting Jamal Murray back from a torn ACL will fill whatever hole there may be in the backcourt, but rim protection could be an issue all season.

Detroit Pistons: Patience

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    Cade Cunningham was six years old the last time Detroit made it out of the first round of the playoffs, so it's safe to say Pistons fans are more than eager for the 19-year-old to lead them deep into the postseason again.

    Optimism is likely running high in Detroit, and for good reason. All three first-round picks last year look like keepers, especially if Killian Hayes' outside shooting comes around. Jerami Grant was a breakout star, and signing Kelly Olynyk gives this lineup the spacing it needs.

    Still, this team needs to be patient, especially with a backcourt that averages 19.5 years in age.

    The East has gotten much better, with the Chicago Bulls the latest bottom-dweller to make win-now moves. Detroit won't be a playoff team for a few more years, and that's OK. This is the best young core the Pistons have had in a long time, one that just needs more seasoning.

Golden State Warriors: A Win-Now Center

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    While the rest of the Warriors' starting lineup (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green) looks championship-ready, the center position could be their Achilles' heel.

    James Wiseman is still on the roster (for now) but is recovering from April knee surgery. The Warriors were better with Kevon Looney in the lineup last year, even though the 25-year-old averaged just 4.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in his 19.0 minutes. Green should continue to see time at the 5, but the Warriors could benefit from an upgrade.

    Wiseman has the skill set to be great one day, but this team is led by a point guard who will turn 34 by the time the 2022 playoffs begin.

    Golden State should continue to explore trades for a center upgrade (Myles Turner, Christian Wood) who can help it win now.

Houston Rockets: Too Many Veterans

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    With John Wall, Eric Gordon, D.J. Augustin, Danuel House Jr., David Nwaba and newly-signed Daniel Theis, the Rockets haven't gone full rebuild around their young core, even if they should.

    While the Wall contract (two years, $91.7 million) is probably unmovable, the Rockets need to part with other veterans to make sure players like Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Jae'Sean Tate, KJ Martin, Alperen Sengun and Josh Christopher get plenty of time and touches to develop.

    The Rockets should test the trade waters for Christian Wood as well. He's slightly above the rebuild age (he'll turn 26 in September) and is on a terrific contract (two years, $28 million).

    Houston owns its first-round pick in each of the next two drafts and would be best suited to grab another top selection to pair with Green, the new face of the franchise.

Indiana Pacers: The Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner Frontcourt

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    It's time to split up the Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner frontcourt, a pair that registered a net rating of minus-2.3 in 1,058 minutes together last season.

    Although their skill sets are different enough to theoretically mesh, Sabonis' future is probably best at center, where the 6'11", 240-pounder can play the role of a playmaking 5 a la Nikola Jokic. He's not a good enough outside shooter to give Turner spacing, and the Pacers were in the middle of the pack offensively last season (14th in offensive rating) even though Sabonis made the All-Star team.

    The return of T.J. Warren, who can play both forward positions, gives the Pacers the opportunity to trade either of their frontcourt members (more likely Turner) for a handsome return.

    The Warriors have plenty of young talent they could send back for Turner, allowing Sabonis to move to center full-time and raise the team's ceiling.

Los Angeles Clippers: Kawhi Leonard's Recovery Time

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    A new four-year, $176.3 million contract means Kawhi Leonard will be with the Clippers for the foreseeable future, although we don't know when he'll return to the court following a partially torn right ACL.

    Leonard is about a month removed from his July 13 surgery, meaning he could miss the regular season.

    Paul George will be called on to play the role of leading scorer and lockdown wing defender, and Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris Sr. and Terance Mann should get more shots as well.

    Still, there's no replacing a player like Leonard. His on/off rating of plus-12.5 last year was the highest of his career and ranked in the 97th percentile among NBA players, per Cleaning the Glass.

    L.A. is good enough to grab a playoff spot without him, but it has no chance at a title without Leonard.

Los Angeles Lakers: Youth

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    While this isn't breaking news, the Lakers are old. They could be the oldest team in the history of the NBA and average nearly 32 years of age among the 12 players on the roster.

    No team had previously signed six players age 32 or older in a single offseason, and four Lakers (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza) joined the league before Twitter launched in 2006.

    This means most of the roster will get worse as the season goes on, so minutes for players like Anthony Davis, Talen Horton-Tucker, Malik Monk and Kendrick Nunn are crucial for the Lakers to reach their ceiling.

    The team has enough depth to keep anyone besides James and Davis from playing over 30 minutes per night, but injuries and durability will be concerns as the league returns to an 82-game season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Isolation Scoring

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    While team ball should be praised, it helps to have a few isolation scorers, especially come playoff time.

    The Grizzlies have Ja Morant but no one else with this type of offense in his bag. Morant registered 132 isolation attempts last season (9.9 percent of his total shot selection), but no other Grizzly came in at over 63 (Dillon Brooks).

    Memphis scored 4.3 isolation points per game, which ranked 28th in the NBA.

    Having a sixth man like Jordan Clarkson who can heat up without much help would ease the scoring pressure on Morant, especially after Memphis traded Jonas Valanciunas to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Miami Heat: Point Guard Depth

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    While Miami has had arguably the best offseason of any NBA team, it lost depth with the departures of Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, Andre Iguodala and Precious Achiuwa.

    Getting Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade represents an upgrade over both Dragic and Nunn, but it also leaves the Heat thin at point guard. Third-year guard Gabe Vincent is Lowry's primary backup. The 25-year-old averaged 4.8 points and 1.3 assists and shot 37.8 percent in 13.1 minutes over 50 games last year.

    Yes, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are more-than-capable playmakers, but having another veteran point guard to keep Lowry's legs fresh for the playoffs is important. The six-time All-Star will turn 36 before the 2022 postseason begins.

    Starting a three-year, $85 million contract for Lowry at age 35 is a risky investment for Miami, even if he's shown little sign of slowing down. The Heat need to be cognizant of his workload, especially in the regular season.

Milwaukee Bucks: A Healthy Brooklyn Nets Team

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    The defending champs have no holes on the roster.

    Losing P.J. Tucker to the Heat hurt, but keeping Bobby Portis, signing George Hill, Rodney Hood and Semi Ojeleye, and trading for Grayson Allen (while getting Donte DiVincenzo back from injury) means the Bucks will be even better next season.

    The only thing stopping the Bucks from going back-to-back is a healthy Brooklyn Nets team.

    If Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are on the floor together (plus Joe Harris and Nicolas Claxton), even Milwaukee doesn't have a defense it can throw at the Nets to slow them down for an entire series.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Backup Point Guard

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    Trading Ricky Rubio for Taurean Prince, a 2022 second-round pick and cash improves the power forward position, a spot that was manned by Jaden McDaniels and Juan Hernangomez.

    Unfortunately, it also means not having a reliable veteran behind D'Angelo Russell to run the second-team offense. Jarrett Culver could see time, and Anthony Edwards can thrive with the ball in his hands, but neither is a true point guard.

    The floor general free-agent list is running thin with players like Dante Exum, Brad Wanamaker and former Timberwolf Jeff Teague still available.

    Minnesota doesn't need someone as good as Rubio given the number of playmakers on the roster, but adding a veteran who can fill minutes behind Russell would be smart.

New Orleans Pelicans: Frontcourt Spacing

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    Nearly 70 percent of Zion Williamson's shots came within three feet of the basket last season with an average shot distance of 3.4 feet. While the second-year star was incredibly efficient on these shots (70.1 percent within three feet, 61.1 percent overall), imagine what he could do with more spacing.

    New starting center Jonas Valanciunas is an upgrade over Steven Adams, but the former Grizzlies big man only made 21 three-pointers in 62 games.

    Valanciunas also does his best offensive work bullying smaller opponents around the rim, a strategy that works better with fewer bodies in the paint.

    Williamson and backup center Jaxson Hayes combined for 16 three-pointers last season, meaning this frontcourt could use a floor-stretcher to pair with all three at different times. The Pelicans should have pushed the Bulls for Lauri Markkanen in the Lonzo Ball sign-and-trade and could still work out a deal for the 40.2 percent three-point shooter before the season.

New York Knicks: A Center Who Can Shoot

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    The pairing of Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel (who returns on a three-year, $27.7 million contract) will continue to be one of the best rim-protecting duos in the league, the backbone of New York's fourth-ranked defense last season.

    Both are limited offensively, however—they combined for zero three-pointers on three attempts last year.

    Robinson's average shot distance was just 1.3 feet, while Noel stretched his average range out to 3.7 feet.

    If Julius Randle can maintain his 41.1 percent three-point mark from a season ago, Robinson and Noel's lack of spacing may not matter. If Randle regresses to his average from before 2020-21 (29.5 percent), the Knicks may have spacing issues.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Experience

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    The Thunder have torn the organization down to the studs and field a roster with three players over 24 years old.

    This version will even be younger than last year when OKC began the season with veterans Al Horford and George Hill in the starting lineup.

    Sam Presti decided to pay Kemba Walker $54 million over the next two years to stay away from the team and only took on Derrick Favors to collect a first-round pick from the Utah Jazz in a salary dump.

    This will be an ugly season in Oklahoma City, as the Thunder could finish with the league's worst record. They have plenty of young talent to be excited about, but removing almost all the adults in the room is sure to lead to some bad habits as well.

Orlando Magic: Backcourt Shooting

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    Orlando could have the worst three-point-shooting roster in the NBA next season with the issue rooted deep in the team's backcourt.

    Of the four returning guards (Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton), none shot better than Harris' 34.0 percent mark from deep last season. Fultz made 25.0 percent of his threes before tearing his ACL eight games into the year and owns a lifetime success rate of 26.5 percent in 113 career contests.

    Even fifth overall pick Jalen Suggs shot 33.7 percent from deep in his lone season at Gonzaga, although his solid mechanics suggest that number should improve.

    The lack of an outside threat will bog down an offense that features intriguing frontcourt talent with Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. Orlando has to bank on major internal improvements or seek help via free agency or trade.

Philadelphia 76ers: A Reliable Third Scorer

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    Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris combined to average 48.0 points per game last season, a number that rose to 49.9 a contest during the playoffs.

    Behind them, six players averaged between 8.0 points and 14.3 points, and Ben Simmons served as the third scorer on most nights. Seth Curry took over this role during the postseason, while guys like Danny Green, Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey played the part on occasion.

    Consistency would be nice, however, something Philly may never get with Simmons.

    While trading for Damian Lillard or Bradley Beal would be the dream, adding a proven scorer like CJ McCollum, Collin Sexton or Buddy Hield would alleviate pressure on Embiid and Harris.

Phoenix Suns: Power Forward Clarity

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    With four starters locked in for next season (Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton), power forward is the only potential weakness in the Suns lineup.

    Phoenix does have options, however.

    Jae Crowder locked down the job throughout the playoffs and most of the regular season and is a better defensive option than backup Cameron Johnson.

    Johnson has a higher offensive upside, especially as an elite three-point shooter. He caught fire in the playoffs, finishing with a 44.6 percent mark from three in 21 games.

    The Suns have also fared better with Johnson over Crowder with a net rating of plus-10.1 when the 25-year-old shares the floor with Paul, Booker, Bridges and Ayton, compared to plus-4.7 with Crowder.

Portland Trail Blazers: Commitment to Defense

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    After finishing 27th in defensive rating in 2019-20, the Blazers traded a pair of first-round picks to get Robert Covington as the wing stopper the team desperately needed.

    The result? Portland got worse, falling to 29th with a rating of 115.3.

    New head coach Chauncey Billups is stressing defense, but he can only do so much with three guards 6'3" and shorter in the starting lineup.

    Billups told Brooke Olzendam of Blazers Broadcasting (h/t Clevis Murray of NBC Sports Northwest):

    "If you're going to take the next step you gotta have some investment in the defense and actually want to be better there, and we will be. That's the only way you take the jump and playing at time like this [the conference finals] is to focus on the defensive end of the basketball. I'm looking forward going into games with a defensive-minded mindset. We'll prepare for it every day and guys will begin to enjoy it."

    Signing players like Cody Zeller, Ben McLemore and Tony Snell won't make big changes in the team's ability to defend, so Billups has to hope he can get players to buy in on both ends.

Sacramento Kings: Wing Depth

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    The Kings' decision to load up on guards and centers and ignore the wing spots is a bold strategy in today's NBA.

    Drafting Davion Mitchell into a backcourt that featured De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton means Sacramento should be set on guards. Re-signing Richaun Holmes, trading for Tristan Thompson, picking up Alex Len in free agency and guaranteeing the contract of Damian Jones has given the Kings more than enough depth at center.

    Harrison Barnes is the best wing Sacramento has, although his ideal position may be a stretch-4. Sacramento re-signed Maurice Harkless after he started 20 of 26 games following a March trade, but the 28-year-old averaged just 6.9 points and shot 24.7 percent from three.

    Hield and Marvin Bagley III should be floated as trade bait for an upgrade at small forward, as Harkless is best as a reserve.

San Antonio Spurs: Pick-and-Roll Partners

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    With Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and rookie Josh Primo, the Spurs have plenty of pick-and-roll ball-handlers, but who's left to screen for them?

    LaMarcus Aldridge was the primary roll man for the Spurs last season (41.9 percent of his offense) before being bought out. Forwards Rudy Gay (Utah Jazz) and Trey Lyles (Detroit Pistons) both left in free agency, replaced by Doug McDermott, Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu.

    McDermott gives the Spurs plenty of pick-and-pop opportunities, but he won't roll hard to the basket and finish in traffic over people.

    John Collins would have been the perfect fit, and San Antonio had the cap space to offer him more than the five-year, $125 million deal he signed with the Atlanta Hawks.

Toronto Raptors: Rebounding

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    As the Raptors adjust to life without Kyle Lowry, a tandem of Fred VanVleet and Goran Dragic (if he stays) should be enough to hold down the point guard position.

    Where Toronto may continue to struggle, however, is on the glass.

    After the Raptors finished 28th in rebound percentage last season (47.9 percent), their frontcourt will look very similar. Starting center Khem Birch returns on a three-year, $20 million contract and will have Chris Boucher to back him up again. Pascal Siakam is still in Toronto, although rebounding has never been one of his strengths.

    Boucher was the team's best glass-cleaner last season at 15.3 percent, although that ranks lower than what point guard Russell Westbrook (16.8 percent) pulled down for the Washington Wizards. Given that Andre Drummond signed for the minimum with the Philadelphia 76ers, he would have been a cheap option for Toronto to pursue.

Utah Jazz: A Post-Up Threat

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    The Jazz have few weaknesses, especially after re-signing Mike Conley and picking up Rudy Gay in free agency. They're one of the league's best three-point-shooting teams, are an elite unit defensively and feature three All-Stars in their starting lineup.

    If we're nitpicking, the team lacks a true post-up threat, a big Conley or Donovan Mitchell can dump the ball down to and let go to work. Rudy Gobert doesn't create for himself offensively, and new backup center Hassan Whiteside collected 72.2 percent of his made shots off an assist last season.

    Utah ranked last in post-ups in 2020-21 (2.6 per game), shooting 41.8 percent. While post-ups aren't as important in today's NBA, having a big capable of creating a la Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid can bring a new dimension to the offense and make life easier on the guards.

    Signing a backup center like DeMarcus Cousins or Isaiah Hartenstein would have brought offensive diversity to the Jazz rotation.

Washington Wizards: Quantity over Quality

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    After trading Russell Westbrook and landing Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Washington has a ton of depth.

    Maybe too much depth.

    The Wizards have three players who can make a starting argument at all three frontcourt positions, including small forward (Caldwell-Pope, Deni Avdija, rookie Corey Kispert), power forward (Kuzma, Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans) and center (Harrell, Daniel Gafford, Thomas Bryant).

    That's a lot of good players, but all nine have combined for zero All-Star appearances. Washington can try to win now and grab a lower playoff seed in the East by leaning on the veterans, but that stunts the growth of guys like Hachimura, Avdija and Gafford.

    They can continue to play the young guys, but that probably won't sit well with the vets, some of whom will fall out of the rotation.

    Washington has a lot more roster flexibility around Bradley Beal, although no second All-Star for him to want to continue playing with.


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