The attention for the remainder of the NBA season will be focused on the upcoming playoffs. 16 teams will battle it out in the East and the West to ultimately become NBA champions.
But what about the forgotten teams that have now finished their season? What improvements should they make for next year? Are they far off a playoff spot next season?
Let’s look in to this further.
IMAGE CREDIT – NBA.COM
Improvement – Drafting a Power Forward/Centre
The Hawks have seen major change to their roster in the past couple of seasons. The departures of stars Al Horford, Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap made a rebuilding phase almost inevitable.
It’s unfamiliar territory for the Hawks. This season they posted their worst record since the 2004-2005 season. Where did it all go wrong?
They need to work on their efficiency. They have decent 3 point shooters in Schroder, Prince and Bazemore. But they are not efficient enough with their shooting around the rim. They rank 25th in points in the league and 29th in turnover percentage. Yikes.
Moving on from Schroder is the most popular option. But he’s not easily replaced. The majority of other upper echelon PG’s around the league are locked in, so the Hawks have no standout alternative option to trade for.
John Collins and Taurean Prince are two untouchable figures on the team, given their youth and potential. While the Hawks are highly ranked in terms of three point percentage, their work around the rim offensively is lacking. Factor in their rank as 26th in rebounding percentage, and it can be easy to see that they need to make changes with their bigs.
Keeping Dedmon as a backup would be ideal, but unlikely. With a lack of viable options in free agency, the Hawks should look to improve their rim protection and offensive output by drafting an efficient scoring Centre/PF.
IMAGE SOURCE – NETS DAILY
Improvement – Sign an established wing scorer
Would you believe me if I said the Brooklyn Nets trail only the Houston Rockets on 3 pointers made this season? Well, you’ll have to.
The Nets have tailored their game to match the modern game.
A return for Jeremy Lin next season will see their guard lineup prove impressive with Lin, Dinwiddie and Russell all available (if healthy).
But they don’t have any standouts on the wings that are out and out scorers, like a Kyle Korver, or a Marcus Morris. Bringing a bit of experience to a young lineup would also help.
The Nets have enough slow overpaid centres on the bench they could get rid of for cap space. Signing someone like Bobby Portis or Kenneth Faried would drastically build their hopes of being a fringe playoff team.
IMAGE CREDIT – THE BASKETBALL HERALD
Improving – Trading Nicholas Batum
If Charlotte keep Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard, they’ll be a perennial gatekeeper team for the next three years.
What do I mean by a gatekeeper team? Basically one that doesn’t contend for the playoffs, but doesn’t tank either. Not too desirable.
I think Charlotte would be crazy to move on from prime Kemba just for the risk of rebuilding. They already have the bones of a structure of a playoff team. Throw in a decent backup roster and all they need is some tweaking.
Their 3 point efficiency is in the top 10 in the league. But they rank in the bottom 10 in terms of 3 points attempted. Having two ball dominant figures in Walker and Howard spells the need for a 3 & D wing, who’s not afraid to shoot.
This was probably their motive drafting Malik Monk last year, and we all know how that turned out. As is the case with Brooklyn, signing a wing scorer is an option.
I think the Charlotte Hornets need to part ways with Nicolas Batum. For his contract (the highest paid player on the team) the Hornets could give more minutes to a Jeremy Lamb or a Malik Monk while obtaining a smaller contract in someone like Tyreke Evans.
IMAGE CREDIT – BLOG A BULL
Improvement – Signing an established Shooting Guard
We saw how the Bulls can perform with a semi-star on their team. A hot streak, helped by the return of Nikolai Mirotic, proved the Bulls are far from the worst team in the league.
Their upside is far greater than when they started the season. Questions were raised around Lauri Markkanen but he has proved to be a future All-Star in the making. Kris Dunn has also impressed in a bigger role this year.
Obtaining Omar Asik as part of the Mirotic deal was borderline stupid. However, the Bulls do have some cap room to chase a decent player.
Zach LaVine has again proved his inconsistency by returning from injury and then getting injured again. The Bulls need to strengthen their numbers at the SG position and no bank on good health again this season.
Chasing an established SG will bring much needed experience to a young roster. If Portland decide to alter their Lillard/McCollum base, or the Clippers enter rebuilding mode by parting ways with Lou Williams, the Bulls should jump all over that.
IMAGE CREDIT – HOT NEW HIP HOP
Improvement – Find a replacement for Dirk Nowitzki
It feels like the Mavs are waiting for post Dirk rebuilding mode for two to three years now.
Surprisingly, the Mavs posted the lowest turnover ratio in the league this year. They are also 5th in 3 points made. What went wrong for them?
They are dead last in offensive rebounding and in the bottom five in rebounding overall. They are second last in blocks. They are missing that fiery big man that Dirk provided for them for years.
Nowitzki can still be an important role player in Dallas. He logged one of his best years for Field Goal % this year despite not being able to move much (this is not an exaggeration).
Taking a Mo Bamba or Jaren Jackson in the draft would be a long term option. Looking at someone like Enes Kanter or Julius Randle would be worthwhile too.
IMAGE CREDIT – THE STEPIEN
Improvement – Sign a defensively minded wing
The Denver Nuggets, on paper, should have the least amount of worry when it comes to improving for next season.
The Nuggets were one game away from making the Western Conference Playoffs, but the T’Wolves got the better of them in the decider. The Nuggets have a very promising young core in Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic.
Jokic hasn’t had the breakout season many expected, but he still is the centrepiece of the team. Where the Nuggets lack is on the defensive end – they rank 26th in the league for the season.
Paul Millsap should boost the Nuggets defensive awareness but bolstering their lineup with the acquisition of a defensively minded wing would pay dividends. Trading for a Jon Leuer or Marcus Smart could help in this case.
IMAGE CREDIT – BLEACHER REPORT
Improvement – Trade up in the draft for a guard
The Pistons are kind of stuck with Blake Griffin.
It’s going to be very hard to find a team with the cap space and the nonsense to acquire him. The Pistons were a consistent playoff team in the East before they traded for Griffin and then they just fell off the face of the earth altogether.
It can take a team awhile to adjust to introducing a dominant ball handler, like Griffin. The stat line shows no real deficiencies as they rank about average at everything.
My suggestion would be to trade up in the draft. Luke Kennard was a high enough pick last year, and while he hasn’t been a standout in a strong group of first years, he has showed promising signs offensively.
A lot of the higher picks are looking for a big man, so the Pistons could use Reggie Jackson or a mid to high calibre player to look towards a top 10 pick, which should probably be a guard.
Los Angeles Clippers
IMAGE CREDIT – CLUTCH POINTS
Improvement – Signing a starting Point Guard
Remember when Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan were the talk of free agency?
Instead, the Clippers parted ways with Blake Griffin and a lot of cap space.
It spelled a new look for the Clippers. Long term, it was probably a good choice. Acquiring Danilo Gallinari in hindsight wasn’t the smartest move, given his 20+ mil contract. But Tobias Harris was a steal in the Griffin trade and has bolstered the offense on the wing.
Lou Williams is almost destined to be a bench player for the rest of his career, and that’s just fine. At 31, he is still a dominant force against second rotations and if it’s working, it’s working.
Where the Clippers do lack is at the guard position. Austin Rivers stepped up to the plate this season, but he is no Chris Paul. In fact, no one is really a Chris Paul. But the Clippers can try and trade for a starting Point Guard who can be effective.
There are a few options. Dennis Schroder would be a gamble, still being relatively young, but having the experience of leading a team at the guard position. Kemba Walker would be the ideal situation, but it is unsure if the Hornets are willing to part with him. Isaiah Thomas could also be a gamble. It remains to be seen if he’ll bounce back from season ending surgery in a positive way.
It’s going to be an interesting off-season for the Clippers.
Los Angeles Lakers
IMAGE CREDIT – HOT NEW HIP HOP
Improvement – Drafting/Trading for an efficient three point shooter
The Lakers started off the season as an inevitable tanker. But actually became a decent mid-level team as the season progressed.
They have built a young core in Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and possibly Julius Randel (if he stays). Throw in the maturation of their young core and the concept of Isaiah Thomas drastically improving and they could be a force to be reckoned with next year.
They are a very good rebounding team. Scoring wise, they aren’t terrible, But they do have the second worst 3 point percentage in the league. That’s worrying.
The modern game is centred around the 3 & D game. Trading for a 3&D player in the draft would be a viable option. Also, trading for one could be worth looking in to too.
The Lakers seem to be over the draft rebuilding phase. With rumours of signing LeBron or Paul George, there is no doubt they could spiral the Lakers in to contention.
IMAGE CREDIT – ESPN
Improvement – Signing someone that can score consistently
The Memphis Grizzlies showed us how to tank this year. A 17-game losing streak at one stage was a brief summary of their season.
An injury to star Mike Conley didn’t help the situation, along with the visible decline of franchise centre Marc Gasol. At 33 years old, that could have been expected.
Looking at the stat lines, the Grizzlies are dead last in field goals made. They were second last in overall points scored this season. It’s clear they need to make drastic improvements offensively.
Drafting Luka Doncic will improve this statistic, but they will need to make further improvements to a depleted roster. Combining Conley, Doncic and Gasol can be a decent core for the Grizzlies to work around.
If they are to make improvements offensively, they need an offensively minded wing. Landing someone like Will Barton with the guarantee of starting minutes, or even aiming higher for an Aaron Gordon could be an option. A lot will depend on the draft and whether they take Donic, Ayton or someone else.
New York Knicks
IMAGE CREDIT – BLEACHER REPORT
Improvement – Chase an established Point Guard
The Knicks were two different teams without Kristaps Porzingis this season.
Before his season ending injury, they looked to be on the fringe of a playoff spot. After his season ending injury, they couldn’t come close to remaining in contention.
According to season stats, the Knicks were pretty good offensively around the rim. However, they were dreadful at the 3 point mark.
They ranked second last in 3 points made, which doesn’t always spell disaster, as some teams have different offensive strategies. Having the fourth worst 3 point percentage doesn’t help this, though.
Frank Ntiklina is one for the future, but is looking like more of an Avery Bradley than a Kemba Walker. Trey Burke has been a suprising addition from the G League in the home stretch so they could look to give him more minutes, even if his defense is lacking.
But they need a point guard who can work on both ends of the floor. The Knicks can’t back on bringing back Jarett Jack who’ll be 35 when the season starts. They need to chase after a Kemba Walker, or maybe even Isaiah Thomas if they’re feeling bold. If the Wizards part ways with John Wall (unlikely), New York should be all over that.
IMAGE CREDIT – CLUTCH POINTS
Improvement – Shipping off Aaron Gordon
The Magic have a strong chance of getting a Top 5 pick this draft. Adding another top prospect with 2017 draftee Jonathan Isaac will set them up one step closer to towards the future.
The future is in doubt for the Magic until they decide what to do with Aaron Gordon. Gordon will be a restricted free agent in the summer, and many expect the Magic to offer him a near-max deal.
They shouldn’t. And here’s why.
Gordon is no doubt an effective offensive option around the rim. But this is his fourth season, and while he has shown signs of improvement, he is too big of a risk to offer a near-max contract to. He is very injury prone. He doesn’t convince me that he’ll be that franchise player the Magic need.
If Orlando can sign him to a reasonable deal, all well and good, but I don’t see that happening. The best they can do is acquire a high draft pick for him with some extras and continue to rebuild.
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Improvement – Moving away from the youth that failed to flourish
The Phoenix Suns had the worst record in the NBA this season. I repeat, the Phoenix Suns had the worst record in the NBA this season.
Surely they need to improve everywhere?
Despite having Devin Booker at the helm, they rank in the bottom 10 in pretty much every offensive statistic. They are dead last in 3 point percentage.
They have the best chance of getting the #1 pick in this years draft, so it’s not all that bad. But they have been rebuilding since the Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire days. It’s time they pushed on in some sort of direction.
The likes of Dragan Bender, Alex Len and Marquese Chriss haven’t proved much yet for Top 10 picks. It might be time to start looking in a different direction.
IMAGE CREDIT – SPORTING NEWS
Improvement – Signing a defensive big man
The Kings have a promising young core in De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bojan Bogdanovich. Offensively, they have options.
Defensively, they have the fourth worst rating in the league, along with the second worst defensive rebounding totals. Willie Cauley-Stein had an enchanced role this season, but he’s not ready to lead the defense on his own.
Acquiring a big man in Kyle O’Quinn or taking a gamble on Tristan Thompson might be worth looking in to. It’s important they look for someone with a proven track record with so much uncertainties in the side. You’re either a young gun or an old boot in Sacramento these days.
Nevertheless, a top 10 draft pick will be a welcome addition to a promising team that need to make an improvement on this years performance.
Thank you for reading. This was surprisingly an enjoyable article to write. Despite many teams in limbo over the Playoff period, there are still a lot of positives for most. Look out for more NBA content over the playoff period.