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With Summer League already reaching its completion (congratulations, Kings), we now begin about the only breather in the entire year where basketball is not being played or talked about heavily. Since we have some down time and each team’s roster is more or less settled for the upcoming season, I’ll be addressing one strength and one weakness from each team in the NBA. Obviously, each team has multiple advantages and flaws, but I’ll be choosing just one and expanding on how it affects certain players, the team as a whole, fantasy, or all of the above. And because I know you won’t want to spend an hour reading an article about all 30 teams and what they do well and poorly, I’ll hit each of the six divisions in the weeks to come, starting with the relatively stacked Pacific Division.
Strength: Klay Thompson’s return
Some of these teams’ strengths are as simple as getting a key player back, and there is arguably no player nearing a return that is more key than Klay Thompson. Last month, Steve Kerr said that Klay has been looking great and is targeting a return early into this season, and the Warriors need him now more than ever. People are quick to forget that the Kevin Durant-less Warriors won a championship in 2015, spearheaded by Klay, Draymond Green and of course Stephen Curry, and the surrounding pieces strike similarities in the sense that there were not many other consistent, big-time difference makers on either roster (paralleling 2015 and the present, that is). Klay is just one guy, and it may take him some time to get his feet under him and find his shot, but his presence alone will take a ridiculous amount of pressure off of Steph and make the Warriors look like more of a cohesive unit than they have the past two seasons. Plus, he’s an underrated defender that can take the task of guarding the other team’s best guy, so he’s more of a difference-maker than the average fan may realize. Let’s just hope he hasn’t partied too hard this summer in a way that will affect his gameplay – keep in mind that just because he appears to be holding a coffee cup does not ensure that there is, in fact, coffee inside of it.
Golden State’s rebounding struggles should not surprise anyone, as they haven’t had a good, legitimate center in quite a number of years. Last season, the team as a whole was dead last in offensive rebounds per game and 22nd in total rebounds per game, and James Wiseman, No. 2 overall pick in 2020, was not helping them in the way that they had hoped. He’s still just 20 years old and is sure to improve, but he’s a pretty raw player and did not necessarily have a rookie season for the books with averages of 11.5 points, 5.8 boards, and a combined 1.2 steals and blocks per game. He’s not the only reason for the rebounding struggles, but an elite center who can run the floor and shoot some threes here and there would work wonders for this current Warriors team. It’s also worth noting that the Warriors are notorious for going small and playing without a true center, which could work a bit better this year with Andre Iguodala running it back, but they still need to hit the boards with a little more urgency. For what it’s worth, even with plenty of small ball in their 2015 championship year, they still managed to rank sixth overall in total rebounds per game over that regular season.
Los Angeles Clippers
Strength: Three-point shooting
The Clippers shot a remarkable 41.1% from three-point land over the regular season this past season, almost two full percentage points higher than the runner-up (Nets, 39.2%). While a 2% increase doesn’t seem all that significant, note that the Clips shot more than 100 fewer threes than Brooklyn yet made seven more, which is pretty incredible. There are plenty of guys responsible for this, as the Clippers had five players make at least 1.5 three-pointers per game on over 40% from that mark: Paul George, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard (Kawhi Leonard barely missed it at 39.8%). They retained all of the guys listed so could technically lead the league in 3PT% again, which seems surprising sans Kawhi, but he didn’t even shoot at a top-5 clip for three-point purposes on this team. The sad reality, however, is that if newcomer Eric Bledsoe doesn’t improve on his 34.1% clip from range from last season and has the green light in Los Angeles, it could hurt their chances of staying above the 40% mark just a bit. But for the time being, let’s hope his shooting volume isn’t high enough to obscure the Clippers’ scorching sharpshooting from last year.
Weakness: No Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard suffered a partially torn right ACL in the playoffs last season, and after having successful surgery in mid-July is said to miss a “substantial portion” of this upcoming season. The team still has plenty of talent to compete, but they’re another beast with Kawhi Leonard and their championship odds have fallen quite heftily now that Kawhi will officially miss most, if not all, of the 2021-2022 season. With Kawhi out, a pretty directly correlated weakness is the team’s chemistry, as Paul George will likely have to take more leadership duties and lead the team with some different tactics than they’re accustomed to when The Klaw is in action. As a small fantasy side note here, Paul George should be an absolute beast and is almost a sure top-10 pick regardless of league format, so target him aggressively.
Los Angeles Lakers
There are too many “old guy” jokes flying around social media to even wrap my head around, and while this Lakers team is relatively ancient, people forget that with more age almost always comes more experience to bring to the table. With eight guys locked in being 32 years of age or older, rest days are inevitable for those in the latter part of their career. But the strength this brings to this team is a group with veteran experience that has no fear of calling each other out on their mistakes, lack of effort, etc. Call me crazy, but just because half of this squad can get the senior-priced coffee at McDonald’s doesn’t mean it’ll be a season-altering issue. After all, the mental part of basketball is just as important, and those savvy minds could come in handy when facing younger, more athletic teams throughout the course of the season.
Weakness: Shooting (still)
The main weakness the Lakers faced last season was none other than their three-point shooting. They ranked 21st overall in three-point percentage last season at 35.4% from that distance, and only attempted the seventh least as well (you know, because they aren’t very good at making them – #analysis). One would think that the team would prioritize getting a sharpshooter like, say, Buddy Hield (which they reportedly almost did) but they went and grabbed the following guys instead to help the cause: Carmelo Anthony, Wayne Ellington, Trevor Ariza and Kent Bazemore. I mean no disrespect whatsoever in grouping these players here as they are part of the best batch on the planet, but they are all a decent step below what Buddy Hield can do from beyond the arc, and it’s possible these guys won’t play enough in games to get into a rhythm at certain times. All that being said, although I still consider shooting a weakness for this team, it appears to be a step in the right direction by adding various weapons. It’s probably a good idea to stay away from these guys in fantasy hoops, but if you’re desperate for triples one week, Wayne Ellington will likely be your best bet, but keep in mind that production level could rotate on the weekly.
Strength: Running it back
The Suns so far have utilized a sort of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach so far this offseason. They came just two wins shy of winning a championship back in July, and made very few changes to their roster. They did, however, sign Chris Paul to a four-year deal, so he’s there to stay, and they added some more point guard relief in the name of Elfrid Payton and some center relief in JaVale McGee. Other than that, the roster looks incredibly similar to their previous roster, they’ll sport the same starting five, and their chemistry can only get better from here given such minimal structural change.
Weakness: Points in the paint
The Suns were one of the more consistently good teams in most statistical categories last year, so there isn’t much to nitpick at. However, especially considering they have a great young center in Deandre Ayton and now a legitimate backup in JaVale McGee, they’ll need to do better in the paint on both ends. On the offensive end, they ranked 22nd in the regular season last year at 45.3 points scored per game in the restricted area, and were smack in the middle of the pack on the defensive end and allowed 47.4 paint points. These numbers aren’t horrible, but Ayton does need to be a better shot blocker if he wants to improve these numbers and, of equal importance, his fantasy value.
Strength: Davion Mitchell
The Kings drafted one of the more exciting rookies in Davion Mitchell at No. 9 overall in this year’s draft, with the golden question being where he gets his minutes in a backcourt occupied by De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton. He has some of the quickest legs I’ve ever seen on defense and his feet slide with such ease and rapidity that it almost makes me dizzy. Mitchell, with a name and game already looking similar to Jazz All-Star Donavan Mitchell, could be the best two-way player to come out of this draft and is going to make it very difficult for coach Luke Walton to not play him. However, it is the Kings after all, so while nothing is imminent by any means, the Kings have to love their new rookie so far. For what it’s worth, Tyrese Haliburton already looks to be bulking up which could lead him to play some more small forward and open up some minutes for Mitchell, but with the -17.6 net rating (in a bit over 200 minutes) with Haliburton at the three last season, it would be a work in progress right out of the gate.
The Kings had a league worst 116.5 defensive rating last season, and averaged just 32.0 defensive rebounds per game (also a league worst) with a 71.3% defensive rebounding percentage (second to last – thanks Indiana). The Kings’ weaknesses are clear cut and right in front of their faces, and while a good rebounding big that can play some solid defense and block some shots would be ideal, they signed no one of that nature over the offseason. Richaun Holmes is as solid as they come on defense and played well last year, so he wasn’t the problem, and signing Tristan Thompson won’t propel them to the top 50% of any of these categories on his own, so maybe they have something up their sleeves (probably not, though). They have some great shooters and scorers and just missed the top 10 in most points per game on the offensive end, but prioritizing an improvement on defense is what truly needs to happen if Sacramento wants to even compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.