NBA: Off-Season Needs For Non-Bubble Teams

Contributed by Aditya Fuldeore

In Orlando, there are 22 teams performing inside the bubble for a shot at the playoffs and a title. However, for the other 8 teams, it is time to look ahead to the offseason. With a second bubble unlikely, the non-bubble teams’ seasons are finished, and with that, we look ahead to the what the 8 non-bubble teams need to help them improve next season.

Atlanta Hawks

Primary Needs: Off-Guard Upgrade, Veteran Experience, Frontcourt Depth

As the second youngest team in the league, the Atlanta Hawks have multiple needs to address this offseason. Their primary need is to add help in the backcourt next to Trae Young. Young is by far the most productive guard on the team and the backcourt depth will take a hit this offseason with Jeff Teague and Deandre’ Bembry’s impending free agencies. Young had a high usage rate of 34.9% while the next highest Usage Rate for a guard was Teague’s 18.3%, showing that Young needs backcourt reinforcement to take pressure off him. An efficient guard would be another threat for defenses to focus on and a source of production if Young is off the court, as Young and John Collins were the only players on the Hawks that finished with a positive Box Plus/Minus. Re-signing Teague and Bembry is a possibility, but free agents like Fred VanVleet or Jordan Clarkson would be a bigger upgrade. Draft prospects like Anthony Edwards or Cole Anthony can also fit as players for coach Lloyd Pierce to develop next to Young. The Hawks’ other primary needs include veteran experience and frontcourt depth. The Hawks are a very young team and need a productive veteran in the inexperienced lineup as their only player 30 or older signed for next season, Dewayne Dedmon, is best suited as a bench player. Adding a player like Paul Millsap or DJ Augustin or re-signing Teague would add an experienced presence to the rotation. In the frontcourt, the Hawks don’t have much depth behind John Collins and Clint Capela, as they ranked 29th in the NBA in Defensive Rebound % and Capela hasn’t played a game for them yet. Free agents like Mason Plumlee and Hassan Whiteside or a draftee like Onyeka Okongwu would upgrade the frontcourt and let Lloyd Pierce run bigger lineups to reinforce the paint while Trae Young takes his outside shots and allow top college defenders De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish defend guards rather than big forwards to help overcome Young’s defensive struggles.

Charlotte Hornets

Primary Needs: Scoring, Interior Defense, Wing talent 

The Charlotte Hornets have scraped together wins from young talent without a proven star and have a few holes to fill as a result. Where the Hornets struggle most is scoring the ball, as they rank last in the NBA in Field Goal % and Points Per Game and second to last in True Shooting %. Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham are the Hornets’ leading scorers, but an efficient all-round scorer would benefit the team, as Graham is utilized better as a passer (35.3 Assist %) and Rozier is best as an outside shooter (40.7 3 Point %). An all-round scorer would lift the team’s offensive production by feeding off Graham’s playmaking and scoring from all over the court. Free agents like Danilo Gallinari or Brandon Ingram or draftees like Anthony Edwards or Obi Toppin would add a number one scoring option to make up for the Hornets’ lack of star power. The Hornets also have needs on the defensive interior and the wing. They had the worst Defensive Rebound % in the NBA this season and allowed the highest 2 Point %, showing a need for an inside defender. With centers Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangomez entering free agency, the Hornets could look to a free agent like Serge Ibaka or a draft prospect like James Wiseman or Onyeka Okongwu to protect the rim and grab rebounds. On the wing, the Hornets have minimal depth and production next to Miles Bridges, who has the highest Usage Rate among Hornets wings of 20%, just on the edge of the top 100 Usage Rates in the NBA. Productive wing depth like aforementioned impending free agents Gallinari and Ingram would upgrade scoring, while draftees Isaac Okoro and Devin Vassell would add a defensive spark.

Chicago Bulls

Primary Needs: Playmaking, Defense, A Creative, bold coaching mind

The Chicago Bulls have lots of talent and potential but have not been able to stay healthy or get their lineup to click. Their primary need in the offseason to get the rotation to jell is playmaking. They rank in the bottom third of the NBA in Turnover % and Assists Per Game while their top playmaker, Tomas Satoransky (27.1 Assist %), had a high Turnover % (17.7%). While young scorer Coby White could be developed into a playmaker, former coach Jim Boylen primarily used him as a shot-maker in the backcourt with Zach LaVine on the wing, so a true playmaking point guard would be beneficial to set up both White and LaVine for shot opportunities. While developing White into a playmaker is still an option, a relatively cheap free agent like DJ Augustin would fit for the low-on-cash Bulls. Draft options like LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton or a big trade target like Chris Paul would also fit as playmaking floor generals to create shot opportunities for the lineup. The Bulls also have a need on defense this offseason. While they rank in the top half of the league in Defensive Rating, their top defenders, Kris Dunn (3.1 Defensive Box Plus/Minus) and Shaquille Harrison (2.4 DBPM), are impending free agents, and a lineup with LaVine and Lauri Markkanen (both -0.8 DBPM) needs defense. Re-signing Dunn and Harrison, who combined for 2.8 steals per game, would be a likely option for the Bulls. They could also sign a free agent like Derrick Jones Jr. or draft a prospect like Deni Avdija or Devin Vassell to upgrade the defensive aspect of the lineup.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Primary Needs: Playmaking, Long-Term Big 

The Cleveland Cavaliers have sunk to the bottom of the East since LeBron James left a couple years ago. They have young talent, but, like the Bulls, they need more playmaking. They rank 24th in Assists Per Game and had the highest Turnover % in the league. Backcourt leader Collin Sexton is more of a scorer with a Usage Rate of 27.1 % and an Assist % of 15.1%, too low to be a playmaker. With Assist % leader Matthew Dellavedova (29 Assist %) only receiving 14.4 Minutes Per Game and hitting free agency this offseason, the Cavaliers could use a playmaker in the backcourt. While they don’t have much room under the salary cap for free agency, the Cavaliers could re-sign Dellavedova and give him more opportunities as a passer. They could also trade for a player like Ricky Rubio or draft playmakers like Tyrese Haliburton or Killian Hayes who would fit the backcourt and elevate the team’s shot creation. The Cavaliers would also benefit from adding an all-round big to the frontcourt. This season, they rank worst in Blocks Per 100 Possessions and rank in the bottom third of the league in Defensive Rebounds Per Game and 2 Point %. Bigs Tristan Thompson and Ante Zizic are set to be free agents, as well as Andre Drummond if he declines his player option, so replenishing the frontcourt on both sides of the ball would benefit the Cavaliers this offseason. Signing a cheap free agent or re-signing Thompson may be more of a stopgap, but extending top tier center Drummond might be the best option. A draftee like James Wiseman may help the Cavaliers build the frontcourt as well.

Detroit Pistons

Primary Needs: Centerpiece, Long-Term Guard

Led by veterans Blake Griffin and Derek Rose, the Detroit Pistons are positioned for a high pick in the 2020 draft and a potential free agency spending spree. The Pistons’ primary need this offseason is to upgrade the frontcourt next to Griffin. They rank last in Rebounds Per Game and rank in the bottom third of the league in Defensive Rebound %, Blocks Per Game, and 2 Point %. Outside of Griffin, the Pistons’ other notable bigs, John Henson, Thon Maker, and Christian Wood, are all set to be free agents this offseason, showing a lack of frontcourt talent after trading away Andre Drummond. Additionally, the oft-injured Griffin only appeared in 18 games this season, so adding stability to the frontcourt would benefit the Pistons. They could re-sign Wood, Maker, or Henson, pursue free agents like Derrick Favors or Montrezl Harrell, or pursue draftees like Obi Toppin or Onyeka Okongwu to upgrade the frontcourt. The Pistons also need a long-term solution at guard to develop behind Rose. They don’t have a guard, especially a point guard, that is signed to a long-term deal. Rose is a playmaking former MVP with an expert 40.5 Assist % who can mentor a younger guard that the team can center their future around. Coach Dwane Casey has shown the ability to develop a guard into a lead player, like he helped develop Kyle Lowry into a star in Toronto. The Pistons could pursue an already proven guard in Casey’s ex-player Fred VanVleet through free agency or draft a playmaker like LaMelo Ball to find a guard for the future.

Golden State Warriors

Primary Needs: Frontcourt Depth, Guard Depth

With Klay Thompson out the whole year and Stephen Curry missing all but 5 games, the Golden State Warriors took a “gap year” from contention. With Thompson and Curry set to return next year, their biggest need looks to be frontcourt depth. The Warriors ranked in the bottom third of the league in both Offensive and Defensive Rebound %, while ranking 29th in 2 Point %. The Warriors found a gem in Eric Paschall and still have Draymond Green, but they need more depth, especially at the center spot. Marquese Chriss and Kevon Looney played well this season, but the Warriors should look for more stability to allow Green and Paschall to continue to play the four more often, where they thrive the most. While the Warriors lack money to spend in free agency, they could explore signing Demarcus Cousins, if he is willing to sign for a cheap contract, or draft a big like James Wiseman. They could also trade their projected high pick for a proven big man. The Warriors also need depth at guard behind Curry and Thompson. Without Thompson and with Curry only playing in 5 games this season, the Warriors relied on Damion Lee, Jordan Poole, and Ky Bowman in the backcourt after trading away D’Angelo Russell and Alec Burks. Out of those three, Ky Bowman had the highest Assist % at 19.4%, and Jordan Poole had the highest Usage Rate at 21.1%, both not the most productive numbers, showing a need for another guard to reinforce depth on the Warriors’ playoff contending team next season. They could look to sign a guard to a cheap deal in free agency with their low salary cap or look to the draft with guards like LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards to give them a bigger upgrade off the bench.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Primary Needs: Scoring, Veteran Contributor, Frontcourt Defensive Partner for KAT

The Minnesota Timberwolves could be a few pieces away from making the playoffs as they traded for D’Angelo Russell this season and have a talented 1-2 punch in Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. The primary need for them is to add scoring. They rank in the bottom third of the league in True Shooting % and don’t have many scorers outside of Towns and Russell. Jarrett Culver is still developing and only had 9 Field Goal Attempts Per Game this season. Recently acquired Malik Beasley could step up as a third scorer (16.6 FG Attempts Per Game) if re-signed, but outside the team, a free agent like Bogdan Bogdanovic would be an affordable scorer. Draft prospects like Anthony Edwards and Obi Toppin would also add scoring to the team. The Timberwolves also need to add a veteran to the lineup and another big man to pair with Towns. The team only has one player over 26 years old under contract next season, and veteran experience would help mature the team as it strives to make the playoffs. A veteran like Marcus Morris would add veteran and playoff experience to the young rotation. Additionally, the Timberwolves’ frontcourt is sparse next to Towns. Other than Towns, no other current Minnesota big contributed more than 1 Win Share this season. Giving Towns a frontcourt buddy like free agent Derrick Favors or draftee Obi Toppin would give coach Ryan Saunders and the Timberwolves more flexibility and production out of the frontcourt next to Towns.

New York Knicks

Primary Needs: Lead Guard Upgrade, Outside Scoring, 

With the hiring of Tom Thibodeau as coach, the New York Knicks will attempt to make big strides this season in an effort to make the playoffs. The Knicks’ first step would be to add an upgrade at point guard. They rank in the bottom third of the league in Assists Per Game, while only 45.1% of their 2 Pointers were assisted on, in the bottom sixth of the league. So, a new point guard would be beneficial, especially to feed a team with many inside scorers. Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. have both struggled behind veteran Elfrid Payton, with 0 combined win shares this season. While Payton has been serviceable, an upgrade at point guard would add a long-term floor general to consistently create shots for RJ Barrett and Julius Randle and give the Knicks another piece to build the team around. Free agent Fred VanVleet could be a player for Thibodeau to develop a Derrick Rose-like relationship with. Draftees like LaMelo Ball or Killian Hayes would also upgrade the Knicks’ backcourt. The Knicks also have a need for outside scoring. They ranked in the bottom fifth of the league in 3 Point % and had the second lowest 3 Point Attempt Rate. Top players RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson all attempted less than 28% of their shots from 3 Point range, showing that they are all best utilized as scorers from inside the arc. A free agent like Joe Harris or draft prospects like Aaron Nesmith or Tyrese Haliburton would increase outside scoring and spread the floor to allow the Knicks to score from all over the court.

*Stats from Basketball Reference

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