Behind Enemy Lines: NBA scouts dish dirt on all 30 teams ahead of 2015–16
Sports Illustrated's NBA writers spoke with scouts ahead of the 2015—16 season for our annual behind-the-scenes look at all 30 teams. Opposing scouts dished the good, bad and ugly of each team while discussing their off-season moves and outlook for the upcoming season. We granted them anonymity in exchange for their candor. They delivered.
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Reporting by Chris Mannix, Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney.
"I see them dropping a little bit. They had a great year but, to me, everything fell into place. [And] the league has improved, the East in particular... I like their roster, but I love Mike Budenholzer. There are a lot of teams that want to play like the Hawks but can’t. Nobody spaces the floor better. They have a really good freelancing, spacing-type offense, but most of their scoring came from good penetration, drive-and-kick, and guys moving to the right spots... Jeff Teague draws the defense and is really good at finding shooters. That was their offense. They were the most unselfish team in the league. That’s a credit to Bud... Kent Bazemore has the most upside on this team. His best asset is his defense, and with his shooting improving, he’s more of a threat from three. Bazemore really can run the floor. With how they like to push the pace, he fits right in... Whenever Dennis Schroder came into the game, he seemed to dominate the ball. Kyle Korver, in particular, was struggling playing with Schroder... They don’t have that inside game, so when their jump shots aren’t going down, they’re going to lose. That’s what happened in the playoffs. Korver just might be the best three-point shooter in the league, but he didn’t shoot it very well and their offense suffered... Tiago Splitter is a good high-post passer and a good screener who can roll. He’s just not a good finisher... They probably look at Tim Hardaway Jr. as another shooter they can throw into the mix. He hasn’t proven himself, but he’s still young, and maybe a new start in Atlanta will help him."
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"They lack a star but have good depth, one through 11. They addressed their inside game; I’m not saying they brought in a stopper, but they added two decent-sized bodies in David Lee and Amir Johnson. Lee is still a good, seasoned forward, a double-double guy who can really rebound. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk just don’t have a presence inside. They’re step-out bigs, a little softer than the two guys they brought in... They have a lot of good wings: Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, James Young, R.J. Hunter. I don’t know if they’ll go with Marcus Smart as the starter at point and bring Isaiah Thomas off the bench. Thomas was really effective last year, but I’m not sure he’ll be happy coming off the bench... With all that depth, I think they can now play small and run, or they can play big. There’s just no one guy other than Thomas who gives instant offense... Olynyk is one of those guys I just haven’t seen improve. He’s a good player, a rotation guy, but he hasn’t taken it to the next level. He could be out some minutes... I love Bradley. He’s not a star, but every year that kid gets better. Every year. He’ll probably start at the two. It is somewhat of a smaller backcourt, but they played well together last year, Smart and Bradley... I’ve been in the league a long time, and I’ve watched a lot of college coaches come in. Maybe 90% of them don’t make it. Brad Stevens made the smoothest adjustment I’ve seen. In the last two or three minutes, they won more games than anybody in the league. I know there are coaches in this league that copy his ATOs [after timeout plays] and end-of-game plays."
"Of all the teams in the NBA, they have the longest road ahead of them. They’re trying to change things, but they’re basically plugging in average players. When you don’t have assets and you don’t have draft picks, what can you get? . . . Joe Johnson has no value. Deron Williams had no value. Kevin Garnett, no value. Getting rid of Williams, who was kind of a disruptive factor, should help. But then if you look at their point guards, to me they’re all backups... When Johnson’s got the ball, there’s no movement. He’ll catch it on the wing, they’ll clear out, and he’ll just back guys down into an isolation turnaround. That’s the only way he’s ever played. I don’t think they can improve by him playing like that... Early in the year Lionel Hollins tried to put Brook Lopez on the post, throw it in and score inside. It just wasn’t working. Once they moved to him facing the basket, working the elbow, [running] pick-and-pops they were a lot more effective. Lopez is as good a face-up shooter at his size as anybody—really deadly from 18 feet. They’ll run a lot of stuff with him or Andrea Bargnani in the pick-and-pop... They were lucky to get Thaddeus Young halfway through the season last year. That put them over the top and into the playoffs. Young doesn’t need to go through a play to score. He’s good at catching off the elbow and creating for himself. With Lopez out there, Young has the ability to get to the rim... Hollins is one of the better coaches in the league. He makes players accountable, but I think he turned the corner with them last year when he backed off a little bit. He was a little too controlling, running plays every time."
"The biggest x-factor is Al Jefferson. He gained a lot of weight toward the end of the season, and I feel like he’s going to be injury-prone. They’ll run a lot of turn-outs to get him the ball inside. The big question, then, is whether they put good enough shooters around him... Last year they were near the bottom in almost every category on offense. You’re going to see better spacing, better ball movement with Nicolas Batum... Jeremy Lamb is a good addition too. He was knocking on the door in Oklahoma City, and this change may help him... A point guard needs to be a distributor who can score as well; Kemba Walker is the opposite. He’s their leader and a good one-on-one player when they need a bucket. But throughout the season, or even throughout 48 minutes, he pounds the ball too much and leaves his teammates standing around... They’ll play good defense. Steve Clifford really spends a lot of time on rotations. That fell apart last season because Lance Stephenson is terrible at that kind of stuff... They want to go back to the way they played a couple of years ago, when Josh McRoberts was at the top of the key swinging the ball and making shots. That’s probably why they drafted Frank Kaminsky. I saw him during the summer league and was really impressed with his shooting, his ballhandling and his intelligence on the court... Cody Zeller needs to improve his scoring around the basket, but he runs the court really well and can knock down a 15-footer. That’ll keep the spacing inside for Jefferson."
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"I think Fred Hoiberg is going to try to jump-start their offense by separating the two big men [Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah] and going smaller. The big question: Will that affect their elite defense? . . . The other obvious question is whether Derrick Rose can stay healthy. Hoiberg needs to explore early whether Rose and Jimmy Butler can coexist and whether Gasol and Noah can coexist or whether he needs to spread out their minutes. They’ve usually found their best fit when someone is injured. Hurt feelings could sink this team if Hoiberg is not careful... Rose is trying to find out how to be effective without taking a pounding going to the basket. He’s looking for his jump shot more, but he’s a shotmaker, not a shooter. Defenses should give him the jumpers all day... Butler is one of the best two-way players in the league. He turned himself into a playmaker, a top threat on offense. I don’t see Chicago being Butler’s team as long as Rose is there. That could create some drama for sure... Gasol was unbelievable at EuroBasket. He was easily the best player on the floor. But I don’t think he can start at center on a championship team from a defensive standpoint. Good teams will just go right at him... It was strange to see how far Noah fell last season. In the past, when Rose was out, they ran the offense through Noah at the elbow. Last year he gave them nothing—less than nothing, because he killed the spacing... Hoiberg might have Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson coming off the bench. Are you kidding me? They have four bigs who could be legitimate starters on almost any team."
"They had one real series in the East last year, and I don’t see it being much harder this year. Who else in the conference got substantially better? No one... David Blatt is a very, very sound coach with sound philosophies. It’s just like in the NFL: LeBron James is his quarterback, and LeBron will get the credit if they win and Blatt will get the blame if they lose... LeBron is still easily the best player in the league. He hasn’t “slipped” yet physically, but he’s making a point to pick his spots a lot better. He knows that he doesn’t need to take over every game in December or January... The questions I have about Kyrie Irving are all defensive. You can always attack him. Part of your offensive game plan should be to involve him in as many pick-and-rolls as possible. He should watch how Mike Conley slides through picks and sticks to game plans about when to go over and when to go under... The major thing to keep an eye on: They struggled to share the ball when their three stars were healthy. You saw the chemistry improve with Tristan Thompson because he doesn’t need the ball like Kevin Love. Blatt needs to help Love—give him a bigger package of post plays, give him some isolation touches, maybe stagger his minutes so he’s the go-to guy for the second unit... Timofey Mozgov is going to get paid next summer. He made the transition so quickly after the trade. He became their defensive identity... When teams like the Warriors go small against them, they need to find better smaller lineups. If there’s a rematch in the Finals, they should play LeBron at the five, have him take on Draymond [Green] and then flood the court with four little guys who can shoot."
"This team has a lot of parts, but it’s hard to predict how they come together. If they have a good start, if they get with each other, they can be a 50-win team. But the center is going to be an issue, and they can just as easily be out of the playoffs... Tyson Chandler [who signed with the Suns] was good for them last year; he did all the things as a big that Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t do. They replaced him with backup players who have more faults than positives... There’s a reason the worst team in the league [the 76ers] didn’t want JaVale McGee. Sam Dalembert is at the end of his career. Zaza Pachulia clogs up the paint but doesn’t have shot-blocking skills. None of them are outstanding rebounders... Dirk is still pretty consistent. He gets you on his shot fake; he can get it on the post and shoot over you. I don’t see his game slipping because he was never a great athlete to start with... Wes Matthews is a great fit—if he’s healthy—but [$70 million for four years] is a lot to pay a guy coming off Achilles surgery. He goes hard and lives with a chip on his shoulder. He can shoot threes. He played with Deron Williams in Utah, so there is some familiarity there... If I was buying shares, I would buy big on Deron. He’s going back home, he’s better in a small market, he’s better without all the pressure. He has said that he wants the structure he had with Jerry Sloan. He will get it with Rick Carlisle... Last year Rick went to what he calls his flow offense: free-form pick-and-roll, just play, attack your man. I think he’ll go back to being more of a play caller, and they’ll run a more rigid offense. Deron could thrive in that."
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"In Sacramento, Mike Malone had to play slow; DeMarcus Cousins was always the last one down the floor. But he can coach up-tempo, which is the style that fits most of this roster. The key for him will be to keep the turnovers down. He is not like [former longtime coach] George Karl; he cannot let turnovers just fall off his back... Emmanuel Mudiay has the best vision of a point guard coming out of the draft in the last few years. He has a lot of passing tools others don’t have. The big deal for him will be to play without trying to prove he can shoot. His shot isn’t broken, but right now it’s his biggest weakness... Kenneth Faried is a great offensive rebounder and a good defensive rebounder, but he can be a bit of a diva at times. He is a great runner, but he has to play a fast style. He is a limited scorer outside 10 feet. A guy like Mudiay can deliver the ball to him in pick-and-roll because he is committed to rolling... Wilson Chandler’s numbers have been consistent the past few seasons, but his night-in, night-out efforts are inconsistent... Danilo Gallinari is important. He is a big guy who can space the floor. The [left] ACL injury took away some of his first step, but he still does a good job selling his shot fake. I don’t want Gallo playing the three; his defensive liabilities come into play. He’s a face-up four. The problem is, that screws up the rest of their rotation... Jusuf Nurkic wants to create physical play. He checked out a little bit at the end of the year. If he had a consistent focus, he could be really good affecting shots, taking away post-ups."
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"Stan Van Gundy has totally overhauled the roster, but where has it gotten him? Andre Drummond is his only clear plus player. Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings are average or below-average. From a team-building perspective, you want better balance than having two of your top three guys be point guards... In Orlando, Van Gundy won because he had talent and a unique system at the time. Now, he doesn’t have much talent and a lot of teams are playing that same spread pick-and-roll system... I understand why he didn’t re-sign Greg Monroe, because of the fit with Drummond and both of them clogging the lane, but that’s talent leaving that they can’t afford to have leave... Drummond’s not a finished product by any means, but his potential gets every coach and GM excited. He’s not this major all-around offensive threat, but the way he gets his points puts a lot of pressure on defenses: high-percentage looks that bend a defense toward the paint and away from shooters... Jackson had some success spot-starting in Oklahoma City, so I can see what they were thinking [when they signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal]. The question is, Who starts? Jackson? Jennings, once he is back [from a torn Achilles, in December at the earliest]? Both of them? I don’t think they can play them together. Neither of them are shooters, neither are great defenders... Marcus Morris is underqualified to be a starting three. He’s worse than his twin brother [Suns forward Markieff] in all the major ways, and he’s stuck in between positions."
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Golden State Warriors
"They’re the title favorites again. They’re a Swiss Army knife on both offense and defense when it comes to their team versatility... Playing devil’s advocate, they never really faced the starting point guard in any playoff series. That’s nitpicking, but it was the perfect setup for Stephen Curry. You can’t let him save all his juice for offense, because he’s so lethal with the ball... Curry’s defense can definitely improve, but he became a better system defender. They switched a lot with all their versatile guys, but they tried really hard not to let Curry get switched onto bigs or wings who could post him up in isolation spots... I can see Klay Thompson being a No. 1 scoring option on his own team. You have to limit his clean looks, you can’t ever sag off of him on the weak side, you can’t help off of him... They don’t need to run any plays for Harrison Barnes; he’s able to create things with his activity and off-ball movement. Big-time athlete. Some of their versatility came from his ability to defend stretch fours and not give anything up. He has unbelievable strength—strong legs, strong core—to hold his own in the post... Draymond Green’s greatest strength is that he guards multiple positions and he goes all out. He’s just suffocating everyone from guards at the line to big guys on the block, and he’s moving smoothly between those responsibilities as possessions unfold. He’s a great, loud defender: He gets into it, the crowd gets into it, and opponents feel the impact. How many times did they turn his defensive plays into three-pointers on the other end?"
"There were times last year that you saw James Harden and Dwight Howard play well together. But it was in spurts. I don’t see a ton of synergy there—they’re not Stockton and Malone. I don’t think Dwight is ever going to be a 20-point-per-game guy again. It’s not like he has developed any new skills... They were a pretty good team defensively. Harden was a little more attentive. He was good on the ball. He anticipated well and got steals. But you still try to attack him to wear him down... [Harden] was the MVP. It shouldn’t have even been close. When Dwight was out, he carried them. You knew who he was, you knew what he could do, and he still did it. He gets called selfish, but he averaged seven assists... Every year I think Trevor Ariza is a little overrated, that he is slowing down, and he just keeps playing. He’s still in the top five defensively at his position. He is really good at reading the ball, playing off the ball, creating steals... They will be fine without Josh Smith. Donatas Motiejūnas can give them more consistent three-point shooting. Clint Capela affects games by blocking shots and getting to the boards. Terrence Jones gets two or three easy scores just by sprinting the floor every time and has improved his three-point range... They didn’t give up any contributors to get Ty Lawson, who can get seven, eight assists per game pretty easy. He’s an excellent penetrate-and-pitch guy. He understands angles. He will get guys open looks. He is fine defensively. His offense is his best defense. He puts pressure on you to run the whole game."
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"A winning record is the right goal for them. They lost Roy Hibbert and David West—those guys were their identity. Their roster screams that they will shift from a defense-first approach to an offense-first one, playing faster and smaller... Frank Vogel is such a good coach that he will adapt. I don’t think he’s on the hot seat yet, but management didn’t do him any favors... I don’t really see why they want to play Paul George more as a four; he’s arguably the best three man in the league behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Why mess with that? . . . It’s one thing to decide to move Hibbert, but then you come up with Jordan Hill? That’s your back-up plan? . . . Ian Mahinmi is only a starting center if you have a legit All-Star at power forward. He’s a guy you want on your team, a solid backup, resourceful. Defensively he’s a presence, but offensively he’s not ready to take that next step... There is some firepower. Monta Ellis brings a nice scoring punch; he’s one of the better paint-attackers in the league. He will be a big part of their next identity. Historically, that means they’ll be pretty average... If you have Monta, Paul and George Hill, you have guys who can all handle the ball and set up opportunities with the drive. They can get to the free throw line and get your defense in foul trouble, make you feel like you don’t know where they will hit you from... Both C.J. Miles and Chase Budinger should benefit from all of those guys in the drive-and-kick game. C.J. will be a key guy for them because of the need for spacing and a knockdown shooter."
Los Angeles Clippers
"Their roster is something to be excited about, but I’m not sold at all on the fits—they have a lot of ball-stoppers. The only guy who is great off the ball on this team is J.J. Redick... They already had personality conflicts, and now they add wild cards in Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. That could get ugly... One thing to watch is whether Doc Rivers limits Chris Paul’s minutes to save him for the playoffs. Paul doesn’t like to sit out, but he should consider it at his age  and with his injury history... Blake Griffin isn’t getting enough credit for improving as an all-around player. He has improved his jumper and really grinds on the boards. He used to dribble coast to coast in high school, and now he’s doing that effectively in the NBA too... Defensively, DeAndre Jordan is the whole show inside for them. What opened my eyes was how he handled Dwight Howard in the playoffs. They should try to get him more involved on offense, but there just aren’t enough touches. Jordan said he wanted more this summer, and he might wind up with fewer. That’s a problem... Redick will never get the credit he deserves. Defenses have to lock into him when he comes off pin-downs, and that lets everyone else play one-on-one against their guys... Paul Pierce brings experience and swagger, but I wouldn’t want him starting at the three in the West. They’ll miss Matt Barnes more than they think they will... Stephenson, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford have eerily similar games. There’s not an obvious way to fit them together on the second unit so that they complement each other."
Los Angeles Lakers
"They’re still going to be really, really bad. I don’t see Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass and Lou Williams as game-changers. The Lakers are in an identity crisis... Their focus should be on their young guys. That means D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson are the priorities. I’m worried that Byron Scott will ride the veterans instead and it goes down as a lost year. Scott has a lot of loyalty to Kobe Bryant and the organization... Kobe’s presence and knack for scoring and the attention he draws still make him a plus player, even if his stats have fallen off a bit. Nobody else on that roster strikes fear in your heart... My main question with Russell is whether he can make decisions at this level. There’s a big difference between being a good highlight passer and really running an entire offense. You need to know the playbook and understand when to involve your big guys, when to step forward yourself... Williams only makes their picture cloudier. He’s good enough to take minutes from Clarkson, and that harms the long term while not adding a ton in the short term... Randle is the biggest question. People saw a lefty who has a knack for scoring on the block, and they wanted to call him Zach Randolph. But Randle hasn’t done anything yet to say he’s headed in that direction. There’s some real bust potential. He needs to become a good scorer in isolation because he can’t shoot three-pointers or make plays for others, and he’s not a defensive lockdown guy... I don’t see a single plus defender on the roster besides Hibbert."
"They are what they are: a physical, paint-based team that can’t shoot. They have to continue to bang inside because their two best players are Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but they didn’t seem to have that same punch last year. Neither is a great athlete, and as you add miles to them they become a little more human. Randolph didn’t get to the free throw line as much, and his rebounds were down... They shot 34% from three last year and they added Matt Barnes. I can’t figure that out. Barnes has improved from the corner, but no one is going to deny him the ball. Vince Carter is at the very dusk of his career. Jeff Green is consistently inconsistent; he looked lost out there last year... Tony Allen doesn’t try to do things he can’t do. He’s as good as anyone at one-on-one defense. He can guard any three or two. He wants a consistent role; sometimes that went up and down with the addition of Green. Now you add Barnes to that mix, and you have to wonder how that is going to affect him... If Mike Conley were in the East he would be an All-Star. He’s very good defensively, on the ball, off the ball. If he had two good shooters on the wings, that would add two assists per game, and he would be in the top five. He has to take a lot of his three-point shots at the end of the shot clock—pressure shots, and he makes them... Dave Joerger is a fine coach, but I don’t see a bunch of guys who have a connection with him, who look like they are out there playing for him. When you add a polarizing figure like [Barnes] to the mix, that’s a potential disaster."
"In my mind they’re the sleeper in the NBA—at least in the East. They’re coming into the season with good coaching and an abundance of talent... A big [question] is whether Hassan Whiteside can keep improving. Can he be consistent? The Heat are very big on fundamentals, very big on player development. I’ve got to think he’s going to be better this year... Backing him up is Amar’e Stoudemire. He played pretty well last year, and he’ll be a good locker room guy. Then they’ve got Chris Andersen, who just creates havoc. That’s three quality bigs... Chris Bosh is an All-Star, though maybe a borderline one given his health issues, with Josh McRoberts behind him. McRoberts can shoot, he can rebound, and [at 6' 10"] he’s got good size... I’ve always been a big Goran Dragic fan. In my mind, he’s an All-Star. Dragic and Dwyane Wade: That’s a hell of a backcourt. The x-factor is whether Dwyane stays healthy... They’ve got Luol Deng and Justise Winslow at small forward, but Gerald Green’s stepping into a bigger role. That’s a little bit suspect. He’ll either go 0 for 12 or 12 for 12... Deng can contribute a lot when he has the right talent around him. He can’t be the guy; he’s more of a third or fourth player on a good team. He can make shots, he can take it to the rim, he can defend. I like him... Winslow’s got this thing about him—if you watch how he carries himself, you just see a player. As far as his talent, he can really take it to the rim. He’s strong—he’s got strong hands, a great body. He has all the tools except he’s a little bit below average as a shooter. I think he’ll get there."
"Jason Kidd does a great job. They’re young and athletic, they figured out a plan, identified their top guys and built a culture. They still have question marks, but I think they’ll progress and win a playoff series... Giannis Antetokounmpo is ready to take the next step. There’s so much to like: He puts his wingspan to good use on defense, he converts plays in transition and he’s a great kid. His shooting isn’t quite where you want it to be, but he gets away with it thanks to his activity level. He’s like a young Scottie Pippen... Their biggest question is Michael Carter-Williams. He creates no space on the floor, and he’s not a high-energy player. Given his lack of shooting, it’s hard to keep him on the court if he’s not doing something else at an elite level, and I don’t know what that would be... I could absolutely see Greivis Vasquez beating out Carter-Williams. He can run a team and he’s started before. It might be better if Kidd turns Carter-Williams loose on the second unit... They basically chose to pay Khris Middleton instead of Brandon Knight, and I like that thinking a lot. Shooting is at a premium, the highest it has ever been in the league, so Middleton was a must; he’s an elite three-and-D guy. He’s right there with Danny Green... It will take some time for Jabari Parker to find where he fits on the totem pole, with Giannis and Greg Monroe. None of those three are great shooters, so it’s tough to keep them on the court together. Monroe will give them a post-up presence. But I’m in wait-and-see mode with him. Kidd likes to play up-tempo, and Monroe isn’t an up-tempo guy."
"If Kevin Garnett plays 50 games, I’ll be shocked. He’ll probably start the halves, but [at 39] he can’t stay out there for more than 20 minutes anymore... Having KG there is the best positive for a young guy who wants to be great. You can either let him intimidate you or you can try to match his work ethic and his intensity. Karl-Anthony Towns’s intensity turned on and off at Kentucky. KG will push him. Towns has to embrace it... Ricky Rubio is a question mark every year. What is he going to give you, what’s his health like? There is always something with him. He’s an exciting player with great vision, and when he plays with Andrew Wiggins, they can look really good. But Rubio has to improve that shot, because right now there is no reason to defend him... Wiggins had to get better every day last season. They had no one else who could score. They ran the offense to him and through him. He figured out where he could get shots in the flow. He became efficient. For as much pressure that was on him, he was their most reliable player... Shabazz Muhammad’s body looked better last year. He had some explosion, which he didn’t have as a rookie. He was willing to go into the post and wasn’t settling for jump shots... Zach LaVine has to get past “I’m Zach LaVine, YouTube sensation.” He has to be a grinder. He took some horrendous shots last year. With his athleticism he needs to get to the line more than twice a game... Nikola Pekovic is fun to watch. He initiates contact. He plays under the rim. Nobody will mess with him."
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New Orleans Pelicans
"Alvin Gentry’s style is the opposite of Monty Williams’s. He is going to want to push it and loosen up the offense. Gentry promotes good feelings. I would expect them to win five, six more games just based on the coaching change... One thing we know about Alvin’s system, he needs three-point shooters. They have a great one in Ryan Anderson. Tyreke Evans hasn’t been one. Eric Gordon is streaky. If I was playing that style, I’d like another reliable shooter... Anthony Davis is a great -defender—might be the best in the league—but he can be close to a 30-point-per-game scorer. You have to cover him from 18 to 20 feet, and when you step out he can go right by you. They need to treat him like Dallas treats Dirk: Put him at the free throw line and isolate him. If he extends his range to three, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, he’s going to be impossible to defend... As they play quicker, Evans is going to be a guy who plays well. He can see the floor, he can distribute the ball. You put shooters around him and he is going to hurt you... When Jrue Holiday is healthy, they have a nice three-guard rotation with Evans and Gordon, who can push the ball. Holiday will thrive with Alvin too. When he was an All-Star with the Sixers, Holiday was penetrating, he was going to the rack. The last two years, when he has played, he has settled for the jump shot... Omer Asik dropped off last year. He -wasn’t as active as he was in Chicago or Houston. He still rebounds but he does it in shorter spurts. You don’t want to play Davis against the bigger centers, but I don’t know how well [Asik] fits in with what Alvin wants to do."
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New York Knicks
"From what I can tell, Kristaps Porzingis was the best player they could get at [the No. 4] pick. But they lost out in free agency. They brought Phil Jackson in for a reason: to get involved with the top-tier players. They ended up signing third-tier players. Arron Afflalo’s coming off a bad year in Portland. Sasha Vujacic has been in Europe for the last four years. Robin Lopez, Kevin Seraphin, Kyle O’Quinn—I just don’t see it... I was not impressed with Derek Fisher last season. He knows the triangle, but he was one of the poorer coaches in the league in timeouts, ATOs, end-of-game plays, that kind of stuff... The big question is whether Carmelo Anthony can play within the triangle. It’s an equal opportunity offense: sharing the ball, moving side to side. Melo might be the best one-on-one scorer in the league, but those are things he’s never been good at... My gut feeling is that halfway through the season—I don’t want to say they drop [the triangle], but they’ll start to use more NBA sets, more floor spacing, a little more screening. The name of the game is to win, and New York is a very tough place with very sophisticated fans... They brought in Vujacic because he knows the system, and they’ll probably look to him to show how the offense is supposed to be run... Of all the guys in the frontcourt, O’Quinn has the most upside. He’s athletic, he’s long, he can rebound. He’s either going to make a splash or he’s going to be a third-string center for the rest of his career... We talk about the triangle, but they really needed to get better on defense. Did they? I don’t think so."
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Oklahoma City Thunder
"For them to progress, they probably had to get rid of Scott Brooks. He was a good coach who connected with the players, but he had weaknesses, timeout plays being one of the biggest. It will be a big adjustment for Billy Donovan, but at the same time Sam Presti is a very heavy-handed GM. He’s like Joe Dumars was. Presti hired Donovan’s staff for him... The relationship [Donovan] has with Russell Westbrook is more important than the one with Kevin Durant. Russ is a hard guy to coach. You have to connect with him... They have great depth. Kyle Singler is an ideal complementary player. I thought Steven Adams took a step back last year. There were times that he was out there getting in scraps and being more of a distraction than helping the team. Anthony Morrow was a great get for them. He can space the floor. You can’t help as much on Russ’s penetration, and it’s one less guy you can double-team Durant with... Was Enes Kanter worth the money [four years, $70 million]? No, but they are all in. I don’t think anyone would double him, but he can shoot elbow jumpers. If he can make them, he will be a real weapon... At the end of the year before last and at the beginning of last year, Serge Ibaka was way too focused on showing everyone he was a great shooter. They need him to affect the game defensively first... Dion Waiters is a wild card. Will he be like Reggie Jackson and get jealous when he’s not getting his shots? They don’t need a one-on-one player; they have two of the best. They need a guy who takes away the help."
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"The best thing they did this summer was bring in Scott Skiles. They were just running in quicksand. They really underachieved. And with all their athleticism they just played so poorly on defense. Skiles is a defensive coach who will make guys accountable... I love that they re-signed Tobias Harris, though they probably overpaid a little bit [four years, $64 million]. He fits right in with the larger trend of playing small, spacing the floor. He’s a good locker-room guy, and he can make shots. Harris will go back and forth from the three to the four, but I imagine a lot of that depends on how Aaron Gordon comes along. He impressed me in the summer league... If they start Channing Frye at the four and Nikola Vucevic at center, they’ll be weak again defensively. And they’re small at the two with [6' 4"] Victor Oladipo... Elfrid Payton is good defensively, and he’s a good penetrator. But he makes a lot of mistakes—leaves his feet, makes bad passes. During the summer league you could see that his shooting got a little better, but it’s still not good enough. To me, his shot is broken... They’d be making a huge mistake if they bury Mario Hezonja or don’t give him minutes early. He can do one thing better than anybody else they have by far: shoot the three. He doesn’t have the quickest feet, but he’s got great size at 6' 8" and a nice body. He also may be the most athletic guy on this team. Seriously... C.J. Watson was a real good pickup. There will be times at the end of games when teams are going to go under against Payton on pick-and-rolls, and he’ll become a liability. You can’t do that with Watson."
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"The roster is set up to lose. They’re awful. Where do you go with this team? They’ve been losing for so long, accumulating draft picks. The thing about the draft picks is that they’re duplicating—I just don’t understand that... I don’t see, at all, the combination of Nerlens Noel at power forward and Jahlil Okafor at center. That’s probably how they’ll start. Okafor is legit. You can build your team around him. But Noel’s a center too. He’s not a power forward. How’s he going to go out and guard stretch fours? And then opponents don’t even have to guard him. Noel can’t shoot past 10 feet... If you look at the rest of their roster, I think the only bright spot is Robert Covington. He has consistently shown improvement... They gave up their former lottery pick in [point guard] Michael Carter-Williams. I don’t know their reasoning. So instead they’re bringing in a bunch of guys to lose. The most important position is the point guard. Now, there was a pretty damn good point guard out there in the draft in Emmanuel Mudiay, and they passed over him. You would’ve had your point guard for the future and your center for the future... Brett Brown, at least, makes them play hard all the time. He kept them believing that they were making progress. He tried to implement a lot of the things the Spurs did. He couldn’t do it all because they really had no point guard... I don’t like Tony Wroten’s game. I don’t think he’s a point guard who’s going to distribute the ball well enough; he just wants to score... Remember: They scored 92 points a game last season. You can’t win in this league scoring 92 points."
"They’re fighting for the seventh or eighth seed at best, and they’ll finish 10th or 11th at worst. Same range as the last few years. It’s one step forward, one step back... If Tyson Chandler, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are your main guys—and that’s who’s getting the big money—how does that trio fit together? Both Bledsoe and Knight need the ball, and Chandler [at 33] is way older than they are. Are they trying to win right now? They’re not good enough. Are they trying to win in the future? Chandler won’t be an impact player down the line... The one big positive is that all three guys can hold their own defensively, with Bledsoe being a stud on that end. Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker can defend too. If you put those five guys on the floor, they won’t give up a lot of easy points... Hanging over their whole team is whether Bledsoe and Knight can play together. Bledsoe can defend twos, but he likes the ball in his hands to start the offense. Knight definitely sees himself as a one. I don’t think Knight will ever become a top 10 point guard. He’s the definition of decent... Bledsoe’s getting to the point where he’s older  than most people think. You can go under pick-and-rolls against him until he proves to you he can beat you with his jump shot, and that takes away from his off-the-dribble game. He would be a monster if he could really shoot it... Morris is very good offensively. He’s got a nastiness to his game, which is a little Draymond Green–like. His trade demand adds another level of questions to the team. When someone goes public like that, you know it’s even worse behind the scenes."
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Portland Trail Blazers
"This is a full-scale rebuild. Four starters are gone, and they signed or traded for backups to replace them... Damian Lillard is the man now. You can’t go under on pick-and-rolls with him; he can shoot it from anywhere behind a pick. For a guy who is an All-Star, he gets knocked to the floor a lot and doesn’t get calls. He’s an O.K. defender. He’s a little lazy at times. He reaches and gambles for steals. He is going to have to be patient with a young group... I thought Noah Vonleh had a pretty good summer. During his workouts before the draft [two years ago] he was trying to convince everyone he could play small forward. He has to get over that. He’s a less athletic version of Blake Griffin... I thought they did well in the Nicolas Batum deal. They got Vonleh and a starting wing player [from Charlotte] in Gerald Henderson. Henderson is great off screens, he’s a good midrange shooter, a good energy guy and a good guy. He can be better with a change of scenery... Mason Plumlee is a rim-runner, a shot blocker and a pretty good offensive rebounder. I don’t know how much more he can be, though... If C.J. McCollum plays like he did in the playoffs, he can take a bigger share of the minutes... Al-Farouq Aminu teases you. He is a good corner three-point shooter, and a good defender who can defend both the three and a face-up four. But if he’s my starting three, that’s kind of weak... Meyers Leonard fouls, he’s an inconsistent rebounder, and he takes crazy shots. He didn’t show anything until he started making threes last year. His three-point shot is ugly, but it’s been going in—it’s Manute Bol–like."
"They spent a lot of money and got better talentwise. The off-season story lines are a big deal—the shake-ups and coaching changes and all of that—but I don’t think these guys will be rolling over. They might go down, but it will take a fight... Their best player is DeMarcus Cousins. Why did they use a lottery pick on a center in Willie Cauley-Stein and then sign another center in Kosta Koufos? Especially when George Karl likes to play fast?... Cousins might be the most talented center in the NBA. He can beat you by himself some nights. His decision-making with the ball keeps improving, but the body language, the emotional control are still huge question marks. Cousins is best as a back-to-the-basket guy, not in this run-and-gun style that Karl likes... I’m not sure Rajon Rondo will want to play Karl’s style either. And that makes for a big challenge. Because if your point guard and your best player want to play slower and your coach wants it to be faster, that’s a fight waiting to happen...They should think about lineups that get as much shooting on the court at the same time as possible. Can you play Ben McLemore, Marco Belinelli and Seth Curry together with Cousins? That would create a lot of room in the paint... Belinelli is going to be dealing with culture shock, coming from San Antonio. He’s not used to any ball stoppers, and he’s always expecting people to make the right pass... Maybe they thought Cauley-Stein was the best player on the board [at No. 6]. Or maybe he’s insurance in case something happens with Cousins. There’s a little Joakim Noah to Cauley-Stein’s game."
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San Antonio Spurs
"LaMarcus Aldridge is a mid-range shooter. That’s what they really need from him. He and Tim Duncan remind me of [David] Robinson and Duncan. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pop [Gregg Popovich] goes back to some of the stuff they ran back then. There will not be as much of an emphasis on three-point shooting. They will work the elbows, do a lot to get the ball into the post... You see some miles on David West. The thing he brought to Indiana that was most important was toughness and leadership. That’s not as big a need in San Antonio. I thought getting another stretch four would have been a priority... Manu Ginóbili can still step behind the pick-and-roll and make big shots. He doesn’t beat guys as well anymore, and he isn’t as consistent finishing. He’s a playmaker, but it’s more in spurts and flashes now... Tony Parker needs to have his minutes cut. Point guard is such a tough position in the West; it’s harder for him to be consistent. He still shoots a good percentage but he forces a lot of shots... Danny Green is 0 for 6 or 5 for 6. You don’t know what you are going to get from him. He gets away with being an O.K. defender because they have great team defense... They didn’t replace Marco Belinelli, so there’s a lot of pressure on Green and Kawhi Leonard to carry them from three-point range. Maybe Jimmer Fredette will step up and be Stephen Jackson this year... Pop’s in the upper echelon of play-calling. He plays different lineups. He shows you the unexpected. He emphasizes defense and doesn’t allow any slippage. [But] what sets him apart is managing an entire season. He sees the big picture."
"On paper they’re head and shoulders above the rest of the division—but that division is the worst in the league... With Amir Johnson gone they’ll use Patrick Patterson as a stretch four... By signing DeMarre Carroll [four years, $60 million] they’re looking to get more athletic. They basically have been a half-court team, grinding it out, playing inside-out. Now they want to play that small four, run it up and down, space the floor, use fewer sets and attack the rim... DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star, no doubt about it, but he didn’t play like one last year with the [groin] injury. It’s his contract year and he’s in the big-money range, so I assume he’ll come back in great shape... After the All-Star break they fell apart. Kyle Lowry had been their best player; after the break and in the playoffs he was just terrible. They needed to address that position, and I think they might have by bringing in Cory Joseph... Jonas Valanciunas needs to take another step. He’s been very average since he came into the league. He’s a big body, he takes up space, he can lean in and defend big guys. But they throw the ball in to him and he’s not making shots. I don’t think they addressed that with Bismack Biyombo, who is—I don’t want to say awful, but he’s got the worst hands in the league... Luis Scola has a little bit left in his tank [at 35]. He’s a great role model, and he’ll bring a lot of credibility to that locker room. He leads by example. I think that was a pretty good pickup as a backup four. But then again: Luis is not a good defender."
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"Quin Snyder took the defense that the Spurs use as a base—where they funnel everything into Tim Duncan—and funneled everything to Rudy Gobert. Gobert runs the floor with so few strides and blocks shots with his anticipation as well as his length. On offense he has great hands. You can mess up any pass, and he can still catch it and finish... Derrick Favors still gets into foul trouble too much, but I’ve seen steady progress. His rebounding is consistent at both ends. He doesn’t disappear; you don’t see a lot of zero-point, six-rebound games out of him. He can be out there with a Blake Griffin and guard the drive, and he won’t get bullied by guys like Zach Randolph... Trey Burke had a decent rookie year [in 2013–14], then injuries, the coaching change, the style change—they all hurt him. Then they drafted a guy [Dante Exum, who will likely miss this season] over him at his position, and Burke went into a funk. He took some terrible shots... Gordon Hayward is pretty good at creating shots. He has a high release, good size [6' 8"] and uses screens well. Quin encourages him to shoot threes, and that makes him even more of a weapon. Teams isolate him and go at him on defense, but he has underrated length. He benefits from Rudy being behind him... They led the NBA in passes and have lots of ball movement, which is what Rodney Hood does well. He finds open spots and has three-point range. They’re not going to put him in a lot of pick-and-rolls as a handler, but he can take his man one-on-one... They really jelled in the second half last season. If they have that same effort this season, they’ll be fighting for a playoff spot."
"Washington has the second-best backcourt in the NBA, behind Golden State’s. John Wall is an All-Star, and Bradley Beal is a budding All-Star. Now, the thing about them is that one or the other was always injured. Whenever they were together, they won... Beal just needs to stay healthy to take that next step; he’s got everything else. When Beal is on the floor, he’s your prototype catch-and-shoot two guard... A really big asset they have is that if they need a bucket at the end of the game, they can put the ball in Wall’s hands up top. Nobody can stay in front of him... They have an adequate frontcourt. They’ve got bigs who can score. Marcin Gortat is a double-double guy. Nenê has had injury issues, but he’s a big body who can guard bigs as well as Gortat can. Both of them can step out and shoot 17-footers, too, which gives the Wizards a little diversity other than playing inside... The most important thing defensively is to be able to keep people on the perimeter in front of you. Washington has Wall, who’s extremely quick, along with Beal and Otto Porter, who are quick in their own right. Then, when teams do get dribble penetration, the Wizards have two physical, big guys in the way... Obviously the loss of Paul Pierce and his leadership and his ability to play well in the playoffs will hurt. But with their new wings [Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley and Gary Neal] I think they replaced Pierce’s shooting. Dudley’s a knockdown three-point shooter—not a very good athlete, but when he squares, he’s deadly... Porter really played well in the playoffs. If he keeps that up, they’ll be tough."
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