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June 16, 2011
Team Needs
West Lottery

by Kevin Pelton


Now that the Dallas Mavericks have finished partying with the Larry O'Brien trophy--we think--it's time to look ahead to the 2011-12 season. Here's a look at the problems the West's lottery teams will be trying to address this summer. For each team, we've highlighted one statistical weakness from among ESPN analyst Dean Oliver's Four Factors as well as positions of need.

Golden State Warriors

Statistical weakness: Defensive rebounding (30th in the NBA)
Weakest position: C

For a decent team, the Warriors were very poor in multiple categories last season, ranking last in the league in both free throw attempts per field-goal attempt and defensive rebound percentage. Golden State was only slightly better in terms of keeping teams off the line, ranking 29th. The latter two stats point to the same problem: the Warriors were woefully poor at defending the paint.

Rookie Ekpe Udoh was the exception; Golden State allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Udoh on the floor, per BasketballValue.com. Even if Udoh steps into the starting lineup, he's not good for much more than 20-25 minutes a night at this point of his career, so the Warriors will need another reliable man in the middle. GM Larry Riley publicly expressed optimism in a recent interview with SI.com that Andris Biedrins could bounce back next season with improved health, but it's hard to count on Biedrins, who has missed at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons. If Golden State doesn't address the post in a possible Monta Ellis trade, Bismack Biyombo might make sense with the 11th pick.

Houston Rockets

Statistical weakness: Forcing turnovers (28th)
Weakest position: C

More specifically, what the Rockets need is quality size. Chuck Hayes does admirable work, but 6'6" is 6'6", and Houston could use a bigger player to complement Hayes. The hole in the middle was exacerbated when Brad Miller underwent microfracture knee surgery after the season. While Miller might be back on the court next fall, the track record for players his age (35) who undergo microfracture is poor. The Rockets must plan as if Miller will be a non-factor. Having one question mark at center also makes it all the more difficult for Houston to gamble on Yao Ming coming back.

That leaves youngsters Jordan Hill and Hasheem Thabeet. Hill's problem is he's not a help defender. The Rockets were effective when he played alongside Hayes, but lineups where he played with Miller or undersized Patrick Patterson got torched. Thabeet is simply an enigma. His defensive potential is clear; can new head coach Kevin McHale make him enough of a threat on offense to stay on the floor? With the last pick of the lottery, it's unlikely Houston will get anyone better equipped to make an immediate impact.

Los Angeles Clippers

Statistical weakness: Avoiding turnovers (30th)
Weakest positions: SF

The Clippers have young starters at shooting guard (Eric Gordon), power forward (Blake Griffin) and center (restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan). Point guard is covered for now by Mo Williams, with Eric Bledsoe as the heir apparent. That leaves small forward as the lone position in flux. Al-Farouq Aminu, last year's lottery pick, is the likely long-term solution. However, Aminu is years away from developing into a starter, if ever. After a brief run of fluky three-point shooting early in the season came to an end, Aminu found it impossible to score efficiently in the NBA. He made just 43.7 percent of his two-point attempts, a number that must improve at least to 50 percent.

Ideally, the Clippers would upgrade small forward with a player who is young enough to grow with the rest of their core. A rumored trade that would send Chris Kaman to Philadelphia in exchange for Andre Iguodala would be nearly perfect from L.A.'s perspective, giving the team an athletic stopper on the wing. Failing that, the Clippers should try to avoid taking on long contracts that would limit their flexibility. Offering salary-cap relief for a player with a couple of years left on their deal, like Atlanta's Josh Smith, would make sense.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Statistical weakness: Turnovers (29th)
Weakest positions: PG, SG

It's easier to list the categories that were not weaknesses for the Timberwolves last season. They were average in terms of defensive rebounding and forcing turnovers, while Kevin Love led them to the league's second-best offensive rebounding percentage. Everywhere else, Minnesota was 22nd or worse. Clearly, the Timberwolves need a lot of help. Their shooting guards made our list of the NBA's weakest positions, with point guards not far behind.

The long-awaited arrival of Ricky Rubio on U.S. shores would help the latter issue. Addressing shooting guard will be much more difficult. Without a trade down from the second pick, none of the two-guards in the draft make sense for Minnesota. Should the Timberwolves take Arizona's Derrick Williams in the draft, they'll have incumbent small forward Michael Beasley to dangle in trade. Could he fetch former Minnesota draft pick O.J. Mayo, potentially in a three-team deal?

Phoenix Suns

Statistical weakness: Rebounding, both offensive and defensive (28th)
Weakest positions: SG, backup C

Phoenix's extreme style makes it difficult to assess areas of need from the numbers. After all, the 2004-05 Suns team that won 62 games ranked 29th on the defensive glass. To win like that, Phoenix must be much more efficient on offense than last year's ninth-place finish in offensive rating. Upgrading at shooting guard is the most obvious way for the Suns to reinvigorate their attack. Vince Carter slipped below average for a starting two last year, and at 34 he's headed the wrong direction. There's no obvious in-house replacement, not with Jared Dudley ticketed to slide in for 38-year-old Grant Hill at some point in the not-so-distant future. No wonder ESPN Insider's Chad Ford has Phoenix taking Colorado's Alec Burks in the lottery. Burks won't supply outside shooting, but his athleticism would fit in the Valley of the Sun.

As far as shoring up the weaknesses, Phoenix could do that by improving upon Robin Lopez as a backup to Marcin Gortat. As Gortat was establishing himself as the starter in the middle after a midseason trade, Lopez was taking a huge step backwards in his development. Never much of a rebounder, Lopez lacked defensive energy last season.

Sacramento Kings

Statistical weakness: Free throw attempts (28th)
Weakest positions: SF, PF

The Kings led the league in offensive rebounding. In each of the other offensive Four Factors, they ranked 26th or worse. It's obvious, then, where Sacramento's attention should be directed. More than anything else, the Kings need efficient scorers. Francisco Garcia and Beno Udrih were the lone Sacramento players to post True Shooting Percentages better than league average. Young cornerstones DeMarcus Cousins (48.4 percent) and Tyreke Evans (48.2 percent) were particular culprits.

With Evans and restricted free agent Marcus Thornton, the Kings do not lack for shooting guards. Everywhere else is a potential spot to upgrade. Assuming Cousins lands at center, power forward is an issue with only Jason Thompson returning at the position. At small forward, neither Omri Casspi nor Donte Greene has stepped forward as the team's long-term answer. A playmaking point guard could also help Sacramento's offense. All are options in the draft, while the Kings will also have cap space to use in free agency.

Utah Jazz

Statistical weakness: Opponent free throw attempts (30th)
Weakest positions: SG, SF

In terms of talent, the Jazz is clearly lacking on the wing. Gordon Hayward showed during the last two months of the season that he can be a starter in the NBA, filling one of the positions, and streaky C.J. Miles is acceptable as a third wing. That leaves Utah short a starter with Andrei Kirilenko heading into free agency. Aging Raja Bell should no longer be considered an option for anything more than spot minutes as a stopper. Unless Williams unexpectedly slips, the Jazz won't be able to address the wings with the No. 3 pick. That leaves Utah's own lottery selection, No. 12. Ford has them selecting Florida State's Chris Singleton to add depth at small forward.

If the Jazz looks to the frontcourt in the lottery, that could help too. Because Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are both undersized for their positions, Utah's starting lineup struggled defensively. Adding a 7-footer to them and Derrick Favors would address the issue, which also included defensive rebounding (the Jazz was 27th in the league on the defensive glass).

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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