Being a championship contender in today’s NBA is not an easy feat. While player empowerment and movement is such a key factor in the league now, building a team that can do some serious damage in the NBA playoffs with the amount of talent in the league is hard. However, there are several instances where a team has a lot of talent but is missing that extra punch that can put them over the top. Here are several teams that are in that scenario and what they need to add to be true contenders for the upcoming season.
Boston Celtics – Defensive-Minded Rim Protector
Unlike a lot of other teams, the Celtics don’t really need another great offensive option or another ball-handler. Their need is quite simple – a solid center who can rebound and defend. Daniel Theis was solid this season, but he’s a fouling machine, and he’s only 6’8. His below average athleticism doesn’t make for a good rebounder and his rim protection is lackluster against bigger and more physical players.
At the very least, they need a bigger body to matchup with the other goliaths of the NBA. Going further, it would be nice to acquire someone who can block shots at the rim but can also switch onto perimeter players. The Celtics were a fairly good rebounding team, but they didn’t have one true rebounder to get 10-11 per night. They don’t need a superstar and they don’t need more scoring. They simply need a guy who can play his role to perfection and do the dirty work for a center.
In the NBA, you don’t need a great center to win. Running an average center like a Javale McGee or a Derrick Favors out there can be extremely effective. Guys like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, and others are obviously exceptions, but you can win championships with mediocre centers (ex. Lakers this year ran McGee/Dwight Howard at the five). The Celtics simply need a guy like that can do the simple things.
Examples: Tristan Thompson, Myles Turner (trade), Derrick Favors
Toronto Raptors – Primary Scoring Option
This one is by far the most difficult to acquire of the group, but Toronto’s need is self-explanatory – the Raptors are the perfect team for a superstar. It has shooting, defense, supporting stars and quality role players. On top of that, they’ve got a great development staff and a fantastic head coach. So what do they really need? An alpha dog scorer.
Pascal Siakam was viewed as a primary scoring option in the regular season but was exposed for his lack of scoring versatility in the postseason. Fred VanVleet can have his games, but it’s hard to be truly successful when a 6’0 guard is your best pure scorer. That’s why they need to go out and get a true scorer and shot creator for this team, someone that can score from all three levels and create his own shot time after time.
Siakam struggles with his offensive versatility, VanVleet can only do so much at 6’0 tall, and there’s no one else on their roster that has the kind of skill set necessary. Getting a bona fide scorer should be a big priority for this team.
Examples: Bradley Beal, Zach Lavine (both through trade)
Philadelphia 76ers – Stretch Big
The duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is easily one of the most polarizing duos in the NBA. Some people feel as though you don’t trade away two budding young stars, and you let them try to figure things out together. Others feel as though they don’t fit well together and their playstyles simply won’t ever mesh.
I’m somewhere on the fence. While Simmons and Embiid are not a perfect duo, their supporting cast has also not fit their needs. They need plenty of shooting and spacing around them, and the front office hasn’t provided them with either of those things. The Miami Heat, the East’s representative in the NBA Finals, has managed to succeed despite having two guys in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo who lack shooting range. If they can do it, why can’t Simmons and Embiid?
The best way to see if this works is to surround them with as much shooting and spacing as possible to open the floor for everyone. Simmons can operate as the primary driver, Embiid can be the dominant low post threat, and shooting threats everywhere could help out when those two options don’t work.
The reason they need to get a stretch big is because they already have a great combo guard shooter in Shake Milton and a solid forward in Tobias Harris. Completing out that starting with a stretch big would be perfect for this spacing and shooting and would completely maximize the duo of Simmons and Embiid.
Examples: Davis Bertans, Danilo Gallinari, Paul Millsap
Denver Nuggets – Defensive-Minded Two Guard
The Denver Nuggets surprised a ton of people in the playoffs this year. They came back from two 3-1 deficits and they upset the Los Angeles Clippers; a team that many had winning the title. They showed that they have so much offensive talent with Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, and others. They can all shoot, pass, and score at will in the regular season and postseason. However, one of their biggest issues was their lack of defense.
This was a key theme throughout the entire playoffs, where someone like Donovan Mitchell exposed their lack of perimeter defense. Jamal Murray is a fantastic offensive player but is a clear negative on the defensive side of the ball. They need someone who can handle his defensive assignments but can also provide a bit of playmaking and scoring offensively.
The Nuggets are building a fantastic foundation for the future but they have the type of talent to compete for a title next season. With guys like Murray, Porter Jr and others bound to improve, it’s time to take a step forward and make a serious push for the title.
Examples: Jrue Holiday
Dallas Mavericks – Secondary Ball Handler
The Mavericks have proved this year that, despite their young age, they can compete with the best of the best. Yes, they did lose in the first round, but they lost to the Clippers in a tough 6 games without their 2nd best player for a majority of them. Luka Doncic is on track to be an all-time great and is already a superstar in the NBA. However, the Mavericks need to get him some help.
Kristaps Porzingis is spectacular, but he’s likely going to be out for quite a while. The Mavericks rely so heavily on Doncic to create offense for himself and others and keep the offense flowing. He’s terrific at it but when he gets tired, now all of a sudden they have to rely on someone much worse to handle the ball.
They need someone who can handle the ball a little bit but also be willing to spot up from behind the three-point line. They don’t necessarily need to get another big time playmaker, but they need someone to manage the game when he goes to the bench and keep the offense running. The Mavs are going to be a frightening team next season and if they can add another guy to help Doncic out, they’ll be even more deadly.
Examples: Chris Paul, Buddy Hield, Goran Dragic
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