Easier said than done: Solutions for the NBA’s worst teams
Get those Wins on the table
It is a philosophical quandary, the search for a solution to problems that don’t want to be solved. How do you convince a man on a bhook hartal to start eating again? How do you implore a masochist to stop harming herself?
What if the problem is the solution in itself?
There are several NBA teams with problems. Some teams are dealing with injuries that have plagued their season. Some can’t score. Some can’t defend. The worst among them can’t do either. Some have a personnel that doesn’t fit together. Others have a personnel that can’t stand the sight of each other.
Apart from their woeful records and the number of nightly ‘L’s that they are collecting, these teams have one other thing in common: the prospect of a high 2015 draft pick or the hope for future cap space. In the ‘real’ world, no loser is redeemed by losing further; in the NBA, losing can lead to long-term victory. Translation: tankers can be rewarded at the lottery.
But hey! Let’s pretend that Commissioner Adam Silver is right and we can all believe that no NBA team is trying to lose on purpose. Let’s believe that the worst teams in the NBA actually want to win and get better – today! Is there an easy fix to their problems? Is there an easy way to turn those ‘L’s into ‘W’s?
Sure, on paper there are. Flirting with some masochism of my own, I’m diving nose-deep into the concerns of the NBA’s four worst teams and offering quick and ultimately pointless solutions. Let’s just say that they are easier said than done, but somebody’s gotta say them, right?
Philadelphia 76ers (4-23)
Rarely has a team done more to jeopardize its present in the vain hope of a better future. Over the last few years, the 76ers have methodically deconstructed their roster – clearing away the likes of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young – and building from the bottom up by stockpiling high draft picks, young players, and enough losses to ensure more high draft picks. All signs are pointing to this team’s single-minded race to the bottom. But what if they wanted to start winning?
Where do we start? The 76ers have the league’s worst offensive rating (91.7), worst assist/turnover ratio, and are one of the worst at grabbing their share of rebounds in any given game. They have also completed the triumvirate of poor shooting by ranking bottom in three-point shooting, free throw shooting, and field goal percentage.
The fix has to begin and end with the guards. Michael Carter-Williams (MCW) and Tony Wroten have talent, but both are turnover prone and poor outside shooters. If MCW and Wroten can be taught to play with more patience in their game to choose their spots to make the right pass, choose the right open shots, or wait for the correct moment to drive in for a higher-percentage look, a lot of Philadelphia’s biggest weaknesses could be hidden. The team has a decent defensive rating, which is usually the hard part. If the careless guard play can be fixed, this team will eventually start getting a few more wins.
New York Knicks (5-25)
Led by Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have talked big of their desire to win games and make the playoffs. Instead, the team finds itself with the second-worst record in the league and with just one win in their last 10 games, free-falling into the abyss. With the potential of a high draft pick and a brick load of expiring contracts, New York will have the space to sign max contract players as well as add an exciting new rookie next summer. It’s the art of tanking without giving the appearance of tanking. Zen Master in action.
The Knicks are one of the worst defensive teams in the league in terms of defensive efficiency and on offense, the team has seriously struggled to translate the holy triangle system into on-court results. Anthony’s injuries haven’t helped, but the results have generally been depressing with or without him.
There is no simple solution for the Knicks – they simply don’t have the personnel to actualize Phil Jackson’s system. So they need to change both the personnel and the system. The Knicks need Jose Calderon (ball movement), Tim Hardaway Jr (shooting), and Travis Wear (defence). Derek Fisher can implement the triangle next year: for now, they need to go back to the Mike Woodson style offense surrounding Anthony as the power forward and three-point shooters around him.
Detroit Pistons (5-23)
How bad must you be if one of the worst teams in the league is paying you to stay away from them? The Pistons waived Josh Smith in an admittance of a failed experiment and now get a chance to start afresh with better floor spacing. Between the twin towers of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, the Pistons definitely have some talent to work on: but so far, the Stan Van Gundy experience has been a failure.
Detroit’s primary problems is putting points up on the board – they rank bottom three in offensive efficiency – and unsurprisingly, a team that has given major minutes to Drummond, Smith, and Jennings, they rank near the bottom at the true shooting percentage, too.
Van Gundy showed that he can build a winner around a defensive big man if he has capable shooters surrounding him, like he did with Dwight Howard in Orlando. With Smith gone, the three-point shooters around Drummond will have to step up and be counted, led by the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Singler, Caron Butler, and Jodie Meeks. They won’t find overnight success, but they should be able to improving their scoring efficiency if the offensive relationship between the post and the perimeter improves.
Minnesota Timberwolves (5-22)
When the Timberwolves replaced Kevin Love with Andrew Wiggins, Thaddeus Young, and Anthony Bennett, there was actually some optimism for the youth movement in the team, optimism for a bright future in the hands of the youngsters. Instead, injuries and the gruelling competition in the West have completely crippled all such plans. With three starters (Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, and Kevin Martin) all missing major minutes, the youth movement hasn’t been just another option: they’ve been the only option.
The Timberwolves have struggled across the board, ranking in the bottom five on offense, defence, and true shooting percentages. But this is what’s expected to happen with a team where talented but inexperienced youngsters like Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and Bennett are playing major minutes.
A solution? Wait. Wait for Rubio, Pekovic, and Martin – three of the team’s best players – to return. Meanwhile, Wiggins Muhammad, and co. will continue to make most of their added responsibilities and develop into better professionals. With a full health squad, this team will improve naturally. With a team that is struggling so desperately on so many different fronts, there is really no other solution.