Part of what makes the NBA so entertaining is that no team is perfect. Every squad has at least one key weakness that it tries to mask and that opponents try to exploit. The weaker teams have plenty of those failings, while the stronger teams may have very few of them.
I’ve decided on eight teams that I think are the most likely contenders for the 2019-20 NBA title. For each of those teams, I’ll examine their biggest weakness with training camps opening in just a few weeks.
Los Angeles Clippers: Health of the Superstars
The Clippers’ roster, on paper, is the best in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is arguably the NBA’s best duo. There are plenty of skilled and willing role players who should fit well around the superstars.
The squad’s biggest issue, though, is the availability of Leonard and George. Leonard’s past couple of years have been filled with quad and knee injuries. We saw last year in the postseason that it was worth it for the Toronto Raptors to keep him out of lots of games in the regular season. George had two shoulder surgeries over the summer and may not be ready to play to start the regular season.
Both guys have a great chance to play much of the season and be fine by the playoffs. Their lack of availability at certain points may disrupt on-court chemistry. In the unfortunate case of re-injury to one or both of them, this team’s contender status would be jeopardized.
Milwaukee Bucks: Star Power Outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo
Any team with Antetokounmpo on the roster is basically guaranteed a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference but the Bucks have higher goals.
Unfortunately, the thing that could ultimately hold Milwaukee back from a championship is a lack of a quality second star or superstar after Antetokounmpo. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are definitely very good but they aren’t at the level of Paul George, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons, who are some of the No. 2 options also represented by teams listed in this article.
In the final four games of the Eastern Conference Finals last season (all Bucks losses), the Toronto Raptors limited the Greek Freak to just 20.5 points per game on a 48.3 true-shooting percentage. No one else on the roster cracked 15 points per game in that span. Middleton and Bledsoe both shot below 40 percent from the field, as well.
Philadelphia 76ers: Quickness
The 76ers’ projected starting and finishing lineup this season is Ben Simmons (6’9”), Josh Richardson (6’6”), Tobias Harris (6’9”), Al Horford (6’10”) and Joel Embiid (7’0”). All that size will help with interior defense and offense, as well as rebounding. There’s no denying that the group has plenty of talent, too.
The members of that lineup, as well as some other key pieces on that team, will often be tasked with guarding smaller, quicker players. Opponents that run complex and perimeter-oriented offensive sets may leave the Sixers scrambling a bit more than they would like on defense.
Los Angeles Lakers: Chemistry
The Lakers’ rotation is going to look very different than it did last season. They are welcoming Anthony Davis, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Quinn Cook, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels to the squad after losing Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Reggie Bullock and Lance Stephenson.
Obviously, that is a huge win from a talent perspective. Los Angeles is going to be one of the most improved teams in the NBA, if not the most improved.
There are concerns with perimeter defense, but I’m mainly concerned about the chemistry. How will the roster mesh with all the new players? The squad also has a lot of big personalities, such as LeBron James, Howard, Davis and Rajon Rondo, so it will be interesting if they can avoid any major squabbles.
Denver Nuggets: Star Power Outside of Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets are the deepest team in the NBA. There shouldn’t be much of a debate there. Head coach Mike Malone has about 12 players who legitimately could crack his playoff rotation next spring and he will have a tough time narrowing that down. That could be somewhat of an issue in itself, but that’s beside the point.
What I’m most concerned about is whether the Nuggets have somebody besides Jokic who can take over games if the big Serbian is off his game. Denver’s offense flows through Jokic’s passing, inside scoring and general offensive craftiness. What happens if that flow gets disrupted?
Jamal Murray could be that much-needed second star but his shooting and playmaking are both still inconsistent and his defense is poor. Michael Porter Jr. also could be that player down the line, but this will basically be his rookie year. The rest of the roster is solid players who aren’t stars.
Denver could face struggles in the playoffs if an opponent finds a way to limit Jokic’s effectiveness.
Utah Jazz: The Power Forward Spot
The Jazz got better in the offseason. I think they finally have the offensive firepower to legitimately earn the status of NBA title contender. Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic will be massive additions in that respect.
One thing I question is the fact that the Jazz lack a true power forward or even a combo forward who can play lots of minutes at the 4 spot. Last season, the Jazz often used two different approaches with Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder getting a lot of minutes at power forward.
This year, they will likely try to fit Jeff Green, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale at the 4 most of the time. All of those players are bigger wings. I do question, however, whether any of those guys has the combination of size, strength and mentality to play important minutes at the 4.
Houston Rockets: Quality and Depth of Forwards
The Rockets have PJ Tucker as their bruising, undersized power forward. He is very good in his role as floor-spacer on offense and all-around bulldog on defense.
Elsewhere, I have questions about the Rockets’ players at the 3 and 4 positions. Danuel House showed promise last year but he is still relatively unproven. Gary Clark, Gerald Green and even undersized Eric Gordon will all play at the forward spots. Can you trust them in important minutes manning the 3 or 4 spots for Houston?
I definitely worry about the quality and depth there, especially if the new duo of Russell Westbrook and James Harden doesn’t work out perfectly on offense.
Golden State Warriors: Unproven Wings
The focus for Houston was the 3 and 4 positions. For Golden State, it’s the 2 and 3 positions. To be clear, Klay Thompson’s potential return in the back half of the season will shore up issues here.
While one of either Stephen Curry or D’Angelo Russell will be the nominal 2 in the starting lineup, I think Golden State will stagger their minutes so that both guys are getting a lot of time as point guard.
There are going to be a lot of minutes available at the wing spots before Klay returns. We are looking at significant roles going to Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Alfonzo McKinnie. Or will the minutes go to Damion Lee, Jacob Evans or Jordan Poole? Regardless, the Warriors will be depending on a few wings who haven’t contributed much to winning in their NBA careers.