NBA New Year's Resolutions
Each NBA season crosses two calendar years, creating the perfect opportunity for setting a few New Year’s Resolutions. Every team has had more than enough time to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and plot out improvement. Here are our suggestions for where each team should be focusing their psychological resources in the new year.
Golden State Warriors: Find a way to stop Richard Jefferson. Before Jefferson Grayson Allen-ed Durant on the final possession of Sunday’s Christmas Day game, he had already finished two driving dunks, earned a technical foul for WINKING, played 29 minutes, earned a +6, and been on the floor for all of crunch time.
Although that Kyrie turnaround to take the lead probably triggered deep fear in all the Warriors around last June, Jefferson ought to frighten them in his own right.
San Antonio Spurs: Besides “get David Lee and Paul Gasol, two ten-year veterans, to play defense?”. Hmm. I guess, find the coolest little trinket to send to NBA media members to vie for their MVP vote? At least a first-team All-NBA. Maybe this amazing Spurs santa hat?
Houston Rockets: Replace Clint Capela. The combination of Nene and Montrezl Harrell is capable of approximating the contributions of Capela, especially on offense. Though neither is especially athletic, they both have solid jumpers to pair with above-average finishing ability. On defense, stay tuned: the Rockets have been 5.6 points worse per 100 possessions defensively since Capela’s December 18 injury.
Los Angeles Clippers: Turn back time, to the good old days.
Before November 23rd
The story of the league
Really good defense and Luc Mbah-Moute looking playable
Since November 23rd
Still the story of the league, but for the wrong reasons
Not as good defense, Blake Griffin injury
Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz: Get healthy. The Grizzlies survived a stretch minus Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley thanks to an insane Marc Gasol run, but they won’t do much in the stretch run or in the playoffs without those two at full strength. Similarly, the Jazz have been without Derrick Favors and Alec Burks for most of the season (17 and 33 games missed, respectively).
Results have been poor for the Grizzlies’ ideal starting lineup (Parsons, Conley, Gasol, Tony Allen, JaMychal Green) thanks to Parsons and Conley’s injuries.
On the other hand, the Jazz are holding opponents to 96.6 points per 100 possessions in 130 minutes with both Favors and Rudy Gobert on the floor.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Find a way to make Victor Oladipo more effective. He’s at .455/.381/.620 on the season, but that last number is most alarming: 62 percent on foul shots on only two attempts per game. There’s a particular triple-double machine that tends to dominate the offense in Oklahoma City, but Oladipo could do better at finding ways to be effective, and Billy Donovan could help a little more. Have him run the second unit, involve him in screen action with or around Westbrook, get him cutting to the rim off ball. He’s the Thunder’s only other hope on offense, so he should be scoring more than 16.1 points per game.
Portland Trailblazers: *peeks around corner of the internet* *looks at you, then scoots back around the corner and into a burrow* Trade CJ McCollum. Oh, yeah. Get him on out of Portland. Sell high (22.0 PPG on 47 percent shooting) and add more pieces around Damian Lillard.
You’re going to need lots of defense, Neil Olshey. If Dame is really your guy (and I, for one, think he sure can be). I know last year was rosy and great, and then you had a nice little competitive series against the Curry-less Warriors, but nah. Meyers Leonard isn’t anchoring anything for you in the second unit or elsewhere, and you don’t need Evan Turner anywhere around here unless he’s your Andre Iguodala, in which case okay, sure, but also get other, better players too. Thanks, Neil Olshey.
Denver Nuggets: Just keep doing this, but a lot more of it. The Nuggets are in the playoff chase! We all knew they had it in them, but after several frontcourt false starts and a continually beleaguered development process for Emmanuel Mudiay, the Nuggets have started to break through:
There is obviously overlap in these samples, as many of the same tertiary players were involved in these lineups, including Mudiay and Gallinari in almost all of them. But the big man logjam seems to have finally sorted itself out in Denver, as the offense is humming with Faried limited to a smaller bench role and Darrell Arthur (who has also started three games) to an even smaller one.
Sacramento Kings: Make the playoffs. Funny how winning in the NBA makes so many things better. Get a DeMarcus Cousins-led Kings team into the playoffs for the first time, and the franchise looks a lot sturdier. With a new coach, a new arena, and a remade roster, this is the best opportunity in years for the Kings to sit pretty atop the (bottom of the) Western Conference.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Win third quarters. Even as this story has wandered away from the NBA spotlight, the Wolves still sit at a -19.7 net rating in third quarters this season, which ranks 29th in the league. Sure, a team can have a weakness, and even good teams will struggle in one microscopic area, but that’s abysmal. This is a team with playoff-caliber talent and elite coaching.
Even since December 1, the results aren’t much better: They are at a -6.8. That’s passable, and the Wolves are a manageable 4-7 in December as a result. They may already have too big a hole to dig their way out of, however.
New Orleans Pelicans: Find a third-best player, and keep him healthy. Anthony Davis is the only Pelican with a positive Real Plus-Minus, while replacement-level guards Langston Galloway and Tim Frazier are second and third, hovering around -0.2. Jrue Holiday is clearly a cut above these guys, but the Pelicans are in dire need of a guy who can score on the wing, and a big man who can do…anything:
Tyreke Evans is nearing full health, and offseason signings Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore have looked more comfortable in recent weeks. Anyone out there?
Phoenix Suns: Play the young people more! On a 9-21 team, the roster imbalance that looked to be a clear obstacle ahead of the season has tilted too far in the wrong direction. Rookie Dragan Bender is averaging 11 minutes and has seen the floor in only 23 of the team’s games; Marquese Chriss, a rookie but a starter, is only seeing the court for 17 minutes per contest; the team’s third rookie, Tyler Ulis, is at 9.4 minutes per game in only 17 games. Earl Watson is great in many ways, clearly has the trust of his guys, and deserves more time, but this situation has become untenable.
Los Angeles Lakers: Keep doing your thing, Luke Walton. Unlock two tweener-looking weirdos in Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.? [big check mark emoji] Give Jordan Clarkson a lane to be an effective offensive focal point? Also [big check mark emoji].
I mean, the defense (112.3 points scored on them per 100 possessions) is troubling, but everyone here is the age of a college graduate. There is time, and Walton has earned trust.
Dallas Mavericks: TANK. Call it what you want, Mark Cuban. Keep the brand alive, but please find a way to gracefully waste a twilight season of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. This time, go all out and get one of these sweet-looking generational talents at point guard next June.