Whether it’s the Golden State Warriors – who somehow managed to get even better this offseason or the Lakers who finished with the worst season in their illustrious history at 17-65, every NBA team follows one template when they approach the season: play to your strengths while hiding your weaknesses.
For some, their strengths are being a fundamentally sound team who play with a consistency that is unmatched (even with “The Big Fundamental” retiring, the Spurs are still primed to be the biggest threat to the Dubs). Others will use youth and a re-grouping of sorts to get back into the playoff picture (We’re looking at you, LAL).
As the 2016-17 campaign approaches, here’s a look at what each Western Conference team will be trying to expose and what they will be trying to bury through the season.
Golden State Warriors
Strengths: From CBSSports: Numbers. There isn’t enough bandwidth to account for all of their advantages, and not just because there aren’t enough defenders to account for all their shooters. They’re too good at too much. What do you try to take away, as they’re spreading the floor to 40 feet with three all-time shooters? How do you take it to them on the other end, when they can switch everything with agile disrupters Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston? It feels like the Warriors have six on the floor, which is why many fourth quarters become a formality.
Weaknesses: From CBSSports: Carelessness? Rim protection? It’s hard to categorize the center spot as some fatal flaw when Green can just slide over to unleash the NBA’s most lethal lineup. The best hope for teams without a LeBron James — and even the one that does — is when the Warriors succumb to too much showmanship. Steph Curry captivates because he has contained his conscience, but the blind behind-the-back passes that are cute in Game 37 of the regular season were unsightly in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Los Angeles Clippers
Strengths: From CBSSports: Prizing possessions. For all their offensive explosiveness, they don’t err all that often, third-best in the league with just 13.2 turnovers per 100 possessions. It starts with Chris Paul’s patience, second in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, and with an uncanny understanding of when less is more, and more is needed. Paul’s turnover number barely budged even as he increased his aggression to pace the Clippers to a 30-15 record during Blake Griffin’s altercation-related absence.
Weaknesses: From CBSSports: Extra possessions. The Clippers need to take care of the ball, because they rarely take notice of the offensive glass, averaging just 8.8 rebounds per 100 possessions. DeAndre Jordan was the eighth-best per-minute offensive rebounder in the NBA, but he accounted for three times as many total boards as the next Clipper (the since-departed Cole Aldrich, whose rate was higher than replacement Marreese Speights). You’d think there’d be more equanimity with Griffin’s return, but his average has halved since his initial two seasons.
Los Angeles Lakers
Strengths: From CBSSports: The Luke Effect. There’s no guarantee that Luke Walton will succeed immediately, not as his team’s three-point percentage dropped 10 points (Golden State shot 41.6 percent to the Lakers’ 31.6) as he relocated 370 miles south. But he’s more relatable than Byron Scott for the Lakers’ kiddie corps and, with Kobe Bryant gone and free agency another letdown, he’s under no pressure to win immediately, which should allow him to shape his system.
Weaknesses: From CBSSports: Transition defense. The half-court defense wasn’t so hot either, but only the Suns gave up more fast break points per game than the Lakers (17.0), who stood still when shots didn’t go down. It may help that the primary pose-holder, Kobe Bryant, isn’t around anymore, and Roy Hibbert has plodded off to Charlotte. It may not help that teams will try to run Timofey Mozgov ragged.
Strengths: From CBSSports: Guidance. On a team with the potential to play three teens at the same time — Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss — it will help to have solid pros around, and Tyson Chandler, Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa are typically team-first guys. The question, of course, is how coach Earl Watson gives the veterans enough time to stay satisfied, especially with another lottery pick in line.
Weaknesses: From CBSSports: Late game situations. The Suns were second-worst in the NBA, to Philadelphia, getting outscored by 98 points in 126 clutch minutes last season. Brandon Knight took the largest share of the shots, and made just 27.3 percent. This is typically where young teams struggle, so the Suns probably will again, though Booker (just four three-point attempts in those situations) will certainly get more looks, even if he still looks 15.
Strengths: From CBSSports: Three-point shooting. At some point, you need to cite something other than DeMarcus Cousins as a Kings strength, and 3-point shooting was the only major category in which the Kings finished in the top part of the league. It may get better too, with Arron Afflalo (39 percent the past two seasons) replacing Marco Belinelli, who was peddled for a pick after plummeting from nearly 39 percent in his career, to 30.6.
Weaknesses: From CBSSports: Direction. That’s been true in the front office, and that figures to manifest itself on the court, particularly at the point guard position, after Rajon Rondo rebuilt some of his value and signed with Chicago. Darren Collison has outplayed Ty Lawson the past two years, but he won’t play until the ninth game, because he — like Lawson — has had off-court problems. Neither projects as the long-term leader at the position.