As we inch closer and closer to July 30th I think most basketball fans are excited to see how things shake out. The chase to a title has never been more wide open given this unique situation, and I would say there are a total of at least 10 teams that truly think they have a legit shot at winning the whole thing. I can't remember that really being the case in previous playoffs which to me is what makes this whole return so exciting.
But that doesn't mean there aren't concerns for every team in Orlando. I figured why not take a look at all 22 and what each team's biggest concern (in my opinion) might be. No team is perfect and if things go south chances are these are going to be the reasons. We'll start with the East.
How do you come up with a concern for a team that is 53-12 and has a historic point differential/net rating? It's not like there are a ton of glaring holes for MIL. But if I had to choose one thing as a potential concern for them it would be the playoff shooting of Eric Bledsoe. He has a pretty important role within that offense, and for the Bucks to get over the hump Bledsoe is going to have to do much better than his 41/23% splits. For his Bucks career he's a 25% shooter from three in the playoffs. That's not great. Last year during the regular season he put up 48/32% and this year it's at 48/34% so for a team that is 2nd in the NBA in 3PA, Bledsoe not going cold from deep is fairly important.
It's very hard to repeat as champs. Almost never happens. Obviously not having Kawhi this time around matters, but I'm more interested in what version of Kyle Lowry the Raptors will get. Last season he was in the perfect role as the #3 option behind Kawhi/Siakam. Now he's probably sliding into that #2 option, and the Raptors playoff history when that happens hasn't been all that great. From 2014-2018 Lowry shot 41/34% in that role. It almost makes you wonder if the Raptors should have that #2 be Fred VanVleet given how successful he was in the postseason and that keeps Lowry in the 3 spot.
Pretty simple for me. My biggest concern heading into Orlando is the health of Kemba's knee. If that shit isn't right and he doesn't have the same quickness he did before the injury, this offense is boned. We've seen what happens to this team in the playoffs when they get subpar production/play from their starting point guard. They get bounced early. It was the case with Isaiah and it was the case with Kyrie. If Kemba can't get by people off the dribble chances are things are going to get pretty dicey.
For a team with a league average defense (14th), a huge part of the reason why the Heat have had a nice bounce back season is how they've shot the ball from deep. They are 2nd in the NBA in 3PM and 3rd in 3PA. As we know defenses tighten up in the playoffs and some of their best three point shooters (Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro) have never played one second of playoff basketball. If their shots aren't falling I'm not sure the Heat defense is good enough to make up for it.
To me, the Pacers will only go as far as their best player can take them, which is Victor Oladipo. Once he came back he was understandably rusty, shooting 39/30%. If he's not able to return to his All Star form in Orlando, I don't know if their offense will be good enough. As of now they rank 17th in the league and we saw last year when they got swept they scored 74, 91, 96, and 106 points. I'm just not sure how this team is going to put up enough points, especially with a worse version of Oladipo.
This one is also pretty easy for me. The concern for the Sixers has to be if Brett Broown can actually find a way for Horford/Embiid to play together. For whatever reason, this season has shown us that there is still a lot of work to do figuring that out. They have shared the floor for a total of 535 minutes this season and have just a 100 Ortg with a 101 Drtg. It's the only two man combination that has played at least that much together that has a negative net rating. The problem isn't so much defensively, a 101 rating is legit. The issues come on the offensive end where Brett Brown hasn't figured out how to make it all gel. If the Sixers want to go on a run, that has to be figured out
We all know the Nets want to bring in a 3rd star. Well to do that they're most likely going to have to trade Caris LeVert. I don't think anyone expects them to do anything in Orlando now that Durant/Kyrie are out, so their biggest concern should be making sure LeVert looks as good as he did in his 5 playoff games last year when he averaged 21/4.6/3.0 on 49/46% shooting. You need his value to be as high as physically possible if you want someone like Bradley Beal.
The only thing the Magic should be concerned about is not falling out of the top 8 to WSH. That would be pretty damn embarrassing considering they have a 4.5 game lead at the moment. Even if there is somehow a play in game, the Wizards have the worst defense in the league. No reason why ORL shouldn't make the playoffs if you ask me.
And the only thing the Wizards should be concerned about is Bradley Beal coming out of Orlando healthy. If they don't want to trade him this summer, you don't want anything to happen that could jeopardize the Beal/Wall/Bertans trio next year (if they keep Bertans). If they do plan on trading him, you don't want his value to take a hit because of an injury. Not really in their control, but seeing as how they probably won't be in Orlando for long, that's all I got.
OK, now the West
Los Angeles Lakers
Shooting. Shooting. Shooting.
Now without Avery Bradley it makes sense as to why they are adding JR Smith. He has the ability to randomly get hot. But for a team that was 22nd in 3PM, 23rd in 3PA, and 17th in 3P%, their shooting is really their one main "weakness". They still have a top 5 offense, top 3 defense, and top 2 net rating, but if there's one thing that might do them in it's their inability to shoot the basketball.
There is now a lot of pressure on guys like Danny Green (37%), KCP (39%) and Markieff Morris (28%) to be those reliable secondary shooters to help create space for LeBron/AD.
Los Angeles Clippers
Let's talk about Playoff P. There's no doubt he's a legit playoff scorer, over the last three years he's averaging 26.9 points a night. But it's also true he has not been the most efficient shooter. In 2016-17 he shot 38/42%, in 2017-18 it was 40/36% and last year 43/31%. He hasn't been out of the first round since 2013 and part of me thinks that's a reason why. Now the Clippers have depth and secondary scorers which might help if PG13 goes cold, but for a team with not a lot of holes my concern for them is that George once again isn't all that efficient.
OK what version of Gary Harris are they going to get? The one that was pretty terrible offensively for most of the year (42/33%) or the one that seemed to be playing his way out of it in 6 games in March (63/64%)? In his only playoff appearance last year he threw up 14/4/2 on 46/35% and the Nuggets were on the brink of the WCF. When they have Murray/Jokic rolling and can get solid contributions from Barton/Harris, this team is tough to beat.
Who is going to step up and be the second consistent scoring option next to Mitchell with Bogdanovic out? The name might not be sexy, but Bogdanovic was averaging 20 a game with 3.0 3PM on 41% shooting. Maybe that guy is Mike Conley, but he shot just 40/37% during the season so that's not a given. Utah had a top 10 offense with Bogy in it, but their Ortg dropped from 113 to 105 when he went off the floor.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Chris Paul's hamstring.
One of the teams that might have the most question marks in Orlando, for me their biggest concern has to be that this new look approach of not having anyone over 6'7 is going to work. What are they going to do if they face DEN in the first round? Put PJ Tucker or Tyson Chandler on Jokic/Millsap? I dunno about that. In the playoffs everything slows down and in this unique season I don't think it's crazy to suggest post play is going to be a factor. If I were them I'd be trying like hell to get into a bracket with UTA. Sure they have Gobert, but he's not really an offensive threat the same way someone like Jokic is. If they somehow slide and face LAC, I mean the size difference there is outrageous.
How will their two best players handle their first taste of the playoffs? The Mavs are interesting to me because I feel like they are capable of beating almost anyone when they are at their best. Luka and Porzingis are unicorns. But if they stay where they are and face the Clippers in the first round, that's one hell of a defense for your best players to get their first playoff appearance against. To me there isn't a team in the West top 8 that has so much riding on playoff first timers, and history tells us it usually takes a few times to get used to that caliber of basketball.
Their concern has to be staying in the top 8 obviously. Things aren't as set in stone for them as someone like ORL, and as the only team in the top 8 with a negative point differential, it'll be interesting to see how it shakes out. A team with a below average offense (20th) and average defense (15th) they are certainly ripe for the passing.
Portland Trail Blazers
Defense. Defense. Defense.
Every time during the year that it looked like POR was going to turn a corner, their defense let them down. If they want to get into the top 8, they have to defend at a much higher level. They have the 27th ranked defense at the moment but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Adding Nurkic/Collins should help, but if this team continues to give up 115 points a night, they have no shot.
New Orleans Pelicans
Keeping JJ Redick's playoff streak alive. There has not been a season of JJ Redick's career in which he hasn't played in the postseason. He entered the league in 2006.
Who would you say the Kings go to guy is? If everyone is healthy and the Kings need a bucket late, where do they go? De'Aaron Fox? Buddy Hield? Bogdan Bogdanovic? Harrison Barnes? I'm not sure we know. So for me their biggest concern should be figuring all that out, especially if they somehow find a way to get into the top 8.
San Antoino Spurs
How do they fill the hole left by LaMarcus Aldridge being out? They signed Tyler Zeller today and I can speak from experience that he is NOT the answer.
Who are we kidding, the Suns have no concerns. They should just be happy to be in Orlando considering they are 26-39
So that'll do it. My biggest concern for all 22 teams heading to the bubble. I can't wait to see how it all shakes out.