Ten teams, each equipped with plenty of star power, will take centerstage on the biggest day of the basketball year.
As often is the case among siblings, the teams stuck in the middle receive little recognition.
The six teams trapped in the middle of the standings are all left out of the Christmas Day festivities, so Shatter the Glass offered to provide some assistance to help make them more relevant at the start of the New Year.
Biggest need: A point guard
Point guard play has been an issue in New York for years and by failing to address the issue in the draft — instead landing tantalizing forward Kristaps Porzingis — the Knicks are still searching for answers. New York ranks last in the league in fast break points, points in the paint, points off turnovers and points off drives. The team pulled a draft day trade to bring in rookie point guard Jerian Grant, but he has already fallen out of the rotation and Jose Calderon is averaging just 3.7 assists per game, the lowest of his 10-year career. The Lakers have a glut at the point guard position and may be enticed into moving Jordan Clarkson, a player entering free agency this summer.
Biggest need: Productivity at center
Indiana has the dubious distinction of ranking both third in the Eastern Conference and the Central Division. Paul George has excelled during his first season at power forward emerging as an MVP candidate, but he could use some front help in the front court. The Pacers don’t have a center averaging over 25 minutes per game, while the duo of Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill have combined to block just 35 shots. If Houston is serious about moving Dwight Howard, the Pacers should start making proposals.
Biggest need: Productivity at shooting guard
First year coach Scott Skiles made a surprising adjustment to the team early in the year, benching Victor Oladipo to providing more scoring power from his reserves. The move shifted Evan Fournier from small forward to shooting guard, a transition that hasn’t been smooth. While playing small forward, Fournier was in contention for the Most Improved Player of the Year award, averaging 18.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, but at shooting guard, is producing 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists. Orlando could move Fournier, as he his heading for free agency this summer, for a veteran such as Kevin Martin to provide more stability to the team.
Biggest need: A perimeter defender
The Suns are allowing opponents to convert 38 percent of their attempts from 3-point range against them, the fourth worst percentage in the league. The back court duo of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe provide plenty of offensive fire power, but with both players standing under 6-foot-4, they struggle in deterring the opposition in shooting from beyond the arc. Small forward P.J. Tucker hasn’t provided much help defensively, averaging just a steal per game, his lowest over the past three years and opponents are shooting better than their average from anywhere on the floor with him defending. Miami may be interested in clearing cap space for next summer, perhaps Luol Deng could be available.
Biggest need: A consistent playmaker
A torn ACL sidelined Dante Exum for his entire sophomore year, eliminating the most promising passer on the team. Utah is dishing out just 18.3 assists a night, the third lowest in the league and Gordon Hayward is the only player on the roster averaging more than three assists a game, averaging 3.1 a night. Without a potent passing attack, the Jazz offense often becomes predictable. The Rockets are actively shopping Ty Lawson, a player that hasn’t gelled with the team during the first quarter of the season. Adding Lawson carries little risk, as his contract is not guaranteed after this season, so if he isn’t a fit, the Jazz can let him walk in free agency, but he averaged 9.6 assists per game just a year ago.
Biggest need: Long range shooting
The problem in Memphis has been the same issues for years, as the team still can’t find a productive long range shooter. The Grizzlies are connecting just 5.5 times per game from beyond the arc, tied with Minnesota for the second fewest in the league. Memphis has altered its starting lineup, moving Jeff Green to the power forward position in an effort to give the team some much needed 3-point shooting. The team also moved Courtney Lee into a starting role three games ago, a move that has produced six shots from beyond the arc. As a team, the Grizzlies are connecting on 31.8 percent from the field, only Miami and Brooklyn are shooting at a lower percentage. Philadelphia guard Isaiah Canaan ranks seventh in the league in 3-point field goals made with 66, and could provide an insurance policy in case Mike Conley leaves in free agency.