1 Question Every NBA Team Must Answer Before 2014-15 Training Camp

NBA training camp—weeks of question marks that most teams are lucky to escape with a few answers. 

We haven’t quite reached camp time yet, but before we do, each squad has its own concerns that need to be squared away—some more pressing than others, of course. 

Building teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic are simply working to discover what exactly they have. Reshaped contenders like the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets find themselves asking similar questions but with far different expectations.

As for conference favorites like the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, there are plenty of moving parts that could hamper a successful 2014-15 run.

Now is the time for teams to solve their big-picture worries before they interfere with the day-to-day battles in training camp. Ahead, we discuss each team’s No. 1 focus before heading to camp.

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10 Budding NBA Stars Every Fan Must Watch During 2014 Training Camp

With the gaze of the basketball world focused squarely on Spain and the 2014 FIBA World Cup, it’s easy to forget the NBA is a mere three weeks away from the start of training camp.

From power rankings to prospective starting lineups and just about everything in between, expect the predictions and prognostications to begin in earnest—as if they haven’t already.

Every year, one of the more interesting talking points involves who within the league’s younger ranks appears most poised to posit himself as a legitimate NBA up-and-comer.

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond: We know about them. We’re talking about guys flying a bit deeper below the radar—the ones only a leap or two away from bona fide All-Star status.

We’ve come up with 10 players we feel stand the best chance of using their respective training-camp performances to propel them to the forefront of the NBA discourse.

To qualify, all players must be 25 years old or younger, have yet to earn their All-Star stripes and—perhaps most crucial of all—have at least a year of NBA experience under their belts.

Sorry, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Maybe next year.

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What Aaron Gordon Must Do to Contend for 2014-15 NBA Rookie of the Year

Orlando Magic rookie forward Aaron Gordon won’t waltz into the NBA and dominate, but he’s blessed with the physical tools and court awareness to make an impact on both ends of the court.

The soon-to-be-19-year-old needs polishing in several areas, and he’s not the overwhelming favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Nevertheless, he can join the fray in contention if he maximizes his strong suits and addresses (or minimizes) his deficiencies.

After a strong freshman campaign at Arizona, the 6’9″ leaper landed No. 4 overall on a franchise still toiling in its rebuilding phase. Gordon might not be on top of the Magic depth chart at power forward, but he’ll get frequent opportunities to play.

It won’t be a cinch for the one-and-done youngster to join the Rookie of the Year race. He needs to be a practical weapon on offense and a standout defender in order to make real noise.

What must he do in each phase of the game in order to contend?


Maximizing Offensive Strengths

Off-Ball Cuts and O-Boards

Gordon needs to do his best Kenneth Faried impression from day one.

Many have compared the rookie to the “Manimal,” and Gordon’s exploits at Arizona certainly reflected many of Faried‘s traits: running and jumping over everyone in transition, cutting to the open spots along the baseline and relentlessly crashing the offensive glass.

Gordon didn’t handle the ball a ton last year, yet he remained active and influential on almost every possession because he worked to find the soft spots in the defense. He needs to do the same with Orlando. He has to cut to the open space and make opponents pay if they’re too focused on Victor Oladipo or Elfrid Payton.

And when Oladipo and Payton slash to the basket, he needs to follow up every time and clean any misses. At Arizona he led the Pac-12 with 102 offensive boards (3.4 per 40 minutes), but rebounding won’t be a piece of cake in the NBA. He needs to play with a strong lower-body base in order to box out and give himself a chance to use his leaping ability.

Gordon’s goal should be five offensive rebounds per 40 minutes in 2014-15 (Faried averaged 5.4 in his rookie year).


Pick-and-Roll Athleticism

In half-court scenarios, Gordon won’t be able to create off the bounce too frequently or thrive in the post. He’ll need to rely on collaborating with his teammates, much like his widespread NBA comparison: Shawn Marion. One area where the rookie can use his size, mobility and explosive athleticism is the pick-and-roll.

Gordon has great instincts and spacial perception, so he can capitalize on opportunities to set screens and then dive to the hoop. Ball-handlers like Payton and Oladipo have the task of turning the corner and feeding him the rock, which should often come in the form of a lob.

Once the ball is in the air, Gordon can use his springs and hand-eye coordination to finish the play (enjoy the Payton-Gordon connection at the 24-second mark).

When scouting Gordon leading up to the draft, Tyler R. Tynes of the Philadelphia Daily News noted that Gordon is an athletic specimen who could “establish himself as a great pick-and-roll option in the NBA.”


Display His Passing Skills

Gordon can earn extra minutes in coach Jacque Vaughn’s system by working seamlessly with his teammates. Compared to most young forward prospects, he’s got great vision and passing ability. He averaged 2.5 assists per 40 minutes at Arizona, and he’s the type of player who keeps the ball moving and helps his squad create good habits.

In the early going, he needs to study his Orlando comrades and identify where they like the ball—then distribute accordingly.


Addressing Offensive Weaknesses

Find Shooting Rhythm

The worst-kept secret about Gordon is his poor jump shooting. He shot 29.3 percent on all jumpers in 2013-14, according to DraftExpress.com. His form has improved in recent months, but it’s still a bit rigid in game situations. Poor mid-range shooting contributed to his unsightly 35 percent during summer league, including going 0-of-10 from three-point range.

If he wants to play like a top-tier rookie, he needs to become more fluid and hit at least a couple outside shots per game. He must know his limitations and be selective on contested shots, but pull the trigger enough to help his team out.

Fluidity is also the key when it comes to free throws. He hit less than 50 percent from the stripe in both college and summer league due to his stiff delivery. If he can iron that out and shoot better than 60 percent in 2014-15, it will keep his offensive production afloat.


Establish Two Dependable Post Plays

It would be easy to suggest Gordon master one go-to move and stick with it, but that becomes old and predictable in the NBA. He needs a little more than that.

We’re not going to ask him to magically (no pun intended) deliver a vast array of pivot moves and advanced footwork on the block. However, he needs to employ more than one type of post play in order to take advantage of intermittent mismatches and remain somewhat unpredictable.

During a summer league postgame chat with reporters, he admitted that he needs to be able to attack smaller opponents in the paint rather than opt for jumpers. If foes put a wing on him, he’s got to cash in.

“Sometimes I settle when there’s a shorter or smaller defender on me, I settle for a jumper,” he regretted.

He didn’t display much low-post talent at Arizona, but there are some effective moves he could quickly apply in the NBA. Perhaps a back-to-the-basket baby hook, a drop step or a six-foot turnaround.


Maximizing Defensive Strengths

Showcase Versatility

This depends largely on the Magic’s level of trust in Gordon. Will they really take advantage of his skill set and use him against a variety of opponents?

Gordon has enough size and length to defend most power forwards, but he also has exceptional lateral quickness. His defensive footwork and agility are sharp enough to check wing players, and in many cases, playmaking guards.

Oladipo and Payton will do a fine job against challenging backcourts, so Gordon will focus on matching up against 3s and 4s. His goal should be to defend so well early on that he forces Orlando’s coaches to put him on the opponents’ best player.


Exercise Discipline, Limit the Fouls

In college, Gordon committed just 2.4 fouls per game (3.0 per 40 minutes) while regularly competing against the most talented opposing scorer.

It’s going to be a challenge for him to maintain that rate in the NBA, where the officiating often caters to slashers and aggressive low-post scorers. Gordon will have to supply his finest footwork and pick his spots to aggressively contest shots or attempt steals.

The previous two categories are opportunities for him to stand out above all other rookies. While it won’t single-handedly catapult him toward ROY honors, it will enhance his stock.


Upgrading the Defensive Weaknesses

Strength in the Post

Considering his age and collegiate experience, Gordon doesn’t really have any alarming shortcomings defensively.

The only noticeable concern in certain power forward matchups is weight and strength, and he seems to be working on that already. Gordon got up to 225 pounds at summer league, and his frame is conducive to putting on more upper- and lower-body muscle in the near future.

He had some trouble against sturdier forwards last year. For example, Duke’s Jabari Parker discovered success against Gordon primarily when he bruised his way into the lane:

“Gordon did an excellent job limiting Parker overall, but Parker was able to use his strength to get in the paint and draw fouls,” noted Draft Express video scout Mike Schmitz.

If Gordon can play at 230 throughout 2014-15, he’ll hold his own against most 4′s. The additional muscle will also help him on the defensive glass, an area where he could use improvement. But when he encounters 250- to 260-pound behemoths, things get dicey.


Rookie Outlook and Overall Chances for ROY

The only way Gordon can become a true contender for Rookie of the Year is if he gets upwards of 25 minutes of playing time. Those minutes won’t be handed to him without a fight, as he’s competing with several other young forwards on the roster.

But if he plays to his strengths and upgrades his deficiencies, he could see around 25 minutes in Orlando’s rotation. And in that time frame, he could score double-digit points, which would put him in the ROY conversation. It won’t be enough to win it, though.

Gordon’s optimistic, yet achievable per-game stat line could look something like this: 25.4 minutes, 11.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 49 percent on field goals.

Those numbers would make him a standout rookie, perhaps in the group of ROY hopefuls. His chances of actually winning the award, even with better statistics than those, are extremely slim.

Without an extensive one-on-one scoring repertoire, it will be a tall task for Gordon to shine early in his career. But like Marion and Faried, he’s a special version of “unskilled” prospect; he can still impact the game in so many ways


Dan O’Brien covers the NBA and NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.

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5 Things the Boston Celtics Must Figure Out Before Start of 2014-15 Season

The Boston Celtics will enter the 2014-15 season needing to answer a ton of questions. They’re young and rebuilding, but what’s the next step toward getting better? 

Can they avoid a repeat of their debacle in 2013-14? Do they even want to? Here are five especially pertinent issues the Celtics will need to figure out by opening night. 

They deal with roster moves, lineup configurations and basic in-season targets. They’re also ranked by how important they are and how Celtics ownership, Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens should prioritize answering them together.

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5 Things Chicago Bulls Must Figure out Before Start of 2014-15 Season

The Chicago Bulls head into the 2014-15 season with their best chance at a championship since head coach Tom Thibodeau’s era began in 2010. 

They’ve got new depth, including more scoring punch than ever with Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott, Aaron Brooks, Nikola Mirotic and, of course, a renewed Derrick Rose on board. They’ve also got the continuity of Thibodeau’s system in place, which has led them to no worse than a .549 winning mark in each year he’s been around, despite the repeated roster tumult of injuries and major trades.

Now, the Bulls have something close to their ideal scenario. A team jammed with complementary skills and team-first attitudes, and a window with which to (potentially) sneak by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as their new, complex squad figures out their myriad loose ends.

But although the Bulls’ outlook holds fewer tests and obstacles than Cleveland’s in the short term, they still have a handful of their own issues to sort through.

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Pittsburgh Basketball: 5 Biggest Adjustments the 2014-15 Panthers Must Make

Last season, Pitt proved its usual formula of deliberate offense and stifling defense would still be good enough to get the team back to the NCAA tournament out of a new conference. However, a fifth-place finish—marginally better than their projected sixth-place finish—proved the Panthers still have work to do to catch up to the powerhouses of the ACC.

Even with an intriguing backcourt and a lot of young talent at its disposal, that offense still needs to be ramped up after graduating two prolific scorers. The Panthers also need greater contributions from those who played lesser roles in the success of the 2013-14 squad.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the adjustments that will be essential to their success in the 2014-15 season.

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6 Things Los Angeles Lakers Must Figure out Before Start of 2014-15 Season

The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the most storied franchises in the NBA, but they enter the 2014-15 season with more questions than answers.

For starters: How much pressure are they going to put on Kobe Bryant entering his 19th season? Then there’s the battle at power forward, as Julius Randle and Carlos Boozer are both seemingly worthy of starting spots with a playoff berth looking like a long shot.

In 2013-14, there was the question of whether this team even wanted to win games, as a draft pick was on the line; however, that narrative no longer applies, as L.A.’s 2015 selection is on its way to Phoenix regardless of how many wins it picks up this upcoming season.

Can the Lakers compete for a playoff spot in 2015? The odds are against them, but this team will do whatever it can to be competitive.

The Lakers aren’t the tanking type, and as a result, they’ll look to turn things around as soon as possible—especially with a stacked 2015 draft class ready to come in and potentially make a difference this upcoming offseason.

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5 Things Miami Heat Must Figure out Before Start of 2014-15 Season

Even though they lost LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer, the Miami Heat will enter the 2014-15 NBA season with fairly high expectations.

But this new-look team still has plenty of unanswered questions about its roster at the moment.

With so many new players in the mix, rotation spots and specific roles are far from set. However, much of this can be solved during training camp. 

We’re going to take an in-depth look at what exactly the Heat must find out about its guys during camp if the team wants to reach its full potential this season.

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5 Things NY Knicks Must Figure out Before Start of 2014-15 Season

With a payroll exceeding $90 million and coming off a season in which the New York Knicks missed the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, change in the organizational culture was necessary. 

It turned out to be swift as well. 

Eleven-time champion Phil Jackson was brought in as team president to instill his winning philosophies in an organization that has routinely thrown money at overpriced free agents and undervalued draft picks. 

His first order of business was hiring Derek Fisher, a bright Jackson protege, to take the head coaching reins from Mike Woodson.

After a whirlwind summer of being courted from coast to coast, Carmelo Anthony returned to the orange and blue on a five-year, $124 million deal.

He turned down a better supporting cast with the Chicago Bulls and the bright lights of Los Angeles, ultimately deciding to give Jackson and Fisher a shot at building a winner around him in New York. Together, they will guide the Knicks toward what they hope is a championship future. 

There are still issues to iron out and decisions to be made for the disappointing Knicks. They are very much a team in transition after finishing last season 37-45.  Here are five things they must figure out before the 2014-15 season tips off. 

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1 Thing Every Top 2014-15 NBA Rookie Must Improve in Training Camp

The 2014-15 NBA rookies have worked hard to reach this threshold of their basketball careers, and only the final stage of preparation awaits them.

There are so many areas a young prospect must address as he joins the pro ranks. What’s the one thing each player must focus on improving during training camp?

For many rookies, it’s a tangible skill, such as post-up offense or long-range shooting. For others, their main issue to resolve is between the ears. The mental aspect of the game is daunting, and training camp is an opportunity for them to work on their decision-making and grow comfortable collaborating with new teammates.

We broke down the top 10 draft picks and highlighted the one facet of the game they should upgrade.


*Includes Nerlens Noel, a top-10 pick (No. 6) from 2013 who missed the 2013-14 season.

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