Every season, we see a few teams in the playoffs that missed out the previous season, whether it is due to player progression or a slew of acquisitions. Who will the new playoff teams be next season? With the craziness of the NBA offseason, these rosters can look completely different by the time the season begins, but this article will take into account both the current rosters and potential moves that these teams could make to inch closer to the postseason.
Finishing with a 29-53 record and 12 games out of the final playoff spot in the East, the Atlanta Hawks weren’t technically close to making the playoffs in 2019, but they sure were a fun team to watch.
Rookie of the Year Finalist, Trae Young, was the most electric player on this young squad, averaging 19.1 points per game and shooting a respectable 32.4% from behind the arc. But Young was not the only player that excelled. John Collins almost doubled his points per game from his rookie season, going from 10.5 to 19.5, in addition to his near 10 rebounds per game. Kevin Huerter also burst onto the scene in his rookie season, averaging 9.7 points while shooting a scorching 38.5% from 3-point range. Outside of the Hawks’ “Big Three”, they have many producers they can turn to on the bench.
Let’s not kid ourselves, the Hawks definitely benefit from being in the weaker Eastern Conference and quite possibly the weakest division in the East (only the Magic finished with a winning record in the 2018-2019 season). But this does not take away from the talent they have. With their young core, two first round picks in this year’s draft (they can add some help down low), and plenty of cap space, look for the Atlanta Hawks to make some noise in the East next season.
The Chicago Bulls had a disappointing 2018-2019 season. Not only was Fred Hoiberg let go before the new year began, but their first-round pick Wendell Carter also missed the majority of the season with a left thumb injury. This is usually not a recipe for success, and for the Bulls, it certainly was not.
Although the team regressed by 5 wins from the 2017-2018 season, there were a few bright spots that show promise, specifically Lauri Markkanen and Zach Lavine. Although it was only his second professional season, Markkanen posted career highs in points (18.7) and rebounds (9.0) per game. Zach Lavine also set a few career highs this season. His points (23.7), rebounds (4.7), and games started (62) all marked new highs for him.
Not only did these two players trend in the right direction, but their team’s statistics also improved slightly from the prior season. Their Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating improved to 104.5 and 112.8, respectively. Although both of these ratings ranked in the bottom half of the NBA, any improvement is a step in the right direction. The Bulls can help themselves in both these categories by adding a point guard or some shooters on the perimeter (Coby White or Darius Garland) in the draft.
The continued development of these two young stars, along with potential new additions and full health, will go a long way for the Bulls vying for playoff contention in the Eastern Conference for the first time since their 2016-2017 season first round exit at the hands of the Celtics.
Notice a trend in this list? In case you didn’t catch on, another team from the Eastern Conference! The Miami Heat ended the season only two games behind the 8th seeded Detroit Pistons.
The loss of the greatest player in Heat history, Dwayne Wade, will hurt the team, but their young core and solid role players will be a huge part in making up for this legendary loss. Similar to the Bulls, their Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating both improved from the season before, their playoff season at that. Injuries to Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic derailed the season for the Heat; with these two stars healthy, the Heat most likely at least make up the two-game deficit to the Pistons. If they can add a big man presence in the draft, specifically in the form of PJ Washington, and a couple of low-key free agent signings and they will be in the playoffs next season.
Assuming Dragic and Hassan Whiteside opt into their player options (and stay healthy) and defensive stud, Justice Winslow, continues his upward trajectory, this is a team that can sneak into the playoffs in a shallow Eastern Conference.
Los Angeles Lakers
And the trend is now broken. What do you expect though, this is as close to a lock as anything for next season. Is LeBron James missing the playoffs two seasons in a row? I hate to break it to you, but it’s not happening.
The Lakers were in fourth place (20-14 record) in the Western Conference before James missed 17 games due to a groin injury. But that was not the only detriment to the team’s season. The big blow came around the trade deadline, when Anthony Davis trade rumors began swirling. It seemed that the failed trade attempt took the energy and passion out of all that were involved in these trade talks. A distraction this enormous would almost certainly doom any young team — it brought the Lakers’ and Pelicans’ seasons to a screeching halt.
Previously, the Lakers’ roster consisted of some of the most promising young talents in the league. It was pretty apparent that James and the Lakers’ front office were not going to stick with these young bucks. Now with Anthony Davis in the building, the Lakers will now attempt to acquire a third superstar to create their “Big Three”, as is a common trend on James led teams. If rumors are true, they are in the running for some of the biggest names on the trade and free agent markets (Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, to name a few).
Whatever moves the Lakers’ front office decides to make, they will be a playoff team when April 2020 rolls around.