With the 2018-19 NBA season just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking which teams might have a shot at surprising the world with their success.
In a league dominated by the Golden State Warriors, other teams including the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets are shoe-ins to be championship contenders. While the teams on this list may not be in that same category as of yet, keep an eye out for what they may be able to accomplish as the season progresses.
5. Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons acquired superstar Blake Griffin and others back in January, giving up Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and a couple of draft picks. Originally, this trade seemed to be pointless with both teams winding up their season without much notable change.
Now, under the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, the Pistons are poised to utilize their deadly interior players in Griffin and Andre Drummond. In a league migrating away from the traditional big man, Drummond continues to prove his worth. Last year, the 7-foot center posted career-highs in rebounds, assists, and minutes per game. He also tied his career high in steals with 1.5 and scored at least 15 points per game for just the second time since being drafted in 2012.
Reggie Jackson is another huge piece to their success, but his health is obviously a crucial factor in how big of a role Jackson will have. The 6-foot-3 point guard struggled with injuries in recent history, playing in a combined 97 games over the past two seasons.
4. Indiana Pacers
Following a breakout season when tasked with filling the role of Paul George in Indiana, Victor Oladipo is looking to lead the Pacers into one of the top seeds of the Eastern Conference.
Joining Oladipo in the backcourt is Tyreke Evans, also coming fresh off of the best season his career so far. Evans put up an impressive 19.4 points, 5.1 boards, and 5.2 assists per game last year during his one-year stint with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Unfortunately, his health is among the worst in the league. Over the past four seasons, Evans averages playing in under 30 games. Should he continue to struggle in that aspect of the game, Oladipo will need another outstanding year to give his squad a chance at hanging with the top dogs in the East.
3. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets just missed the playoffs last year in heartbreaking fashion, but this year I could see them making it as high as the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
Needless to say, this type of turnaround in the West doesn’t happen without an influx of playmakers and game changers added to an already capable roster. The Nuggets find themselves in this exact scenario, drafting Michael Porter Jr. with the 14th pick back in June. They also added free agent Isaiah Thomas to a veterans minimum contract.
Thomas got tossed around the league all of last year, starting with the blockbuster trade made by Boston in order to acquire Kyrie Irving. After failing to summon the MVP-type play seen with the Celtics, he became one of the many players that Cleveland dealt at the trade deadline.
Thomas’ time with the Los Angeles Lakers was a slight improvement from the Cavaliers, but not by much. Now, the two-time All-Star will look to resurrect his career with the Nuggets. Flanked by Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, and an upcoming Jamal Murray, this Denver team may have what it takes to make the next step towards being contenders.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo being nicknamed the ‘Greek Freak’ is no fluke—this man is here to stay. Every year, he achieves numbers more impressive than the last, and is consistently an MVP candidate before the season has even started.
Don’t forget, the Bucks forced the Celtics to seven games in the opening round of playoff action last year. In fact, they probably would have won that series and advanced to play the Philadelphia 76ers if not for inept coaching out of then-interim head coach Joe Prunty. Although they faced a tattered and bruised Celtics team, it’s still the same squad that made quick work out of a relatively healthy 76ers group which is widely considered to be a top three team in the East.
Mike Budenholzer took over as head coach and their personnel underwent multiple notable changes this offseason. Picking up Brook Lopez will provide an alternate threat in the paint that has been absent since the rise of Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks also drafted two-time NCAA champion Donte DiVincenzo with their 17th pick.
One thing hurting the Bucks will be surrendering Jabari Parker to the Chicago Bulls, but Khris Middleton’s steady improvement should help make up for what they will be losing.
1. Utah Jazz
The Jazz were eventually bounced out in the second round of the postseason last year by the Houston Rockets, but not before putting away the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games.
Rookie of the Year runner-up Donovan Mitchell is ready to be an absolute force in this league, with Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert holding down the paint. On top of these two centerpieces, Utah has other high-quality players including Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio to utilize. Like him or not, Grayson Allen could make it or break it for the Jazz. In his preseason debut, Allen led his team with 19 points over 22 minutes of action.
Although this performance was indeed versus a much inferior team in the Perth Wildcats, it still gave Allen an opportunity to prove his shooting hasn’t lost its touch since scorching opponents in college as a member of the Duke Blue Devils.