The last two NBA offseasons have been some of the most exciting in the history of the sport. From DeMarcus Cousins to LeBron James, a multitude of superstar talents relocated and a plethora of teams have improved their roster overall.
While the Western conference is significantly more loaded than the East talent wise, both conferences leave fans with a lot to look forward to this season. Teams like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics are bound to be among the top in terms of wins and overall competition for a ring while some good competition remains for middle seeds on both sides.
However, there are certainly a few teams that may fly under the radar in terms of expected success. Be sure to keep an eye out for these 3.
- Denver Nuggets
The recent success of the Denver Nuggets has been undeniably one of the most surprising stories in recent basketball memory. After the departure of star forward Carmelo Anthony in 2009, very few expected any type of playoff success for a fairly long time.
While they just barely missed the playoffs last season, this young Nuggets roster is no joke. Centered around 23-year-old Nikola Jokic(a second-round surprising success story in his own right), Denver managed to churn out an impressive 46 wins in an extremely competitive Western conference last season despite an injury that kept former All-Star Paul Millsap out the majority of the season.
With the additions of Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter Jr. off the bench as well as a now healthy Millsap, Denver looks to be even more of a threat to opposition. Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Will Barton all managed their best statistical seasons during 2017–18 and prove to be some of the best young players in the league on the offensive end.
With an extremely young core of Jokic, Murray, and Harris in addition to experienced veteran stars in Millsap and Thomas, there is a very good mix of both young and established talents on the roster. There is certainly no shortage of scoring on this team and the sheer depth and overall production is impressive.
The team boasted the 6th best offense in the league last season without Thomas, Porter Jr., and even Millsap for a majority of the season. One can only imagine their impact this year on that end of the floor with those guys in play.
It should be noted that the Nuggets are definitely below average on the defensive end and even ranked among the worst last season(25th out of 30). Furthermore, aside from Jokic, the team lacks a clear playmaker at the point guard position. Thomas helps in the playmaking department but definitely makes the already problematic defense even more of a liability so it’ll be interesting to see how those problems are addressed.
Regardless, a team with sheer depth, high-level scoring capabilities, and a multitude of players who can play a variety of roles always proves to be a winning recipe in the NBA.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Due to the nature of sharing a hometown with one of the best franchises in NBA history, the Los Angeles Clippers have never gotten the attention they fully deserve. Last season was a prime example.
Despite a plethora of injuries to a multitude of key players and a franchise-altering trade mid-season, the Clips still managed to win 42 games in a tough Western Conference led by Tobias Harris and Lou Williams. Both played the best seasons of their respective careers and emerged as potential All-Star candidates. Few, however, took notice.
Tobias Harris was one of 6 players in the league that averaged over 18 points and shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc for the entirety of the season. The other 5 included the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Paul George, and Karl Anthony-Towns. Lou Williams managed to have an elite scoring season and served as the primary playmaker.
The main two issues last season were a lack of depth due to injuries and the need for a primary playmaker as Williams is generally a scorer. With the previously injured Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, and Danilo Gallinari now healthy, depth will no longer be an issue and the defense will be much improved as Beverley and Bradley are some of the best defensive guards in the league.
Furthermore, the recently drafted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will provide much needed assistance in the playmaking department. Overall, the team has a variety of scoring options, well-rounded talents, and a good mix of both young and established players for the future. While they may not necessarily make the playoffs just yet, they’ll definitely compete with some of the best teams.
Harris shot an effective 40.7 percent from beyond the arc in catch-and-shoot situations and will now have a high IQ point guard in Gilgeous-Alexander to get him the ball in his spots. Lou Williams remains the first option and will have more help on the offensive end with the new additions.
Preseason always needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but the Clippers are currently 4–0 and won their first three games by an average margin of 20.7 points. These are potentially signs of what’s to come.
3. Indiana Pacers
Unlike the other two teams on this list, the Indiana Pacers actually made it to the playoffs last season. Granted, they’re in the Eastern Conference but their accomplishments were still impressive. Now that LeBron’s departure has weakened the east, expect the Pacers to make a run at a top 4, likely even top 3, seed.
The infamous trade that sent Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domanatas Sabonis left NBA fans in shock. Initially, a lot of fans thought the Thunder had essentially robbed Indiana of their star. The 2017–18 season however proved to be a much different story.
Finally in control of a team and with a prime opportunity, Victor Oladipo blossomed into a flat out star, averaging an elite 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals on an efficient 47.7 percent shooting from the field and an equally impressive 37.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
With the help of good coaching and some well-rounded teammates, Oladipo and the Pacers shocked the world and managed to secure the 5th seed. Furthermore, they gave LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers a serious run for their money, pushing them to an intense 7 game series.
While they didn’t come out on top, they’ve got a great all-around team to build with for the future and proved they could compete. Oladipo is entering his prime and seems to be enjoying his time in Indiana so a departure any time soon is unlikely. Myles Turner and Domanatas Sabonis have proven to be extremely versatile bigs for the future and have a lot of time to develop.
Bojan Bogdanovic was a consistent three-point shooter and scorer and Darren Collison proved to be an effective playmaker and leader. Furthermore, the addition of Tyreke Evans will prove to be beneficial on the offensive end in both the scoring and playmaking departments. This will take some pressure off of Oladipo and will help get others involved more frequently.
While they aren’t expected to make a deep playoff push any time soon, their regular season success may shock a lot of people this year. They’re one of those teams that doesn’t necessarily need more than 1 star to win a lot of games. Oladipo is the right fit for Indiana and shows no signs of decline. The added depth is going to prove even more effective this year.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the Pacers are also a top-tier defensive team. While they ranked 11th in offensive rating despite only one player averaging above 15 points, they also managed to make an impact on the other end of the floor as they ranked 13th. Keep an eye out for them as a top 3 team in the East, likely behind the Celtics and raptors.