SOME NBA teams enter the new season only to crash and burn, failing to live up to the hype. This isn’t the case for everyone, with others hovering around or on our expectations. However, then there is a third group though, who catches us by surprise and often shoots into relevance before we can understand what’s going on. It can sometimes be easy to identify which franchise falls into which bracket, but these seven squads are some of the more interesting cases who are harder to pin down.
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New Orleans Pelicans
A lot has changed in 12 months for the Pelicans. Not only is there a new face of their franchise, but they might actually be better off after trading away a generational talent. Anthony Davis’ departure left the franchise with a gaping hole, but thanks to the lucky bounce of some ping pong balls, New Orleans is poised to fast forward the boring parts of a stereotypical rebuild. Not only does Zion Williamson present them with a new franchise cornerstone, but the rest of their roster is ready to aid him for an instant playoff push. Jrue Holiday remains one of the most underrated players in the entire NBA and adding veterans like J.J. Redick and Derrick Favours to a budding core provides them with the necessary depth to succeed right away. I’m a big believer in what former Lakers Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram bring to the table and if their youngsters like Zion, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker can contribute, this Pels team will be one of the most exciting units to follow for the foreseeable future.
AFTER signing Jimmy Butler the Miami Heat can now theoretically move in any direction. There’s a realistic scenario where they pair their All-Star calibre wing with another star running mate and make a genuine push as the third-best team in the conference. There’s also the possibility they fail to broker a deal, leaving Butler to try and motivate the rest of his teammates to follow his lead, a formula that hasn’t exactly reaped success in the past. If the latter comes to fruition it’s not like the Heat would be dead in the water, with plenty to like about youthful duo Bam Adebayo and rookie Tyler Herro. Other vets and possible trade assets such as James Johnson, Goran Dragic and Kelly Olynyk could fairly find their future characterised as uncertain, leaving Miami teetering on the edge of triumph or torment with the new season almost upon us. Time will tell which side of the ledger they fall on.
ON the surface it’s easy to say that Dallas’ season will be dictated by the health of Kristaps Porzingis. In essence that is true, but this Mavericks unit is so much more than a one-trick pony. Reigning ROY Luka Doncic only got better as his first pro season went on, and it’s not unrealistic to expect an All-Star berth in his sights for 2020, despite the competitiveness for spots out West. Adding Delon Wright, Seth Curry and Boban Marjonivic won’t exactly keep opposing teams up at night in a nervous sweat, but these type of depth pieces are necessary for a team to stay afloat in the harder of two conferences, where each night will be a battle. Of course, Rick Carlisle, who is the third most experienced active coach in the league will be hoping his European duo can do most of the heavy lifting, but the small savvy addition in free agency might help Dallas surprise some in the upcoming campaign.
THE Orlando Magic find themselves in a rare position that a lot of NBA franchises wish they could call home. They possess some promising, lanky talent, flanked by a mix of valuable veterans who are more than pulling their weight. Not only are the elder statesmen able to help their cause for back-to-back postseason crusades and offering fans some belief that this Magic outfit has finally turned the corner, but a combination of them could prove to be handy trade chips should the Magic decide to go all-in on a big fish. Names like Chris Paul, Bradley Beal and Kevin Love might not exactly move the needle too much but there’s still plenty of reason to be intrigued by this Orlando squad. Throw in the comings and goings of former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, who could accelerate the heights this group reaches and the Magic are a group worth paying attention too.
THERE are so many moving parts with the 2019-20 Boston Celtics, making it tough to pinpoint how well this season will go. The loss of some key personnel was softened by Kemba Walker’s commitment to wear green for the next four years, but his scoring punch doesn’t solve all their problems. Al Horford leaving to joining conference rivals Philadelphia means there’s a gaping hole in the middle, but if they can help Gordon Hayward return to All-Star form, Boston might cause some headaches out East. That ‘if’ is a pretty big swinging point for the Celtics’ season as there’s no certainty that Hayward can recapture his Utah superpowers after a mentally and physically draining injury. Should he be able to even be 75% of the player he was for the Jazz, that’ll be a great tool for Brad Stevens to have at his disposal. If Enes Kanter can manage meaningful minutes in the middle with some Robert Williams sprinkled on top, then Boston might be able to recapture the vibe that helped them make the Conference Finals in 2017 & 2018.
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ARE the Bulls actually good? It’s a question that has divided the public through the early preseason phases and after some down years, I can see why people are now buying Chicago stock. Zach LaVine gets dragged through the mud for his defensive shortcomings, but when healthy he has 20+ PPG scorer written all over him. The question is, who else can support him to aid the Bulls’ climb up the East standings? Getting a full season out of young frontcourt duo Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter would be a start, with newbies Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young more than capable of pulling their weight too. If they can gel under Jim Boylen, which is far from a certainty, they could excel from day dot and emerge as a sleeper fighting for a playoff spot out East.
DENVER skipped the common phase most NBA teams go through in their development by overachieving in the eyes of some last year. They were a few bounces away from making the Conference Finals and as a result, there are plenty of expectations surrounding Mile High basketball this time around. Depth became their calling card last year as injuries took their toll, with Malik Beasley and Monte Morris excelling with the opportunities they were given. They’ll need to provide valuable minutes to support the starters, but the growth and development of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and untried high school scoring sensation Michael Porter Jr will dictate just how far the Nuggets can go in 2020. Buoyed by an MVP anchor in Nikola Jokic, Denver has all the tools to succeed and prove to everyone their playoff visit last year was no fluke.
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