NBA training camp has started and while it feels like were just watching the Warriors sweep the Cavs to capture their 3rd NBA Championship in four years. A lot of things have changed in this short but tulmultuous offseason and this has made the upcoming season incredibly intriguing. Will the Warriors come out on top again? Can LeBron carry the Lakers back to prominence? Does Toronto keep Kawhi longer than this season?
No idea. But here are reasons why every team should be excited for this upcoming season.
Hawks fans, I know what you’re thinking. No Carmelo Anthony, no real stars to anchor the team. Where are all the highlights going to come from in a venue known as the highlight factory? While a 41 year old Vince Carter can still get up for the occasional highlight, the real intrigue lies in the potential of rookie guard Trae Young. He’s known for his shooting, dude’s got range from the half-court line, but he’ll probably be a better playmaker as he adapts to NBA. Taurean Prince and John Collins are also players to watch, so while it won’t be a good season, there is room for optimism.
Celtics fans like myself have a lot to be excited about. The starting 5 could all find themselves on the Eastern Conference All-Star game and they could be a serious contender to the Warriors come next June. It’s wishful thinking, but this Celtics squad lost Gordon Hayward 5 minutes into the season and Kyrie Iriving for the playoffs. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown showcased their abilities during the playoffs and are looking to build off that impressive run. Al Horford is the best glue guy in basketball and will probably be the most efficient 5th option on any NBA team. Oh, and they feature the “BWA”, a bench with attitude that features “Scary” Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Daniel Theis, Aron Baynes, and Semi the terminator Ojeyle. They’re deep, talented, and battle tested, banner 18 could be in their future.
The Nets were a quietly impressive team last season with Spencer Diwiddie breaking out in place of D’Angelo Russell as he missed the bulk of the season due to injury. They were a competitive and scrappy bunch who at one point looked like they were going to make a run at the playoffs. Yes, the East was that weak, but the Nets were expected to be the worse team in the NBA last season and instead were a pleasant surprise. A healthy Nets squad could once again act as upstarts in the East. Don’t sleep on this squad, they may be the reason why a fringe playoff team is on the outside come the end of the regular season.
Kemba Walker is one of the most underrated players in the league and was the sole reason the Hornets were watchable. A lot of people believed that he was going to be traded at some point in the offseason, but as of this writing he remains with the Hornets. They have underachieved with all of the talent on this squad and while there is optimism that certain players will develop into stars, looking at you Malik Monk, it wouldn’t be surprise if this team misses the playoffs once again. As long as Kemba is on this team though, the Hornets will have a chance to compete.
One of the most intriguing squads in the NBA due to their youth and talent, the Chicago Bulls could be one of the most fun teams to watch in the East. Rookie Wendell Carter is going to be a force alongside second year player Lauri Markkanen, who looks to build off a strong rookie campaign. They could be one of the best frontcourt tandems in the league, Carter is a super-skilled big who will remind many of a young Al Horford. Zach LaVine has to be motivated after getting torched in the media due to his contract so you can expect him to attack the rim every game. If Kris Dunn improves alongside Bobby Portis and Justin Holiday, then you have a dark horse playoff team in the East. Plus, announcer Stacey King is the best in the business. Also, Benny the Bull. ‘Nuff said.
The King departs and in his wake is a team that will heavily rely on Kevin Love and rookie guard Colin Sexton. If Love can replicate the production from his Timberwolves days, the Cavs may find themselves competitive in every game. Remember when he would post-up and wasn’t just a spot-up shooter? He was as dynamic as any big in the NBA and this could be the season where he regains his form. Colin Sexton has a lot of buzz going into this season and as he will be a featured player in this offense, he could find himself in serious contention for rookie of the year. He never stops playing hard and act as the spark plug for this Cavs squad.
Dirk is on his last legs and while he’ll still be a focal part of the offense, the real excitement for this Mavs squad will come from the one-two punch of international sensation Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. If Doncic is as good as advertised, it will be difficult to replicate his success from the Euroleague, consider the Mavs to be one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Dennis Smith Jr. made a helluva splash last year as he was easily one of the most exciting rookies in what was one of the most impressive classes in recent memory. If the Mavs want to contend for a playoff spot, they will need Harrison Barnes to justify his lofty contract. He needs to take the next step in his game, but as it stands now, there is life after Dirk.
You could make the argument that if Paul Millsap never got hurt last year, the Nuggets make the playoffs last season. They were one of the top offensive units in the league that featured future stars in Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, and Jamaal Murray. Also featured was Will the Thrill Barton, one of the top sixth men in the league last season and Trey Lyles, the Utah Jazz castoff who quietly became one of the most important reserve bigs in the league. This offseason they added spark plug Isaiah Thomas, who will look to add even more scoring off the bench and rookie Michael Porter, who was at one point considered the number one player in this draft. Expectations for the Nuggets will be high, they should be a playoff team and if everyone stays healthy they will continue to be one of the top offensive units in the league.
The acquisition of Blake Griffin last season made every one in Detroit thinking playoffs. Instead, they struggled to make a push but it was a longshot that the chemistry between Andre Drummond and Blake would materialize in such a short time. This team has a lot of questions, but they do feature an incredibly formidable frontcourt and will be in contention to make the playoffs in the East. Lob city may have left LA, but it moved East to the Motor City where they will be one of the teams to monitor as the season progresses.
Golden State Warriors
Not only do the Champs return with their core four intact, they acquired All-Star big Demarcus Cousins for cheap and if he is 70% of the player he was before injured, the NBA is in big trouble. They may get bored during the regular season, but the playoffs will see the Warriors dig in and crush the competition. The NBA should be worried.
Losing two of their best defenders will sting, but the Houston Rockets looked poise to make another run at the Warriors. The offseason addition of Carmelo Anthony may or may not make the Rockets a better offensive team but let’s be honest, the play of CP3 and James Harden will be the reason the Rockets remain competitive in the West. If CP3 doesn’t get injured, the Rockets win in 6 and could have easily been the NBA Champs. His minutes may need to be monitored to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but when those two are healthy, its possibly the best backcourt in basketball. Fear the Beard.
Easily the surprise of the East last season, the upstart Pacers were one game away from beating the Cavaliers and shocking the NBA world. Victor Oladipo’s continued development will be one of the reasons to be excited about the Pacers. He was last season’s most improved player and could have been considered an MVP candidate with the way he carried the team. This offseason saw the Pacers sign talented swingman Tyreke Evans, who is coming off a particularly strong season with the Grizzlies. It also helps that they field a deep team with skilled shooters and talented bigs. There is reason for skepticism, but the Pacers should be a lock for the Playoffs next year.
While the Clippers could be looking forward to next offseason, when Kawhi Leonard, KD, and other star free agents become available, there is plenty of reason for optimism for this season as well. Tobias Harris was a markedly improved player, Lou Williams was dynamite offensively, and the addition of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could mean that the Clippers have their point guard of the future. No, they aren’t going to be contending for a title this year, but it wouldn’t be wise to sleep on a Doc Rivers coached team. They will be competitive and could play spoiler.
LeBron’s arrival brought about great expectations for a Lakers squad that was on the rise last year. While this is a vastly different supporting cast that he is used too, LeBron isn’t getting any younger so playing off ball may be what’s best for him until they can acquire a second star. Lonzo, Kuzma, Hart, and Ingram could find themselves playing different roles from last season, but they should also be the most efficient versions of themselves. The NBA is better when the Lakers are relevant. When the King arrived, expectations immediately shot through the roof, they should be a playoff team, but this may not be the squad that returns them to championship prominence.
It’s difficult to determine how good the Grizzlies could be. The return of Mike Conley should make them a competitive bunch as long as Marc Gasol remains engaged. Drafting Forward Jaren Jackson will hopefully pay dividends as he is considered one of the best prospects in the draft. Not only is he a fantastic defensive player, but he’s a skilled shooter that could put up big numbers in his rookie year. His development will be the primary reason for tuning into Grizzlies games this year.
As they stand right now, the Heat are a fringe playoff team. Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic aside, there isn’t enough talent on this squad to get excited about. Coach Eric Spoelstra did his best given the talent available and was able to make a surprise playoff appearance. The Heat need to make a splash if they want to remain relevant. Jimmy Butler is currently available, so you never know, Pat Riley is known for making waves and landing a top twenty player is the best way to reinvigorate the fan base. They should be competitive even without him though.
Giannis was an MVP candidate and will remain one as long as he continues his stellar play. He is dynamic and the only thing missing from his game is a reliable jumper. Once he hits threes at a respectable clip, he will be unstoppable. This is a deep and talented Bucks squad that will make a run at being the top team in the East. Khris Middleton should make the All-Star game his performance in the playoffs turned a lot of heads. He was a monster against the Celtics and was at times the most efficient player on the court. Fear the Deer indeed.
Offseason disarray aside, the Timberwolves have the talent to make the playoffs. If Jimmy Butler is traded, it can be expected that there will be significant return to help fill the void. Karl Anthony Towns got a massive contract and its well-deserved, he is one of the best young big men in the game and if he learns to play defense consistently, he should continue to ascend. The rest of the team is filled out with reliable vets in Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose. There is the question mark of Andrew Wiggins, who has been constantly lambasted in the media by former players and fans, if he plays determined, Wiggins could be in store for a big season.
New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis is a Top-3 player in this league and the Pelicans will make the playoffs as long as he is healthy. Flanked by newly acquired forward Julius Randle, he will have an athletic, bully-ball player who will help fill the void left by Demarcus Cousins. Point guard Jrue Holiday played at an All-Star caliber level and was one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Yes, they will feel the loss of Rondo and Cousins, but there is no denying that this is a really talented team that could make a nice run in the playoffs.
New York Knicks
This season hinges on whether or not Kristaps Porzingis returns from injury. Otherwise, the reason to watch this team falls solely on rookie Kevin Knox. He is a smooth wing player who has surprising athleticism and will be considered one of the top rookies in the draft by years end. Knox killed it in the Summer League and made the Knicks relevant for the summer. Kristaps will be the headliner, but Knox should be a building block for the future.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Of course the draw for the Thunder will be the continued exciting play of Russell Westbrook, but the return of Paul George is a primary reason for optimism for this upcoming season. The Thunder should be a better team with the subtraction of Carmelo Anthony, as the emphasis on the dynamic of Westbrook and George won’t be bogged down by Melo’s inefficient play. One of the keys to the success of the Thunder will be the health of Andre Roberson, he is one of the best defenders in the league and if he returns to form, will be a major contributor. You should expect the Thunder to field one of the top defensive units in the league if everything goes well. They are poised for a big season.
Aaron Gordon, Jonathon Simmons, Jonathan Isaac, and Mo Bamba will be the primary reasons to watch the Magic. It’s a young, skilled, and athletic core that will hopefully yield a more competitive team this season than in seasons past. They won’t be in contention for the playoffs, but their development is key for the future. Magic fans should tune in as this is going to be the group of players that should lead them back to relevance.
Embiid and Simmons are already considered two of the best players in the NBA. They are franchise-altering players that will allow the 76ers to remain in the spotlight for years to come. With that being said, whether or not they become contenders will rely on the development of Markelle Fultz. Make no bones about it, Fultz wasn’t the player that many saw at Washington, there was no jumper to speak of and if he ends up regaining his form, the Sixers could be contenders to the throne now.
If we’re being honest, Suns fans have suffered enough. Devin Booker has a running mate in Deandre Ayton who should be considered the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Josh Jackson had his moments last year and if his development continues, he could develop into a viable third option for this squad. The rest of the team needs work, they don’t have a point guard to speak of, but Devin Booker is worth the price of admission alone. Luckily this season, he has someone he can share the offensive responsibility with.
Look, Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum are a top backcourt in this league and there’s no doubt that they will find continued success this season. One of the reasons for excitement this year is the continued development of center Zach Collins, who surprised many by his emergence at the end of last season. The Trailblazers have a lot of talent and while they were bounced in the first round last year, they could find themselves as one of the top Western Conference teams again. Challenging the Warriors is a stretch, but Dame and CJ are two of the most exciting players to watch. Dame time is back.
Like the Suns, Kings fans have suffered enough. There is a lot of of optimism surrounding this squad as last seasons rookies made the Kings more competitive than in years past. Don’t expect the Kings to be world beaters, De’Aaron Fox needs to develop a steady jumper and Marvin Bagley will need to prove that he can defend at the next level, but these young Kings will be exciting. Look out for Harry Giles to burst out onto the scene this year, he was considered the top player in last years draft before an injury forced him to slide. Giles was one of the better players in the Summer League and helped remind many of his talent.
San Antonio Spurs
This could very well be the season in which the Spurs fail to impress. But the addition of DeMar DeRozan and the emergence Dejounte Murray will make this one of the more intriguing teams to watch in the West. DeRozan will be motivated due to being spurned by the Raptors and Murray will now be the primary guard due to the departure of longtime guard Tony Parker. LaMarcus Aldridge will continue his excellent play in the post and regardless of the personnel on the floor, never bet against a Coach Popovich team.
While Kyle Lowry is the heart of the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard will be the most important. The claw missed an entire year due to injury and will have the entire season to prove that he is one of the top players in the league. The Raptors will field one of the deepest teams in the NBA, but Kawhi has made it known that his preferred destination is the Clipper. Toronto will have time to win him over as they are one of the best ran organizations in the NBA. They also field one of the best fanbases, if Kawhi is engaged, you can bet that Toronto will be one of the top teams in the league.
Donovan Mitchell was one of the biggest surprises of last year. He carried the Jazz to the playoffs and no one should be surprised if he finds himself in the MVP conversation this year. Coach Quinn Snyder has done a tremendous job at keeping his team engaged and fans should look for the Jazz to be a top team in the West again. This is a talented and exciting squad that should be a top defense and efficient offense. The Stifle Tower should be a shoe-in for defensive player of the year.
Let’s be real, the Wizards are underachievers. But, I believe in John Wall and Bradley Beal, two of the most exciting players at their position in the NBA. If Wall can develop a reliable three-point shooter, the Wizards should see improvement. They still have one of the deepest teams in the league and the addition of Dwight Howard will hopefully improve their athleticism in the low-post. This is a combustible team, but also one that could be incredibly exciting. You should expect to see them make noise come playoffs.