Every season, it seems like there is at least one team that comes out of nowhere. Whether they make the postseason or just take a jump from where they were previously, every year has its own surprises.
Last year, the Indiana Pacers surprised fans and media around the NBA alike. The same could be said for the New Orleans Pelicans, the Utah Jazz and others — these teams all exceeded expectations last season and were successes because of it.
Which teams are poised to surprise this season? Let’s take a look.
Fred Hoiberg’s time as the head coach of the Bulls hasn’t exactly been one of the better periods in the storied history of the franchise. With a 110-136 record over the course of his tenure, the Bulls have seen just a single playoff appearance, a first-round exit at the hands of the Boston Celtics. Last season, the team bottomed out to the tune of a 27-55 record.
Things may be on the up and up, however.
Lauri Markkanen, one of the more impressive rookies last season, is the centerpiece that the Bulls have been looking for; his 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season can attest to that. Along with Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, free agent addition Jabari Parker and incoming rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchinson, the Bulls have the makings of a young, high-upside core that should return Chicago to Eastern Conference contention in the coming years.
Offensively, the Bulls look to have one of the more talented rosters in the East. While their defense will have its issues and there will almost certainly be growing pains along the way, a bump in the standings could be in the cards for Chicago this season.
Mark Cuban may have come away with the best player in the 2018 Draft Class in Luka Dončić, and his arrival could mark the beginning of a basketball resurgence in Dallas.
The Mavericks, like their fans, have languished in the limelight of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. However, the pairing of Dončić and Dennis Smith Jr., along with the arrival of shot-blocking big man DeAndre Jordan and other veterans already on the roster, the Mavericks, finally, have a roster they can work with.
Dončić’s resume speaks for itself; at just 19-years-old, Dončić is already a decorated EuroLeague athlete. Smith is an uber-athlete who should benefit greatly from some more time off the ball; the Mavericks will be better able to utilize his athletic ability in the open floor and open things up for others. Jordan and Wesley Mathews, meanwhile, have the knowledge and experience that is required for teams to succeed in the NBA and that should prove invaluable to Dončić, Smith and the other youngsters.
It won’t be pretty, but the Mavericks are capable of a solid run next season. While the team may be hardpressed to push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, don’t be surprised to find them on the bubble down the stretch next season.
The playoffs seem almost inevitable in Detroit, who brought in the reigning Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey this offseason.
Casey’s addition alone would be a marked improvement in Motown; things should run much smoother under Casey than they did under Stan Van Gundy on both sides of the floor. But still, there are plenty of other things that should excite Pistons fans. An entire offseason for Blake Griffin to mesh with Andre Drummond and the rest of the roster should do wonders for the team. The East, as a whole, is weaker without LeBron James.
More importantly, however, the team will be healthy.
As things currently stand, the majority of Detroit’s core players will be good to go when the season starts, a welcome sight after last season. The Pistons were ravaged by injuries, namely to Griffin and starting point guard Reggie Jackson who missed a combined 45 games. The Pistons were 27-16 with Jackson in the lineup, and the offensive upside he represents alongside Drummond and a healthy Griffin should put Detroit firmly in the mix after finishing ninth last season.
Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson taking the next step in their development should be big for the Pistons as well. Both represent potential shooters that will be a necessity on offense with Drummond and Griffin spending a lot of time on the court together.
Los Angeles Clippers
With Griffin and Jordan gone, the Clippers have no true star player. Still, the sheer amount of talented depth their roster possesses should keep them competitive throughout the season.
In the backcourt, Los Angeles should have a bevy of options as they return Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley and Milos Teodosic from injury. The trio will join a talented backcourt that features Lou Williams and rookies Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Beverley and Bradley should help a Clippers defense that ranked just 19th in the NBA last season, while Williams, Wallace and the rookies should shoulder a large part of the offense.
In the frontcourt, the Clippers boast the underrated Tobias Harris alongside Montrezl Harrell, Danilo Gallinari — another player returning from injury — Luc Mbah a Moute, Marcin Gortat — acquired from the Washington Wizards this offseason — and Boban Marjanovic. Harris and Gallinari could prove a solid scoring duo while Harrell should be a nice energizer off the bench.
With as much depth as they have, the Clippers should feast against other teams second units. In all, the team looks to be more than capable of eclipsing their 42 wins from last season.
Much like the Pistons, the Clippers should benefit from some injury luck this season as well.
The Suns have so much young talent on the roster. Until now, however, it went often went underutilized or mishandled. Now, with Igor Kokoškov running the show, things could be different.
For those who don’t know of Kokoškov, he has formerly been an assistant with numerous NBA franchises and even won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Most recently, however, he was coaching for Slovenia, leading them and the aforementioned Dončić to a EuroBasket gold medal. With him at the helm, the Suns should be much more stable, from both an organizational and player relations standpoint.
Meanwhile, the roster is loaded with talent, more so than any other in the years since the seven-seconds-or-less offense. With No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, former first-rounders Devin Booker, Josh Jackson and others, Phoenix has the ability to be truly competitive for the first time since 2013.
Every NBA season has its own surprises. These teams, as well as others, could prove to be next season’s.
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