Virtually every NBA season sees some teams take steps forward while others experience a decline in form. These improving teams can either come in the form of non-playoff teams working their way toward the postseason or actually getting into the playoffs and competing for a championship after being worse in the prior year. When it comes to the 2019-2020 NBA season, there are some teams that are poised to take that leap forward, as their rosters look to be heading in the right direction for a strong season.
The Phoenix Suns have struggled mightily in recent years, but appear to have put a solid roster together during the offseason. Combined with an exciting young nucleus, their veteran additions have made them a team considered by many to be a candidate to exceed expectations this season. Given the struggles that the team has had since the mid-2000s when Steve Nash was winning MVP awards with the team, this might be the most exciting period of Suns basketball in over a decade.
Devin Booker has become the leader of the new-look Suns. The young guard out of Kentucky has proven to be a prolific scorer during his short time in the NBA and finally appears to have a roster around him that can keep up with everything that he is capable of on the court. Booker is joined by talented young players like Ty Jerome and Cam Johnson, both of whom played in the ACC during their college years when that conference was the best in college basketball. That has helped mold those players into battle-tested additions to a roster that appears fearless.
Veteran additions have also helped the Suns, with Ricky Rubio leading that charge. Rubio’s role as a pass-first point guard has made it easy for Booker to focus on scoring rather than handling the ball. Rubio’s quiet style of play meshes nicely with a team full of young players developing a personality. And when young big man DeAndre Ayton returns to the team, Rubio should be able to get involved with him in hard-to-defend pick and roll situations.
Los Angeles Clippers
For a while, the Los Angeles Clippers have become the best team in Los Angeles basketball as they overtook the Lakers since the arrival of Chris Paul to the team. Paul has long since moved on, but the Clippers are again candidates to be the best team in Los Angeles thanks to the acquisitions of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard during the offseason. Given their strong start to the 2019-2020 campaign, it is safe to say that the Clippers will be one of the most improved teams in the league this year.
The Clippers won seven of their first 10 games to start this season, with Leonard leading the way for them despite his sitting out of a few games during the season. But the scary thing about the new-look Clippers is the fact that they won 70% of those games despite Paul George not having made his season debut up to that point. George is a strong scorer, but his ability to play perimeter defense will be what makes things difficult on opponents when combined with the superior defensive abilities of Leonard.
Unlike many of the teams that put multiple star players together on the same roster, the Clippers’ identity will be built around their defense. In addition to Leonard and George, and their defensive versatility, Patrick Beverly is one of the most tenacious defenders in the league from the point guard position. With the three of those players on the same roster, opponents will be almost forced to dump the ball inside in hopes of beating the Clippers’ defense that way.
Of course, the Clippers and Suns will have to navigate a very difficult Western Conference this season, with virtually all of the best teams in the NBA playing out West. Whether or not these two improving teams can run that gauntlet remains to be seen, but they appear to be on the right path.
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