The NBA Playoffs are a long time away but, it is always fun to speculate over which teams will be in and which, will be out. In this list, we take a look at five teams that have the potential and the talent necessary to get back into the playoffs. NBA Pre-season has only just begun but after notable offseason additions and improvement from players, these five teams may finally be ready to take big strides in hopes of finally getting back to the postseason.
Honorable mention: New York Knicks, 2015-2016 season 13th, Eastern Conference
New York became an instant favorite to rise from the ashes and make the postseason after many notable additions this offseason. Finally, it seems that the Knicks have surrounded Carmelo Anthony with enough pieces to make a run for the postseason. Do not get to excited yet. Although on paper Rose, Porzingis and Melo sound like a great trio to lead the Knicks back to the promised land, it might be time to re-think the hype.
The Knicks will definitely improve this coming season, however, one of the biggest questions still remains, “Will all their players stay healthy?” New York has many talented players but two-thirds of their “big three” have not played a full season in years. The Knicks do have Courtney Lee who has proven to be very durable but if Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose both can’t manage to stay healthy their losses may deal New York to big of a blow to overcome.
Another player who will be looking to make big contributions for the Knicks is Brandon Jennings. Last year, Jennings wasn’t his true self as he was still on the mend from an injury, however, if he can return to form it would be a huge bonus for New York. As previously stated, the Knicks will show signs of improvement but, because of the fact that they lack the necessary depth to overcome a possible injury to Anthony, Rose or any other key contributor for that fact, they find themselves as the honorable mention. At least for now.
5. Denver Nuggets, 2015-2016 season 11th, Western Conference
The Denver Nuggets are arguably the biggest longshot on this list, however, Denver has the potential to be a cinderella team this season. Last season, the team witnessed the breakout of young Center Nikola Jokic. Playing in all but two games last year, Jokic scored 10 points, grabbed 7 boards and added 3 assists per game. Jokic would score 27 points and grab 14 rebounds in a career night on February 1st, 2016.
One of the biggest problems for the Nuggets last year was the health of its players. Only one player, (Will Barton) played in all 82 games. Gary Harris and Darrell Arthur were the only players that played in 70 or more games. For the Nuggets to make a run this year, they will need health from their stars, especially their stars and team leaders. Danilo Gallinari is a player that when healthy can be a huge difference maker. Gallinari has often shown flashes of All-Star Talent however, his health is an ongoing issue. In 10 NBA season, he has only played in 80 games once and he missed the entire 2013-14 season. Although only playing in 58 games last year Gallinari lead the Nuggets in scoring with around 19 points per game.
Lastly, two players who could be potential X-factors for the Nuggets are Emmanuel Mudiay and rookie guard Jamal Murray. These two are some of the NBA’s most talented young players. Mudiay showed signs of potential all-star talent at the Rising Stars Challenge in Toronto last year. Although Murray is only a rookie, his Sharpshooting and high Basketball IQ can be a difference maker for the Nuggets.
4. Milwaukee Bucks, 2015-2016 season 12th, Eastern Conference
Like Denver, Milwaukee has the potential to be a cinderella team in the Eastern Conference. The team actually did make the playoffs in the 2014-15 season and it was a bit surprising to not see them back this past year. Although Milwaukee has had some early season injury problems they should be able to weather the storm without Khris Middleton, for the time being. We could this season, be in for the breakout year of both Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Last season both players showed flashes of greatness and will most definitely be looking to build off their recent success. Jabari Parker was actually the early favorite to win Rookie of The Year in 2014 until a torn ACL derailed his season. After averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds last year, Parker’s numbers should also be making a jump. For the 7’1 Antetokounmpo, this season will be his first as the Milwaukee Bucks starting point guard. The Greek Freak should logistically be playing power forward or center, however, his outstanding ball-handling, passing and shooting skills have given the Bucks a good reason to start him at the point.
Throw in a healthy and productive season from former Rookie Of The Year winner Michael Carter-Williams and Greg Monroe and the Bucks, on paper have a good looking recipe for success. The team has been looking to make major moves and if everyone plays to their potential and can stay healthy long term this year could be the year that the Milwaukee Bucks finally squeak back into the playoff picture.
3. Washington Wizards, 2015-2016 season 10th, Eastern Conference
Sigh, where have the good times gone in Washington? It seems like just two years ago they became a force in the Eastern Conference and even swept the Atlantic Division Champions. Fast forward to the 2016-17 season and it seems like there is more buzz around the relationship or lack thereof between John Wall and Bradley Beal. In all seriousness, the Washington Wizards are loaded with talent.
They brought in former Thunder coach Scott Brooks. There are also two players on the Wizards who after years of waiting, may finally be in for a big year. If you couldn't guess, they are Trey Burke and Otto Porter Jr. It seems like every year it is said that Trey Burke is in for a breakout but, after a recent trade to Washington, a fresh start may be all the young guard needs. For Porter his talent seems to be on the rise and this year could finally be the year he cements himself.
For Washington to get back into the playoff picture John Wall and Bradley Beal will need to quickly repair their reported frayed relationship. As well the Wizards will need strong contributions from all their young talent, including Kelly Oubre Jr.
2. Chicago Bulls, 2015-2016 season 9th, Eastern Conference
Last year the Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. It was a bit of a surprise considering they are usually always an early season lock for the postseason. This year is different. The Bulls have traded away former MVP Point Guard Derrick Rose and let Joakim Noah walk away in free agency. The new look Bulls now have a starting five that consists of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and All-Star Shooting Guard Jimmy Butler.
For the Bulls to get into the playoffs they will need all of their key players healthy which, could be a problem. Dwyane Wade, who is expected to be a key contributor only appeared in 74 games for the Miami Heat. In the case of potential absence, sharpshooter Doug McDermott may finally get the chance to breakout in the NBA. Stuck behind Wade and Butler, McDermott could potentially shine with the absence of either player. A Jimmy Butler loss may deal the Bulls a bigger blow but McDermott is ready to step up. Rajon Rondo, on the other hand, will also be looking to play in his first full season 2009-10.
Although the Bulls have veteran Point Guard Jose Calderon on the roster, getting 75 or more regular season games from Rondo would be a huge bonus. IF the Bulls have a completely healthy year there's no telling how far they could go. Especially if Jimmy Butler has another amazing year.
1. Utah Jazz, 2015-2016 season 9th, Western Conference
For Utah, it all came down to the final game of the season this past April. Unfortunately, the Jazz was mathematically eliminated by James Harden and the Houston Rockets and instead, were a part of Kobe Bryant’s 60 point outburst in their final game last season. If you think about it, Utah missed the playoffs but, will now be a part of NBA history. It was probably better that Utah wasn’t the eighth seed because they most likely would have been swept by Golden State.
This year it is safe to say that Utah is ready to make a major playoff push. The Jazz comes into this season with everyone healthy, including international man of mystery, Dante Exum. Last year the young Point Guard tore his ACL and missed the entire year. Although Exum is currently Utah's backup Point Guard, it would not be a surprise to see him overtake George Hill for the starting spot however, he will still flourish in a potential sixth man role as well.
Look for Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors to once again lead the Jazz in scoring. Speaking of Favors, last season the big man quietly had a career year. If Favors can once again score 16 points and grab 8 rebounds a game or more, he once again could be in for a big year. Gordon Hayward, on the other hand, has been running the show in Utah for years. After averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game last season, Hayward might be one of the biggest dark horse All-Star candidates coming into the season. With the emergence of young big men Trey Lyles and Rudy Gobert, along with Favors, Hayward, Hill and Exum will be Utah's six most important players this year.
With a good mix of veteran and young talent, the Jazz will most definitely be in contention for a Western Conference playoff spot come April. If there is one team on the list that will improve the most from last year it is without a doubt the Utah Jazz. With its abundance of young talent, Utah will be an exciting team to watch for years to come and for all we know, that excitement could begin next year.