As we enter the 2017-18 NBA season, it seems like a majority of NBA fans minds are made up about what to expect this season. The general consensus in the West is that it will mostly be a race between six teams, which are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves and the New Orleans Pelicans.
Those teams definitely feature a gluttony of talent on all cylinders, but the star power of the West forces people to overlook other decently built NBA teams.
Out East, people have conceded to a fact that it will be a two team race between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics. Due to a great deal of star power shifting coasts to the West, many NBA fans believe the Eastern Conference is like a kiddy pool full of little rubber duckies that are not built to win. What if I told you to open your mind up to a newer way of looking at next season? Let me tell you, there are 5 NBA teams that could absolutely catch you by surprise next season. It all depends on two key factors, health and chemistry between a team’s nucleus of talent.
Here are the 5 Teams that nobody is talking about, but could make real noise next year.
Watch out, the way the Charlotte Hornets are built reminds me of the way the 2009 Orlando Magic team that went to the NBA finals was built. Obviously, it was a different NBA landscape back then, with the rise of legit super teams now. The Charlotte Hornets have their newest acquisition, Dwight Howard surrounded by dead-eye shooters in Kemba Walker, Malik Monk, Nicolas Batum, and Frank Kaminsky. That 2009 Orlando Magic team’s offensive sets were designed in a similar fashion of an offense built on spacing and feeding Dwight in the post.
A few things need to happen for this team to become a top 4 team in East, but it can definitely happen. Kemba needs to take it to the next level as a player and become a bonafide superstar. Dwight Howard needs to shrug off his off-year in Atlanta and show more of what we saw in his early Houston days as a Rocket. Howard needs to transform this team’s defense as their new defensive anchor. Spacing will be the key ingredient in the success of this team, open shooters need to hit the mark on their shots.
Michael Carter-Williams needs to see somewhat of a revival in his game and become a solid backup point guard. If he can add a decent mid-range shot to his game, he can score over opposing guards with ease using his height advantage. Similar to what Shaun Livingston brings to Golden State, a defensive mismatch. Many people, don’t really understand the Dwight Howard pairing with Charlotte and neither did I until I looked into their roster deeper. Chemistry may take a while to build, but the Charlotte Hornets have lacked that defensive backbone on the interior. So, this is a great pairing. They could be a top 4 team and win maybe 48 games. Watch out for Buzz city baby.
Portland Trail Blazers
People forget, how good the Portland Trail Blazers became after acquiring Jusuf Nurkic from the Denver Nuggets last season. During, the second half of season, the addition of Nurkic and stellar play from McCollum and Lillard fueled the Blazers to the playoffs. With Nurkic added to the lineup, their defense went from 26th to 13th best in the NBA. Quite a big jump. Nurkic averaged, 15.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.3 spg, and 1.9 bpg on 51% shooting through 20 games. Right before the playoffs, Nurkic went down due to a non-displaced fracture in his right leg. Returned in the playoffs briefly, but on limited minutes.
Hopefully, Nurkic can bounce back from this injury and continue to grow as a player at 22 years of age. Part of my prediction for the Blazers to shock many NBA fans is in part, due to him being a rising star in this league. I believe him, Lillard, and McCollum can be a very formidable big 3.
Let’s not forget, the Blazers future looks much better now that they were able to shell out Allen Crabbe and his $75 Mil contract to Brooklyn. That’s $75 Mil off the books for a team that had a ridiculously high payroll. They were swimming in the luxury tax, now there is some breathing room. Three teams in Cleveland, Miami, and Oklahoma City all have higher payrolls.
Mark 2017-18 season as a potential year for Rip City as they could have 3 players all capable of having All-Star caliber seasons, regardless if they make the team or not. If all goes well, they could upset a higher seed in the playoffs. Damian Lillard is a star, but this is the year that McCollum and Nurkic start getting the recognition in that same conversation.
The length is real and the depth is dangerous. You better fear the deer, once Jabari Parker returns from his ACL injury. Parker should be back by the second half of the season and the Bucks are more than capable of sheltering it out until then. Milwaukee is built to dominate the league for years to come, the health has been the issue. Khris Middleton missed time and then Parker tore his ACL before Middleton returned to form from his injury last season.
If healthy, the Bucks have 11 players that can impact a game and a comeback year from Mirza Teletovic or a good rookie year from DJ Wilson could make that 12-13 deep. Imagine a starting five of Malcolm Brogdon (2017 Rookie of the Year), Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo (Superstar), Jabari Parker (Fringe All-Star), and Thon Maker ( Star Potential). A bench of Matthew Dellavedova, Rashad Vaughn, Tony Snell, John Henson, and Greg Monroe is pretty solid.
The starting unit’s heights go from Brogdon (6’5), Middleton (6’8), Antetokounmpo (6’11), Parker (6’8), and Maker (7’1). That’s been the Bucks counter punch to a league built on spacing for years now. We will see if health will allow the Bucks to make a run at an ECF berth.
To all the super teams in the west, I raise you another one in the Denver Nuggets. Next season, altitude won’t be their biggest advantage and Nikola Jokic won’t be their only star. Remember the names Gary Harris and Paul Millsap. Some people seem to be already counting the Nuggets as a team that might not have enough in the tank to even make the playoffs. Granted the West is loaded, but so is this squad. They had the #1 offense in the NBA for a reason. Their downfall was their defense which was dead last in the NBA.
They missed the playoffs, as Westbrook sank them with a dagger to put a knife in their season. Their future looked bleak with the West loading up, they were fortunate to land a 4x All Star in Paul Millsap. Millsap will bring a much needed and appreciated leader as well as a defensive anchor. A trio of Harris, Chandler, and Millsap will be a terror for any offense to go up against. If Gary Harris breaks out into the elite 3 and D guy, Nuggets fans believe he can be, then the Nuggets could be gunning for top 4 seed in the West. In other news, Michael Malone could be up for a coach of the year as the Head Coach of the Denver Nuggets.
Millsap and Jokic should once again be in the running for All-Star spots, but in a loaded West, snubs will be of the plenty. The depth of star power in the West leads one to believe the West will be top heavy, but a well-balanced team like the Denver Nuggets can put a wrench into those forecasts.
Los Angeles Clippers
What if I told you Clippers should be fine without Chris Paul? You would say I’m bonkers but seriously think about it. If you look at the Clippers roster, they are a deep team at all positions. The big what if of this team will be the health. What could you expect, this team’s top players in Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari are historically injury prone. In fact, Blake Griffin is stated to not return until December with an injured big right toe. Gallinari recently broke his hand and is expected to be game ready by September.
I believe the Clippers will struggle earlier on without Blake, but they will still be a well-balanced unit. To give you an idea of their depth chart, here is their roster. Patrick Beverley (Top Tier Defensive Guard), Austin Rivers, Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin (Top 5 PF), and DeAndre Jordan (Elite Rim Protector). Their bench features, Milos Teodosic (Best European Player), Lou Williams (Former Sixth Man of the Year), Sam Dekker (sharpshooter), Montrezl Harrell, and Willie Reed. When healthy, this is the deepest Clippers team in years. Probably, the deepest in the whole Blake Griffin-CP3 era.
Injuries will likely take place, but a deep team like this usually has that next man up mentality and capability. So, while Blake is out, this team can still hang tough. My prediction is if the chemistry clicks, grabbing as high as the sixth seed is not out of the question.
So, open up your minds and survey all the rosters. There are teams that are built to shock you. I believe it will be 1 of these 5 unless like me you are sold on their potential already as units. In any event, it will be a wild ride of a 2017-18 season. Have a blessed day.