These are 5 teams that I believe will do much better next season, each for separate reasons. Some of the teams I am mentioning were maybe one true piece away from making the postseason last year. Others have really young cores that have not had a chance to gain chemistry together due to costly injuries. If all of these teams are able to be fairly healthy heading into next season, then they will make surprising noise. I am telling you now, so you will not be caught totally off guard later.
Without further ado, here are the 5 lottery teams that should make the playoffs next season.
5. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks finished 33-49 at the 11th seed in the Western Conference. If it hadn’t been for their terrible 3-15 start to the 2016-17 season, then maybe they would have been right there in playoff contention. They have a young and promising core full of future budding stars in Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry, Yogi Ferrell, and Nerlens Noel. They got Ferrell and Noel near the mid-season mark and still were growing chemistry together as a unit. Dirk Nowitzki enters what predicts to be his final NBA season, I am sure the Mavericks would like to get a competitive unit to give Dirk a respectable send-off.
A few things need to happen in order for them to make the playoffs. Wesley Matthews needs to return to being an elite 3 and D player. They need to re-sign Noel and Ferrell to long term deals in the off-season. Mark Cuban cannot let Dallas lose out on their potential. Lastly, hope that either Dwight Powell or Dorian Finney-Smith has a breakout year.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
With the chance to add to their young core by picking at 8th in this upcoming draft is huge for the Minnesota Timberwolves. They have a lot of leverage to move the needle with their assets. Ricky Rubio is coming off a career year with career-high averages in FG%, apg, and ppg. His trade value should be as high as it’s ever been. They could use him as a way to possibly trade up in the NBA draft, a team like Philly might be very interested. In any event, hopefully the future core of Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, Andrew Wiggins, and Karl-Anthony Towns can finally get a year together without any big injury blows. Before Zach Lavine went down for the season, he was averaging a career high in ppg at 18.9.
Eventually, this potential will make the translation to wins. Maybe next year is the year for this young wolf pack. Wolves have to feast soon enough. Am I right? Having one of the longest playoff droughts has to have taken its toll on the fan base. With the growth of chemistry and amazing potential of this team, I am fully confident in saying they will finally break through to the playoffs next season.
3. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets have an amazing offensive team, their problems lie on the defensive end. They are a relatively young team and they have the cap space as well as many movable assets to solve that problem. Adding a guy like Paul Millsap, Taj Gibson, or Serge Ibaka could award them the defensive anchor they’ll need going forward. They have an impressive future core of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, and Nikola Jokic that they should work to build around.
Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have shown flashes of being a very formidable backcourt in the near future. Wilson Chandler has been one of their most consistent go to options on the offensive end and showed great potential to improve defensively. I expect them to move on from Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton to clear up cap space to go after a star player this offseason. As, for Nikola Jokic, I go as far to say, he is the most all around offensive big that there is in the NBA right now. His basketball IQ is off the charts for a player going into only his third year. Jokic’s only weakness lies on the defensive end, but it typically takes a while for European players to turn into solid defenders. Even if he doesn’t, his basketball IQ will take him far.
2. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat led by the brilliance of Erik Spoelstra nearly made the playoffs after starting off with an 11-30 record. They would finish 9th in the east with a 41-41 record. Outside of their big three of Dion Waiters, Goran Dragic, and Hassan Whiteside, most of their talent is the makeup of former D-League standouts. Guys that were undrafted or at best late second round picks.
Before Dion Waiters went down to a season-ending injury, he was making strides at the offensive end. Waiters emerged as one of the best closers in the NBA. He and Dragic should be one of the most dynamic backcourts going forward. If he had stayed healthy, they were likely going to be as high as a 6th seed in the playoffs. Expect Miami to re-sign Dion Waiters to a long term deal. Hassan Whiteside continues to become more than just a shot blocker, but an actual anchor of the defense. Having a lottery pick in this loaded draft can’t hurt either. The chance to deepen their bench.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
You just have to continue to trust the process because of as much pain as Sam Hinkie initially put Sixers fans through, his vision is finally coming to a reality. The Sixers have just landed at the 3rd pick in the draft and will look to add to their already outstanding core. A core that includes ROY frontrunners Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric along with a top pick in Ben Simmons.
Remember, Joel Embiid only played 31 games for the Sixers this past season and in that small sample size his impact on the defensive end was mouthwatering. Ben Simmons, has yet to play a game but projects to be a franchise building block. At one point before Embiid went down for the season, he had everybody trusting the process. The Sixers also have an amazing amount of cap space to add star talent in the form of a certain hometown All-Star. We are talking about Kyle Lowry of course. Lowry has reportedly shown great interest in returning to the Philadelphia 76ers according to Washington Post.
Philadelphia plans to offer the star lucrative sums of money this offseason. A chance to get paid, win, and play for your hometown. Every player's dream scenario. Just close your eyes for a minute with me and imagine a big four of Kyle Lowry, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid. Now, that’s a reason to trust the process.