The 2016-17 season it’s almost over and it’s been a fun ride. It seems like yesterday when the Spurs dominated the supercharged Warriors on opening night. Since then, lots of things have changed. We’ve seen teams go up and down the standings, while others have kept steady. There have also been shocking trades and pitiful injuries. But out of this lovely mess, which teams have improved the most this season?
Honorable Mention: Philadelphia 76ers
To be honest, it’s hard not to improve when you only won 10 games last season. Although Philadelphia has taken a big leap in the last few months. They are nearly going to triple their wins from last year and finish around the 12th place in the east. The main reasons for their present recovery are big men Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. They are both listed as top candidates for Rookie of the Year Award and have really made an impact for the 76ers.
Philly is still a team that can only grow. Hopefully next season Ben Simmons makes his NBA debut and contributes to the case. Plus, the 76ers must be looking to add some talent to their backcourt on a guard-heavy draft class this summer. They’ll also be trying to move center Jahlil Okafor.
With all these factors going on their favor, I guess we can even expect the 76ers to go around .500 next season.
5. Boston Celtics
The Celtics have been on a mission the past months. Commanded by “the Little Guy” Isaiah Thomas they are now holding the 1st seed in the east with a 49-27 record. Whether they end up topping off the struggling Cavaliers or with the 2nd seed, they’ll sure be a scary opponent come to the playoffs.
Brad Stevens has made an incredible job with this young and talented squad. It’s clear that the addition of Al Horford has helped but even more, everyone has boosted up their game this year. When healthy, they feel they can beat anyone any given night.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks went from a disappointing 33-49 season to a recharged above .500 performance. The lengthy Bucks lost a key player at the beginning in Khris Middleton and yet another one at mid-season in Jabari Parker. Lucky enough, Middleton just returned and has been playing well averaging 15 PPG during 23 matches. Milwaukee has also surprised showing off their rookie Malcolm Brogdon who has been a great addition.
But let’s not distract ourselves from the real x-factor in this particular case. His name is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has done everything for the Bucks this season. And when I say everything I mean EVERY LITTLE THING. The young wing leads the team in all five main stat categories, averaging 23.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.7 SPG and 1.9 BPG.
He’s definitely a big contender for Most Improved Player of the Year.
3. Utah Jazz
As of now, Utah is sitting 4th in the west. You read that right, FOURTH! After a disappointing lottery season, they are now ending a 4-year playoffs drought.
The Jazz is just doing everything good. They are the third best defensive team in the league, just behind the Warriors and Spurs and fifth in Net Rating with a plus 4.9. They are also a top 5 rebounding team and have an elite scorer in Gordon Hayward.
Hayward has been having a career year with averages of 21.8 PPG, shooting 39.5% from three-point range.
George Hill was an important addition for the Jazz this summer. He has provided leadership, scoring and passing at the point guard position; something they desperately needed.
Along with these two amazing players, there’s Frenchman Rudy Gobert. The 7 footer has also posted up big numbers with 13.8 PPG, 12.9 RPG and 2.6 BPG.
If healthy, the Jazz can make a deep run into the playoffs.
2. Washington Wizards
The Wizards have surprised everyone this season. They started 2-8 and now possess the 4th place in the East with a 46 and 30 record.
Washington has one of the deadliest backcourts in the league with John Wall and Bradley Beal. When they play together, this young duo is almost impossible to stop. They’ve got speed, athleticism and shooting ability. Many see them as the top suitor to knock off Cleveland on an upsetting effort.
We’ll have to wait and see how far they can actually go, but while Scottie Brooks takes care of the X’s and O’s, MarcinGortat pulls down the boards and speedy Wall runs the show, they are good to go!
1. Houston Rockets
Currently, Houston is the third best team in the league. After finishing 8th last year and getting knocked out of the first round by the Warriors last season, not many expected this for the Rockets. Especially after losing big man Dwight Howard this summer.
Mike D’Antoni has put together a group of guys who fit perfectly into his system and believe in it. What’s the system about? Shoot threes like crazy, get easy layups and run pick-and-rolls with Harden. Defense? What’s that about?
Being fair to the Rockets, their game plan has worked. Apart from the MVP performance, James Harden is giving us and D’Antoni’scoaching there are two other key aspects in Houston’s success.
Their names are Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. Gordon is finally healthy and has demonstrated that he can be a reliable scorer in this league. On the other hand, Capela has been a big surprise. He is a 3rd year center out of Switzerland who is averaging 12.5 PPG and almost 8 RPG. Plus, he is shooting 64.4% from the field. Most of the times you’ll see him catching alley-oop passes from the Beard or cleaning the offensive board, but he is also a defensive pillar for the team.
Houston is ready to contend against the top teams in the west and deliver some big performances during the postseason.