5 Teams To Watch Out For This Season
After a lengthy and eventful off-season the NBA will finally make its much anticipated return on October 22. However, as a result of arguably the most action-packed and colossal off-season in league history, the landscape of the NBA as we knew it last season has shifted completely. With the frequent occurrence of blockbuster trades that sent superstars like Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets, a new era so to speak has arisen in the NBA, the era of the dynamic duo. Gone are the days of the “Big 3” and the “Superteam” era that was birthed in 2008 by the Boston Celtics and quickly became the blueprint to reaching the pinnacle of the NBA. A blueprint that stretched throughout the 2010s with the Miami Heat and the seemingly fallen Golden State dynasty. However, with the death of this era has come the rebirth or revival or parity within the league with the distribution of talent being as equal as ever. Going into the 2020s NBA fans can be excited and look forward to stiff competition throughout the league.
With the new season come new expectations with the majority of NBA fans concluding that teams such as the Lakers, Clippers, Sixers and Bucks will be the premier teams to watch this season. Though this opinion is justified as these teams possess the most star-power, what if I told you that these aren’t the only teams ready to take the NBA by storm? That being said, here is my list of the 5 teams you should look out for this upcoming season.
5. Sacramento Kings
Last season the Sacramento Kings ranked 5th in the league in pace. With the dynamic backcourt of the self-proclaimed “quickest player baseline-to-baseline” in De’Aaron Fox and the sharpshooting Buddy Hield who ranked first in average speed across the entire league, why wouldn’t they continue to push the pace a little considering the early success it resulted in last season? In addition to this, roaming the paint, they have the prototypical modern day big in Marvin Bagley III whose ability to get up and down the court swiftly in transition, space the floor and battle for rebounds make him a unique talent. The rapid style of play implemented by Sacramento gave them the league’s 9th highest scoring offence and with scoring options outside of their young core in Bogdanovic and Barnes this is unlikely to change. However, their downfall last season was on the defensive side of the ball where they ranked 26th in points allowed per game. With the addition of veterans such as defensive stalwart Trevor Ariza and solid backup point guard Corey Joseph the Kings should be able to mature more this season and improve their defence. With new head coach Luke Walton finally having the pieces to carry out his fast-paced style of play and the inevitable maturing of the Kings’ young core this team could be a legitimate playoff contender in the fierce Western Conference.
4. Miami Heat
Since the disbandment of their Big 3 in 2014 following LeBron James’ departure, Miami have struggled to recreate their identity and have subsequently fallen into a void of mediocrity and borderline irrelevance only making the playoffs twice since 2014. With the recent retirement of franchise legend Dwyane Wade and the arrival of two-way superstar Jimmy Butler in free agency a breath of fresh air has been imparted into the organisation and given fans a new found feeling of hope that was previously lacking during their years of mediocrity. Butler, who is widely regarded as one of the league’s premier wing defenders, will be joining a defensive unit that ranked 6th in defensive rating last year and allowed the second fewest points on average across the entire NBA at a mere 105.9 per game. The addition of Butler to a defence already consisting of lockdown perimeter wing Justise Winslow and athletic rim protector Bam Adebayo is likely to improve an already solid Miami defence and solidify their status as one of the league’s elite defensive units. However, Butler’s contribution to the Miami offence is likely to outweigh his defensive impact as Miami ranked just 26th in the league in points per game scored at just 105.7. Butler provides a legitimate primary scoring option that the franchise so desperately needed and will be expected to carry the majority of the team’s offensive load, likely averaging between 22 and 26 points per game in the process. Playing understudy to Butler the Heat have rookie sharpshooter Tyler Herro who shot 35.% from deep on 4.5 attempts per game at Kentucky while shooting a remarkable 93% from the free throw line to relieve pressure from Butler and the starting five.
Despite years of mediocrity the Heat have finally managed to piece together a cohesive unit with real potential to challenge in the Eastern Conference.
3. Atlanta Hawks
Similar to the aforementioned Kings, the Hawks are another young team renowned for their ability to play at a fast pace and as a result garnered the highest number of possessions per game last season. This rapid fire style of play fits the Hawks’ personnel as starting center John Collins’ mobility and athleticism allow him to run the floor smoothly in transition and finish off easy opportunities on the break. Collins’ skillset is complemented perfectly by sophomore point guard Trae Young who showed flashes of brilliance in both his pick and roll passing and in the open court. The continued development of the chemistry between Young and Collins will make them one of the most dominant duos in the league in the coming years. More exciting however to Hawks fan is the addition of rookie forward DeAndre Hunter. Hunter was drafted 4th overall in the 2019 Draft and fits the mould of the much sought after “3 and D” player in the modern NBA as he shot a scorching 43.8 % from deep in his final year in college. Hunter is widely considered as one of the best defensive players in the 2019 draft class as his 7’2 wingspan and 6’7 frame give him the length to disrupt skilled wing players and his fluidity and agility allow him to switch defensive assignments onto smaller and shiftier guards with relative ease. Hunter’s defensive talent and versatility will provide a much needed boost to a defence that ranked 1st in points allowed per game at 119.4. The Hawks also drafted 10th pick Cam Reddish who is a versatile scorer with a smooth style of play reminiscent of a young Paul George and will be expected to provide a scoring option off the bench with his natural ability to create his own offence and spot up from three.
This season could be a step in the right direction for the franchise as they aim to develop their young core in hopes to challenge for a championship in the near future. Although this young team is still far from championship contention they have the pieces and potential to surprise the league and challenge for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
2. Dallas Mavericks
The 2018-19 season was a period of transition for the Mavericks as it saw them place the fate of their franchise on the shoulders of European wonderkid Luka Dončić. Dončić had a historic rookie campaign becoming the first teenager to record multiple triple doubles in an NBA season and becoming the only rookie to record a 30 point triple double. Luka’s unique combination of a high basketball IQ and the ability to pass, score and redound at a high level make him a true generational talent. This season Dončić will be paired with fellow European Kristaps Porzingis who showed All-Star potential prior to his ACL injury in February 2018 putting up a respectable 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest. If Porzingis can return to his pre-injury level and develop chemistry with Dončić the Mavericks could be a force to be reckoned with in the West as Porzingis is able to space the floor with his range extending far beyond the 3 point line thus making him a threat in pick and pop situations with Dončić. The overall success of the Dallas Mavericks this season relies heavily on the performance of this duo as they are the foundation on which the team will be built and if they can mesh well this season then Dallas could find themselves in contention for a playoff spot in the fiercely competitive Western Conference.
1. New Orleans Pelicans
With the number one pick in the draft the New Orleans Pelicans selected high school and college phenomenon Zion Williamson. Throughout his short college career Zion was a walking highlight reel dazzling fans with his explosive dunks, freakish athleticism and ridiculous efficiency as he averaged 23 points per game while shooting 68% from the field. Despite this, many critics wondered whether this dominance would transition from college to the professional level with the levels of physicality and talent being significantly higher in the NBA. Zion’s performance and statistics during the NBA preseason should remove any doubts about his ability to adapt to the NBA game as in 4 preseason games he averaged 23 points on 71% from the field, an improvement from his college stats. However, arguably more exciting to Pelicans fans is the addition of former Lakers Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram who struggled to live up to their high expectations under the bright lights of Los Angeles. The move away from the bright lights and expectations of Los Angeles will give the pair more freedom to express themselves and and unlock their full potential. In his first two seasons Lonzo already showcased elite passing ability and the personnel on the Pelicans roster will allow him to further flaunt this as the team will play a high tempo brand of basketball thus suiting Lonzo’s play style. For Ingram, this move will be essential in his development as the Pelicans will look to create easy opportunities to take advantage of his natural scoring prowess that he showed flashes of in his stint with the Lakers. In addition to their already immensely talented young core the Pelicans traded for rookie center Jaxson Hayes who is able to get up and down the court with ease and will be on the receiving end of many alley-oop passes from Lonzo Ball.
Without a doubt the Pelicans will be one of the most exciting teams to watch this upcoming season as their play style emphasises pushing the ball in transition which will lead to easy opportunities for breakaway dunks of which Zion will be the main beneficiary. Going into the season the young core of the Pelicans will have extra motivation knowing they each have a point to prove and that they must elevate their game to silence their critics. One way of doing this would be to make the playoffs in the fierce Western Conference, a goal that is realistic considering the talent on this roster.
© 2019 Nyasha Chiketsani