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NBA: Dark Horses

Updated on May 14, 2015

With the playoffs approaching, talk of title favorites are being spewed each and every day. Most supposed title match ups tend to gravitate toward the same teams. The typical title favorites are highly talented teams, but it seems that people ignore the other well-coached, well-rounded teams that may not necessarily have marquee names.

Note: Top 3 seeds are excluded as well as the defending champion Spurs, and the popular favorite, Houston Rockets.

John Wall
John Wall

Washington(39-28 5th)

Despite possibly having the best backcourt in the league, Washington is rarely mentioned during title talk. John Wall and Bradley Beal, you could easily argue, are top five at their positions. Wall is the NBA's leading assist man while still managing to be a top ten scoring point guard. Bradley Beal had a good sophomore campaign last season, but he suffered an injury earlier this year causing him to be a bit up and down this season. Nevertheless, Beal is regaining confidence and taking the initiative to utilize his strength, quickness, high basketball IQ, and elite shooting ability effectively. Also on the perimeter, veteran, future hall of famer, Paul Pierce, has the best shooting percentage of any perimeter player on the team and is one of the top 20 three point shooters in the league. Inside, 6'11 big men, Marcin Gortat and Nene are both very skilled at scoring in the post, each putting up double figure scoring numbers while making over half of their shots. Gortat is also good at protecting the rim and pulling down boards, making him top 20 in blocks and rebounds this year. Washington is sixth in assists, seventh in opponents points scored, third in shooting percentage, seventh in opponent shooting percentage, and tenth in rebounding. Certainly all the pieces are there in Washington, making them potential title contenders. The key to success for this team is limiting turnovers and cashing in on trips to the free throw line as they are among the worst in the league in those categories.

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee(6th 34-32)

Milwaukee has been flying under the radar all year despite exceeding expectations this season. Early this season, Milwaukee lost their rookie star, number 2 overall draft pick, Jabari Parker, when he went down for the season with a torn ACL. With that loss, Milwaukee has proven it's legitimacy as a future title contender by being over .500 this season. Milwaukee is the second youngest team in the league, having only one player over 30(Zaza Pachulia, 31). Milwaukee is not an elite scoring team, but they make up for that with defense, offering a lot of length and athleticism, especially in the backcourt, to harass opposing offenses. From the one to four spot, all current starters are at least four inches taller than the average player at their position. As a result, Milwaukee is tenth in blocks, sixth in opponent shooting percentage, second in steals, and FIRST in created turnovers. Second year small forward, Giannis “the Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo(hard to say, bu you better learn this name), creates a mismatch every night. He's 6'11, he's fast, he's nimble, he can handle the ball, and he's a great leaper. He's still a work in progress, but right now he's fifth among perimeter players in rebounds and blocks. He's only averaging 12 points, but he's still second to only LeBron James in shooting percentage from the floor for small forwards. Point guard, Michael Carter-Williams is top ten in assists in just his second year. As a team, Milwaukee ranks seventh in assists, seventh in field goal percentage, fourth in three point percentage, and tenth in free throw percentage. Milwaukee lacks elite scorers, but they limit bad shots, distribute the ball, and make their trips to the line count. They will be tough going into the post season as long as they hit the boards strong and decrease their amount of turnovers.

Left to right: Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki
Left to right: Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki

Dallas(7th 42-25)

Dallas is a very veteran team so it's hard to count them out of the hunt, especially with head coach, Rick Carlisle at the helm. Leading the way for Dallas is a guy who may not be a household name, but those who follow basketball know that Monta Ellis is one of the best shooting guards in the game. You simply cannot guard him one on one, which i why he's averaging just under 20 this year. Ellis has taken the second most shots in the league, but that's not a problem because he's made the sixth most, he hasn't missed a game, he's shooting 44.4% from the field, and he currently ranks sixth in steals so he's getting it done on both ends. Dirk Nowitzki has declined a bit, but he's still there and still effective giving them 17 and six a night. Dallas is ranked fifth in scoring and sixth in shooting percentage. They're also taking care of the ball(fourth in fewest turnovers) and creating turnovers(fifth in forced turnovers) on the defensive end. Down low, Tyson Chandler is fifth in rebounding, behind him is Amar'e Stoudemire who comes off the bench averaging 11 points shooting 62% from the floor. Rajon Rondo is fifth in assists, but he has been inefficient and has had problems with coaching. If Rondo can find away to mesh with the offense, look for Dallas to make a run in the playoffs.

Anthony Davis(right) denies Robin Lopez(left)
Anthony Davis(right) denies Robin Lopez(left)

New Orleans(9th 36-30)

Anthony Davis is a walking double-double and he's back healthy after missing 12 games this season. If you've been watching, you've seen what a force this kid has become in just his third season, at the age of 22. This season, he is fourth in points per game, tenth in rebounds per game, seventh in field goal percentage, ninth in free throws made and free throws attempted, and first in blocks per game. He's just filling up the stat sheet and no one can stop him with his incredible length and athleticism. New Orleans as a team is eighth in field goal percentage and sixth from beyond the arc, sixth in fewest turnovers per game, and fourth best in opponent rebounding. Eric Gordon is giving them 13 points a game while being the second best three point shooter in the league this year. Evans is giving them 16 points and 6 assists a night, he's one of the best ball handlers in the league, and at 6'6, with his athleticism, he makes a match-up nightmare. Look for the Pelicans to cause a lot of problems for their opponents in the playoffs. I'd consider them a lock for the conference finals, but the status of their star point guard, Jrue Holiday's, injury is still unknown and his return is questionable. They are 7-3 in the last 10, but they are a half game behind the eighth spot holder, Oklahoma City(5-5 in last 10). Serge Ibaka recently went down for Oklahoma City, with that big loss, Davis playing like a true MVP, and over 10 games left, I expect New Orleans to capitalize on this opportunity and be in the mix going into the post season.

Comparisons

(click column header to sort results)
Season Averages  
Cleveland  
Washington  
Golden State  
San Antonio  
Memphis  
Milwaukee  
Atlanta  
Houston  
New Orleans  
Dallas  
Field Goal Percentage(FGP)
.457
.467
.477
.461
.458
.459
.466
.438
.458
.462
Opponent FGP
.455
.436
.426
.445
.442
.435
.434
.440
.458
.447
Assists
12.8
24.1
27.1
24.2
21.7
23.2
25.5
21.9
21.9
22.5
3pt percentage
.362
.361
.393
.367
.333
.370
.383
.343
.361
.354
Turnovers
13.4
14.4
14.3
13.5
13
16
13.5
16
12.8
12.2
Turnovers Forced
12.7
13.6
15.9
13.4
14.7
16.5
15.4
15.8
11.9
15.6
Opponents Points Per Game
99
97.3
99.6
97.8
95.3
96.8
96.5
99.9
99.3
100.9

Who will win the 2015 NBA Championship?

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      To me the Thunder have a lot of potential as a dark horse.