The major headline of the 2018 Free Agency period has been the addition of LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers.
A number of teams have improved their respective rosters and put themselves in the “must-watch” category for the upcoming NBA season. Not only have these teams given themselves a greater chance of winning more games, but they have acquired the talent that will allow them to play an exciting brand of basketball.
3. Indiana Pacers
The Indiana Pacers were the surprise of the 2017-18 NBA season. After losing Paul George in the summer of 2017, Pacers fans anticipated a season of rebuilding while their young talent developed. However, Victor Oladipo the best season of his career, winning the Most Improved Player of the Year award and leading the Pacers to the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference.
This offseason, the Pacers have improved their team by adding key swingmen Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott in Free Agency. Like Victor Oladipo, Tyreke Evans had an outstanding “comeback” season last year, bringing his scoring average back up to 19 PPG. Evans’ ability to be a primary ball-handler will help the Pacers tremendously, as he can take some pressure off Oladipo and get Myles Turner some good looks inside, with his ability to “drive-and-dish”.
The Pacers also acquired Doug McDermott, who cemented his place as one of the best shooters in the NBA last season, shooting 49% from the 3PT range during his stint with the Dallas Mavericks. Not only will McDermott’s shooting ability help the Pacers improve their 3PT percentage, it will help open up the lanes for Oladipo and Evans to attack the basket.
The Pacers used their 1st round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on Aaron Holiday, who has shown great promise coming out of UCLA. At the point guard position, Holiday has established himself as a great athlete with exceptional court vision and has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. Although he is undersized at 6’1”, his speed, shooting touch, and court vision will be a great asset for the Indiana Pacers.
I believe as their young talent continues to develop, and their new-look roster builds chemistry, the Indiana Pacers will finish as a top-four team in the Eastern Conference in the 2018-19 NBA season.
2. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards are an interesting team. On paper, they have a great young roster led by John Wall and Bradley Beal. However, their 2017-18 season was underwhelming as they fell from the 4th seed in the East in 2017, to the 8th seed in the East in 2018. This was the result of injuries to key players and reported “chemistry issues” amongst the playing group. This offseason, the Wizards appear to have addressed all of these issues. They have traded their starting center, Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers, they have signed former all-star center Dwight Howard, and they have signed a veteran swingman in Jeff Green.
I believe that the signing of Dwight Howard may end up being the most impactful signing of any team this offseason, aside from the Lakers’ signing of LeBron James. It’s easy to forget just how great Howard is, as he has recently played for two small-market teams in the Atlanta Hawks and the Charlotte Hornets. Last year, Howard posted an impressive 16.6 PPG, 12.5 RPG and 1.6 BPG, and will now be playing with the best playmaking point guard in the NBA, John Wall.
Wall’s ability to dominate teams with his athleticism and pick-and-roll game, will perfectly compliment Howard’s game and I believe that they both have a chance to register their best seasons respectively since 2012. The signing of Austin Rivers adds depth to the backcourt, while the signing of Jeff Green provides veteran leadership in the locker room and a versatile skill-set at the small forward position.
The “cherry on top” for the Wizards, was the acquisition of Troy Brown Jr. in the 2018 NBA Draft. Brown Jr. has outstanding court vision for a small forward and will compliment Dwight Howard’s playstyle with his ability to be an efficient pick-and-roll ball handler. Brown Jr. adds depth at both the small forward and shooting guard positions, and he will be given time to develop playing behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.
Assuming the Wizards stay healthy, I believe that they will finish the 2018-19 season as a top 3 team in the Eastern Conference.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
I know you probably all saw this one coming, but how could I leave them off this list? The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired the greatest player of this generation in LeBron James, and they still have an abundance of young talent in Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. They have also signed veterans Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson, who are notorious for their competitive nature, as well as former Golden State Warrior JaVale McGee.
There is a good chance that some of these pieces will be moved throughout the season to acquire more veteran talent, but the unpredictability of the Lakers’ season makes it all the more exciting.
Rajon Rondo recently alluded to the fact that the Lakers are looking to introduce a new style of play in the upcoming season, filling the roster with playmakers rather than shooters. The Lakers seem to have conceded that no team will “out-shoot” the Warriors, and they have to beat them by thinking “outside the box” and debuting a new style of play. We don’t exactly know what that will look like on the court, but I will definitely be watching the majority of their games to find out.
In conclusion, the Golden State Warriors are still the title favorites, and the Houston Rockets aren’t far behind. However, there are a number of young teams on the rise, making moves, and trying to prove themselves as title contenders. I believe that the three teams on this list will make leaps and bounds in the 2018-19 NBA season, and I can’t wait to watch it play out.