It is almost one month before the 2018/2019 NBA kick starts. With all the free agency moves, trades and signings being pretty much over, it is time to take stock and take a look at how much better some of the lower bracket teams have improved. As we do that, we can also spot a few teams that just might get enough help to turn the corner and squeeze into the playoffs this coming season.
After two atrocious seasons with a lack of All-Stars and aging roster, the Mavericks seemed to have finally assembled a decent team.
Luka Doncic, the prized lottery pick that came from the fateful swap with Atlanta Hawks, brings more promise than any recent signings that Mark Cuban could remember. This 19-year-old professional, though young, has already played years with grown men in the international scene.
Fresh off his best season yet, Doncic is a humble point guard despite his Most Valuable Player awards, Championships and high regards that he holds among international players. His playmaking and craftiness is proven and he can bring an instant impact to lift the Mavericks' win column almost right off the gates.
Dennis Smith Jr is now a sophomore who has a year under his belt. His explosiveness and familiarity to the NBA schemes will help him complement the game of his teammates and make his playmaking even smoother. If anything else, his posterizing dunks and fast backdoor cuts and drives will make the Mavericks more dangerous to game plan against.
Apart from the two budding stars, DeAndre Jordan and Harrison Barnes also become pillars of the Mavericks offense and defense. DeAndre is literally a walking 15-points-12-rebounds-center. A former Champion with the Warriors, Harrison brings his professionalism and dependable defense and shooting to contribute to the overall effectiveness of the new-look Mavericks.
Dallas lost close to 30 games by just a point differential of 5 points or less. Given the expertise of Rick Carlise, the team will surely capitalize on the experience and erase their mistakes to convert more close games into wins.
Of course, how can we forget Dirk Nowitzki, the Big German legend. In his 21st year in the NBA, it is likely that he is near his Swan Song and the organization has a greater reason to improve and play well so as to send off their biggest All-Star in the right fashion. All these culminate in a likely push for the team to make the playoffs.
The Denver Nuggets began last season playing extremely well. The lack of momentum, loss of their All-Star and a string of inconsistent games led them to lose their playoff ticket towards the end of the season.
Michael Porter Jr is the number 14 draft pick that promises huge upside for the Nuggets. His heroics in the University of Missouri and through NCAA games demonstrated the potential that the Nuggets have secured for their future.
The biggest reprieve for the Nuggets' playoff woes will be the return of a healthy Paul Millsap. Once an All-Star, Paul Millsap is a dependable veteran who knows how to close games and lead his team. His presence will be dearly appreciated by the fledging Nuggets team with so much talent waiting to explode.
Nikola Jokic, the amazing Joker, has already won hearts of fans with his smart plays, fabulous dimes and smooth offense. Jokic is incredibly efficient, being one of the few players who consistently notch multiple triple-doubles each season, outside of anyone not named Russell Westbrook, LeBron James or James Harden. His playmaking is just getting better and his handles make him a match-up nightmare for opposing frontcourt players.
Jamal Murray, Gary Haris and Will Barton form a solid combo-guard squad that coach Michael Malone can utilize to counter the high firepower teams with some success. The shooting and pick-and-roll efficiency is gradually improving for these three players. With sufficient chemistry, the Nuggets can close out more games with this line-up on their backcourt second unit.
Isaiah Thomas is an underrated signing this offseason. This All-Star and former top three scorer of the league is still in his prime, fighting for his next big contract and waiting to prove doubters wrong. The Nuggets could use all of his All-Star talent and mental edge to lead this young team over the hump into the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers
The young core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma is as competitive as any young team out there in the NBA. The trio are working out every day either in silos, with one another or with their Lakers teammates scrimmaging. Josh Hart is beginning to hold his own as a backup point guard, fresh off his Summer League Most Valuable Player honors. There must be a reason why each big trade discussion that the Lakers have engaged in somehow involved the opposing team requesting for one of these young men in the trade scenarios at some point.
The new additions of tough veterans help the Lakers adopt an instant tough defensive mindset. Rajon Rondo brings his high basketball IQ and savant court awareness, being an excellent mentor to show Lonzo how to run a team at point guard position. Lance Stephenson is the X-factor that every title contending team has to throw opponents off guard by mixing up the intensity and psychological warfare. His dogged defensive mindset rubs off players and teammates feed off such energy to raise their games, as shown in Indian Pacers and Charlotte Hornets. JaVale McGee is an agile center who has adequate handles and shoots spot-up threes when required.
The draft picks in Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Svi Mykhailiuk bring many more rotation possibilities. Wagner showed dual ability to be a glue guy for defense and a sharpshooter. Svi is a pure rapid-fire shooter who shows the ability to use his length to advantage during defense too.
The last and most compelling reason is that the Lakers have the biggest signing of this offseason. The best player on the planet is not showing any signs of slowing down. LeBron James on this roster instantly puts the Lakers as a favorite to enter the playoffs and, perhaps, push their way further than anyone could.