Each of these teams is ready for the next step and hopefully, this article will help you learn about playoff locks you did not think had the keys.
A certain Southwest team added a bonafide two-way Superstar. One team whose fan base can be salty has a reason for cheers. Another club is hoping to prove they are still contenders in a deepening West. The city of the Mardi Gras added veteran presence that should make them see the playoffs relatively easily. Another team is hoping to go beyond their 8th seed status.
5. Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler has a history of willing teams to be in a good spot. The Heat are expecting Goran Dragic who was recently an All-Star to have a good bounce-back year. Dion Waiters is up and down, but being around a guy with the grit of Butler should make him want to play harder.
Erik Spoelstra is a phenomenal coach and Jimmy Buckets fits their defensive first identity to a tee. The Heat are guns blazing right now having acquired Meyers Leonard in the off-season and drafted college standout, Tyler Herro.
The Heat have an underrated young core including Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Derrick Jones Jr. Along with a solid mix of veterans like Udonis Haslem, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, and Meyers Leonard. This along with a tier A coach and front office should be enough to allow Miami to secure a playoff spot. Removing a disgruntled talent in Hassan Whiteside was a plus.
4. Utah Jazz
In my opinion, the Utah Jazz won the off-season. The additions that were acquired fit their system so well and could very well make them contenders. Trading for Mike Conley gives Mitchell a running mate in the backcourt and a second option offensively. Mitchell is kind of a volume scorer, deferring to another proven offensive threat could boost his efficiency. The Jazz also added an 18 ppg scorer and deadly sharpshooter in Bojan Bogdanovic. Their spacing is becoming slowly elite.
The stealthy additions of Jeff Green, Ed Davis, and Emmanuel Mudiay will not go unnoticed either. Green brings experience is a good spark plug off the bench. The versatility to guard multiple positions as a switchable defensive presence. Ed Davis is an extra effort big man who does the little things like setting screens to free up shooters or pounding the offensive glass. Mudiay developed his game nicely with Knicks and was their leading scorer last year. The Jazz might hit the 50 win column this year and maybe a home court position in the postseason.
3. Portland Trail Blazers
The success of this Blazers largely hinges on Nurkic recovering at some point during the season. Getting Hassan Whiteside was a great acquisition because of his skills in the post and his ability to anchor a defense. Retaining Rodney Hood and drafting Nassir Little and trading for Kent Bazemore gives this team great defensive stability in the wings following the departure of Harkless and Aminu.
CJ McCollum broke out this past postseason and arguably played better than his counterpart in the backcourt in Damian Lillard. Lillard played sensationally, so this is saying something about McCollum’s overall improvement as a two-way player.
The improvement of Zach Collins will determine if this team can not only make the playoffs but go for a deep run. They led the majority of the WCF series with Golden State despite getting swept. They have unfinished business if they choose to make the transaction. Take that one to the bank, but please no blank checks.
2. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are on the verge of becoming a dark horse to take the East. The additions of Derrick Rose, Markieff Morris, Tim Frazier, Tony Snell, and Christian Wood add depth to a once top-heavy team. Detroit had a grade-A offseason. Since they're a small market team there is not much buzz surrounding the moves they made. Let’s dive in and do some review.
Derrick Rose is slowly becoming the player he used to, but now he can shoot with range. Rose’s addition allows Detroit to move Reggie Jackson to the bench or play them side by side in the backcourt. This could be a lethal guard combo. Tim Frazier is an awesome depth piece as a third-stringer. A low mistake guard who does a little bit of everything. Christian Wood is raw and exudes potential from his veins. The skilled forward has handles and range. A true baller. Tony Snell is a solid 3 and D piece on any ball club. Lastly, Markieff Morris might be the better defender out of the Morris twins.
1. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans will make the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed in the West. Mark my words this team is deep. The additions of Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, JJ Redick, Derrick Favors and the return of Darius Miller make this team a credible threat in the West.
Of course, we can’t forget about the haul they got from the Lakers which includes Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. This is a completely different Pelicans team. There are legitimate depth and a winning culture added to this team. Gentry has to be spiking with excitement and eagerness to coach these guys.
Imagine a starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and Jahlil Okafor. First off, Ball and Holiday might be the best two-way backcourt in the league. Secondly, the improvements in Okafor and Ingram should be enticing. Zion is an enigma of a talent. The depth is where this team becomes more credible with a bench five of E’Twaun Moore, JJ Redick, Josh Hart, Darius Miller, and Jaxson Hayes. Who is more of a dark horse contender, New Orleans or Detroit?