Judging for how free agency and the NBA Draft went down, we can assume the league is going to look very different this year compared to what we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons.
There are a lot of old faces in new faces, rookies that are called to step up and have a huge role out of the gate, and teams that will still be competitive regardless of the stars they lost to free agency.
So, even if some people are counting them out because of how their roster is looking right now, there are a handful of teams that will still be better than expected. Today, we’ll talk about the teams that will surprise everyone this season:
5. Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors won 58 games last season and clinched the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference. They beat the Sixers, Bucks, and Warriors en route to their first-ever NBA Championship, notably led by Kawhi Leonard.
People are counting the Raptors out way too early just because they lost Kawhi. Obviously, losing a two-way superstar like him is going to take a toll on your team, but Nick Nurse proved to be a master at making adjustments and the team has enough personnel to step up in the East.
Kawhi sat out 22 games due to load management and the Raptors still won 17 of them, going 2-2 vs. 50+ win teams and 4-5 vs. Playoff teams. They’ll miss Danny Green’s 3-and-D expertise, but Pascal Siakam looks ready to take a step forward next season and they still have Gasol, Ibaka, Lowry, and VanVleet.
4. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat have struggled over the last couple of seasons. They haven’t been relevant in a while and didn’t even make the playoffs last year, but they’ve gotten a lot better now that they have Jimmy Butler on board.
With Hassan Whiteside out, it’s Bam Adebayo’s time to shine now, and he’s a much better fit for Erik Spoelstra’s defense. Also, Goran Dragic, James Johnson, and Dion Waiters will finally be healthy again.
The Heat also got a major boost with Tyler Herro, one of the best shooters in this year’s class. They looked like a more balanced squad right now and finally have the All-Star they were craving for years.
3. Sacramento Kings
For the first time in years, the Sacramento Kings were in the race for a playoff spot until late in the season, and Vlade Divac has done an outstanding job putting together a young, athletic, and balanced team.
The Kings won 39 games last season and should only get better as Bogdan Bogdanovic enters the season at full strength. De’Aaron Fox has continued to develop and his stint with Team USA will do wonders with him in both ends of the hardwood, and Willie Cauley-Stein’s departure will open the door for Marvin Bagley to log as many minutes as he can.
If Buddy Hield continues to consistently knock down shots from downtown and Trevor Ariza can be half the defender he was during his time with the Lakers and Rockets, this team is going to be a problem.
2. Detroit Pistons
It’s never easy to trust a team like the Detroit Pistons. They always seem to find a way to let us down, but this time seems different. They had a lowkey solid offseason, and look ready to go back to the playoffs this year.
Blake Griffin’s game has evolved a lot over the years. He’s now a spot-up shooter and a guy that can pull-up and hit the three on a somewhat consistent basis. They got Derrick Rose to take some pressure off of Reggie Jackson’s shoulders, and Markieff Morris’ defense will be a huge upgrade for them at the wings.
Of course, there’s always going to be some doubts about Griffin’s ability to coexist with Andre Drummond in the paint, but they know this will be the last chance they’ll have to make things worse before one of them is traded.
1. New Orleans Pelicans
Don’t sleep on the Pelicans this year. Yes, they lost Anthony Davis, Elfrid Payton, and Julius Randle, but they were one of the biggest winners of the summer, and we fully expect them to make the playoffs next year.
New Orleans got Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Zion Williamson, so they’re pretty much stacked for years, or could even make some moves to get better right away.
They have one of the best backcourt defenders in the world in Jrue Holiday, and they can have an elite defense with him and Ball. Also, they signed JJ Redick to provide some much-needed shooting, and Williamson looks poised to become one of the best players in the world in no time. They’ll be fine without Davis, for sure.