With the start of the 2020-21 NBA season rapidly approaching, take a look at who I think will shock the NBA world this season and wbo will come up short of their pre-season hype.
#15 Detroit Pistons
Coming off of a 2019-20 season in which the Pistons finished at 13th in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons are in a full-on rebuild. At last year’s trade deadline, Detroit traded away Andre Drummond to Cleveland, leaving Blake Griffin alone as the only established star in Detroit. This offseason, the Pistons made a trio of questionable moves signing big men Jahlil Okafor, Jerami Grant, and Mason Plumlee, each to multi-year deals. The Pistons also have veteran big Dwayne Dedmon as well as 2020 16th overall pick Isaiah Stewart who will battle for minutes at the 4 & 5 positions. 2019 lottery pick Sekou Doumbouya doesn’t exactly have a clear path to playing time this season, which is disappointing for his investors. Although there are some signs of talent, the Pistons lack capable starters at the 1-3 positions and should flounder at the bottom of the Eastern Conference this season.
#14 New York Knicks
For years the New York Knicks have been at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. This year will be no different, however they won’t be the worst team in the league. The number three overall pick from the 2019 NBA Draft, R.J Barrett will need to greatly improve if the Knicks want to climb out of the cellar of the East. Surrounding Barrett this season are a slew of disappointing draft picks, albeit not all were chosen by the Knicks. The likely starting five will deploy Dennis Smith Jr, R.J Barrett, Kevin Knox, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson. Off the bench, you’ll see more former lottery picks with the likes of Nerlens Noel, Frank Ntilikina, Austin Rivers, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and 2020 lottery pick Obi Toppin. Toppin should put up solid stats this season and could see a few starts down the line. This lineup of former top prospects won’t be enough to crack the playoffs just yet.
#13 Cleveland Cavaliers
While there are pieces in place for success, this season will be about development and improvement for the Cavs young bunch. Lottery picks Darius Garland, Colin Sexton and Issac Okoro should all see meaningful minutes together. This group has the potential to put up points on a nightly basis. With Kevin Love and Andre Drummond paired up down low, the Cavs actually have a formidable starting five on paper. The bench unit is very lack luster as second year wing Kevin Porter Jr. is yet to join the team due to ongoing personal issues. Without KPJ off the bench, the Cavs are going to struggle to get buckets. Love and Drummond may rebound well but their defense together leaves something yet to be desired. It should be another two years before the Cavs are in the playoffs, unless these young ball handlers develop early.
#12 Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic managed to sneak into the NBA playoffs and even win one game against the one seed Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately for Orlando, they will be without forward Jonathan Isaac who will miss the entirety of the 2020-21 season due to torn left ACL and meniscus, his second major knee injury. Adding on to the Isaac injury, the Magic did not make any major additions that will supplement the loss of their starting wing. Other teams in the East such as the Hawks and the Nets are much improved which bumps the Magic out of the playoffs. Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon should be able to string together solid performances which translate to a few wins. However, don’t expect to see a playoff push from this team in 2020-21.
#11 Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets had a very active offseason as they not only selected LaMelo Ball with the number three overall pick in the NBA Draft, but they also signed Gordon Hayward to a four year 120-million-dollar contract. Long term, this is a very hefty price to pay for a veteran with an extensive history of injuries. For now, he provides a veteran presence that should complement Devontae Graham, Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball nicely. The lack of a big man is what will ultimately be the Hornets downfall. Miles Bridges should continue to progress as he splits time between the 3 & 4 playing with Hayward. This active offseason doesn’t seem likely to translate to success quite yet for Charlotte.
#10 Chicago Bulls
Over the past handful of years, the Chicago Bulls have been stocking up on young talent including Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr, Zach LaVine, Coby White and most recently the number four overall pick in the 2020 draft Patrick Williams. This starting group is still young and learning their way. Markkanen has been solid since entering the league but has not played at an all-star level. Carter Jr. has been a disappointment for the most part, but there is still plenty of potential. Look for the back court of LaVine and White to develop into one of the best in the East this season. The supporting cast is still lack luster, but expect lots of improvements this season followed by a playoff run in 2022.
#9 Washington Wizards
Making what might have been the biggest move of the NBA offseason, the Wizards flipped John Wall for Russell Westbrook. Many are questioning if this actually makes the Wizards better than they were with Wall. Last season Washington was without Wall and surrounded Bradley Beal with a group of young players. Rui Hachimura had a decent rookie campaign last season and should develop into a solid player for the Wizards. The backcourt of Beal and Westbrook is amongst the best in the league and should help catapult them into contention for a playoff spot. A questionable surrounding cast and questions about Russ’s ability to play alongside Beal leave me hesitant to place them into the playoffs.
#8 Indiana Pacers
If there is one team in the NBA that did not get better or worse, it would be the Indiana Pacers. Rumors swirled about a potential Gordon Hayward addition, but that did not come to fruition as Hayward opted to take a more lucrative deal with Charlotte. The biggest change in Indy is at the head coaching spot with Nate Bjorkgren now at the helm. With the other teams in the East improving and the Pacers without a true #1 option, they may have a tough year. Victor Oladipo struggled in his return from injury last season but T.J Warren took a big leap forward. A very deep team, it should be interesting to see how the Pacers fare this season.
#7 Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks had one of the most active and impressive NBA offseason. They added free agents Kris Dunn, Rajan Rondo, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Hawks also selected Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. With Trae Young leading the charge and continuing to play well, the Hawks are poised for a breakout season. Clint Capela and John Collins should play well together down low for Atlanta. There are some defensive questions with this team as Trae Young’s defense needs improvement. This deep team with a solid mix of veterans and youth, should have a solid season.
#6 Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors develop talent incredibly well. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and O.G Anunoby have become very solid players after not performing at a high level for the first couple years of their careers. Veterans Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka have migrated to L.A leaving the Raptors with a void at the center spot. To help fill that void, Aron Baynes was brought in on a two-year deal. Baynes has been a solid backup big the past few seasons and could even see a larger role offensively than he’s ever seen before. Kyle Lowry is back leading this young group of grinders. As seen in the playoffs last season, the Raptors are a good team, but until someone steps up and takes the role of the number one option, they won’t be a top seed in the East.
#5 Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have been a playoff failure the last couple of seasons which ultimately led to the firing of Brett Brown. Philly brought in Doc Rivers to take over coaching this under achieving group and Daryl Morey to lead the front office. Almost immediately, the sixers shipped out Al Horford and Josh Richardson. A team that struggled to space the floor last year, the offseason goal was clear as Philly looked to surround Ben Simmons with shooters. They added Seth Curry and Danny Green to hopefully turn things around. This team lacks defense and until someone steps up to lead this team, they’ll be floating around in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
#4 Boston Celtics
Coming off of another Eastern Conference Finals lost, the Boston Celtics need to take the next step to get to the NBA finals. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will continue to get better but will the players around them be enough to help them get over the hump? With the loss of Gordon Hayward this offseason, the Celtics will need a combination of Aaron Nesmtih, Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Payton Pritchard to step up. Through their two pre-season games, the Celtics looked rather sluggish and without much of a half-court offense. The good news for Celtics fans is that the team was +7 in the 48 minutes Jason Tatum was on the floor during the pre-season. The bad news is that the team was a -40 in the 48 minutes Tatum was not on the floor. The addition of Tristian Thompson is a big add for this team as he brings an intensity and veteran leader that this team lacks. Expect a sluggish start to the season for Boston until their all-star point guard Kemba Walker, returns to action.
#3 Milwaukee Bucks
Having Giannis Antetokounmpo on your roster pretty much thrusts a team into playoff contention. Surrounding the two-time MVP is newly acquired Jrue Holiday. Holiday is a big get for this team as he brings a level of defense and veteran scoring that they lack. Kris Middleton is back again with Brook Lopez but besides that, Milwaukee lacks depth. Donte DiVincenzo will likely get the start at the shooting guard spot. The players mentioned above are definitely a good enough group to get Milwaukee into a top seed in the East. How far they go from there will be interesting to see.
#2 Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant. Kyrie Irving. On the same team. This duo, if they stay healthy, is amongst the toughest to guard ever. The Nets will finally get to see the pair suit up together with Durant coming off of the dreaded Achilles tear. Irving had a tumultuous start with Brooklyn last season with a mix of injuries and mediocre teammate play. Surrounded by DeAndre Jordan, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris Caris LeVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie, this team is deep and deadly. It may take some time for them to come together as a unit but with two superstars and incredible talent surrounding them, it should be an exciting year for Nets fans.
#1 Miami Heat
The Miami Heat defied the odds and made it all the way to the NBA Finals. Unfortunately for the Heat, injuries to Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo ended their season without the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. Coming off of the run they had in Disney World, it is hard to rank anyone in the East above the Heat. Jimmy Butler established himself as a superstar even if the stats don’t show it. Duncan Robinson is amongst the best three-point shooters in the game today and their guard tandem of Dragic and Nunn should be very solid. Tyler Herro showed signs of stardom last season and if he can carry that over into this year, the Heat are set up for a dominant season.