They Can't Be Bad Forever, Right?
With the NBA season now starting up, a lot of focus is placed on the top teams in the league. Everyone wants to talk about how well this new Lakers team will do and who they think will be able to stop them from winning back to back titles. While they get all the attention, some lower rated teams in the NBA are secretly and slowly making moves and becoming teams that will compete in the years to come. These 4 teams come from both conferences and fans of these following teams should be very excited for their future, even if they aren't doing much now.
1: NEW YORK KNICKS
It is impossible to have a list like this and not mention the Knicks. Known for their lackluster drafts and off-seasons as of late, many fans lost a lot of hope for this team. A team with this much history cannot be this bad forever and it seems like their time of progressing starts now. This off-season yielded gold for this franchise that started with the signings. The additions of Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, and Austin Rivers will prove to be huge in not applying all the pressure on the young members like we've seen from years past.
Talking about young members, the Knicks also had a great draft with Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. We all know what talent Obi brings to the team but Quickley might have been one of the biggest steals. The energy he brings to the team along with the 3 point shooting that he has shown from the preseason and his time with Kentucky will be prominent to this teams success. He plays with a confidence and swagger that will be infectious to the rest of the squad.
Match up those talents from this past off-season and the draft to the young, developing core the Knicks currently have and you have a rising team in the making. RJ Barrett is playing with a chip on his shoulder this year after not being placed on any of the All-Rookie teams this past season. Mitchell Robinson is looking to continue to grow into a dominant defensive piece and can most certainly add to the offense as well. Kevin Knox needs to perform this year after being, let's be honest, horrible to begin his career but this preseason showed a glimpse of hope. He shot an impressive 52.9% from 3 and seemed to be way more confident of both sides of the ball. It might take them a couple of years to truly develop but don't be surprised when the New York Knicks are in the playoffs because they have the talent.
2: NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
The Pelicans are one of those teams that are already on their way up but since they are in the Western Conference, nobody seems to want to talk about their potential in becoming a very good team. A lot of people sleep on this team and don't see them making the playoffs but honestly they could be there as soon as this year.
This Pelicans roster also made some moves this off-season. They addressed their needs by bringing in some players and also kept their core exactly the way they wanted it. One of these needs was a big man. Jalil Okafor and Derrick Favors didn't play horribly last season but this team still needed an upgrade at that spot and they got it in the form of Steven Adams. Adams is a proven center in this league and will be a solid starter. Jaxson Hayes off the bench will also be able to come in and provide some electric minutes on both sides of the ball and he 100% caters to the Pelicans high flying brand of basketball. JJ Reddick is still on the team and his knockdown shooting is a essential asset to this team.
They will lose a little on the defensive end after losing Jrue Holiday but Eric Bledsoe will be a solid replacement for him. Lonzo's defense also makes up for it at the guard position and his playmaking is undeniable.
But one thing we cannot forget when talking about this team is that they have two 25+ PPG SCORERS. I feel like everyone forgets the talent this team has with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. With Zion getting more minutes under their new coach, his production will also increase. We saw what is possible in this preseason, Zion averaged around 30 minutes a game and absolutely killed it.
Match that with the 24 points a game from Brandon Ingram and an incredible playmaker pulling the strings in Lonzo and there is NO DOUBT that these Pelicans have more than a chance to make a run for the playoffs in the years to come.
3: ATLANTA HAWKS
The Atlanta Hawks won a grand total of 20 games last season and ended up right next to the Knicks at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Last season seemed more like a Vince Carter send off tour rather than a competitive one for the Hawks. A team with one of more exciting young players in Trae Young could not afford to wash his career away with one of the worst supporting casts.
The Hawks went into overdrive in the off-season to give Trae surrounding players can lead to a winning culture in Atlanta and that's exactly what they did. One big thing was a bench guard. Jeff Teague was cool and all but he just wasn't cutting it so they grabbed the veteran Rajon Rondo. He is one of the best minds in the League and will be able to teach this young roster what it takes to win after coming off a Championship run on the Los Angeles Lakers.
They weren't done there though. They also added another veteran in Danilo Gallinari and then capped it off with Bogdan Bogdonovic. These role players will provide this team with an offense that will be rivaled by few in this league.
The Hawks also have returning players in Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish. These players will work perfectly in this offense in their shooting capabilities. You will see a lot of shooting off of screens with Kevin. Cam is another player, just like RJ Barrett (funny how they were teammates in college) who is looking to improve after a first season that wasn't productive by any means after shooting 33% from 3. I think you see a jump in his shooting, since he was profiled as a shooter, and will probably be posted up in the corner most of the time.
Another thing they will have this year is a full year of John Collins. Last year he was on and off the court with a suspension that took him out almost half the year and then he battled a couple of other injuries as well. Him returning for a full year of play will be important as well.
This team could easily double their wins from last year from the moves they made while also fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
4: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
To finish this list off, we must focus on the team that seems to have every single draft pick for the next 5 years. This team is the definition of this list. They will not be amazing for the next couple of years but there is no reason at all to lose faith if you are an OKC Thunder fan.
Yes, this team was a top 5 seed in the western conference but after this past off-season, you need to be delusional to think they have a chance of repeating that success. Lets just list off the players that they lost:
Chris Paul (Traded to Suns)
Steven Adams (Traded to Pelicans)
Danilo Gallinari (Sign-and-Trade to Hawks)
Dennis Schroder (Traded to Lakers)
Nerlens Noel (Signed with the Knicks)
All 5 of these players played decent to big roles on the team and were the reason that they were able to make it as far as they did. Now with them gone, it is time to rebuild but they know that (as seen below with their draft picks).
LIKE LOOK AT THIS, HOW MANY DO THEY NEED?!
On the bright side for fans, the team isn't completely trashed. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has an opportunity to continue to grow after putting up great numbers in his sophomore season. He will surely be the number 1 option and he isn't entirely by himself.
With all of the trading madness that this team did this off-season, they did acquire a couple players that will help this team stay watchable this year. They picked up a couple of veterans in Al Horford and George Hill. These players will be able to take some of the pressure off of SGA while teaching him and aiding his development. Another vet this team was able to grab was Trevor Ariza. He hasn't been with the team due to personal matters this preseason but his eventual presence will be felt once he joins the team.
The biggest thing for this team to get back into the success they had last year will be to use those draft picks wisely. That doesn't specifically mean to draft well but if they can package a couple of the picks to get an upgrade, I don't think the Thunder will say no. Given a couple years of no playoff contention, this team can definitely make it back to where they were just last year.
So, that's the shortlist of a couple of teams that are making moves right now that will land them in playoff contention in the near future. Other teams that could make this list are the Bulls and the Kings but I just haven't seen enough just yet. If you want to let me know of teams you think are making strides to contention, you can follow me on Twitter @GabeZoda