NBA Handicapping Advice: Teams That Could Surprise
by Trevor Whenham - 12/21/2011
As we get ready for the NBA season we know that there is going to be a real war among the elite teams in the league. Talent is concentrated among the top teams, and there are far more teams with championship potential than there are championships to be won.
While the Heat, Lakers, Bulls, Clippers and the other top teams will get most of the attention this year, there are a lot more teams out there, and some just aren’t going to be very good.
There are three teams that stand out in my eyes, though, as teams that will be solidly better than people expect them to be. They aren’t going to be championship threats, and likely won’t even make the playoffs, but they won’t be pushovers, either, and they are going to win some games that people don’t expect them to:
The Raptors have never in their history been a particularly relevant team. They aren’t likely to be this year, either, but they are going to be better than people think.
For the first time in a long while this team has a good plan in place and a reasonably bright future. There is a solid core in place here, and that will be even better next year when Jonas Valanciunas arrives after his last year in Europe.
He’ll join three young and exciting players — Jerryd Bayless, DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis. All three have a pile of talent and a whole lot of upside. They also have a lot of growing up to do, but are all showing signs of progress — both on the court and off.
Building around a young group is always rocky, but there are certainly worse collections of talent that could be imagined.
The veteran leader is former first overall pick Andrea Bargnani. He has evolved into a very nice player, and will be useful here either as a building block or as an asset to trade to get more useful pieces.
Beyond the talent, though, there is one big reason to like this team this year — they finally got a coaching hire right. Dwane Casey was a key part of the Mavs’ championship run last year, and will be hungry for another shot at the reins after a frustrating 122-game stretch as coach in Minnesota. He didn’t deserve to get fired then, and he’ll be ready now. He’s a very good match for this team.
Minnesota also made a strong coaching decision when they brought in Rick Adelman. He’s the real deal, and he has a lot to work with here.
There are three big reasons I think this team could be much better than people think besides Adelman.
For starters, Kevin Love was a beast last year, and is a strong piece to build around.
Next, there is a whole lot of young talent to work with. Wesley Johnson was the fourth pick last year, and had a solid first year. Ricky Rubio has finally come over to the NBA after all his delays. Derrick Williams was one of the most exciting players in college ball last year, and has a very bright future in the NBA. Wayne Ellington is entering his third year, and has the potential to take a huge step forward.
Third, Adelman has three very talented but underachieving players to work with — Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, and Anthony Randolph. The coach is a master motivator, and if he can get through to even one of those players he could have a very nice asset.
Adelman has a lot to work on — he needs to find consistency, and the defensive effort last year was terrible. He has shown in the past, though, that he can make quick changes effectively — the Rockets amassed the second longest winning streak in NBA history soon after Adelman took over.
The forced trade of Deron Williams last year signaled the end of any expectations in the eyes of the public for this team, but there are reasons for optimism around this squad.
There are four players on this team that were picked in the lottery in the last two years, and that’s a whole lot to build around. Impressive players, too — Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks. What they all have in common besides a whole lot of skill is that they play consistently hard and have strong attitudes.
They are joined by some solid veteran talent, though guys like Al Jefferson, Devin Harris and Paul Millsap have a lot more to offer offensively than on defense.
Last year the season was hijacked by the drama surrounding Williams and the resignation of Jerry Sloan. Now that is all past them, and new coach Tyrone Corbin is able to start fresh and work with a nice collection of players that will be able to toil well out of the spotlight.
This team will surprise some people this year, and a couple of years from now they will be a major factor.
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