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Every year we see teams that end up surprising, well, everybody. This past season, no one expected the Oklahoma City Thunder to be a top five team in the Western Conference. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index said there was a 0.2 percent chance that they would even make the playoffs, forget about being a top five team in the West. Additionally, many were shocked that the Toronto Raptors remained one of the leagues best teams after losing superstar Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency. Which teams could end up surprising people this upcoming season?
It seems ironic to call a team that just made the Western Conference Finals a sleeper team. The Denver Nuggets defeating the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games to get to the Conference Finals was beyond surprising. However, that result was viewed as the Clippers underachieving rather than the Nuggets playing great basketball. Jamal Murray was a big part of said great basketball, as he averaged 26 points per game this past postseason. If Murray can play like that over an entire season, the Nuggets will be even more dangerous than thought prior. Michael Porter Jr., is another young player that has tons of potential. Add in star Nikola Jokić, and you have a big three that can be extremely lethal.
The Suns finished this past season very strong by going undefeated (8-0) in the NBA bubble against all sensible presumptions. After barely missing the NBA playoffs due to not having a tiebreaker over the Portland Trail Blazers, the Suns went out and acquired Chris Paul to try and get over the hump. It was Paul who seemingly dragged the Thunder to the playoffs last season, despite the aforementioned extremely low odds. Will Paul be able to do this again in Phoenix and end their 10 year playoff drought? Suns fans hope so. He’ll have some support with scoring machine Devin Booker and developing big man Deandre Ayton.
The Timberwolves have made the playoffs just once since 2005. Former All-NBA center Karl-Anthony Towns and former All-Star D’Angelo Russell hope to turn it around this year. Towns averaged 26 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists per game this past season while shooting 51% from the field and 41% from three. Russell averaged 22 points, five rebounds, and seven assists while shooting 41% from the field and 35% from behind the arc. For the first time, both Towns and Russell will play a full season together. The two of them will be joined by Anthony Edwards, the first overall pick from the 2020 NBA Draft. Edwards led all Division I freshmen averaging 19.1 points per game last season and was the SEC Freshman of the Year. If Edwards can transition his game to the NBA level then the Timberwolves will be an offensive force to be reckoned with.
Before John Wall‘s injury, the Wizards were perennial playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference due to his mastery with the ball. Wall will make his long awaited return this season and will be reunited with Bradley Beal in the backcourt. Beal quietly was third in the entire league this past season in points per game, hence why many believed he was snubbed in the All-Star selection process. With the ninth overall pick, Washington selected the Israelian magician Deni Avdija. His size, basketball IQ, and versatility for a forward can prove to be an important piece for Washington. The Wizards could surprise the rest of the league this season.
The Bulls made an excellent decision by hiring former Thunder head coach Billy Donovan to man this young team. Donovan was second in Coach of the Year voting last year as he was at the helm of the previously mentioned Thunder team. The Bulls have lots of talented young players in Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. With defensive stud Patrick Williams coming into town via the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Chicago’s young core is only expanding. With a very good coach and multiple talented players the Bulls could surprise everyone and be a playoff team this season.