Watch Out for These Five NBA Teams

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Issue 9, Volume 111

By Aidan Look, Taee Chi 

The 2019-2020 NBA season was undoubtedly one of the most unpredictable seasons in league history. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, commissioner Adam Silver decided to continue the season in a bubble in Orlando, Florida. Without in-person fans, home-court advantage, and many other conventional aspects of the NBA playoffs, many doubted that the NBA postseason would live up to its usual standard. However, these doubts were soon proven wrong, as the playoffs delivered some of the most epic and unforgettable moments basketball fans have ever seen.

With the start of the 2020-2021 season, it’s apparent that the unpredictability on display last year has carried over to this year as well. With superstars such as Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant returning after missing all of last season, it feels like so much of this year is uncertain. What we do know, however, is that the league is filled with more talent and depth than ever before. With the first few games already in the books, the 2020-2021 NBA season is shaping up to be one of the most unforeseeable and enthralling years yet.

Looking ahead, here are the teams to watch out for this year.

Brooklyn Nets

This year’s season marks a special new chapter in the Brooklyn Nets’ franchise history. Since their last Finals appearance in 2003, the Nets have consistently found some degree of success in the regular season only to fall short when it matters most: the playoffs. As desperation reached a fever pitch in the summer of 2019, the Nets acquired two of the biggest superstars in the league out of the blue: Durant and Kyrie Irving.

Despite high expectations on their shoulders, the Nets started off their season on shaky legs. They stood in the lower half of the Eastern conference after losing four of their first seven games, and it took the team some time to get into a groove. After all, they’re still adjusting to the novelty of Durant and Irving on the team, as well as the new head coach, Steve Nash. Despite Nash’s lack of coaching experience, his unparalleled understanding of the game, stemming from his Hall of Fame career in the NBA, will surely boost the Nets’ chances at a solid playoff run this season.

Another adjustment the Nets will have to make concerns the new addition of the 2017-2018 NBA MVP, James Harden. Known for his lethal offensive arsenal, Harden adds even more firepower to the already loaded Nets offense. Currently, both Durant and Irving are averaging over 27 points, and Harden’s addition to the team naturally begs the question of whether the three ball-dominant players will be able to share the ball, or the overloaded offense will hurt the team. One downside of Harden’s recent arrival is the loss of two very promising young talents, Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. Prior to the trade, both players added great value to the Nets’ overall game. Allen played great on both sides of the court, averaging 11.6 points, 10.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, while LeVert was the team’s third leading scorer, averaging 18.5 points while also tremendously aiding the team’s shooting. Their absences will surely affect the Nets bench, which is looking dangerously lackluster after the trade. If Durant, Irving, and Harden can learn to play alongside each other, one can expect the Nets to be real title-contenders by the time the playoffs roll around. If not, at least the deadly trio will give Nets fans some exciting basketball to watch.

Los Angeles Lakers

It was only three months ago when the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned NBA champions in the Orlando bubble. Over the short 72-day offseason, they continued to improve their roster with the addition of the winner and runner-up of last year’s Sixth Man of the Year award, Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder, respectively, as well as seasoned veterans like Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews. Harrell has been a great physical presence in the paint coming off the bench, grabbing eight boards a game. Schröder has been equally productive, starting alongside LeBron James at point guard and facilitating the offense.

With the best duo in the league in James and Anthony Davis manning the ship, the Lakers are going to be unstoppable this season. And if that pairing wasn’t enough, the Lakers seem to have a hidden gem in second-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker. During the NBA preseason, Horton-Tucker showcased his well-rounded skill set, offering a glimpse into the bright future for the 20-year-old stud. Currently, the Lakers stand atop the Western Conference with a record of 11-3. According to ESPN, they boast the fifth highest offensive efficiency in the league at 112.6. It’s safe to say that as long as James and Davis remain healthy, the Lakers have a high chance of becoming back-to-back NBA champions.

Golden State Warriors

Oh, how the giants have fallen. Just two seasons ago, the Golden State Warriors were NBA champions. Now, they’re a team in the midst of rebuilding, looking to develop young talents and manage their assets well in order to be in the best position for the future. The Warriors had a terrible start to the season, getting blown out by a margin of at least 25 points in three of their first five games. The Warriors’ offense has been especially lacking in its abysmal efficiency. The team’s 43.9 percent field goal percentage ranks them 26th in the league, and their equally poor 35.2 percent three-point field goal percentage puts them behind 18 other NBA teams.

Though it looks like the Warriors might not even make the playoffs this season, there are still a couple of reasons why they’ll be interesting to watch this year. First and foremost, Curry is likely to have an MVP-type season. The three-time NBA champion is averaging around 28 points, six assists, and six rebounds while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from threes. Curry exploded for a career-high 62 points against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 3, finishing 18-for-31 from the field, 8-for-16 from three-point range, and 18-of-19 from the free throw line. His performance that night made him the second oldest player in history to score over 60 points in a game right behind the late Kobe Bryant.

Another bright spot for Warriors fans is the team’s second overall pick, James Wiseman. The seven-footer is averaging 11.3 points on 48.3 percent shooting and leads all rookies with averages of 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. His numbers are especially impressive considering that the first-year center has only three games of college basketball experience under his belt and didn’t have an NBA Summer League to gain experience before the start of the season, and yet was still thrown into the Warriors starting lineup. Given enough time, Wiseman surely has the potential to develop into the next great big man in the league.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans have had a rough start to their season, holding a 4-7 record thus far. Though Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson have averaged 23.5 and 21.8 points per game, respectively, the Pelicans’ overall offense has been struggling, and their 105.9 points per game places them at 28th in the league. One possible reason for their stagnant offense could be their adjustment to their new coach, Stan Van Gundy, as the players are likely still getting used to his coaching style. However, Van Gundy has always been recognized for achieving offensive success, evident from his 2008-2009 season in Orlando when he led an offense ranked 11th in offensive rating (109.2) with a focus on quick ball movement, looking for the best possible shots, and a four-out, one-in (41) zone offense. Van Gundy’s schemes have the potential to turn around the Pelicans’ offense.

Coach Van Gundy’s direction will not single-handedly make the Pelicans’ offense more efficient, though—the entire team will need to step up as well. Two major setbacks to the Pelicans’ offensive success have been the inconsistency of their bench and their three-point shooting. As of now, New Orleans sits near the bottom of the league in three-point percentage (32.4 percent), but this slump appears to be ending soon. Lonzo Ball started off slow but has drastically improved his three-pointers this season and is shooting a field goal average of around 40 percent. Furthermore, J.J. Redick and Josh Hart are also starting to provide more points from the bench, an area that the Pelicans have struggled in during their first few games.

One upside for the Pelicans this season has been their rebounding ability. With an average of 57.1 rebounds per game, the Pelicans maintain the third rank among the league in this category. Both Williamson and Steven Adams average around nine rebounds per game, giving the Pelicans plenty of second-chance opportunities on offense.

Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks have finally found their groove after struggling during the NBA’s first two weeks of action, in which they earned a record of 2-3. The Dallas Mavericks’ 124-73 domination over the Los Angeles Clippers was one of the few silver linings during this stretch. Though Luka Doncic averaged 24.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.4 assists across these five games, these numbers were a little underwhelming compared to his typical MVP-caliber stats. However, the Mavericks have bounced back from their slow start to an overall 6-5 record.

Since their loss against the Bulls on January 3, the Mavericks have shown that they are one of the top teams in the NBA with an impressive three-game win streak during the third week of the season. This streak included victories over the Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets, and Denver Nuggets. Coach Rick Carlisle made a few lineup adjustments in these games that drastically increased the team’s success. Willie Cauley-Stein and Maxi Kleber were put into the starting lineup while Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dwight Powell were moved to the bench. Carlisle’s decision to play with a bigger lineup has improved the team’s defense, earning the team the second best defensive rating in the league behind the Los Angeles Lakers. Hardaway Jr. made the most of his new bench role, averaging 25.7 points per game and shooting 61 percent from the three-point line across this three-game stretch. Doncic also showed improvement by once again putting up his typical numbers: 30.3 points, 12 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game. The Mavericks look to continue this success with the return of Kristaps Porziņģis, who scored 16 points and recorded four rebounds in 21 minutes during the Mavericks’ victory over the Charlotte Hornets.

With only a little more than three weeks of games played, it might be too early to decide which teams are contenders. The beginning of the season has been filled with many surprises, including trades, teams surpassing expectations, and amazing performances from NBA rookies. Of course, the biggest change so far was the four-team trade that sent Harden to the Nets, Victor Oladipo to the Rockets, LeVert to the Indiana Pacers, and Allen and Taurean Prince to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which has drastically altered the landscape of the NBA. The formation of a new super team in Brooklyn is exciting, and only time will tell whether three superstar players on a single team can effectively win games. As the list of postponed NBA games grows due to COVID-19 and teams continue to shock fans, the 2020-2021 NBA season is becoming the most unpredictable season in recent years.