When we throw around the word “sleeper” in reference to an NBA team, it doesn’t really say much other than we think Team X will surpass expectations. Some sleepers could win championships, a la the Dallas Mavericks of a year ago. Others, such as the Memphis Grizzlies of last season, will slip into the playoffs and make a deep run after they weren’t expected to amount to anything.
So in picking the top five sleepers for the 2011-12 NBA season, there’s going to be some good teams that turn out to be super good and some bad teams that might surprise us by not completely floundering about. There’s a few prerequisites to being a sleeper, however. A sleeper must have a competent-to-solid head coach. They’ve got to have a versatile roster. And at the very least, sleepers must have a borderline NBA All-Star on the roster.
The big guns – Los Angeles, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, New York – get all the headlines, but here’s some teams that you might want to keep an eye on heading into the season. We ranked them one through five, with one being the most surprising sleeper and five being the least surprising sleeper.
5. Dallas Mavericks
Seriously. Shawn Marion, though a bit boisterous about it all, was correct in telling the media that they were overlooking his Mavericks.
With all eyes on the Lob City Clippers, the bad luck of the Lakers, an amped-up Knicks squad and the Miami Heat, we are indeed forgetting that Dallas won some award called the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Don’t know what that is, but it sounds important.
In all seriousness, Dallas will again be a wall to climb in the West. With a slightly revamped roster, don’t think Rick Carlisle won’t have a plan. Mark Cuban certainly has one, and while it didn’t provide an answer to replace the defensive identity they lost to free agency, he did manage to reload with some more offense (Vince Carter, Delonte West). Even though the loss of Tyson Chandler to the Knicks should be a big concern, Cuban reloaded by copping Lamar Odom from the Lakers.
Heck, they don’t need Tyson anyway. Ian Mahinmi to the rescue.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
Potential might indeed be the keyword when it comes to Philadelphia, but like water from a sponge, coach Doug Collins could squeeze that potential out of his team in his second season.
We know that Andre Iguodala‘s potential is probably tapped, as is that of Elton Brand, but their veteran leadership meshing with breakout seasons from Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young or Evan Turner could propel an already stellar defensive team through the Eastern Conference.
Turner, like James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder, could become the playmaker off the bench and along with a more aggressive Young, will give the Sixers go-to scorers that Iguodala never developed into. Collins is a players coach, and that means he’ll get the most out of a talented roster following a brief, yet successful playoff appearance last season.