With the NBA season almost upon us, we’re having our staff make some predictions — some bold, some not so much. We started with awards predictions and now it’s time for a little optimism from the crew because that’s what the preseason is all about.
Every team that’s trying to make the playoffs (meaning, maybe 23 of them) believes this year they’ll get to the postseason, while others are hoping to see some strong development from young players. We’re here to boost those optimistic hopes of some fan bases with some predictions on players and teams that will be pleasant surprises in 2017-18.
What team will surprise and make the playoffs this season?
Brad Rowland: Utah Jazz
The Western Conference is full of intriguing teams, and the Utah Jazz don’t necessarily fall into that category for everyone. The loss of Gordon Hayward will, quite obviously, lower the ceiling of the Jazz and going from George Hill to Ricky Rubio isn’t a no-brainer either. With that said, Utah’s defense will be tantalizing as long as Rudy Gobert is in the middle of it and Quin Snyder has been something of a wizard. There isn’t much upside here but it will be enough to secure a playoff spot and provide a grueling task for one of the top seeds in April.
Jamie Cooper: Denver Nuggets
I don’t know how much of a surprise this really is, but seeing as how so much of the conversation about Western Conference upstarts revolves around the Timberwolves and Pelicans, the unassuming Nuggets deserve a little love here. After all, they were just one win shy of a postseason berth last year. Plus, they have a lot of talented players.
Nikola Jokic is a burgeoning superstar, and they quietly added Paul Millsap in free agency, which instantly makes them one of the most versatile front-court duos in the league. And they have plenty of young talent surrounding them in Jamal Murray, Juan Hernangomez, and Gary Harris. Denver is a great sleeper team to make the playoffs this year.
Konata Edwards: Orlando Magic
The bottom of the Eastern Conference is horrible, so whatever squad makes the 8th seed in the East shouldn’t really be considered a surprise. However, the Magic haven’t managed to make the postseason (or even been close) since Dwight Howard left in 2012, so seeing Orlando back in the playoffs seems to qualify as a surprise. With the amount of defensive talent on the floor for Orlando between Elfrid Payton, Jonathan Isaac, Bismack Biyombo and others in Frank Vogel’s system should allow the Magic to give other teams fits on offense most nights, and in the East, playing strong defense might be the difference in being a playoff team.