As the NBA inches closer to its July 30 restart in Orlando, Florida, opinions are flying about the 22 invited teams ready to fight for the championship. What about the teams that aren’t going to Orlando, though? Of the eight teams that are home for the rest of the summer, here are my top picks for the next season.
Honorable mention: Atlanta Hawks
Although they finished the 2019-20 campaign with an abysmal 20-47 record, the Hawks do have strengths, notably among their young talent. In just his second season, Trae Young was an All-Star starter who averaged an insane 29.6 points per game to go along with 9.3 assists per game. Young will only improve with more experience. Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter — the rest of the team’s young core — also have the potential to be solid contributors, though Atlanta will also have to bank on a free agent, a trade or the draft to keep building.
The team will possibly have a top-five pick in the draft this year, but with rising star John Collins likely asking for a max contract extension this summer, its ability to go after other free agents in the future might be limited. Although the Hawks would still have next summer to decide whether they want to give Collins a max deal, he has said he would “always want to get it done now (rather) than later,” and the Hawks should highly consider keeping him around, as they haven’t landed a big-name free agent in a while. Needless to say, Atlanta has a lot of figuring out to do this summer, but the team has the potential to shine.
Honorable mention: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves made a lot of noise at this year’s trade deadline, swapping former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and a couple of draft picks for All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell. Karl-Anthony Towns and Russell, the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in 2015, are great friends who could create excellent chemistry on the court. They have also both gone through a lot of losing in this league and will be very hungry to lead the Timberwolves to some much-needed postseason success.
Although Towns and Russell have been criticized for their lack of effort on defense, and Minnesota has little but Josh Okogie behind them, the Timberwolves are tied for the best odds at the No. 1 pick, which could help their young core. With Russell and Towns, Minnesota will have no issues with putting the ball in the basket, but it will definitely need to bolster its defense to contend. The Timberwolves have a lot on their plate, but they have the potential to make some noise next year.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are my No. 1 pick of the teams not invited to Orlando — although they had a down year due to injuries, their roster is still quite lethal. Despite Kevin Durant’s free agency departure, they still have two-time league MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who is arguably the best shooter of all time and a defensive stalwart. Not to mention basketball’s version of a Swiss Army knife in Draymond Green. With their championship pedigree and ability to adapt to any lineup, this three-headed monster is formidable.
Moreover, though he has not lived up to his hype, newcomer Wiggins is still a very solid contributor, having averaged 21.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game this year to go along with a decent 44.7% shooting percentage. He has also shown a lot of promise on the defensive end this year, and with a smaller role on this team, he can be a contributor instead of having to help carry the load.
Golden State has other promising role players such as Eric Paschall, who was already a solid contributor as a rookie, averaging 14 points per game on nearly 50% shooting. Marquese Chriss, who averaged career highs in points, rebounds and assists this past season, is another player the Warriors can count on. Golden State is also tied for the best odds to get the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, and with its depth, it will also have trade assets to improve its roster. Assuming all of their players stay healthy next season, the Warriors will once again be a force to be reckoned with.
Justin Kim writes for Bear Bytes. Contact him at [email protected].