By now you know all of the familiar names in the NBA that include LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant. There might also might be a good chance you’re tired of hearing those names and the associated stories. LeBron is the King, Curry is the reigning MVP, and Durant is a sell-out. Yeah, we know.
If you’re like me, I’m interested in who will be next. Who is the next group of superstars to take the NBA by storm and leave their mark on the league? There are so many talented teams that it’s hard to say for sure, but let’s go in depth on three organizations who I think can make a real run for it in the next couple of seasons.
#3: Portland Trail Blazers
First, let’s travel up to Rip City to take a look at what the Trail Blazers have going on. With an average age of 24.7, this team is very young with plenty of miles left. The Golden State Warriors have helped usher in the era of “small-ball” and an emphasis on sharp shooting from distance. That is exactly what the Trail Blazers’ offense brings to the table this season, as the underrated Damian Lillard brings an offensive style similar to that of Curry. Lillard, at 37% from threee, alongside C.J. McCollum at almost 42% and Allen Crabbe at 39% makes for an offensive triple threat that will give any opponent a run for their money.
Defensively Portland has suffered somewhat, but with the recent addition of former Golden State Warrior Festus Ezeli this will likely improve. Mason Plumlee has been filling a dual role of center and facilitator but he isn’t great rim protector. When Ezeli can come in to play a more traditional role under the rim that will allow Plumlee to capitalize on his strengths of open court play and passing. Portland will also want to place an emphasis on rebounding to allow the offense more opportunities to execute. That said, Plumlee will want to work with Ezeli, Ed Davis and Meyers Leonard to carry the team in this effort. As we all know, defense typically translates into offense so if Portland can get their defense dialed in this season we can expect to see that build major momentum with the offense which will equate to wins. Given that 10 of Portland’s 15 players are under the age of 25 going into the 2016-2017 season this team has everything to look forward to. Expect to see them to leave their mark on the post-season this year.
#2 Utah Jazz
Next up is Salt Lake City, Utah where the Jazz are quietly building a basketball empire and possibly the deepest bench in the league. They are three deep at almost every position except shooting guard and power forward and that’s speaking from the traditional lineup mindset. The team is loaded with talented bigs who for the most part can oscillate at either the four or five. Utah’s lineup options are virtually endless, and this versatility will prove very frustrating for their opponents. This team is slightly older with an average age of 26, but they have a great mix of young guys and veterans that will provide for great balance for the team. With the recent addition of NBA champ Boris Diaw, the young guns will have plenty of mentors to look up to as they grow in their career.
In June of this year, the Jazz utilized their draft picks wisely and were able to fill some voids in the process. Among their additions was 8-year NBA veteran George Hill who was acquired in a three-team trade between Indiana and Atlanta. At a respectable 37% from the three-point line, Hill will help fill another sharp shooting role for Utah. He will be a nice complement to the double digit offensive contribution that Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, and Rodney Hood make each game.
The Jazz were also able to pick up 22 year old Joel Bolomboy from Weber State in the draft this summer. Bolomboy brings an acute talent for rebounding that the Jazz will benefit from this season in the limited mintues. This youngster averaged a whopping 10 rebounds per game in college. Apart from Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, the Jazz don’t have plus rebounding capacity so Bolomboy’s presence will be a welcome help.
Overall, Utah is making an impression in the preseason this year averaging 97.8 points per game, 45% from the field, 32.5% from 3, and 44.5 rebounds per game. Their turnovers are alarmingly high at 18.7 per game, but during preseason that can be largely attributed to giving the rooks extra court time to get a feel for the NBA. Once the Jazz head into the regular season they will want to bring their points per game average up above 100 and place a focus on protecting the ball. All signs point toward success for this group.
#1 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last but certainly not least, the T-Wolves are stirring up quite a bit of excitement coming into the 2016-2017 season. To be honest, it’s about time because Minnesota has been somewhat of a dysfunctional franchise since their inception 27 years ago. They’ve gone through 11 coaches, and have tallied 14 seasons where they’ve won fewer than 30 games. It’s being said that this year’s team has more young talent than the organization has ever had in their history. Center Karl-Anthony Towns recorded a stunning 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2 assists per game during the 2015-2016 season, and was consequently given the coveted Rookie of the year award. Only 3 other players have ever recorded better rookie stats. Towns will once again be working with Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio. That young core is as talented as any group in the NBA.
However, this team has struggled mightily with defense and even a little with offensive cohesion. Upper management has made moves to improve in this area by hiring Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. The no nonsense coach will place an emphasis on defense and overall team development which can’t come at a better time for this young roster. If the T-Wolves can learn some good habits early on the sky will be the limit for their success. I submit that more than any other team in the league, the Minnesota Timberwolves have the greatest potential for getting to the Finals and winning multiple times over in the coming seasons.
The regular season kicks off this coming week and I will be keeping a close eye on these teams as they progress. Consequently, they’re all in the Western Conference making the playoff scene out west one you definitely won’t want to miss.