To say that the NBA is a star-dominant league would be considered an understatement. Nearly every championship contending team in recent memory have possessed multi-dimensional stars, all of whom can change the game in an instant. These players have morphed into prolific talents in their own right for years and take on a new meaning in the sport.
Ask the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz of the late 1990’s, the early 2000 Indiana Pacers, and of course the Oklahoma City Thunder in today’s time. All of these teams possessed great players for a lengthy stretch at some point and appeared in at least one NBA Finals. While neither of them could take home the big prize, they all administered young and up and coming rosters during the early stages of their run.
With a new wave of talent littered across the league in today’s NBA, there’s always an abiding chance for someone to emerge as the league’s “next great” team that can compete for years. With that being said, here are the four teams that could potentially contend for a championship in the near future.
Phoenix Suns: Their team is called the Suns, but we might as well call them the Wildcats. Phoenix contains four players that formerly started at Kentucky (Tyler Ulis, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker). Nearly all of them have impacted Phoenix in some way during their time in the league, and are currently pivoting points to the team’s slight rebuild.
In last June’s draft, the Suns selected Croatian forward Dragan Bender, who despite playing a meager number of minutes so far this season (9.4 per game), exhibits potential as an impactful stretch-4. To compliment shooting phenoms Booker and T.J. Warren along the perimeter – both of whom are registering a 54% true shooting percentage this season – Phoenix acquired power forward Marquese Chriss out of Washington. Through 13 games, Chriss is establishing a toughness in the low-post, averaging 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds. Currently, the Suns are a team that’s young and exciting, despite them being raw in maturity. If the pieces can all blend together, then Phoenix bodes as a serious playoff threat year in year out in the Western Conference.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Ever since the first departure of Kevin Garnett in 2007, nothing has gone well for Timberwolves fans. Year after year, through roster turnover and coaching blunders, Minnesota seemed to never obtain the talent necessary to compete in a vaunted Western Conference.
But now, as the 2016 calendar slowly turns over to 2017, enthusiasm is brimming in the twin cities. Minnesota has profited from investing time in the draft, forming a tantalizing duo with back-to-back Rookie Of The Year recipients Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. The two currently make up 48 percent of Minnesota’s scoring – each averaging at least 22 points per game.
However, the Timberwolves proficient offense wouldn’t be prospering if not for the sharp-shooting efforts of Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhummad, who have shot 42 percent from deep this year. To go along with that, rookie point guard Kris Dunn is making a strong claim for being one the bigger steals of last year’s draft, averaging 10.7 points and 8.6 assists per 100 possessions thus far, solidifying a spot directly behind backcourt-mate Ricky Rubio. For a team that carries just three players 30 years or older, Minnesota has a roster that’s set up to flourish in the coming years. And who knows, maybe they’re poised to snap the NBA’s longest playoff drought earlier than anticipated?
Philadelphia 76ers: Trust the process am I right? Over the last few years, the city of Brotherly Love have been stock piling draft picks like playing cards, selecting soon to be future stars in Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons. While Philadelphia’s 2016-17 season may be starting off rocky, winning just three of its first 14 games, the Sixers have been reeking the benefits from a resounding rookie campaign out of Embiid, who is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds a game.
The Sixers are still without the services of Noel and Simmons who both are recovering from foot and groin injuries. Nonetheless, Philly is piecing it together with Nik Stauskas (averaging nine points per game), as well as steady contributions from Ersan Illyasova and Jahlil Okafor. It’s clear as day that until Philadelphia is dealt with a healthy roster they won’t be able to keep up in the Eastern Conference. However, as soon as their budding roster finds an identity, watch out.
New Orleans Pelicans: In a way, New Orleans is an outlier in the sense that they probably have the best roster out of all these teams mentioned. I mean, the Pelicans carry the league’s best power forward in Anthony Davis, an under-appreciated point guard in Jrue Holiday, and a solid crop of wings in E’Twaun Moore and rookie Buddy Hield. So far, during this young season, this year’s Pelicans have shown that they aren’t themselves, winning only four of its first 14 games with a roster that oozes talent. However, whenever you contain a once in a generation type forward like Anthony Davis, your chances of competing in the future will eventually come to fruition.