When the words ‘title favourites’ are mentioned in relation to the upcoming season, three teams come to mind: Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact, if one of those three teams don’t win it all this season, the basketball world would probably be in its biggest state of shock since Magic Johnson’s ‘announcement’. While it seems like a fantasy finals series is on the horizon, there are a handful of teams that look to make their mark on the NBA before all is said and done this year; the underdogs and dark horses. While it certainly doesn’t look like David can beat or even compete with Goliath this season, expect these three teams to surprise you.
New Orleans Hornets:
Despite having a disappointing 21-45 season following the departure of superstar Chris Paul, the Hornets’ promising rookie duo of Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers join Eric Gordon as they look to lead the team into a new era. Eric Gordon should have an excellent season – if he can stay healthy. Gordon will lead the team in scoring and assists and a guard partnership with Rivers will allow him to finally play at his full potential.
Any team with college basketball player of the year, Olympic gold medallist and No. 1 draft pick is going to be dangerous, especially when it’s one man. Anthony Davis will have a superb rookie season and will live up to the hype. Expect him to dominate the youngsters and earn the ‘Rookie of the Year’ title. However, when it comes to battling the league’s best big men, Davis will get pushed around and bullied in the post. The 6’10’’nineteen-year old weighs a mere 222 lbs, and if Davis wants to compete with the best he will have to gain weight.
Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, had a sensational college career and has an equally sensational future lined up for him in the NBA. Rivers must focus on establishing himself as a quality defender. However, his pairing with Gordon will allow Rivers to develop into an elite scoring machine. Monty Williams will look to lead the team into becoming one of the best teams at the defensive end of the court and with an array of talent, this may be enough to establish the Hornets as a top dark horse in the upcoming season.
The basketball world is buzzing at the idea of the Wizards playing on through spring this season, and with a newly renovated team to support the talented John Wall, it certainly looks possible. While so far Wall has only enjoyed individual success, he finally has enough talent to help him carry his team.
Remarkable rookie, Bradley Beal, joins Wall straight from the draft and will become the team’s second-leading scorer. Beal, whose form has been compared to Ray Allen, can shoot in transition and in catch-and-shoot situations, something Wall requires to help the Wizards’ dominate offensively.
The addition of Nene gives the Wizards a powerful presence in the post and the signing of Emeka Okafor will assist Wall in defending the rim. Veteran, Trevor Ariza, should create opportunities for Wall to take advantage of in transition, while also being a dangerous offensive threat. However, with other small forwards Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely, one must question how Coach Randy Wittman will rotate these players to maximise efficiency.
There’s no denying the Wizards have improved their roster significantly this off-season and they really have no excuse for not being playoff contenders. By no means should Washington plan a championship parade, but definitely expect John Wall to lead the Wizards into becoming relevant in the NBA once again.
Sure, a Phoenix Suns team following Steve Nash’s departure is never going to be to the same. After being led by Nash and holding a position as one of the Western Conference’s powerful teams for many years, it’s understandable that Phoenix and the basketball world alike is feeling a little down. However, don’t rule out witnessing the Suns making a push for the eighth seed in the West.
The addition of Luis Scola and Michael Beasley make Phoenix incredibly powerful in the frontcourt, while also being dominant scorers. Beasley coming off of a 11.5 ppg season after playing only 47 games in a lock-out season will look to improve significantly and the best is yet to come. Scola, on the other hand is coming off an excellent season, averaging 15.5 ppg and 6.4 rpg. Expect Scola to play at his full potential and fit well with his talented team-mate, Marcin Gortat.
Goran Dragic is back in Phoenix following two seasons of brilliant basketball in Houston. He should begin to fill the hole left by his ex-mentor, Steve Nash, with an impressive offensive display every game. Veteran Jermaine O’Neal is well past his use-by date, however is a great addition to the bench while the lacklustre Shannon Brown needs to improve significantly at shooting guard position now he competes for time with Wesley Johnson. Much like Washington, by no means will Phoenix be a championship contender, but count on seeing them playing playoff basketball this season.
Do you feel there are dark horses in the NBA besides these three teams? I’d love to hear your thoughts about who might surprise this year. Feel free to post comments in the box below.