Something unique about the NBA is that the teams that finish at the top, are typically rather predictable.
It’s actually the teams that finish in the bottom of the playoffs, the play-in, and the ones that just miss the cut that result in more intense and down-to-the-wire competition. Hence why the play-in tournament is usually more interesting than the first round itself.
Thus, it is no surprise that predicting the outcomes in this range is difficult. However, it shouldn’t be without attempt.
Here’s our shot at the probable NBA play-in teams for next season.
NBA 2023–24 Power Rankings, Part 3: The Play-in teams
20. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are a solid team, who could indeed be playoff contenders in due time. Tyrese Haliburton is an All-NBA level talent, whose impressive passing skills have already been put on display. Buddy Hield, Myles Turner, Bruce Brown, and Benedict Mathurin round out the rest of the Pacers core, providing an adequate combination of shooting complemented by defense. Definitely a team to watch for in coming seasons, and one who could potentially sneak in the play-in now.
So, what prevents Indiana from ranking higher on this list?
Sure, the Pacers have a solid starting lineup. Only problem being, that the personnel off the bench simply isn’t very productive.
Many of the Pacers veterans off the pine, are way past their heyday, and aren’t likely to contribute at this stage of their career. This results in a significantly weaker bench lineup come April, where depth reigns over all. The Pacers weakest link lies here, where opponents will constantly look to exploit the disadvantage. If Indiana wishes for a promotion in such rankings, adding extra scoring and playmaking off the pine is a must. If not, they’ll continue to find themselves in the race for the play-in for the foreseeable future.
19. Chicago Bulls
Contrary to the ever-churning rumor mill, both Zach Lavine and Demar DeRozan will retain their Bulls gear for now. So, despite Lonzo Ball’s absence for the entirety of the coming year, Chicago will at least have an All-Star tandem in tow to keep them competitive. Not a bad consolation prize by any means. Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso, and Andre Drummond headline the remaining rotation, in hopes that their expertise will translate to success for the Windy City.
It might, but only moderately.
Lonzo’s absence here is always going to be a significant missing piece to Chicago’s puzzle. The Bulls were one of the best NBA teams in the East when he last played, as his playmaking worked wonders. Lavine and DeRozan were able to find their spots effortlessly, and the teams defense was equally as efficient.
Caruso likely won’t be able to replicate such play now, as he deals with injury concerns of his own. Vucevic and Drummond have been around for some time now, and their production has begun to decline. This leaves Chicago without much of a supporting cast surrounding their aging stars. Both Derozan and Lavine are still capable of playing at a high level, which makes Chicago a viable pick for the play-in. It would be a surprise to expect anything more though.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have been one of the most component organizations statewide since their move to OKC, fielding one competitive team after another. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s All-Star emergence ensures that this streak will continue for now. Chet Holmgren will make his debut this season, with Lu Dort, Josh Giddey, and others already ready to go. Yet another young team whose true potential can only be assessed in a year or two.
What’s holding OKC back right now is simply their experience. Or lack thereof. Everyone on this team has only been around for a year or two, and have never seen true playoff action. This is an obviously important factor come playoff time, where veteran players will look to take advantage using their expertise. A quality that can only be obtained with time, and is what currently keeps OKC away from real postseason contention. As the Thunder continue to develop, this will likely change. OKC could be one of the premier NBA teams in the league eventually, but that might take a few years.
For now, they’ll have to settle for a spot somewhere around here.
17. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are a team who are constantly expected to fade away, yet somehow still stick around. Trae Young is still going strong, as are Dejounte Murray and Clint Capela. De’Andre Hunter brings a 3-and-D skillset to the table as well, which continues to present be a tough matchup. The Hawks will be a decent team as always, just not much more.
If Atlanta truly wishes to escape where they are now, it will take some key acquisitions. Not a star necessarily, but at least some role players that can pick up slack when needed. Both Young and Murray are rather skinny, and get overpowered by opposing offenses on a regular. Adding defense that can hang with the best scorers in the league could do wonders for ATL. Until then, they’ll continue to find themselves amidst the race of “NBA’s most average”.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are one of the weirdest teams in the league. If everything goes right, they’re one of the better teams out there. However it usually doesn’t, and they end up not even making the playoffs. Or losing in the play-in.
Few teams of this nature exist around the NBA, and those that do all share one common link:
The Pelicans constantly find themselves plagued by the same issue. Whether it’s Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, or C. J. McCollum, NOLA’s best players are rarely healthy for more than 50+ games AT MOST. The Pelicans bench isn’t equipped for such adversity either, and a subpar NBA season is all that’s left. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to believe that any of this will change anytime soon.
Zion and Ingram’s injury history is shaky at best, and McCollum isn’t getting any younger. Trading one of the two former aforementioned names would’ve brought back decent return, but NOLA didn’t do that either. Nonetheless, the Pelicans possess the max potential of anyone mentioned thus far. That alone earns them the 16th spot. Actually reaching this potential is unlikely though, and the play-in seems far more possible. Thus, NOLA will have to settle for right in the middle of the rankings.