Sunday Topic: Biggest Sleeper Team?
Every Sunday, HOOPSWORLD’s analysts weigh in on an NBA-related topic. Get in on the debate by leaving your thoughts in the comment section. Here’s this week’s Sunday Topic.
It’s easy to predict the top-tier teams entering the 2012-13 season. The Miami HEAT, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are elite and expected to go deep in the playoffs. Predicting a sleeper team is more difficult. Every year, there’s at least one team that exceeds expectations and surprises everyone. Which team will fill that role this season? HOOPSWORLD’s analysts give their prediction:
“Which team is the biggest sleeper entering the 2012-13 season?”
“Toronto Raptors. After a busy summer, the Raptors enter this season with high expectations. The message coming out of Toronto is that this team is much better than last year’s squad, which won 23 games, and that making the playoffs is a realistic goal.
The Raptors bring back their core from last season while adding key contributors such as Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross.
Dealing a first-round pick for Lowry was a steal for Toronto. It may have been the most underrated acquisition of the summer. Lowry was exceptional last year, playing at an All-Star level for the Houston Rockets prior to missing games due to a bacterial infection. He’s one of the best defensive point guards in the league. On the offensive end, he’s improving as a shooter and he’ll make his teammates much better with his excellent court vision. He’s also great at drawing fouls and he’s statistically the best rebounding point guard in the league. Lowry is a difference maker. Not to mention, he’s already emerging as a leader in Toronto, which the Raptors desperately needed.
The Raptors are much better with Lowry running the team and they still have Jose Calderon, who will either be an exceptional sixth man or an attractive trade chip that Toronto can move for another contributor prior to the trade deadline.
If Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan can take the next step in their development, Toronto should be able to grab the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Bargnani showed glimpses of brilliance last year and, if he can stay healthy, he seems poised for a breakout season. DeRozan regressed last season, but he’s expected to step up and produce in a contract year.
The Raptors are flying under the radar entering the season, but they could end up being the biggest sleeper in the league. They have plenty of talent and if they can mesh under head coach Dwane Casey, this team should be able to exceed expectations and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.” – Alex Kennedy
“Milwaukee Bucks. Despite the fact that the Chicago Bulls aren’t going to have Derrick Rose for most of this season, a lot of people are still picking them to finish second in the Central Division, right behind the Indiana Pacers. Not me. I think it will be the Bucks who finish second in this division, and I can even see them making the playoffs thanks to their deep bench and interesting blend of perimeter offense and frontcourt defense.
Both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are playing for new contracts, and head coach Scott Skiles (who, by the way, actually still is a decent coach) is coaching for his job in the last year of his own deal.
Plenty of guys have reasons to make sure the Bucks are successful this year and, in truth, injuries have kind of derailed Milwaukee enough the last two years to make everyone forget about them. But they aren’t as bad as some seem to think, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if they finished the season ahead of the Bulls.” – Joel Brigham
“Denver Nuggets. It seems highly unlikely that this NBA season will produce a mystery playoff team that comes out of nowhere to make the postseason. This may be the most competitive season ever, with only a handful of teams in the Western Conference thought to be completely out of the picture.
That said, there is one team that isn’t being counted among the contenders that could very well turn out to be elite and that’s the Nuggets.
Denver had a strong showing in the playoffs last year, pushing the Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of elimination in the first round. They are back and deeper than ever, with plenty of big bodies up front, solid point guard play in both the first and second unit, and a key x-factor addition in Andre Iguodala.
Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs will get most of the love, but the Nuggets should not be overlooked. They could be the biggest sleeper team in the NBA.” – Bill Ingram
“Golden State Warriors. The Warriors have been plagued by injuries to Stephen Curry since 2010 and Andrew Bogut only played 12 games last season. However, if these players can get healthy and play at a high level, the sun may soon shine in Golden State.
The Warriors need Bogut to become a dominant big man again in order for them to have any chance at making the playoffs this season. They also need Curry to stay healthy if they want to realize their full potential. Even though Bogut has yet to play with the Warriors, getting rid of erratic guard Monta Ellis was worth making the trade.
Dealing Stephen Jackson was another addition-by-subtraction move for the Warriors. Picking up Richard Jefferson in the deal was a bonus. Jefferson may not have much left production wise, but his role in the locker room will be just as significant for this young team. Along with Jefferson, offseason signee Carl Landry gives the Warriors veterans who have shown they can produce, even in bench roles. Landry will play second fiddle to David Lee but with Bogut out, he will be called upon to play major minutes with Lee sharing the center role with rookie Festus Ezeli.
Rookie Harrison Barnes has shown maturity and explosiveness this preseason. Although Brandon Rush will start at small forward, I wouldn’t be surprised if Barnes sneaks into the starting job by the All Star break.
In order for the Warriors to make a dent in the Western Conference they will need Curry and Bogut to play for most, if not all, of the season and for second-year player Klay Thompson to prove he’s not just a jump shooter. If they can stay healthy and get production from their emerging young players, I expect the Warriors to slide into the eighth seed.” – Richard Hardy
“Washington Wizards. It doesn’t take much to predict the Miami HEAT, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers will be contenders this season. It’s a little bit trickier to point to a team that might break out despite lower external expectations.
Are the Golden State Warriors on that list? Last year they made significant trades and suffered major injuries. They expect to be a playoff team this year. Despite winning 23 games last year, they may not be qualified as a sleeper. The same can be said of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Brooklyn Nets, teams that didn’t make the postseason last year but head into the coming season with significant potential.
However, the Washington Wizards are the best example of a sleeper team.
They’ve been awful the past few years and John Wall is missing the preseason with a knee injury that may keep him out the opening month of the season. It looks like it could be another down year in Washington but if that group can hold on until Wall returns, the team may have a strong season. The additions of Nene, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Bradley Beal will bring depth, maturity and, in Beal, even more youthful talent to what has been a struggling franchise.
The Chicago Bulls are a question mark this year with Derrick Rose out with injury. The Orlando Magic are certain to drop after trading Dwight Howard. The Nets will climb into the top eight, but the Wizards may be the surprise team in the running for a playoff spot in the East.
The first step will be surviving while Wall is out. Once he’s back, the 2010 top overall pick will finally get the chance to make a statement in this league and win some games.” – Eric Pincus
Is there a sleeper team that our analysts missed? Leave a comment!