Top 5 New NBA Playoff Teams
Sixteen teams took part in the 2011-2012 NBA Playoffs, and the odds are strong that most of those teams will be right back in the postseason mix when the 2013 playoffs roll around next spring.
But like every year, there will be at least a small handful of new teams in the playoffs, and today we’re going to look at the most likely organizations to crack the top eight in their conferences. Whether it’s a young team finally making the leap or a veteran team who only narrowly missed sneaking into the postseason last year, these are the five teams most likely to return to the playoffs in 2013 after missing them in 2012:
Toronto Raptors – While the Raptors really only made one huge move this offseason (the trade for Rockets breakout point guard Kyle Lowry), and their draft picks this past June were relatively disappointing, the addition of that new point guard and 2011’s fifth overall draft selection Jonas Valanciunas have a lot of people excited about Toronto Raptors basketball. With good reason, too. Lowry could very well find himself in the discussion for the All-Star game by February, and Valanciunas is a very realistic candidate for Rookie of the Year. Adding that kind of talent to an already young and hungry team is a good thing, and it should put the Raps right back into the postseason conversation this year.
Cleveland Cavaliers – The NBA world more or less agrees at this point that Kyrie Irving is well on his way towards becoming a major star in this league, and formerly bad teams that find themselves one such star tend to turn into playoff teams pretty quickly. This is an extremely young group with a whole lot of question marks, but enough of these kids look promising enough to give Cleveland a shot, particularly if Irving makes another big leap in his sophomore campaign.
Portland Trail Blazers – They’re young and not particularly deep, but rookie Damian Lillard looks like the real deal, and alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, and Nic Batum, Portland really does boast one of the more exciting young starting lineups in the entire league. The bench is kind of thin, and all the centers on the roster sort of beg question marks, but it would be rude to leave these kids completely out of the conversation. They’re farther along than, say, Sacramento or Houston or even New Orleans. Aldridge’s experience plus Lillard’s promise should eventually yield playoff results in Portland. If not this season, then soon.
And now, without further ado, our list:
#5 – Milwaukee Bucks – By no means is this going to be the most attractive postseason, but the reality is that the Bucks have big-time talent, plenty of depth, and a good coach in Scott Skiles. With their mix of backcourt fire power (Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis), defensive presence up front (Luc Mbah a Moute, Sam Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh), and slew of potential up-and-comers (Tobias Harris, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Larry Sanders), there’s plenty to like about this team. They’ve got the vibe of a quintessential eight seed, and any expectations higher than that would be misguided. Still, they look good enough to compete, and Bucks fans would happy just to have them back in the playoffs, however well they might play once they got there.
#4 – Washington Wizards – While the Wizards had the second-worst record in the entire league last year, they still managed to win almost a third of their games playing the first half of the season with a lot of really young and inexperienced players. Since that time, however, the Wizards have purged themselves of that inconsistent youth, shipping off JaVale McGee to Denver, Nick Young to L.A., and Andray Blatche to the waiver wire (where he still currently resides). In those guys’ places now stand Nene, Emeka Okafor, and Trevor Ariza, steady veteran presences that should completely change the culture and perception of this team. One more year of experience from John Wall and highly-touted rookie Bradley Beal should help make the Wizards more credible in 2012-2013, as well, and imagining them as a playoff team with this complete roster shift is nowhere near as laughable as it would’ve been a year ago.
#3 – Golden State Warriors – These guys are a playoff team if they’re healthy, but that whole “if they’re healthy” thing has been an ongoing problem for a couple of seasons now. Steph Curry is one of the most exciting young players in the league when his ankle isn’t bothering him, but his ankle simply won’t stop bothering him, and when your best player is in and out of the lineup that often it can take a toll on a team. Midseason acquisition Andrew Bogut has had the same kinds of injury problems during his own career, but over a longer period of time. He’s just as, if not more, disconcerting than Curry, but again, if healthy he’s one of the best centers in the entire NBA. Say these guys are healthy, though, and are able to play a full season with Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Richard Jefferson, and David Lee? Well that’s a pretty good-looking team, and certainly one with the potential to make the postseason.
#2 – Minnesota Timberwolves – Had Ricky Rubio not gotten hurt last season, the Wolves probably would’ve gotten into the 2012 playoffs, so assuming he’s healthy and continuing the sort of chemistry with Kevin Love we saw develop early last year, it’s a reasonable expectation that they get themselves into the playoffs next summer for the first time since Kevin Garnett left Minneapolis for Boston. Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko could be a couple more potential stars for this team if they’ve got any fuel left in their tanks, and kids like Derrick Williams and Chase Budinger have the opportunity to really add something to the rotation this year, too. Toss in Rick Adelman’s coaching prowess, and this team absolutely reeks of 2013 postseason. Of all the Western Conference teams who missed the boat last year, this is the team with best of chance of earning a playoff berth this year.
#1 – Brooklyn Nets – The addition of another All-Star in Joe Johnson should be enough to get the Nets into the playoffs, but the most expensive starting lineup in NBA history doesn’t really have much choice but to play some postseason games this spring. With Brook Lopez back healthy and Johnson knocking down outside shots, the Nets are primed to be a much-improved team and should not only make the playoffs, but be a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference.
Inevitably, some new teams are going to make the postseason who didn’t get in last year, but will these five teams fit that bill, or will it be someone else? Post your 2013 postseason predictions in the comments, because even though I may not be calling for a Houston Rockets/Charlotte Bobcats Finals, there might be someone out there who is.
Or maybe not. But the Bobcats or Rockets in the playoffs? Well, you’d have to make a pretty good argument to convince anyone of that.