Every year, we find ourselves constantly disappointed in a handful of teams we had high expectations for. Whether that be contenders that ended up missing the playoffs, playoff locks that get plagued by injuries, or even teams that were expected to take the next step but failed to do so. Fortunately for us though, these epic collapses always make way for new teams we never could have seen coming. These are what I like to call “breakout teams”.
For the sake of the name “breakout”, I have decided to eliminate teams the top 6 teams in each conference, as well as teams that are viewed as contenders but very obviously, had a down year last year, such as the Hawks, Clippers, and Trail Blazers. It also goes without saying that teams who expect massive roster turnovers such as the Thunder and Jazz are to be left off this list as well.
With that said, I’m looking for teams who have very obvious room for improvement based on their 2022-23 roster. For example, teams that may have a young star who could make a huge leap this year, teams who just acquired a player who could be “the last piece”, or even teams who’ve had a significant amount of time to gel as a squad and just need games to showcase it. These are the things that usually fly under the radar to the average NBA fan but usually end up being the biggest factors in regular-season powerhouses.
Minnesota Timberwolves – 2021-22 Record: 46-36
The Timberwolves are a textbook example of an up-and-coming team for a handful of reasons. One of which is the extreme culture turnover they experienced last season, going from a struggling lottery team that had no desire to win, to one of the most likeable and promising young teams in recent history. On top of that, they are coming off their 2nd best record in nearly 20 years and just pushed one of the most talented NBA teams to 6 games in a very exciting playoff series.
It’s hard to ignore that kind of momentum, and as they enter just their second season under Chris Finch, one can only assume the culture should improve exponentially. On the other hand, they are subject to a massive talent improvement this year as well, not just because they added a DPOY candidate to the best offence in the league, but also, because of the expected improvement from star guard Anthony Edwards in his pivotal third season. It’ll be interesting to see how Gobert impacts their game offensively, but nonetheless, his defence should significantly raise the floor of what was already a very talented team.
Over/Under on BET99: 48.5 Wins – Win Prediction: 52 Wins
Cleveland Cavaliers – 2021-22 Record: 44-38
After being as high as the 3 seed in the east, the Cavaliers had nowhere to go but down after becoming riddled with injuries during the second half of the season. In response to that, the team has made adding depth their main priority this offseason and has brought in some significant names. Those names include the blockbuster trade for Donovan Mitchell, the return of Ricky Rubio, the drafting of Isaiah Mobley, and even smaller additions such as Robin Lopez and Raul Neto.
With that said, those additions aren’t the only key to their success, the projected development of young players such as Darius Garland and Evan Mobley are just as important as well. Garland projects to become a whole new player with another all-star beside him, whereas, Mobley’s new physique opens up a whole new element to his game as well. Nonetheless, the Cavs have seemingly fixed their issues of scoring and depth, and when you combine that with J.B Bickerstaff’s defensive prowess and leadership skills, it’s hard to imagine they lose any of their momentum from last year.
Over/Under on BET99: 47.5 Wins – Win Prediction: 50 Wins
The Big 3
New Orleans Pelicans – 2021-22 Record: 36-46
The pelicans remain one of the more interesting teams heading into the 2022-23 season, and it’s all because they could be adding another all-star (Zion Williamson) to an extremely high-powered offense. Nevertheless, I’m not totally convinced that this team needs Zion to break out, considering the roster they’ve already put together. For example, their “mini big 3” of CJ Mccollum, Brandon Ingram, and Jonas Valunciunas is already among the best in the league. When playing together, the trio has gone a respectable 9-7 while posting combined averages of 65 PPG, 49% FG shooting, and 37% From 3, against some of the league’s best defenses. Not to mention, they lead the charge against one of the most successful teams of this era in a playoff series that was way closer than anyone expected. It wasn’t just those 3 that made this pelicans team special though, it was also the variety of role players they had to pick up all the defensive slack. Those role players include the likes of Herb Jones, Larry Nance Jr, Jose Alvarado, and Garrett Temple, who all project to improve with another season in New Orleans. With all of that being said, this team is subject to a massive improvement in rapport and chemistry, and, continues to add more depth pieces in the process.
I know that I just argued this team doesn’t need Zion Williamson back, but if they were to get him, David Griffin and Co. have put this team in a premium position for that to happen. They’ve not only done so by adding as many rotation players as possible, but also by adding rotation players that fit Zion’s style of play and tendencies. The most important of which is the stretch five. Zion Williamson has been known for his high-flying antics and flashy dunks, and according to recent videos on the internet, that hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, we’ve never seen that power of his take full effect though, considering he’s been slotted next to paint-clogging centers his whole career, however, the additions of Valunciunas and the development of Jaxon Hayes have seemed to fix that problem.
Valunciunas, in particular, saw a career-high 2.1 3-pointers per game in 2021 and excelled in his spot-up shooter role, whereas, Hayes took a pivotal 3rd-year leap, shooting 35% from beyond the arc on 1 attempt per game. On top of that, this team has prioritized adding a “true point guard” this offseason through the acquisition of Dyson Daniels and the return of Kira Lewis, which should ultimately unlock Zion as a lob threat, and to a lower extent, a pick and pop threat. From a defensive perspective, I have acknowledged their deep core of lengthy defenders that can help alleviate Zion’s struggles on that side of the floor, but once more, it creates an identity that many teams are trying to replicate in the modern NBA; Lengthy Shooters.
- Dyson Daniels: 6’6
- Herb Jones: 6’7
- Brandon Ingram: 6’8
- Trey Murphy III: 6’8
- Larry Nance Jr: 6’7
- Jaxon Hayes: 6’11
- Jonas Valunciunas: 7’0
- Zion Williamson: 6’7
As listed above, the pelicans have 8 players in their rotation that exceed the average NBA height of 6’6, all of which are considered capable shooters and relatively good defenders. Thus creating a team that we have yet to see in the modern NBA and a well-rounded one at that.
Considering the combination of their new acquisitions, enhanced rapport, the return of Zion Williamson, and the new Pelicans Identity, it’s hard to imagine a world in which this team doesn’t improve. On top of that, if you consider the prime position they’re in to make Zion the best version of himself (who averaged 27 points in his 2nd year), one can only think that they will cause major match-up nightmares for opposing teams. Thus, creating a new powerhouse in the west.
Over/Under on BET99: 44.5 Wins – Win Prediction: 48 Wins
Sacramento Kings – 2021-22 Record: 30-52
After being one of the worst-run organizations for a handful of years, it seems as if the Sacramento Kings have finally turned a corner, and they’ve done so through one thing, commitment. Following years of trying to find a star player, it feels like they have finally landed on De’Aaron Fox to assume that role, at least for now. They have committed to the Kentucky product not only by shipping off the promising Tyrese Haliburton but also by implementing what looks like a new pace and space built team. In doing so, the team has added sharpshooters such as Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, and Keegan Murray, in order to provide spacing for the Fox-Sabonis pick and roll. Mike Brown’s new scheme isn’t anything incredibly new for this squad though, as near the end of last year they were rolling out a starting lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Justin Holiday, Harrison Barnes, Trey Lyles, and Damontas Sabonis in yet the same experiment, and as we all know, Fox exploded in the games with this lineup, reaching nearly 28 ppg and adding 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in the process. With that said, it’s hard to imagine Fox doesn’t reach the same sort of caliber performance this year, and with Huerter likely to replace Justin Holiday in the lineup, he could even see a spike in his play.
De’Aaron fox aside, the addition of Mike Brown looks very promising for this young core as well. We all know Mike Brown as a strictly defensive-minded coach, and a good one at that, however, considering the large success he had in his stint with the Warriors, one can only imagine his philosophy has become more perimeter-oriented. Nonetheless, it’s fair to expect an emphasis on defense and 3-point shooting in this new king’s regime, which of course, attacks the King’s biggest weaknesses in 2021, as they placed 4th last in defensive rating and were bottom 5 in 3-point efficiency as well. On top of that, with Brown’s tendencies, we can assume starting time for Fox, Huerter, Barnes, Murray, and Sabonis, which is great in its own right, but perhaps more importantly, we can expect a second unit led by Mitchell, Monk, and Holmes. That second unit not only looks great on paper, but it also shows promise considering what Davion Mitchell was able to do when leading his own unit last year (without fox). With that said, there’s no reason to think Mitchell can’t replicate that production, and with another off-season under his belt, the sky is the limit for him and this Sacramento Kings bench.
Similar to the pelicans, the Kings possess that unguardable pace-and-space system, and when you combine that with the other-worldly athleticism of De’Aaron Fox, I think it’s fair to say that this team will be much better offensively in 2022. On the defensive side of the ball we can expect improvement as well, not just because of the addition of strong defenders such as Murray, and to a certain extent, Huerter, but also because of the track record of Mike Brown and his fascinating defensive strategies. Additionally, this team possesses a potential star on their second unit that not many teams can relate to, and it creates a floor for the team that can help them thrive even if they were to suffer a significant injury. Nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see how all these elements play out, but once again, it seems like the Kings are trending in the right direction.
Over/Under on BET99: 33.5 Wins – Win Prediction: 40 Wins
Orlando Magic – 2021-22 Record: 22-60
Noticing a trend? It’s yet another team with an influx of lengthy defenders and shooters. In fact, the Magic’s combination of Franz Wagner, Jonathan Isaac, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr, Mo Bamba, and Bol Bol might be the most polarizing group of all. Not only because their playstyles mesh, but they can all create their own shot as well. Whether that be Banchero’s automatic midrange, Wagner’s pick-n-roll prowess, or even Bamba and Carter Jr. post-game, the Magic have created a roster in which they can score at any level. Not to mention their backcourt of Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony can only improve, while Markelle Fultz is poised to be in the running of 6th man of the year once again.
Nonetheless, talent hasn’t necessarily been the Magic’s issue in years past, their lack of star power has been much more problematic, and when looking at their roster, it’s hard to imagine they won’t find “that guy” at some point during this season. It’s also more than likely that “that guy” will be their young prospect out of Duke. In college, Banchero proved time and time again that he was capable of hitting the big shot, lockdown the paint, and deliver the right pass. Not only that, he did it against some of the most stifling defenses on arguably the biggest basketball stage in the world. The 19-year-old is impressive, to say the least, and he projects to be the favorite for rookie of the year, however, even if he is unable to achieve that standard in 2022-23, the Magic’s star potential doesn’t end there. Cole Anthony and Franz Wagner are stars in the making and possess all the skills to succeed in the Magic’s perimeter-oriented system. Anthony is the typical high-flying guard who can space the floor (De’Aaron Fox light), whereas, Wagner possesses a much more slow-paced style of play that is predicated on playmaking and finishing through contact. If Banchero, Anthony, or Wagner can reach their potential on a team filled with talented role-players, the Magic are destined to be a problem next year.
With all that said, this team isn’t as much of a projection as you might think. In fact, near the end of last season, they either beat or scared teams such as the Warriors, the 76ers, the Cavaliers, and the Heat in very close games, and, if it weren’t for a long losing streak, they’d have been near a .500 post-all-star break record without players such as Jonathan Isaac, Paolo Banchero, or Bol Bol. When you put that all together, you have to imagine there is a culture brewing in Orlando, and when you combine that with the talent they have, they are bound to surprise a lot of people.
Over/Under on BET99: 26.5 Wins – Win Prediction: 32 Wins
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