Three Bad Teams That Will Make the NBA Playoffs Next Season
Published on March 15, 2017
While there are still a few teams jockeying with one another for the final playoff spots in both conferences, the majority of the field for the upcoming NBA playoffs appears set. The top seven spots in the West are likely locked in already, while at least five teams in the East appear to be shoo-ins, as well.
While we still have a ways to go before a champions is crowned this season, it’s never too early to start looking to the future. Some teams may not qualify for the postseason this year, but will be hopeful to squeeze their way into the top eight next season.
So, which teams that won’t make the playoffs this year are the most likely to make the playoffs in the upcoming 2017-18 season?
Many had this current season as the year the Wolves would make the leap into contention, but that was always going to be a tall order for such a young team. While they still have a chance to sneak into that final spot out West, Minnesota’s current form should have folks excited about their potential to do damage next season.
It took some time, but it finally looks as though the players have begun to respond to what head coach Tom Thibodeau wants to do. Despite so many inexperienced players, the Wolves have been playing stellar defense of late.
In nine games since the All-Star break, the Timberwolves boast the NBA’s second-best defensive rating (99.9). Only San Antonio has been stingier in that stretch, and that bodes well for their chances at taking the next step next season.
While depth may remain a concern, there’s plenty of reason for optimism with Minnesota’s core. Karl-Anthony Towns has put together another stellar season following a fairly sluggish start. The second-year big man has upped his per-game scoring by more than six points, and is averaging 24.5 points and 12.3 boards per game.
Andrew Wiggins has battled consistency issues, but he’s clearly finding his way as a top-tier scoring threat. Let’s not forget point guard Ricky Rubio, who has been going bananas since reportedly nearly being traded to the Knicks at the deadline. Thank God the Wolves didn’t do that.
Since the break, Rubio is averaging 14.9 points, 11.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds and nearly two steals a night. Still only 26, here’s hoping his stellar play of late has done enough to convince Thibodeau to keep him around in the long term as this team’s point guard.
It’s really all about health with this team. Considering their relatively unlucky history in that regard, nothing is a guarantee. However, there was a period in the middle of this season where the Sixers looked like a legitimate playoff-caliber team in the East.
Everything starts with Joel Embiid. After injuries cost him his first two professional seasons, Embiid was finally healthy enough to make his NBA debut this season. And it didn’t take him long to start dominating. Despite playing on a strict, cautious minutes limit, Embiid still averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Unfortunately, he will finish his rookie campaign having only appeared in 31 games. Embiid started experiencing knee pain around the All-Star break and an MRI subsequently revealed a tear in the MCL of his left knee. The team ruled him out for the remainder of the season, and he’ll have surgery soon.
If Embiid is ever able to put the rash of injuries behind him and play a full season, he has the chance to as good or better than Karl-Anthony Towns. That’s some high praise.
The Sixers were legitimately stout defensively during the limited minutes Embiid played this season. He’s capable of changing the game on both ends of the floor. The fact that he may still win Rookie of the Year despite playing just 31 games is a good indication of the massive impact he made.
But it doesn’t end with Embiid. Let’s not forget that Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, also missed his entire rookie campaign after breaking his foot during training camp. The team expects him to be fully healthy and ready to roll in the summer, so if all goes well he should be in the starting lineup on opening night next season.
We obviously haven’t seen what Simmons can do against NBA competition, but he has the potential to be a Giannis Antetokounmpo-style point forward. He has excellent vision and his athleticism makes it easy for him to knife through the paint.
The Sixers also have another legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate in Dario Saric, who has really come into his own since Embiid was lost for the year. Over the last 14 games, Saric is averaging 20 points along with 8.6 rebounds and nearly four assists.
The 22-year-old is a legitimate stretch-four that should slide in nicely alongside Embiid in the 76ers frontline for the foreseeable future.
Many expected the Pels to surge after shockingly acquiring center DeMarcus Cousins from the Kings at the All-Star break, but the pairing of Cousins and Anthony Davis has been slow to mesh on the court.
New Orleans has gone just 3-6 since trading for the temperamental big man, but the rest of this season was likely all going to be about experimenting with an eye on next season. The Pelicans didn’t have to give up a ton to pry Cousins from Sacramento, but the rest of the roster still needs plenty of tinkering before this team can be considered a legitimate contender.
Adding talent shouldn’t be a real problem for a team that now boasts two legitimate superstars in their respective primes. Free agents have a way of flocking to teams that have stars already in place, and the Pelicans are now one of the very few teams that can say they have to absolute studs already on the roster.
Jrue Holiday is a perfectly capable two-way point guard, so it’s tough to imagine the Pelicans trying to upgrade at that spot. Their real problems lie on the wings, where they’re relying on Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore and Dante Cunningham an awful lot.
While those are fine role players, they likely don’t belong in the starting five on a title contender. New Orleans should have some money to spend during the offseason, and it’ll be interesting to see how competitive they are in the free agent market.
They don’t need to lure more star-level players, but GM Dell Demps just needs to be smart about adding complementary pieces that can slide in around the likes of Cousins and Davis, who will continue to eat up the majority of shot attempts.
Really, this team just needs some shooters. Moore has been excellent from long-range this season, but he and Holiday are really the only above-average long-range bombers currently on the roster. Clippers sharpshooter JJ Redick will be a free agent this summer, and he would be a brilliant fit alongside the two big men.
PJ Tucker, Patty Mills, Bojan Bogdanovic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are a few other names that could be nice additions for this club.