Every year, one or two NBA teams make a surprise run. Sometimes, that surprise can lead to an unlikely playoff place. Other times, it’s the first sign of an upcoming young roster ready to take the next step. Last season, the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks were those surprise teams. A few years earlier, it was the Memphis Grizzlies.
With the new NBA season just weeks away, now is a good time to postulate which teams could be this year’s surprise package. As such, here are three teams who could shock the league.
The Orlando Magic have one of the most talented young rosters in the league. Paolo Banchero and Frans Wagner are future All-Stars. Markelle Fultz is starting to show the talent that saw him become a first-overall draft pick. Jalen Suggs, Anthony Black, and Jett Howard all project to have a bright future. Orlando is well-positioned to have a break-out season. If not this year, then next. Jamahl Mosley has worked wonders with his young roster.
If the Magic can improve on the defensive end, they could morph into playoff contenders. A postseason appearance would be well ahead of schedule. Orlando should be high on everyone’s list of potential break-out rosters this season.
New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans Pelicans fans have been dreaming of a healthy and engaged Zion Williamson for years. The 23-year-old has struggled for health and consistency since entering the NBA. However, Zion is expected to have a big year. Brandon Ingram and C.J. McCollum are also in line to have a big season. The Pelicans have struggled to contend since drafting Zion despite putting a high-level roster around him. This season could be different.
The Pelicans have numerous younger players poised to take a developmental leap and a star player who finally looks ready to lead the franchise. New Orleans might not have the depth of talent Orlando boasts, but they are better situated to make an immediate impact.
Throughout the summer, the Toronto Raptors have struggled with their identity. The Eastern Conference franchise is walking a fine line between rebuilding and contending. Masai Ujiri flirted with multiple high-profile trades this summer but opted against signing off on them. Instead, Toronto will run it back with Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam.
The Raptors roster isn’t supposed to be playoff-level. However, should they put a strong run of games together, they could quickly find themselves firmly in the mix. Anything more than a seventh-placed finish should be considered a surprise for Toronto because the front office has failed to pick a direction.