Most of the NBA season consists of us talking about the best players and the best teams. That happens even more during the playoffs. Then we move to the NBA Draft, where we talk about the non playoff teams a lot more than the playoff teams. After the draft, we go right back to talking about the better players and teams for the most part. While we’re talking about the players and the best teams in the NBA, the teams who didn’t make the playoffs are working to become better. I’ve compiled a list of three non playoff teams from a season ago who could be competing in the NBA soon.
These teams may not be ready to compete right now, but they have the talent to be competing in the NBA shortly. If you think about the Warriors and how they got to where they are, they didn’t become this good the moment they drafted Steph Curry. It took a few years and a few players to get to where they are. I’m not saying the teams I’ve listed are going to become the Warriors in a few years, but I do think they can be a lot better and really compete.
1. Denver Nuggets
I listed the Nuggets number because they were one game away from making the playoffs this past season. Every team hoping to be successful in the future needs to have a star/future star. Denver has their star player in Nikola Jokic, who is currently 23 years old. Jokic can do a little bit of everything. Last season he averaged 18.5 points on 49.9% shooting from the field and 39.6% shooting from three point range. In addition to that, Jokic averaged 10.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists, and 1.2 steals. With Jokic only being 23 years old and going into his fourth NBA season, he’s still got a lot of room to grow and will only be getting better.
In addition to Jokic, Denver has a group of young players with a lot of potential. One of those young players is Jamal Murray, who improved significantly in his second NBA season. The 21 year old averaged 16.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.0 steals. Murray is capable of scoring in bunches. His overall shooting percentage could be better, but he’s already showed his improvement after increasing his field goal percentage about 5% and his three point shooting about 4% from year one to year two. Denver also has another young guard/forward in Gary Harris. Harris has finished four NBA seasons and is 23 years old. Harris has shown improvement every season so far. This past season he averaged a career high in points (17.5), assists (2.9), and steals (1.8).
Trey Lyles is another young player who started to find a role with the Nuggets after spending his first two seasons with the Utah Jazz. He made significant improvements in his third season, and being only 22 years old, he has a lot of time to grow. We can’t forget about the recently drafted Michael Porter Jr. MPJ fell to the 14th pick in the draft because of injury concerns, but his potential is number one overall worthy. He was at one time projected to be the number one overall pick in the draft. If he can stay healthy and come even close to what some people believe he can be, the Nuggets have a very good player on their hands. When you mix a young group of players like Jokic, Murray, Harris, Lyles, and Porter Jr. with a group of veteran players in Millsap, Wilson Chandler, etc., this looks like a team ready to make the playoffs and compete for years to come.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
This Lakers roster has a nice young core of players with promising potential. The headliner of this group is Lonzo Ball, who showed a lot of flashes during his rookie season. Ball averaged 10.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.7 steals. After shooting 36% from the field and 30.5% from three point range, Ball really needs to work on his shooting. What he lacks in scoring, he makes up for with his passing. His passing makes others better. If his scoring can improve over the years, Ball can be a great NBA player. Fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds. Of course there’s a lot of room to improve for Kuzma, but he’s off to a solid start. With Ball’s passing ability and Kuzma’s scoring ability, these two can be a great future duo.
LA has a couple young players with a little more experience in Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle. Ingram made a big jump from year one to year two, increasing his scoring average about 7 points per game. In addition to scoring, Ingram increased his averages in FG%, 3PT%, rebounding, assists, steals, blocks. The 20 year old has a lot of potential with a lot of time to grow into it. Julius Randle is the most experienced of these young players. The 23 year old finished his fourth NBA season, in which he showed a lot of promise. He averaged a career high in points and field goal percentage. What’s impressive about this is that Randle averaged the least amount of minutes per game of his career, aside from when he got hurt in his very first NBA game after playing fourteen minutes.
Despite having some young promising talent, there is some uncertainty on this team. There’s been a lot of talk about LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Chris Paul, and even Kevin Durant coming to the Lakers. If some of those players come to LA, some of these young players will have to go, especially if they make the trade for Kawhi. The good news for the Lakers is that regardless of if they have young players or these NBA stars, the future looks good.
3. Phoenix Suns
Yes, the worst team in the NBA has a bright future. This team is loaded with young players full of potential. Devon Booker, Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender are all under 25 years old. This team is stacked full of potential. Devon Booker is the star of this team, averaging over 22 points per game for the past two seasons. He needs to improve his overall shooting after shooting 42.6% from the field over his first three seasons, but he’s a threat to score every time he has the ball.
Josh Jackson had a promising rookie season, but he also needs to improve his shooting abilities. DeAndre Ayton was the number one overall pick in the draft and has yet to play an NBA game. He was the number one overall pick for a reason. He’s got a good offensive game and he can be a good presence on the offensive end. I love how the Suns got Mikal Bridges. He’s a player who’s ready to contribute right now. He’s a little older than most other players in the draft, but he’s still young and has room to improve.
This team might not be a playoff team in the next season or two, but they have a lot of young pieces who will get better. If they’re able to retain these guys over the next few years, I expect the Suns to be competing for a playoff spot soon. They have the pieces, now they need to put it all together.