NBA Sleepers and Shockers
As a new NBA season approaches, many fans are ecstatic to see how the year plays out. The favorites for this season are easy to notice. The Lakers have added Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to create an outstanding starting lineup, the Thunder are always a threat with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the team and of course, the defending champions Miami Heat led by LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
But who are this year’s sleepers? Which are the teams that you don’t expect to go far and then do? The teams that come out of nowhere to shock the entire league by the end of the season. Here are my top five sleepers for the upcoming NBA season.
The Nuggets will be an integral part of the Northwest Division race this year. With the departure of James Harden from Oklahoma City, the division race has reopened with the Nuggets having the best chance of anyone to overtake the Thunder at the top.
Denver’s point guard Ty Lawson and small forward Danilo Gallinari are slowly becoming top players in the NBA. With the additions of Andre Iguodala from Philadelphia, Wilson Chandler, who played last season in China, and the continued improvement of big man Kenneth Faried, this team is prime for a late postseason this year.
The Atlantic Division is easily the best division in the Eastern Conference this year, with four teams expected to at least contend for a playoff spot.
The 76ers are one of those teams, especially after the addition of Andrew Bynum. Many people have overlooked the Sixers’ part in this trade because of the media hype surrounding the Dwight Howard situation.
With this deal, the Philadelphia was able to add a big man who is arguably just as good as Howard. Also, Jason Richardson and Evan Turner give the team a perimeter game to compliment their inside presence.
San Antonio Spurs
I cannot believe I am calling this team a sleeper, but let’s face it: they are. The Spurs continue to get disrespect around the country. They finished with the best record in the Western Conference, yet have not been talked about this entire offseason.
San Antonio brings back the same exact team from last year and should be a serious threat to get to the Finals. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are still productive, experienced players, and Tony Parker is one of the best point guards in the league.
The Spurs also have the best head coach in the league, Gregg Popovich. I am expecting the Spurs to be major players in the Western Conference this year.
The Bulls are another team who have been disrespected this offseason. A team that has been a dominant force in the Eastern Conference the last couple of years but have lost credibility because of the injury to Derrick Rose, who will miss most of the season with an ACL tear.
However, the Bulls are much more than Derrick Rose and a supporting cast. Joakim Noah and Luol Deng will lead this team to a playoff spot. Then, once Derrick Rose returns, the Bulls will regain their status as a top team in the conference and surprise people with a deep run in the playoffs as a low seed.
New York Knicks
I couldn’t write this article without talking about my Knicks. Do I think the Knicks are going to get to the NBA finals this year? No. As long as they’re in the same conference as the Heat, “the Knicks” and “finals” will not be used in the same sentence.
But, do I think the Knicks can be a top three or four team? Absolutely! Even though the Knicks have been criticized for their acquisitions and have been made fun of for becoming the oldest team in history, I think these moves have made the Knicks a better team. Jason Kidd provides this team with a champion and a leader that was desperately needed, while Marcus Camby can be a consistent defender and backup to Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
The biggest acquisition, however, was when they signed point guard Raymond Felton and chose to not sign Jeremy Lin. Felton had a great year with the Knicks in 2010 and really connected with Stoudemire. He will be able to run the offense, giving both Anthony and Stoudemire enough touches and keeping both of them happy.
I think this could be the year the Knicks overtake the Celtics in the Atlantic division.
The Western Conference better watch out because the Timberwolves are here to stay. The team has become very respectable over the last couple of years, drafting Kevin Love, one of the best big men in the game today, and Ricky Rubio, who showed signs of stardom before tearing his ACL last year.
The Timberwolves will not contend this year because of the injuries to Love and Rubio, but in years to come, this team will be a force within the Western Conference.
— By Brian Chavkin