Since the year 2000, only eight different teams have won an NBA title. That’s an incredibly small number considering the league has been full of iconic players like Steve Nash and Allen Iverson. The two dynamic guards were unable to lead their respective teams to a championship ring, but it’s truly easier said than done. Despite rosters bolstered with talent and owners who are more than willing to throw their money around, sometimes it just takes a bit of luck to win an NBA championship.
There wouldn’t have been many people who predicted that the Thunder would blow a 3-1 series lead against the Warriors last year. Or many people who thought the Lakers’ “superteam” of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and the aforementioned Nash, would implode the way it did. It just goes to show that the NBA is one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world.
But with so many teams entering rebuilding mode, the future NBA landscape looks rather promising. With the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Spurs dominating the past few seasons, it’ll be refreshing to see some of the older teams fall and new ones arise. Who knows just how far Joel Embiid can take the Philadelphia 76ers, or if Damian Lillard can lead the Blazers to the NBA Finals all by himself.
It might be quite a few years for some teams before they make it, but let’s take a look at when each team will make the NBA Finals next.
30. Atlanta Hawks – 2026-27
Unfortunately for the Atlanta Hawks, it’s hard to imagine the team making the NBA Finals anytime soon. After winning 60 games in the 2014-15 season, the Hawks have been, at best, an above-average team in a relatively weak conference.
Mike Budenholzer’s squad set a number of records during their 60-win season, but only Paul Millsap still remains from that starting five. At 32 years old, Millsap is the cornerstone of a franchise which lacks significant offensive production. The Hawks rank 27th in offensive rating, scoring only 104.9 points per 100 possessions. While their defense certainly makes up for some of their shortcomings, the Hawks can’t hide their age.
Outside of Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway, the Hawks don’t have any young players that can contribute moving into the future. After signing Dwight Howard, 31, to a three-year, $70 million contract, the Hawks have essentially shackled themselves to the big man who isn’t the same force he was with Orlando. Which is, unfortunately, exactly what the Hawks need if they’re to make the finals anytime soon.
The future of the franchise lies in the hands of Dennis Schroder, who has impressed during his first season as a starter. Averaging 18 points and just over 6 assists per game is certainly a step in the right direction for the Hawks. Unfortunately, the German will need all the help he can get, but it doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime soon.
29. Boston Celtics – 2017-18
The Boston Celtics are one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NBA today. While Isaiah Thomas has been getting all the praise (and deservedly so), it has been a well-rounded team effort that has seen the Celtics land atop the NBA Eastern Conference standings. The team has five players who average double-figures in scoring, including Al Horford who signed with them in the offseason.
Under head coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs, however, the addition of Horford and emergence of Thomas will more than likely change that. The “King of the Fourth” ranked third in the league in scoring with 28.9 points per game, scoring approximately 10 of those in the fourth quarter alone.
With the Cavaliers looking to be on the back-end of their peak, it’s the perfect time for the Celtics to capitalize and push for the finals. Next season will be huge for the Celtics and could finally be the break that Brad Stevens has been working relentlessly for.
28. Brooklyn Nets – 2030-31
The Brooklyn Nets have to be one of the most unstable franchises in NBA history and they’ve only been in Brooklyn since 2013. The team has been the very definition of poor management, with former general manager Billy King trading away numerous assets to attain Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics at the tail-ends of their respective careers. Perhaps even more disappointing for the team was that they traded away an unprotected first round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Gerald Wallace.
The Nets’ poor decision making was further compounded when the pick turned out to be two-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard. Brooklyn has cycled through six different head coaches throughout its brief history and only finished with winning records in their first two seasons.
While Brook Lopez just became the all-time franchise scoring leader, there’s still plenty to be desired from the rest of the team. The squad was mostly compiled of journeymen and bench players, with the best indicator of this being that Jeremy Lin is the second highest scorer on the team. Astonishingly, no player, outside of Brook Lopez, started more than 55 games this season.
With their lack of consistency and draft picks, the future of the Nets hinges largely on the ability of new GM Sean Marks to swing deals for young players. It’s hard to imagine a world where the Brooklyn Nets resemble a functional NBA team, let alone one that’s good enough to make the NBA Finals.
27. Charlotte Hornets – 2024-25
The Hornets have been one of the most inconsistent teams in recent years, especially during their time as the not-so-memorable Charlotte Bobcats. The team is a far cry from the squad that only won seven games in the lockout-shortened season, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Kemba Walker has been the leader on an otherwise youthful Hornets team but will be well into his 30s by the time the Hornets will make the NBA Finals in 2025. He was named an All-Star for the first time this year after a stellar season averaging 23.2 points on 44 percent shooting from the field.
Despite his production, Charlotte finished the season with a disappointing 36-46 record; their second losing season in three years. The team is full of young players who could develop into meaningful contributors but none stand out enough to help Walker take the Hornets to the next level. Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky are two nice young pieces, but without more scoring options, the Hornets will struggle to make the NBA Finals.
26.Chicago Bulls – 2029-30
Since last winning the title in 1998, the Bulls have suffered first round exits in six of their past 10 playoff appearances. After riding the emotional rollercoaster that is Derrick Rose, the Bulls elected to hand the reins over to Jimmy Butler who has been phenomenal for the team. The 27-year-old contributes on both ends of the floor, averaging 23.9 points per game along with 1.5 steals which ranked him fifth in the league.
However, the Bulls lack serious scoring outside of Butler, as they collectively ranked 24th in the league in points per game. This is incredibly underwhelming for a team that has aspirations of being one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. The only saving grace for the Bulls is that they have some young players who can contribute, but none look likely to develop into a superstar anytime soon.
The Bulls currently hold the rights to only one draft pick this year, which is top 10 protected and owned by the Sacramento Kings. Their other picks for upcoming drafts were been shipped out in trades, meaning the Bulls will need to sign free agents and make trades if they’re to bring in new talent.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers – 2016-17
It’s almost a certainty that the Cavaliers will once again make the NBA Finals this year. The Cavs have proven that they’re the strongest team in the Eastern Conference (despite finishing with the second seed) and shouldn’t have too many issues dispatching of the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. LeBron James has sat out a total of eight games this season but almost always saves his best for the playoffs.
In fact, in the five seasons that LeBron has finished with the second seed in the East, the King has advanced to the NBA Finals all five times. The 32-year-old averages an outstanding 28 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game in the playoffs alone. Alongside Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers should advance to the NBA Finals for a third consecutive season.
Many have criticized the defense of the Cavaliers and for good reason. The Cavs allowed opposition teams to average 107.2 points per game and struggled to stop teams scoring from behind the arc. Of all the points the Cavs conceded, 29 percent came from downtown.
There have certainly been doubts over the Cavs throughout the regular season and without an establish rim-protector they may struggle against the Celtics. But having the best player in the league gives you an immediate advantage and fans have seen time and time again that LeBron doesn’t mess around in the playoffs.
24. Dallas Mavericks – 2027-28
With Dirk Nowitzki only a few years away from retirement, the window for the Mavericks to make the NBA Finals again is very quickly closing. Despite signing Harrison Barnes to a four-year, $94 million contract, the Mavs don’t look likely to threaten in the playoffs anytime soon.
The current roster is composed of players who are bench contributors at best. While Seth Curry has come into his own since moving to the starting lineup, he will need to continue to grow as a scoring guard. Nerlens Noel was a nice addition to the team, however, the problem for the Mavs lies well beyond the court.
Mark Cuban’s absolute refusal to enter a rebuilding stage will see them remain in NBA purgatory for quite some time. With Barnes alone, the Mavs will never be good enough to make the NBA Finals. But Dallas will still be too good a team to completely bottom out and attain a decent lottery pick that could transform the franchise. Furthermore, their next draft pick comes in 2019, a second rounder from the Golden State Warriors.
If the Mavericks are to have any chance of making the NBA Finals anytime soon, they’ll need to make some crucial free agent signings. While Cuban is more than happy to throw around some money, very few headline players will want to play third-string to an ageing Nowitzki and Harrison Barnes.
23. Denver Nuggets – 2025-26
The Denver Nuggets have quite a promising team but will need to add a few pieces before the team can even think about making a deep run into the playoffs. Denver finished with a 40-42 record, good for ninth in a jam-packed Western Conference. Michael Malone’s men finished the season strong with a 15-11 record after the All-Star break and were led by a rejuvenated Nikola Jokic who finished first on the team in rebounding and second in points, blocks, steals, and assists.
At just 21, the versatile big man can be a franchise cornerstone for the Nuggets but will need some help on the defensive end of the floor. The Nuggets finished second last in defensive rating, allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions. Furthermore, Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay are two dynamic guards who could be a force in the near future but still have some growing to do.
On the bright side, the Nuggets have no problem scoring, averaging 111.7 points per game, good for third in the league. And with only three players over the age of 30, the squad could very easily grow together into a finals-worthy team.
22. Detroit Pistons – 2027-28
After playing their final game at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pistons will be looking to turn around their recent lack of success and qualify for the playoffs for just the second time in what will be nine years. Detroit finished with a 37-45 record, making the seventh time in ten years that the team ended the season under .500.
Under Stan Van Gundy, the team have improved considerably, however, they still lack an efficient scoring punch. Despite having six players finish the season scoring in double-figures, the Pistons are one of the worst offensive teams in the league. This season they ranked inside the bottom ten for three-point percentage, free throw percentage and overall field goal percentage.
Fortunately, the team has youth on their side but likely won’t be bringing in any new young players until the 2019 NBA Draft, where they have a second round pick. With Andre Drummond holding down the paint, the Pistons will need to look for help on the wings if they’re to qualify for the playoffs, let alone make it to the Finals.
21. Golden State Warriors – 2016-17
Arguably the favorites to win the title this season, the Warriors have turned into one of the best shooting teams in NBA history. With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant all healthy for the playoffs, not many teams will be able to successfully withstand their offensive firepower. The Warriors finished the season first in points per game, average scoring margin and assists per game.
Steve Kerr runs an efficient offence which has been clicking on all cylinders for the entire season. Many critics have questioned the Warriors’ mental strength throughout the season, most notably after they lost three consecutive games in early March. Astoundingly, this was just the second time the Warriors had lost three straight games under Kerr’s three-year reign.
The Warriors still maintained a top 15 defense despite the loss of Andrew Bogut, with Draymond Green leading the league in steals and also defensive box plus/minus. The road to the finals will be tougher through the Western Conference, but the Warriors have proven this year that they have the toughness and depth to fight their way to the top.
20. Houston Rockets – 2018-19
The Rockets are one of the most enigmatic teams in the NBA. On one hand, they average 40.3 three-point attempts per game while employing Mike D’Antoni’s old run-and-gun system. The fast pace makes them one of the most exciting teams in the league, but only when they catch fire from deep. When the Rockets struggle from beyond the arc, it isn’t a pretty sight.
On the other hand, the Rockets leave a lot to be desired on the defensive side of the ball. They rank a relatively mediocre 18th in defensive rating but sit third last when defending two-point attempts. The Rockets also allow opponents to land a ridiculous 52 percent of all shots inside the arc. If the Rockets are to make it to the NBA Finals, they will still need to step up their effort on the defensive end.
Despite their shortcomings on the defensive end, the Rockets are still one of the better teams in the NBA thanks to James Harden. The Beard finished second in scoring with 29.1 points per game but also lead the league in assists with 11.2 per game. His transformation into a point guard has been revolutionary for the Rockets and the team will only continue to get better under the D’Antoni system.
19. Indiana Pacers – 2021-22
The Pacers are an incredibly hard team to predict. It wasn’t that long ago that they advanced to two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, losing both times to the Miami Heat. However, the squad this season looking drastically different the one that pushed LeBron’s super team to the limit.
The Pacers no longer have George Hill, Roy Hibbert and David West; all players who contributed double-figures in scoring a few short years ago. In a rather obscene turn of events, Stephenson left the Pacers in 2014 and played for five different teams before returning back to the team who drafted him. But the 26-year-old is nowhere near the same player he was four years ago, and the team has been carried by Paul George for the majority of the year.
At just 20 years old, Myles Turner could develop into the perfect complementary piece to George. His versatility and youth provide the Pacers with a bright future, something which few teams in the Eastern Conference can boast. If Indiana can bring in a few pieces to work alongside both Turner and George, the Pacers could easily develop into a contender.
18. Los Angeles Clippers – 2030-31
The Clippers are easily one of the unluckiest teams in the NBA when it comes to playoff success. It was just last year that they were eliminated in the first round against Portland, thanks to significant injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. And let’s not mention them letting a 19-point lead slip in Game 6 of the 2015 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Rockets.
It seems like every time the Clippers get close to being a serious contender, something comes up to knock them back down. The roster is stacked with talented players; Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan just to name a few. Under Doc Rivers, L.A. transformed from “Lob City” into a team with championship potential. And with Chris Paul leading the team on the floor, the Clippers will almost always be within touching distance of a deep playoff run.
The 31-year-old averaged 18.1 points and 9.2 assists per game this year despite missing over 20 games due to a number of injuries throughout the season. It’s the first time Paul has averaged less than 9.5 assists since the 2011-12 season, his first season with the Clippers.
17. Los Angeles Lakers – 2026-27
The post-Kobe Bryant era is upon us and the Los Angeles Lakers don’t look to be in completely terrible shape. The average age of the Lakers roster is 25-years-old and the appointment of Luke Walton as head coach couldn’t have been more appropriate for the squad. A young mentor is perfect for a young team, as they can both develop into what the Lakers will hope to be a championship squad.
Both D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle could become franchise cornerstones for the Lakers, who are looking for players to step up into leadership positions. Russell has been playing point for the team so far but could very easily transition into a competent shooting guard. He averaged 15.6 points per game this year on 41 percent shooting – more than respectable numbers for a sophomore player in the league.
The likes of Ivica Zubac and Brandon Ingram will need to continue to prove themselves if they’re to stick around in the long run with the team, but it’s clear that the Lakers have a bright future ahead of them. They might be missing a piece or two, but with so many young assets, they may be a trade or two away from a trip to the finals.
16. Memphis Grizzlies – 2029-30
The Memphis Grizzlies are in quite possibly one of the worst positions to be in the NBA. Just like the aforementioned Dallas Mavericks, the Grizzlies are stuck in NBA purgatory. While they’re still good enough to make the playoffs, they’ll never be good enough to mount a serious challenge. Memphis simply doesn’t have the firepower to compete with the likes of Golden State or San Antonio.
Additionally, an ageing and injury-prone roster does not bode well for the Grizzlies. Marc Gasol is widely regarded as the best player on the team, however, his one-two punch with Mike Conley has been falling flat recently. The Spanish big man simply doesn’t have the help he needs to make a deep playoff run and the Grizzlies’ front office decisions haven’t helped.
Signing Mike Conley to one of the biggest contracts in NBA history wasn’t a bad move at all. The deal took a fair bit of criticism but given the changes to the NBA salary cap, the contract is somewhat reasonable. The egregious signing that will likely hamper the Grizzlies in the short-term is Chandler Parsons. The former Rocket featured in just 34 games last season thanks to multiple knee injuries that kept him sidelined.
15. Miami Heat – 2023-24
After losing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and now probably Chris Bosh within the next few months, many would expect the Heat to be a total mess of a franchise. But under Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, Miami has successfully navigated what was a franchise minefield. After starting this season a miserable 11-30, the Heat stormed back to finish at .500, but just missed the playoffs.
They became the first team to return to .500 after being more than 12 games under; in fact the Heat were 19 games under .500, making the feat even more admirable. For now, Miami has the pieces to make the playoffs but not much else. Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic will be key moving forward but the Heat will need to rework their bench and role players if they’re to compete for the title. Throughout the season they had eight players average double-figures in scoring, but the likes of Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington aren’t going to get the Heat past the Cavs or the Celtics.
To make matters worse, the Heat don’t have any draft picks within the next three years. But with Pat Riley at the helm and Erik Spoelstra constantly finding ways to get the best out of his players, who knows where the Heat could end up. If Coach Spo can get Dion Waiters to average nearly 16 points per game, anything is possible.
14. Milwaukee Bucks – 2020-21
Ever since releasing their new logo, the Bucks have been pushing the slogan “Own The Future.” It seems like the future that Milwaukee have envisioned isn’t too far away with Giannis Antetokounmpo evolving into one of the most well-rounded players in the league. This season, the Greek Freak became the first player in NBA history to rank inside the top 20 in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks for a single season.
The Bucks only just crept into the Eastern Conference playoffs, thanks to a 17-9 record after the All-Star break. This included a six-game winning streak, with wins over Clippers, Raptors and Pacers propelling the Bucks to the sixth seed.
And outside of Mirza Teletovic and Jason Terry, the entire Bucks roster is under the age of 30, giving them plenty of time to grow together. At just 22 years old, Giannis is already the face of the franchise and with the likes of Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker by his side, there’s no telling how far the young Bucks can go.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves – 2023-24
Many fans and critics alike view the Minnesota Timberwolves as the next big team to challenge in the Western Conference. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are all 21 years old and should be the foundation of a big future for a team who hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season.
The versatility of Towns was on full display this season as he became the first player in NBA history to finish the season with at least 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 made threes. This is a truly remarkable statistic, considering the Kentucky alum only attempted 1.1 threes per game last season. His attempts jumped up to 3.4 this year, connecting on a respectable 37 percent of them. Wiggins meanwhile averaged 23.6 points per game this year while playing 3,048 minutes, the highest in the NBA.
Surprisingly, the Wolves’ defense hasn’t improved drastically under Tom Thibodeau as they ranked 19th in the league this season, allowing 106.7 points per game. But under his tutelage, many expect both Towns and Wiggins to develop into exceptional two-way players. Additionally, Kris Dunn is expected to be the Wolves’ point guard of the future with his ability to both handle the ball and score efficiently trumping the incumbent Ricky Rubio. Expectations are certainly high in Minnesota, but for good reason.
12. New Orleans Pelicans – 2022-23
Thanks to the shenanigans going on inside the front office of the Sacramento Kings, the New Orleans Pelicans were able to acquire DeMarcus Cousins without giving up substantial assets. For the Pelicans, Buddy Hield was a third scoring option behind Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, so replacing him with an All-Star big man to pair with Davis was a move they were more than happy to make.
During his time with the Pelicans, Boogie has averaged 24.4 points along with 12.5 rebounds per game and has continued to extend his range out to the three-point line. Before the trade, both Cousins and Davis were the only big men in the league to average over 25 points and 10 rebounds this season.
The Pelicans are still missing some key ingredients and have struggled from the free throw line this season. They ranked 25th in free throws made and 27th in three-pointers scored against them. Boogie and Davis will need help with scoring and the Pelicans bench will need to be improved, but these minor details can be easily fixed en route to the NBA Finals.
11. New York Knicks – 2025-26
Just like their neighbors across the borough, the New York Knicks have been a turbulent franchise over recent years. Carmelo Anthony has been the face of the franchise since being traded in 2011, leading them to two consecutive first-round exits in the playoffs before being knocked out in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2013. But it doesn’t look likely that the Knicks will threaten, even in the playoffs, anytime soon.
Phil Jackson recently said that Anthony “would be better off somewhere else and using his talent somewhere where he can win or chase that championship.” Not exactly an encouraging statement coming from a GM who has won 11 NBA titles, either as a player or staff member. To make matters worse for the Knicks, recent reports suggest that Kristaps Porzingis walked out of his exit meeting with the team due to growing frustrations.
The Latvian big man holds the future of the franchise in his giant hands and the Knicks need to find pieces to put around him so he doesn’t leave. The likes of Justin Holiday, Kyle O’Quinn and Courtney Lee simply aren’t good enough to support Porzingis in the future. Finally, the Knicks don’t have a first-round draft pick, so it’s up to Phil Jackson to make some moves and bring in talent if the Knicks are to make a serious run in the playoffs.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder – 2021-22
Russell Westbrook can’t average a triple-double for more than one season… right? The Brodie has been on a tear since Kevin Durant left for the Golden State Warriors and became the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson 55 years ago. The 28-year-old led the Thunder to a 47-35 record, good for sixth in the Western Conference.
The Thunder have a sound core of players who will continue to grow and get better over the coming years. After being traded for Serge Ibaka, Victor Oladipo established himself as the perfect complementary player for Westbrook. In his fourth year in the league, Oladipo averaged 15.9 points per game along with 4.3 rebounds. Add in both Steven Adams and Enes Kanter who both finished the season averaging double-figures in scoring, and the Thunder have a recipe for success.
But Westbrook can’t continue doing everything himself. While the aforementioned have been good in spurts, the Thunder need consistency and scoring off the bench if they’re to challenge for the title. OKC finished 14th in the league in bench scoring and is something they’ll need to seriously address before making the NBA Finals.
9. Orlando Magic – 2028-29
The post-Dwight Howard era hasn’t been kind to the Orlando Magic. They’re averaging 26 wins per season and yet to finish over .500 since Howard was traded to the Lakers. It seemed like the Magic were on the right track when they finished with 35 wins just last year, but former GM Rob Hennigan reshuffled the roster by trading Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka, who was promptly traded to the Toronto Raptors before the trade deadline.
This season was a disaster for the Magic as they ranked 27th in the league in points per game and 22nd points allowed. Orlando also struggled from behind the arc, with three of their top five scorers shooting 30 percent of less from distance, a stat that is worrisome in the modern NBA.
Terrence Ross has been a welcome addition to the team, however, isn’t the game-changer that the Magic need to step up their efforts in the Eastern Conference. Nikola Vucevic has continued his growth this season but it won’t be long before the big man realizes that his time in Florida has been a waste of time. Orlando will need to get moving soon and hopefully new GM Matt Lloyd will make a difference.
8. Philadelphia 76ers – 2022-23
The rebuilding process is well and truly underway in Philadelphia. After being drafted two years ago, Joel Embiid finally made his NBA debut and featured in 31 games this year. The 23-year-old averaged 20.2 points per game with 7.8 rebounds while shooting an impressive 37 percent from behind the arc.
The process was put on hold momentarily as Ben Simmons was sidelined prior to the start of the season with a Jones fracture in his foot. Expectations are high for the Australian as his versatility ensures that he can play almost any position on the floor. He’s seen by many to be a key ingredient in the 76ers rebuild after he averaged 12.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the Las Vegas Summer League prior to the season. Dario Saric has also impressed this year and is a front-runner for Rookie of the Year alongside teammate Embiid.
But the 76ers still have a lot of work to be done, their defense and offense were amongst the worst in the league, ranking 24th and 25th respectively. The organization has put a lot of faith in Brett Brown and the team needs to start getting results if they’re to escape the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
7. Phoenix Suns – 2024-25
The Phoenix Suns were once the most entertaining team in basketball. After losing Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire, they kept the seven seconds or less pace and implemented it within a two guard dynamic. Cue both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic becoming the hottest things in basketball. That was before Isaiah Thomas was introduced and the whole ecosystem self-imploded as Goran Dragic forced his way to Miami. Once again, the Suns have been forced to rebuild from the ground up.
After missing out on LaMarcus Aldridge, the Suns were stuck with Tyson Chandler who was signed for an overly-generous $52 million over four years. Fortunately for Earl Watson, Devin Booker emerged as one of the most improved players of the season. Bumping up his scoring average from 13.8 points per game last year to 22.1 points this season. And the future looks bright for the Suns, with Dragan Bender, Derrick Jones Jnr. and Marquese Chriss all showing signs of great potential at just 19.
With youth on their side, the Suns are in no rush to make any hasty trades. But they will still need to act swiftly because it won’t be long until other teams are offering Booker and Chriss max contracts.
6. Portland Trail Blazers – 2020-21
The Trail Blazers have been one of the more criminally underrated teams of the past few years. Despite the loss of LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs, Damian Lillard has been phenomenal and, for the most part, carried the Trail Blazers to another playoff appearance.
The Blazers only just snuck into the playoffs this year but have a bright future ahead. Lillard has continued producing at an All-Star level, averaging 27 points with 5.9 assists per game. Unsurprisingly, Lillard is constantly handling the ball so his usage rate of 31.5 percent ranks him seventh in the NBA.
Alongside Lillard are C.J. McCollum and the newly acquired Jusuf Nurkic who have both proven to be key players for the Trail Blazers. Lillard and McCollum represent the highest scoring backcourt partnership in the NBA, while Nurkic almost doubled his production thanks to a nice increase in minutes. If the Blazers can add one more big man who can score both inside and out, they will be a substantial threat in the West for years to come.
5. Sacramento Kings – 2028-29
Easily the most dysfunctional franchise in the modern NBA landscape, the Sacramento Kings have been one of the hardest teams to watch in recent years. While DeMarcus Cousins was a stalwart in the paint, his supporting cast was never up to scratch, even with Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo.
After trading Cousins to the Pelicans, the roster took a significant, albeit youthful, downgrade. Buddy Hield has been impressive during his time with the Kings, averaging 15.1 points on 48 percent shooting from the field. Interestingly, some critics began to compare Hield to a young Steph Curry, however, the rookie quickly brushed aside those observations.
The Kings’ current roster certainly has potential, with Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore all under the age of 23. These players may simply turn out to be trade assets for the Kings, but with Vlade Divac in charge of player transactions, who knows what will happen next in Sacramento.
4. San Antonio Spurs – 2017-18
The epitome of consistency over multiple decades, the Spurs are the team many aspire to be. Since their inception in 1973, San Antonio have only missed the playoffs a total of four times. This is thanks to, in no small part, David Robinson, Tim Duncan and now Kawhi Leonard. The overlapping careers of these three players almost guarantee that the Spurs will continue to succeed long into the future. In fact, the Spurs are one of the few teams to win an NBA title in each of the past three decades, a testament to Gregg Popovich and his teams.
The current squad is has been led by the aforementioned Leonard, who is a strong candidate to win the MVP award. This year, Leonard has taken another step towards winning an NBA title, ranking inside the top ten in a number of categories on both sides of the ball. It’s this versatility and his relentless work ethic that ensures the Spurs will be a contender for years to come.
And let’s not forget that the Spurs still have LaMarcus Aldridge, whose style of play closely resembles that of a younger Tim Duncan, making him the natural heir to the throne. The Texas native averaged 17.3 points per game with 7.3 rebounds, but the most impressive statistic from this season is that Aldridge has been shooting 48 percent from the field. If the 31-year-old can keep up this level of efficiency alongside Leonard, he’ll be an integral part of any deep playoff push from the Spurs.
3. Toronto Raptors – 2018-19
The title window for the Raptors is very slowly shutting. While they still have fantastic players in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the pair aren’t getting any younger. Lowry, 31 and DeRozan, 27, are at the peak of their powers but are still not good enough to get past the Celtics or the Cavaliers. The best hope for the Raptors is that GM Masai Ujiri makes some moves to bring the team one step closer to the top.
He started this effort by trading Terrence Ross for Serge Ibaka, who has fit in almost perfectly with the team. The big man’s ability to stretch the floor and still finish around the rim perfectly complements the outside game of DeRozan and Lowry. Ibaka isn’t the same rim protector that he was with the Thunder, but his added length on the defensive end is certainly a welcome change as opposed to Jonas Valaciunas.
And it isn’t all bad news for the Raptors as it only takes a few players to break through the Eastern Conference. If Toronto can add some key pieces, to their bench in particular, they could have a chance at taking down the Cavs in coming years as they exploit LeBron’s age and the Cavs’ lack of rim protection.
2. Utah Jazz – 2019-20
The Utah Jazz are poised to be the next big team in the Western Conference and it looks likely that they’ll be up there for some time to come. The Jazz hadn’t qualified for the playoffs for four years, but after trading away Deron Williams, a steady building process has finally come to fruition.
Rudy Gobert has evolved into a favorite to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, leading the league with 2.6 blocks per game. He also ranks first in defensive win shares and third in defensive rating. And at just 24, The Stifle Tower has plenty of time to grow and further develop his offensive repertoire. Alongside Gobert is Gordon Hayward, who was finally called up to the All-Star game in New Orleans this year. The 26-year-old averaged 21.9 points per game across the season while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc.
While the Jazz aren’t the greatest offensive team, ranking 12th in offensive rating, it’s the defense that does the talking for them. Under Quin Snyder, Utah finished the regular season holding opponents to just 96.8 points per game. This is a staggering number given the offensive firepower in the Western Conference alone. As the Jazz continue to grow together, it’s starting to look more and more likely that they’ll break through the West and make the NBA Finals in a matter of years.
1. Washington Wizards – 2019-20
Another young team that is close to making a big jump forward, the Wizards should be the next big team in the Eastern Conference. With the Cavs entering the back end of their peak and the Celtics arguably lacking a genuine superstar, it could be John Wall’s time to shine.
After just missing out on both the playoffs and the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, the Wizards came back this season reinvigorated. Their offence ranked 5th in the league, averaging 109.2 points per game with both John Wall and Bradley Beal contributing 23.1 points apiece. The dynamic backcourt duo can do more than just score as they lead the league in assists with 17.5 between them. The rise of Otto Porter has been crucial to the Wizards success with his ability to stretch the floor improving immensely over the past two seasons. The 23-year-old averaged 1.9 three-pointers this season, after knocking down just 0.4 per game throughout both his rookie and sophomore years.
The main concern for the Wizards is their bench scoring, which ranks second last in the league with 27 points per game. If Washington are to make the NBA Finals by 2020, this is something they’ll need to address. They took a step in the right direction by trading for Bojan Bogdanovic who averaged 12.7 points 26 games with the Wizards. Scottie Brooks will need to continue strengthening the bench and if he’s successful, Washington will be a force in the near future.
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