The playoffs are upon us, but (as per usual) 14 teams did not qualify. There’s reason to believe that at least a few of these teams are actually in a better place than some of the 16 squads suiting up this weekend. However, only the clubs already on vacation are eligible for this list, which will be updated after the NBA Draft Lottery.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Month – 12th)
While plenty of people expected Minnesota to make the leap this year, the fact that they didn’t allows them to add another top-10 pick to a roster already overflowing with talent. A 22-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns might be in the MVP conversation next April, and who knows what will happen at the NBA Draft Lottery, where the Wolves own the sixth-most ping-pong balls.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (6)
Who cares if it was only for 31 games? On most of those nights, Joel Embiid was a dominant defensive force who also showed glorious glimpses of greatness on offense. Embiid’s offensive arsenal isn’t quite as advanced nor nearly as fluid as Karl-Anthony’s, and he could learn something from watching tape of Nikola’s passing. But like those two, he has the mindset of a massive guard on that end. If Joel can get and stay healthy, the sky is the limit for the Sixers.
12. Denver Nuggets (14)
It all starts with Nikola Jokic, but the Nuggets have a solid core surrounding their future All-Star. There’s still a lot that needs to come together before we’re talking about Denver as a contender, but the Joker is wild, and the West better be ready.
11. New Orleans Pelicans (13)
Is the pairing of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis going to work out on defense? Is it possible for the Pelicans to pay Jrue Holiday and still have enough cap room left to improve their wing rotation?
10. New York Knicks (4)
It was a messy (read: disgusting) season at Madison Square Garden. However, Knicks fans can now start dreaming of a future where their starting point guard is dying to pass to Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony.
9. Phoenix Suns (5)
Finally, Phoenix has escaped the dreaded middle, and they’ve got a 19.9 percent chance to steal the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Adding Markelle Fultz to the backcourt alongside Devin Booker would be more than enough to revitalize the fan base, but a tough defensive wing would also be warmly welcomed if the ping-pong balls don’t bounce their way.
8. Dallas Mavericks (10)
Snagging a center from Philly gave the Mavs their 4-5 duo of the future in Harrison Barnes and Nerlens Noel. They also did an amazing job of finding gems at guard in Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell. Nevertheless, Dallas needs to nail the upcoming draft if they hope to remain competitive when Dirk Nowitzki eventually retires.
7. Miami Heat (unranked)
Snap back to reality. Per Elias Sports, the Heat had the best second-half record ever among teams that failed to reach the postseason (30-11). But in the end, it will only cost them a high draft pick. Months ago, everyone was wondering which elite prospect would be landing in South Beach, but now the outlook is less optimistic (likely No. 14 overall). If the Heat don’t fall toward the bottom of the standings by next year, they’ll be sending their first-round selection to the Suns. There’s no shortage of depth in South Beach, but it’s worth wondering what this core can accomplish before Goran Dragic begins to decline.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (2)
L.A. is teetering on the edge of a city skyscraper, with an untimely winning streak lowering their odds at keeping their first-round pick (both for this summer and 2019). Part of me believes the NBA wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen to one of its most storied franchises, and I’m something of a skeptic when it comes to the credibility of the lottery. I’m not a betting man, but I have a strong feeling that the Lakers will walk away from the Draft Lottery with a top-2 pick.
5. Charlotte Hornets (9)
The Hornets fell flat on their faces this season after re-upping on their core in free agency, and now it seems they could be stuck in no-man’s land. Charlotte needs reinforcements, and they’ll likely be hoping to add someone in the draft who can contribute right away. Ideally that will be a two-way wing, but the Hornets might have to reach for whoever they feel has the most upside.
4. Sacramento Kings (7)
The Kings might not be as bad off as most of us thought they were. Willie Cauley-Stein looks like an ideal center in the modern NBA, Skal Labissiere finished his rookie campaign on a high note, and owning two top-10 picks in this draft could help Sacramento kick-start its rebuild. If the Kings can stay out of their own way and avoid selecting two more centers, it might not be the most depressing thing in the basketball world when they give up their first-round pick to Philadelphia in 2019.
3. Orlando Magic (3)
Among the teams with a feasible chance of winning the lottery, the Magic might need it most. Aaron Gordon is still young and full of potential, but many of the pieces on Orlando either overlap or simply don’t fit. Elfrid Payton, Gordon, and Bismack Biyombo aren’t exactly good shooters while Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier don’t defend well. At least Rob Hennigan is finally gone.
2. Detroit Pistons (8)
Reggie Jackson came crashing back down to Earth in year two as a starting point guard. Andre Drummond isn’t quite living up to the Dwight Howard comparisons. And Stan Van Gundy must be losing his mind. Where do the Detroit Pistons go from here.
1. Brooklyn Nets (1)
The suffering is almost over. By 2019, the Nets can reap the benefits of being a bad team. For now, they’ll be hoping to snag a steal or two in the late first round. It worked last summer when they swooped in to take Caris LeVert, who was among the most impressive rookies in 2016-17.