With talks ramping up regarding the start of the NBA 2020-21 season, it gives every team new life and optimism with something to look forward to.
In the Eastern Conference, many teams are looking to pounce on the opportunity to break out and make some noise in the NBA.
You would think that in the East, seven of the eight playoff spots are already locked from the season’s past Top 7. Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Indiana, Miami, Philadelphia and Brooklyn should rightfully be favoured to appear in the playoffs again.
That then leaves the eighth and final playoff spot which was held by the Orlando Magic but that seems a little less certain.
So who is poised to sneak into the playoffs in 2020-21?
There are many teams that could make it an interesting race. Obviously, with free agency and the draft still to come, the prospects of teams can certainly change. Regardless, here are the current outlooks for potential eighth seed teams.
Starting with the Orlando Magic, they’ve developed a team focusing on length and defensive capabilities. They were a top ten defensive team last season, and the offensive burden was carried by all-star Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross coming off the bench.
While you would deem Nikola Vucevic as a defensive big man, the length that they surround him with covers his deficiencies. The starting line-up which mainly includes Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac provides size, athleticism and long wingspans to disrupt play.
Markelle Fultz who is the starting point guard is also above average in size for his position and has a long wingspan himself.
If they can provide consistent offensive support for Vucevic, they can certainly remain in the playoffs for next season. Primarily, having Aaron Gordon develop to become a better two-way player will be important. Injuries affected him last season and his played regressed from where he was previously.
Secondly, the Charlotte Hornets are a team to keep an eye on. Charlotte have an oddly constructed roster, but they certainly have talent. 2019-20 was an eye-opening season for Charlotte fans as they saw a number of players grow and develop before their eyes.
Devonte Graham was a candidate for Most Improved Player after he saw his numbers increase significantly from his rookie campaign. From 14.7 minutes per game, 4.7 points per game and 2.6 assists per game, he then averaged 18.2 points per game and 7.5 assists per game while playing 35.1 minutes per game in his second season.
Terry Rozier also proved his value after being brought to the Hornets on a major free agency deal. Graham and Rozier will now be hoping to improve as a backcourt duo for 2020-21.
The front court looks promising also as PJ Washington had an impressive rookie campaign while Miles Bridges took a decent step forward in his second season.
If James Borrego can find a scheme to be able to maximise the developing talent on the roster, they could be in the running for a playoff spot towards the end.
The Washington Wizards are one of the most intriguing teams for next season. The duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal are set to reunite, and many eyes will be on Wall’s ability to stay healthy. Despite falling short of Eastern Conference Finals, Wall and Beal have had their moments of success.
To surround Wall and Beal, the Wizards have Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr and Mo Wagner as the supporting cast. All the listed players showed good promise and there is offensive firepower but where Washington needs to improve is on the defensive end as they ranked dead last in defensive rating last season.
If the Wizards can find the right personnel defensively and improve to become even an average defensive team, that could go a long way in having them make the playoffs next season.
The Chicago Bulls now have Billy Donovan at the helm and he also has plenty of talent to work with. Led by Zach Lavine, Chicago have a plethora of young players with Thaddeus Young the eldest at 32 years of age.
The potential for the Bulls is there as players including Lauri Markannen, Wendell Carter Jr, Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter and Coby White suggests there is a solid core. Donovan can improve the team to be even stronger defensively but what they need is leadership on the floor to run the offense.
They have the players, but Chicago fans will be hoping that the Bulls can bring in veteran leadership to steer the young team in the right direction. They will also need some luck regarding health and injuries with their roster. But hopefully, Billy Donovan can execute a turnaround in the Windy City.
After a horrific free agency last season, the New York Knicks have brought in Tom Thibodeau to get the franchise back on track on the court. Realistically, there isn’t a strong case for the Knicks in regard to playoff contention.
They’re a team led by Julius Randle and the best prospects to partner Randle are RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson. Overall, this franchise needs a lot more work and are years away from being in the mix for the playoffs.
Likewise, the Detroit Pistons are in major limbo. They have blown their squad up and they have very significant decisions to make going forward. Blake Griffin still has two years remaining on his mega contract while Derrick Rose who will likely be traded and Luke Kennard has their contract expiring at the end of 2020-21.
The best prospect they have in the long run is Sekou Doumbouya who showed flashes of quality in his rookie season. But overall, there is nothing exciting about the Pistons and while they have plenty of cap space, they seem to have no direction either. Former coach of the year Dwane Casey has a mammoth task ahead of him.
Can the Atlanta Hawks take major strides forward with the continued improvement of Trae Young and John Collins? They are up there with the Wizards in terms of intriguing teams to watch. Although it didn’t translate into wins, Trae Young mesmerised the league in his second season becoming an all-star.
It should be an exciting time as a Hawks fan as John Collins also showcased that he was a future all-star averaging 21.6 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game. But it’s the supporting cast that should elevate the team to greater heights.
After they traded for Clint Capela, the Hawks front court looks promising when you pair Capela with Collins and Deandre Hunter. They are all still young and prospects such as Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish should continue to improve also.
With another year under their belts, this is a team to watch out for.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were at the bottom of the pack last season in the East and it doesn’t seem like their fortunes will change next season. The Cavs were a team that was inept to play defence last season and they don’t seem to have any players that prioritise defence at all.
However, they do have offensive talent who can make plays in Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Kevin Love. They also have Cedi Osman and Kevin Porter as wildcard players who could improve to become solid players.
It would make sense for the Cavs to trade Kevin Love and allow Larry Nance to flourish in Cleveland. The Cavs also acquired Andre Drummond last season who is a double double machine, but he may not feature heavily in the future plans.
In summary, each team from the Orlando Magic down have their own agendas and paths to success. Orlando, Washington and Atlanta look the most likely to claim the eighth seed while Cleveland, Detroit and New York have little to no chance. Charlotte and Chicago are special cases where they are the wildcard. They could either do well or really poorly this season.
For the most part, there are some interesting teams to keep an eye on. By being able to secure a playoff berth, it can prove to be an invaluable experience for many young teams in the East.