NBA

3 NBA Teams That Will Make Big Gains This Season

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns and Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets talk after the game on February 4. 2019 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Several NBA teams that have been developing over the last few years are now in the position to take a significant leap. Injured superstars such as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and John Wall will also be returning to their active rosters. The 2020-21 NBA season is shaping up to be the most competitive in recent years.

Teams that are destined to improve significantly in comparison to last season will receive honourable mentions. With the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets expected to succeed, the focus will instead be placed on younger, unproven teams.

Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks reacts after drawing a foul on a three-point basket in the final minutes of their 122-117 loss to the Toronto Raptors with John Collins #20 and Cam Reddish #22 at State Farm Arena on January 20, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Hawks have created an exciting young core over the past few seasons. They also have the lowest team payroll this offseason, at just under $58 million. Winning only 20 games last season, the Hawks ended the 2019-20 season at 14th in the Eastern Conference.

With over 50 million dollars in cap space, Atlanta has plenty of options this offseason. The Hawks could opt to bring in veterans, such as Rajon Rondo or Kyle Korver, to help mold their young core. Atlanta could also push towards winning now by bringing in players who will provide a larger spark. The Hawks have already been linked to adding proven offensive threats like Joe Harris and Gordon Hayward.

The Hawks’ youthful core contains an interesting mixture of players that will continue to build synergy on the court. Atlanta possesses All-Star level players in Trae Young and John Collins, alongside developing players like Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, and De’Andre Hunter.

The Hawks also hold the sixth pick in the draft, which could complement this already promising core. The Hawks will strengthen their roster at the power forward position if they decide to keep the pick. With prospects Obi Toppin, Patrick Williams, and Deni Avdija all likely to be available at the number six spot, Atlanta will have a decent pool to pick from.

The Hawks are in a unique position, having both an abundance of young talent and cap space available. This makes Atlanta powerful in trade conversations, with the flexibility to discuss unique trades and take on significant salaries.

Phoenix Suns

Chris Paul #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns shake hands during Practice and Media Availability presented by AT&T as part of 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend on February 15, 2020 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

With the Phoenix Suns acquiring Chris Paul via trade on Monday, they have shown their intention to compete immediately. Paul’s lone season in Oklahoma showcased his elite ability at the point despite turning 35 during the season. The Suns’ trade rumors continue, having reported interest in adding players like Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell.

While the Suns may not have the depth of last season’s Thunder, they have an elite scorer in Devin Booker. 

A top points-per-game scorer in the league, Booker will be entering the upper echelon of offensive talent with Paul at the point. Booker’s questionable defence and high turnover rate will also improve through Paul’s mentorship. Intent on being among the league’s top backcourt pairings, Paul and Booker have already begun practicing together.

While trading Kelly Oubre Jr. will hurt Phoenix’s strength on the wing, Mikal Bridges is set to fill the starting small forward role. Bridges and Oubre Jr. are similar in both their shot selection and above-average defence. 

With approximately $9 million in cap space, the Suns should be looking for depth at shooting guard or small forward position. If they choose to remain within the salary cap, Rodney Hood is a strong option.

An unsuspecting spark in Cameron Payne is also set to provide an impact in Phoenix. Currently 26 and in the last year of a non-guaranteed contract, Payne has everything to prove. Expect improvements in major aspects of Payne’s game this season because, without them, he likely won’t have a future in the league.

The Suns also possess the 10th pick in this year’s draft. While their selection won’t make an immediate impact, a promising wing like Devin Vassell could fit nicely in their youthful rotation.

Minnesota Timberwolves

D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves look on during a game against the Charlotte Hornets on February 12, 2020 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell are a duo we have been waiting for. With Towns playing only 35 games last season due to a left wrist injury, the pair could not log significant minutes. 

Holding the first pick in the draft, and one of the league’s youngest rosters, Minnesota could take many different pathways.

With the number one draft pick, the Timberwolves will provide Russell with a talented partner in the backcourt. As the consensus choice, Anthony Edwards provides a better fit next to D’Angelo in the backcourt than Lamelo Ball.

The importance of a good fit next to Russell may become of even greater importance in the near future. The status of Malik Beasley’s NBA future is currently up in the air, as he is facing drug possession and threat of violence charges.

The Wolves also have the option to trade the first pick. They can go for a proven star rather than developing Edwards. A self-driven scorer in Bradley Beal would be a dream pairing for Russell. A deal to obtain a player of Beal’s calibre may prove impossible to complete.

With James Johnson set to opt-in to his $16 million player option, the Timberwolves could benefit from attaching the 17th pick to his expiring contract. With approximately $11 million in cap space, the Timberwolves could upgrade at the power forward position. Players like Aaron Gordon and DeMar DeRozan fit the mold of a skilled forward on a team set to rebuild.

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