NBA

The NBA’s Top 5 Up-and-Coming Teams

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Having an attraction to the underdog is natural.

The little guy. Ever since I could remember, I’ve always rooted for those that are… challenged when it comes to talent.

Most of the time it ends in disappointment. But sometimes? Sometimes, when your wishes of a miracle are granted, you get to witness something spectacular.

It almost feels like you are a part of something, almost like you are part of the team that worked so hard to defeat goliath.

In the NBA, at its current height of parity, any team can make that push. In a matter of five games, a team can go from Play-In hopefuls to a home court advantage in the Playoffs.

Here are the teams ready to make that massive jump within the next two seasons.

1. Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are the most surprising team this year, at one point reaching as high as the four-seed in the East. They have an elite young core, consisting of high-lottery selections such as Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, paired with other early selections such as Anthony Black, Jett Howard and Caleb Houstan.

They traded away All-Star center Nikola Vucevic for a guy that could very well be an All-Star-caliber guy in the future, Wendell Carter Jr.

The fact they are already competing for a homecourt appearance in the playoffs, paired with their elite cabinet of draft equity is what allowed them to soar above the rest in these rankings.

They have two guys that will be All-NBA at some point in their career, and one may even reach the heights of an MVP.

Banchero has received surprisingly little media coverage for a first-overall pick, but don’t be fooled— this guy is special. He is effectively a 6’10”, 250-pound playmaker who can create his own shot on all three levels. He is efficient, and considering how much he handles the ball, rarely turns it over.

They have found a guy in Franz Wagner that seems as if he was build in a lab for the modern NBA. A 6’10”, silky-smooth wing with the ability to create his own shots on and off the ball, but don’t sleep on his ability to create for others. He uses his elite height and length to his advantage, peering over opposition defenses to find the perfect play.

While he struggled his first couple of years in the league, Jalen Suggs has finally found his stride. His ability to lock down the opposition’s best player gave him a purpose on the team, and helped him get back the confidence that allowed him to dominate the collegiate level. With his newfound belief and three-point shooting — once believed to be his Achilles heel — has soared to nearly 40% on 5.3 attempts per game.

We haven’t seen much of Anthony Black as necessary to properly break him down as an NBA player, but his defensive intensity, outside scoring and playmaking make him an exciting prospect to develop on the side.

Similarly to Black, Jett Howard has seen limited minutes. But in the lead up to him being drafted, he projects to be a solid 3-and-D guy for years to come.

Adding to their elite guard depth, Cole Anthony is a guy I don’t see leaving the Magic for a very long time. The ultimate sixth man, he provides a mixture of creation for himself and others.

Pair these elite prospects with six first-round and seven second-round picks over the next three years, and the future is bright in Orlando.

2. San Antonio Spurs

Victor. Wembanyama. The French phenom has completely turned around the future of this franchise from a directionless rebuild to what looks to be a force in the Western Conference for years to come. Many believe he has the potential to be one of the best to ever do it.

Devin Vassell is an underrated piece of the future for this team. He has the ability to guard one-through-four, while being able to space the floor for his teammates AND create his own shot. He is the perfect wing alongside Wemby.

Keldon Johnson is a versatile player who has improved consistently throughout his career. His ability to attack the rim and shoot from long range adds a dynamic scoring threat to his game, making him a multi-dimensional offensive player.

It’s unclear where he fits into the future of this team, but Jeremy Sochan is a special talent. His relentless energy and activity on the glass make him a standout rebounder on the court. He possesses an elite awareness and intelligence in locating opponents to box out and secure rebounds showcase his strong fundamentals and understanding of the game.

Tre Jones is known for his exceptional decision-making on the court, as he consistently makes smart choices and limits turnovers. His ability to read passing lanes and make easy dump-off passes to big men showcases his court vision and high basketball IQ.

While Jones excels as a distributor and facilitator, he also shows potential as a shooter from beyond the arc. His ability to knock down three-point shots adds another dimension to his game and makes him a more dynamic offensive threat.

They also have a plethora of high-ceiling guys they are developing on the side in Malaki Branham, Julian Champagnie, Charles Bassey, Blake Wesley and Sidy Cissoko.

They also possess a treasure chest of draft equity, with 10 first-round and 11 second-round picks coming their way over the next three years. These picks include the Hawks’ unprotected picks in 2025 and 2027, with the rights to swap in 2026. These could all very well be high-lottery selections, with the Hawks at a cross-roads this offseason, potentially looking to blow it up and rebuild.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets have had one of the most successful rebuilds in recent memory. Just three years ago, they dealt their franchise player to the Nets. After three years of bottoming out, they have a plethora of talent to show for their efforts.

They have done a solid job with their top picks, selecting Jalen Green and Jabari Smith with the third overall picks in 2021 and 2022, respectively, followed by the uber-athletic Amen Thompson with the fourth selection in 2023.

But it’s their ability to draft in the back ends of the first round that has created their success.

In 2021, they selected Alperen Sengun with the 16th pick. Sengun is already amongst the league’s elite when it comes to playmaking. Pair that with his elite footwork and inside scoring ability, you have an All-NBA-caliber, franchise guy.

In 2022, they took Tari Eason with the 17th selection. Eason’s defensive versatility is a valuable asset to any team, as he can switch onto different players and effectively contest shots both inside and out. His combination of strength, size, length and agility makes him a tough matchup for opposing players, as he can use his physicality to disrupt their rhythm or contest their shots without fouling.

Offensively, Eason’s basketball IQ shines through as he understands his strengths and plays within himself. He is adept at finding the right spots on the floor to score efficiently, whether it’s cutting to the basket for easy layups or knocking down mid-range jumpers. Eason’s ability to read the defense and make smart decisions with the ball in his hands makes him a reliable option on the offensive end.

In 2023, they chose Cam Whitmore with the 20th pick. Whitmore was someone whom many had going to the Rockets in the draft… with their fourth selection. Somehow, Whitmore fell to them all the way down at 20.

Whitmore has a strong understanding of positioning and timing, often finding himself in the right spot to receive a pass for an easy layup or putback. His quick reflexes and soft touch also allow him to score in traffic and adjust his shot mid-air to avoid shot blockers.

Furthermore, Whitmore’s footwork is exceptional, allowing him to create separation from defenders and establish good post position. He has a variety of moves in his arsenal, including drop steps, spin moves and up-and-unders, which keep defenders guessing.

Pair this with their upcoming draft equity, and the Rockets are going to be a force to reckon with for years to come. They hold six first-round and six second-round picks between now and 2027, including the Nets’ picks in 2024 and 2026 (unprotected), as well as the rights to swap in 2025 and 2027. These picks could very well all be top-10 selections.

4. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans hit on the most anticipated NBA lottery in 15 years in 2018, landing Duke’s Zion Williamson with the No. 1 overall pick.

While many questions remain about Williamson’s conditioning and availability, we have seen what a healthy Zion can really be. He is like a force we have never seen before.

Pair that with the ideal modern NBA player in Brandon Ingram, and you have a dynamic duo to last you years into the future.

Over the ensuing years, the Pelicans added young guys around the edges through the draft, catapulting themselves from a two-man show into one of the deepest teams in the league.

They drafted Trey Murphy III with the 17th overall pick in 2021. The immensely talented forward is another guy that perfectly fits the NBA mould. With elite length and unheard-of athleticism and explosiveness, Murphy is able to attack the rim like few others in the league.

But he is far from a one-dimensional player. Murphy also happens to be one of the league’s very best when it comes to three-point shooting.

Later in that same 2021 draft, the Pelicans selected Herbert Jones.

He is an impressive prospect with his towering height of 6’8″ and a lengthy seven-foot wingspan, giving him a significant advantage on both ends of the court. Jones possesses the necessary tools to excel as a facilitating wing player, showcasing his ability to create opportunities for his teammates and distribute the ball effectively.

Where Jones truly shines, however, is on the defensive end. Known as one of the best defenders in the NBA, his combination of size, length, athleticism and defensive instincts makes him a formidable presence on the court. Jones has the versatility to guard multiple positions, disrupt passing lanes, and lock down opponents with his physicality and defensive prowess.

In 2022, they selected Australian Dyson Daniels with the sixth overall selection. Daniels is a versatile player with a unique skillset, standing at 6’6″ and possessing the ability to contribute in various ways.

His versatility allows him to handle the ball, attack the basket, defend multiple positions, and even hit spot-up threes on occasion. While Daniels has the potential to develop into a more reliable shooter, his ability to excel in other areas of the game makes him a valuable asset regardless.

Finally, they drafted Jordan Hawkins in 2023. When injuries where coming in thick and thin earlier in the year for the Pelicans, Hawkins got a chance to showcase his abilities.

Another cliche Swiss Army knife on the roster, Hawkins has the ability to torch the opposing team from deep alongside the very best in the league, as well as lock down the other team’s best player.

They hold nine first-round picks over the ensuing three years, gearing them up to compete for years to come.

5. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are a franchise that has spent the last seven years as the NBA’s designated dumpster fire. With new ownership and fresh blood in the front office, however, the Hornets are on track to snap their playoff drought as early as next season.

Hornets (Finally) Embracing New Direction

With LaMelo Ball being awarded a max contract last offseason, the team looked to him to show us something this year, show us some ability to be the guy. And boy did he smash that out of the park.

While he has spent more time courtside in bright outfits then he has actually on the court, LaMelo still showed us his MVP, All-NBA-caliber ceiling during his historic November run. He averaged 32.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 8.7 assists a nine-game stretch before again succumbing to an ankle injury.

While it isn’t a big sample size, LaMelo still showed his capacity to lead a team in every offensive facet.

Pair that with the two-way, do-it-all Brandon Miller, and you have a serious core that can contend for years to come.

Miller has the ability to score from all three levels effectively, whilst still creating for others. His smooth handle, paired with his elite length make him seemingly unguardable. His energy on the offensive end is infectious, and it’s no different when the ball is going the other way. He uses his 6’9″ frame and elite footwork to lock down the opposing team’s best player.

The man in the middle is Mark Williams. While his back injury is concerning, should he get back to his best and continue to develop, Williams is the perfect lob threat alongside LaMelo long term.

His interior defense is elite, his very presence throws off defenders. He struggles at time against bigger-bodied defenders, but if he is able to get over that than he is undoubtedly going to be a top seven-to-eight big man in this league.

They have exciting young guards in Nick Smith Jr. and Tre Mann, whom each regularly flash their offensive excellence. The tight handle, paired with their ability to shoot both off the dribble and off the catch make them ideal guards for the modern NBA.

They have a number of high-ceiling prospects hidden on their bench too. JT Thor, Bryce McGowens, Leaky Black and Amari Bailey all have the potential to be starters in this league for years to come.

Finally, they have James Nnaji stashed overseas. The 31st selection in the recent NBA draft, Nnaji is the prototypical dominant low-post force of the early 2000s. He could very well be the franchise’s long-term starting center should Mark Williams be held back by his injuries.

About Nic Thomas

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