4 NBA Underdog Teams You Have to Watch Out For
No bandwagons here—only underrated potential
Forget the Dubs, the Cavs, the Spurs—if only for now. Favorites will always be favorites, but it’s the underdogs that have made the NBA into the edge-of-your-seat spectacle that it is today.
After another year of having to fend off critics, James Harden looks ready to try and take his game, as well as his team, to the next level.
The Beard averaged 29-6-7 last season while practically being his team’s entire offense, possession after possession, while starting all 82 games of the regular season while leading the league in minutes per game (38.1). So yeah, you’d probably skip a few defensive plays here and there if you had that much offensive load on your shoulders.
So what changed? Well, the former shooting guard is finally being moved to the point guard position. While this move is obviously just a formality, with Harden already being the Rox’s main ball handler, its significance is made much clearer when you consider the team’s new coach: Mike D’Antoni, A.K.A. Pringles, A.K.A. the man behind Steve Nash’s 7-Seconds-or-Less Suns from the 00’s.
This new Rockets team will play fast and score just as most opposing squads’ defenses are just transitioning…and with all of it running through Harden, it will be one of the most glorious things to watch his season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
How can a team that came within one game away from making it to the finals last season be considered an underdog coming into the next season?
Well, it lost its number one option and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. Here’s the thing, though: KD was the team’s number 1 offensive option, but this was far from undisputed. He was more like 1A to Russell Westbrook’s 1B.
Now, with KD gone, the OKC Thunder fully becomes Westbrook’s team. Brodie has always played with a chip on his shoulder, as if he hated all 29 other starting point guards in the league. But what happens when that chip grows to 6’11, shaped like a slim reaper?
This season, it’s going to be all about raw numbers for this team. Westbrook will finally be unleashed upon the rest of the league, and he will be angry. He’s already notched two triple dubs in his first three games going into the season. You can bet your ass he’s going to attempt that poster on KD when the Thunder meet the Warriors for the first time this season.
When it comes to young talent, the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis might lead the league in potentials-per-minute, but it’s the young crew based in Minnesota that continues to be the spookiest.
Sporting two number one overall draft picks and consecutive Rookie of the Year winners in Andrew Wiggins (2014) and Karl Anthony-Towns (2015), as well as a couple more young talents in Zach Lavine, Ricky Rubio (26 still counts as young when you have a baby face), and rookie Kris Dunn, the Timberwolves franchise is currently having its most exciting season ever since Kevin Garnett won MVP honors back in 2004.
And with the team finding the perfect coach in the battle-tested and defensive-minded Tim Thibodeau, attitude in and around the league right now is that it isn’t a matter of whether or not this young crew will eventually take over the league, but when.
Are they two years away from contending, or two years away from being two years away?
This young team barely made it to the playoffs last year, finishing the regular season with a 40-42 score card that was just a game away from the Rockets’ 41-41 for the eighth and final playoff seed. This, while nursing one of the most injured rotations in the league.
With three of the Jazz starters missing 20, 21 and 54 games apiece throughout the grind, not to mention missing 2014 draft 5th pick Dante Exum for the entire season, it was a surprise the team even stayed competitive. This, let alone in the hunt for a playoff run up until the final night of the regular season—thanks mostly to Gordon Hayward proving himself as a worthy number one option, and Rodney Hood making leaps and bounds as a starter.
However, assuming the team remains healthy, it will have all the necessary tools to become legitimate threats to the title. Derrick Favors and Shelvin Mack returning will definitely lighten Hayward’s offensive load, while the stifle tower Rudy Gobert himself might give Kawhi Leonard a run for the Defensive Player of the Year award.