The faces of the NBA currently reside in Los Angeles, Miami, Boston and a few other select cities. While fans and analysts alike are quick to pick their favorite Goliath, there are always teams like the 2012 Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers ready to give them a run for their money.
Even if the concentration of talent in the NBA has lended itself to rooting for a team away from home, there is a ray of hope for those who still manage to pull for a select group of small market teams. And all of those teams follow a formula of scavenging around for young talent and players capable of putting up All Star-type numbers on occasion.
In no particular order, here are five NBA teams that you should not sleep on.
Golden State Warriors
A tumultuous four or five seasons after upending the number one seeded Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs, the Warriors are legitimately ready to rebound. Monta Ellis had led the way for the majority of those years but it was not working. His scoring ability was unquestionably elite; in his heyday for the Warriors, he could get to the basket with the best players in the NBA. And the reality is that there is really only one way to go for a team that did not even win 25 games in 2012.
Monta’s selfishness played a part in the lack of success in Golden State. So although the pieces the Warriors received when they traded Monta to the Milwaukee Bucks may have been suspect at the time, the trade looks better as time passes—although on-court performance will be the true judge of the trade. The centerpiece of the trade, Andrew Bogut, fulfilled a void that has plagued the Warriors for years because Andris Biedrins has become a disaster.
Now add Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, David Lee, and a host of other highly capable role players to the mix and the Warriors have reason for optimism. Injury is the taboo topic for Bay Area fans with the fragility of Curry and Bogut’s recent history, but at least for now, the Warriors should be excited for more than merely a rebuilding season.
Fending for your life in the western conference is by no means easy, but time is on their side and a playoff berth is within reason. As they have shown before, once the Dubs are in the playoffs, all bets are off for favorites—there is energy at Oracle that few (if any) NBA fan bases can match.
Where will they be seeded at the end of the 2013 NBA season: 6-8, the Warriors will be heading back to the playoffs.
New Orleans Hornets
Building your organization around a player like Anthony Davis certainly bodes well for the future of your team—but the Hornet who is often forgotten is Eric Gordon. Although he played a grand total of nine games in the 2012 NBA season because of injury, Gordon has proven that he is a force in the NBA. In 2011, he scored over 22 points per game.
The Hornets are also the epitome of youth with only one player on the entire team over the age of 30. Does this remind you of a team who has thrived with superstar-caliber youth? Oklahoma City has been the definition of supremely talented youth in the NBA and although Anthony Davis may be nowhere near the scorer of Kevin Durant that may not be necessary with Eric Gordon running the scoring show.
For the Thunder, an issue that was brought up again and again (whether or not it had merit) was that they lacked a big man. New Orleans definitely does not lack that. And how Davis matches up to future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan will be particularly fascinating to watch when the two big men compete in what will likely become more than a joke of a division rivalry.
Where will they be seeded at the end of the 2013 NBA season: 10-12, the Hornets will not make the playoffs. They are on the up-and-up but the Hornets are still at least a year away from a playoff berth.
Even though they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Utah Jazz are another solid young team. Led by Al Jefferson, the Utah Jazz have managed to stay in the playoff hunt after the departure of long-time Jazz player, Carlos Boozer.
And to add onto the obstacles in the pathway of the Jazz, Jerry Sloan’s retirement meant that some big shoes had to be filled. Tyrone Corbin has proven that he is a reasonably capable coach and now has more than a year’s worth of experience as the head coach of the Jazz.
Utah does not have the caliber of young studs that the other four teams mentioned here possess, but if they can click, the Jazz should be able to compete for another position at the bottom of the western conference.
Where will they be seeded at the end of the 2013 NBA season: 9-11, many fans have high hopes for the Jazz, but just aren’t there yet. Teams like the Warriors and Timberwolves are ready to make a move.
On paper, there looks like there is no reason that the T’wolves should not be competitive. With Kevin Love averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds a night, Minnesota should be able to put together a supporting cast to help them get to the playoffs.
Of course, injuries never help and Ricky Rubio was removed from the equation early in the season. And although the timetable for Rubio’s return is still set potentially months away, the Timberwolves have quietly assembled some excellent pieces for the upcoming season.
Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, and Greg Steimsma all have the potential to pay dividends and really bolster the overall offensive and defensive firepower of a fairly small-market franchise.
Where will they be seeded at the end of the 2013 NBA season: 7-8, the Timberwolves will finally make the playoffs.
Finally dumping Andre Iguodala was a blessing for the 76ers. Not only did they get rid of a guy that they had been trying to sell for a while but Philadelphia received a top-two center in the entire league. The math does not add up but the Sixers will be the last to complain.
Bynum averages a double-double over the course of his career and is still only 24 years old! If the Sixers can hold onto the talented big man, they will have a great centerpiece to build their organization around for years to come. Granted, he may not be the most mature player, but he will not be doing much of the ball handling and Jrue Holliday has proven to be very capable of that aspect of the offense.
Spencer Hawes, Nick Young, Jason Richardson, and Dorell Wright are all more than proficient at their primary role on the basketball court and the team chemistry is what could make the 76ers a truly special team.
Their upside is nothing short competing with the top tier of the eastern conference.
Where will they be seeded at the end of the 2013 NBA season: 4-7, the 76ers are the strongest team of these five sleepers.