Even this early in the NBA season, it seems as if all the attention has been on the handful of legitimate championship contenders. Not many have taken the time to acknowledge the teams that have gotten better and are looking for the chance to one day be mentioned in the same conversation as those with an opportunity to win a championship.
Although their window for a championship may not be as wide as others, it’s impossible to sleep on these teams. Here are a few sleeper teams to look out for this season:
The Suns will shine bright as they look to continue the improvements they made last season but this year possibly making their first trip to the Playoffs since the Steve Nash-era. Their two point guard driven system is led by rising stars Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. With the two guards on the court, the team is ready to compete against anyone as they push the tempo like no other team in the NBA.
Last season the team finished with a record of 48-34 and finished 9th place in the Western Conference, nearly making the Playoffs. If the team was located in the Eastern Conference, they would have been a playoff team, since their record was comparable to a top team in the Eastern Conference.
With their latest additions including sharpshooting and elite scoring guard Isiah Thomas, rookies Tyler Ennis and T.J Warren, and re-signings of Bledsoe, and the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, the team should be in good shape to once again contend for a playoff position. And if they get there, don’t overlook them.
The Wizards have the best chance of any sleeper to compete for an NBA championship. While it is difficult to label them a sleeper given their gifted roster, they simply don’t emit the type of contending energy as the upper echelon teams. Led by their all-star John Wall and improving shooting guard Bradley Beal, who is recovering from an injury, the Wizards are one of the scariest teams in the league.
If a championship contender like the Cleveland Cavaliers or Chicago Bulls go against the Wizards early on in the playoffs, the probability is high for the Wizards to defeat them.
Part of the reason for this likelihood is their offseason addition of Paul Pierce who will show the Wizards’ young stars the ins and outs of being a superstar in the NBA. Last season, the Wizards positioned themselves for a playoff run but lost in the semi-finals against the Indiana Pacers, a team which many thought they could have beat.
While they are certainly one of the better teams in the NBA, they will need to show the same intensity throughout the entire season and playoffs to be mentioned as a contender.
The emergence of their young guard Jeff Teague had both fans and the entire NBA in shock. Without their star Al Horford, Teague carried the Hawks into their playoff showdown with the Pacers. While they don’t exactly have the necessary roster to compete for a championship, the team will definitely make noise.
This season they have Horford back in the starting line up, who was sidelined due to an injury, so their chances to improve are better than ever. They also have new additions in Thabo Sefolosha, who provides them with a solid perimeter defender, and rookie Adreian Payne, who will serve as a reserve for the Hawks’ big men.
The Hawks have been under the radar so far but their last season playoff stint is evidence that they are not to overlooked.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are expected to make the playoffs this season and a big reason why is because of their superstar, Anthony Davis. He is likely to have a dominant season this year and if he can will the Pelicans to the Playoffs, he might be the MVP of the NBA. He has improved steadily on the trajectory and his season outlook is up with the top players.
Outside of Davis, the Pelicans have gone unrecognized because of injuries from their best players, but they will likely re-establish themselves.
This season they have a healthy Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson, which is going to help tremendously. They also added defensive stopper Omer Asik, who is going to play center, allowing Davis to play his natural position when the two are on the court. If Davis’s elevation is the real deal then it’ll be no time before their solidified as one of the league’s best teams.
No Paul Pierce, and no Jason Kidd, so what’s expected from the Nets now? While they definitely fall a level lower on the spectrum with the departure of one of their best players and their head coach, they could still be effective. They are definitely a playoff team since their best player, Brook Lopez is healthy again.
Most of the offense this year will run through him, but no attention will be taken away from point guard Deron Williams, after all, this is the year of redemption for him. Joe Johnson could have a better season as well since he isn’t sharing touches with Pierce. Because of their ridiculously high payroll, they didn’t make any free agency splashes in the offseason, but they did find a way to keep four of their core players together.
While it seems like the Nets have taken a step back since last season, they will likely play with an edge letting everyone know, they’re still relevant.
When LeBron James left the Miami Heat, everyone could feel the sadness from fans and the existential crisis of the Heat. Luckily, on their roster are two superstars and likely Hall-Of-Famers who have been in the position of leading their teams ‒ Dwyane Wade led his team to win a championship in 2006 and Chris Bosh has been the leading piece to a team’s offense.
Alongside of those veterans, they have brought in proven veterans in Loul Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger. Combining the different mixture of players, they will attempt to establish their presence amongst the rising Eastern Conference. While no championships are expected for the Heat, come play off time, they cannot be ostracized given their experience.
Watch these sleepers as they attempt to make some noise this season on NBATV or the local channels via DirecTV. The 2014-15 NBA season will have a thrilling storylined headlined by not only championship contenders but sleepers as well.
[featured image via Atlanta Hawks]