Can an Underdog Make a Run? A Look at Who Can Be a Sleeper Playoff Team
We’re just under two months until the NBA season officially tips off and at the point of the offseason in which rosters are becoming set. Each team can carry up to 20 players in training camp before cutting down the roster to 15 on opening night. Let’s look at a few dark horses who could be sleeper playoffs teams, i.e. teams who didn’t qualify for the postseason last season or are currently projected to miss the playoffs this year based on projected over/under win totals provided by Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
The Hornets finished with a 36-46 record a year ago and Westgate has them pegged at 35.5 wins for this season. Charlotte can easily be a .500 team and sneak into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Kemba Walker is still around, having survived the offseason trade rumors, and should be primed for an all-star caliber season. Charlotte opted not to re-sign Dwight Howard, who played fairly well but was a poor locker room presence. On Draft day, Charlotte also acquired Miles Bridges via trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Devonte Graham, the unanimous Big XII Player of the Year and an NBA ready defender/backup point guard.
Offseason additions included brining in Tony Parker to provide veteran leadership and control the second unit on offense and trading for Bismack Biyombo to help with rim protection (The Biyombo era in Charlotte now gets a second act). Willy Hernangomez and Cody Zeller will be the other centers on the roster with Frank Kaminsky and Marvin Williams acting as stretch fours. Jeremy Lamb and Malik Monk should provide enough floor scoring/floor spacing at the two guard. Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd Gilchrist and their horrid contracts are still around but both should provide decent enough value if they remain healthy. With new head coach James Borrego bringing a Spurs type culture to Charlotte, the Hornets should have enough depth, playmakers, and floor spacing to be a playoff team.
This only happens if Luka Doncic has a Ben Simmons type impact from day one. Even then, it may be a stretch given the talent and depth of the Western Conference. Westgate has the Mavericks pegged at 34.5 wins, which is a fair number. But crazier things have happened before and maybe the Mavericks push that win total up to get into contention for the eighth seed. In addition to Doncic, Dallas brought in DeAndre Jordan to be the rim protector and pick and roll man they desperately needed and Jalen Brunson, who just won the National Player of the Year award at Villanova. With Dirk Nowitzki and head coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks have an outside chance of sneaking in.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have become forgotten about since LeBron James joined the Lakers. It was expected that with the King being in L.A., the Clippers would once again become the second show in town. However, the roster the Clippers have is really not half bad. Westgate has them pegged at 35.5 wins and if all breaks right, the Clippers can exceed that number and contend for the eighth seed. The Clippers are a roster of average to above average role players, but the roster is deep. The combination of Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams and Avery Bradley is a solid guard rotation each night. Toss in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson as two rookie wild cards who both can impact the game and the Clippers have as deep a backcourt as you can find in the league.
Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris are perfect complements to the backcourt as floor spacing scorers who can use their size to shoot over mismatches. Luc Richard Mbah Moute will back them both up as a defensive minded wing. Marcin Gortat and Montrezl Harrell fill out the center position. If Harrell continues to improve his game and contribute, he can find himself being a regular starter over Gortat. The Clippers have done a nice job rebuilding the roster as they progress to a new era and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team flirt with a postseason spot.