Every year, a handful of NBA teams manage to surprise us; whether it be by surpassing widely-held expectations, or by flashing glimpses of eventual greatness, it tends to happen on a season-by-season basis. Of course, with 30 teams making up the modern NBA, it can often be quite difficult to predict exactly which teams are prime 'being-slept-on' candidates.
That being said, there were a few teams that made the right kind of moves this summer (and last season), putting themselves in a position to surprise a whole lot of viewers.
Here are some teams to keep an eye on, so that you don't get caught sleeping on the NBA's newest wave of underrated and up-and-coming squads.
Don't look now, but the Bulls may be building an impressive young core; one with an outside shot at the Eastern Conference playoffs this upcoming season. They addressed their point guard situation (see: Kris Dunn) by drafting Coby White and signing Thomas Satoransky. For a dose of veteran leadership and toughness, they brought in Thaddeus Young. When added to their young core of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago could very well deploy a 7-man rotation that boasts playoff-level talent. If they can gel together quickly under head coach Jim Boylen and remain relatively injury-free, expect the Bulls to make a serious run at the postseason, while posing a significant scheduling challenge for other playoff hopefuls throughout the season.
Indiana had a whopper of an offseason, acquiring offensive weapons to prop up Victor Oladipo upon his return from injury. Despite the lack of a bona fide second star (which probably eliminates them from 'true' title contention), the Pacers managed to bring in Jeremy Lamb, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, and T.J. McConnell, a crew of veterans that possess either above-average shooting chops (Lamb, Warren), playmaking (McConnell), or both (Brogdon). Suffice it to say, with Aaron Holiday rounding out their point guard rotation and Domantas Sabonis continuing to make plays out of the low post, the Pacers will not want for offensive options next year. They should have the firepower and defensive mustard (yes, Myles Turner will still be swatting your favourite player's shots at the rim) to make every game a contest, and should theoretically pose a problem for all but the most elite teams come playoff time.
You already know about the Hawks' exciting young trio of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins. They were already bordering on must-watch LeaguePass material towards the end of last season. Now, after another offseason spent wheeling and dealing, they enter the season with three more elite forward prospects in De'Andre Hunter (2019 4th overall pick), Cam Reddish (2019 10th overall pick), and Bruno Fernando (2019 34th overall pick). They proceeded to round out the incredible amount of youthful talent on their roster by: trading for Evan Turner to provide playmaking off the bench; trading for Allen Crabbe to hoist threes from the wings; and signing Jabari Parker to provide a scoring punch off the bench. Factor in the emergence of Alex Len at the 5-spot, and the Hawks will have a plethora of avenues to explore this season; they profile as an uber-talented, mistake-prone squad with a penchant for putting together extraordinary glimpses of their long-term potential.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season. That fact alone should keep them from going too far under the radar this year, but the NBA world seems to never stop underestimating the Trailblazers. While their offseason brought in numerous changes that might not exactly be considered upgrades, the sheer amount of turnover on a playoff-contending roster makes them must-watch material. They lost Al-Farouq Aminu (ORL) and Moe Harkless (LAC); two athletic, rangy defensive wings who could hit open threes at near-average clips. Evan Turner is now on the Hawks. 20-year-old Anfernee Simons is the primary back-up point guard option on this roster, and while Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and Mario Hezonja bring some shooting to the table, bringing back Rodney Hood as the starting small forward does not inspire a ton of confidence. The acquisition of Hassan Whiteside could spell locker room doom for their vaunted culture, and does Pau Gasol have anything left to offer a contender? Portland will have a lot to figure out this season, and the results could go either way; don't count on the Blazers having a boring 2019/2020 season.
Last year's Kings finished as the West's 9-seed, ending the season just outside of the playoffs, looking in. De'Aaron Fox took a massive leap last season, and Marvin Bagley III caught fire after the All-Star break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic look ready to cannabalize all of this team's 2-guard minutes, giving Sacramento a dead-eye shooter in their backcourt at all times. To inject this team with some veteran experience, and round out a potential playoff rotation, the Kings brought in Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza, and Dewayne Dedmon, while re-signing Harrison Barnes to a long-term deal. While the dollars they doled out this summer could have some uncomfortable cap implications for Sacramento down the line, this current roster looks ready to capitalize and expand upon last year's success. You won't want to be caught sleeping on a well-assembled team, stocked with breakout candidates, eager to prove their mettle in the stacked basketball landscape of the Golden State.