As we turn the calendar to the new year, the NBA is in full swing. Heading into week 3, here are some of the players or organizations that you should keep on your radar come playoff time.
This is not the same team as last year. The Hawks have won 4 of their first 5 games, including an 18-point win over Brooklyn on New Year’s Day. New addition Bogdan Bogdanović has been a nice addition to the team, averaging 13.6 points per game coming off the bench. And John Collins has had a good start to the season, expect a breakout season from him. But the biggest reason for Atlanta’s early success is due to one man: Trae Young.
After earning his first All-Star appearance last season, Young has come out hitting on all cylinders to start the season. In their first game against Chicago, Young shot 10-12 from the floor, including 5 threes and 12 free throws, giving him 37 points to start the season. He followed up that performance with another high scoring game, getting 36 against Memphis. Averaging 30.6 ppg in the first 5 games, Young is poised to be a star in this league.
I expect Atlanta to compete with some of the better teams in the East all season long, and I can see this team earning a top 5 seed if the rest of the team can help Young towards the end of ballgames.
After winning their first 4 games of the season, the Magic were the last undefeated team in the NBA before their loss the Philadelphia Thursday night. The Magic are one of the few teams in the league who lack either a super-star or a player that gets the media’s attention (Like a LaMelo Ball). However, there is a lot to be excited for in Orlando. Markelle Fultz went from a bust in Philly to an athletic point guard in Orlando with huge potential.
If he can get his jump shot to be more consistent, I can see him being there guy in the future. Nikola Vučević has had a very calm start to the season, averaging close to 20 ppg and 11 rebounds a game. Vučević has held the Magic together the past couple seasons, helping them secure the eighth seed in back-to-back seasons.
With lob threat Aaron Gordon, consistent shooter Evan Fournier, and a solid scoring option in Terrance Ross rounding out the starting lineup, there is no reason this team can’t compete for the play-in tournament at the end of the season. And they may even get a few upset wins in the process come playoff time.
It is very obvious why the Suns currently hold the best record in the league at 5-1. Chris Paul, who Phoenix acquired in a trade with OKC, has continued his solid play from last season. Except, instead of being the guy like he was in OKC, he’s taken a step back to be the number two scoring option and let Devin Booker be the man.
With the help of CP3, Booker is set-up to have one of his best seasons if he can continue to put the ball through the hoop like he did last season – earning his first All-Star appearance. Third year big man, Deandre Ayton, had a good season last year, averaging 18 points and 11 boards while shooting 54% from the floor. With Paul’s ability to run the pick-and-roll nearly to perfection, I expect Ayton to have a breakout season.
This new big three can do a lot of damage in an already stacked Western Conference. Second year player Cam Johnson, who continues to improve his shooting, will add some spacing for the major ball handlers, and Mikal Bridges will likely be assigned the other team’s best offensive player. It’ll be hard for them to claim a top five seed, but don’t be surprised if this group can turn some heads as a six or seven seed.
New Orleans Pelicans
Zion being healthy is the major concern for this team. If he can stay healthy, him and Brandon Ingram will be a very dynamic duo. Ingram has started the new season strong, averaging 22 points a game while being the first scoring option.
New addition Eric Bledsoe has had a slow start, but his scoring will help offset Lonzo Ball‘s scoring numbers, being that Ball is not going to be the guy that scores 40 points every other game. But Ball’s impact is not in scoring, but in playmaking. He is a great floor general, and he has improved his shooting enough to be a good catch and shoot option for Ingram. And with the addition of Steven Adams, the Pelicans should be atop the league in rebounding numbers with both Adams and Williamson.
The only question that I have with this team is effort. If this team can commit to playing winning basketball, this is a very dangerous team. They SHOULD be in the play-in tournament, and I see them as an eighth seed come playoff time.