NBA: Five teams that need to take the next step in 2018-19

Nikola Jokic
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA preseason is underway and there are many storylines to follow. As this season approaches, 29 teams are all looking to dethrone the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors. They’ve been the class of the NBA in that time and they look to continue their dominance over the league.

There are teams with ample talent that haven’t been able to prove themselves in the postseason. For these teams, this is the season they have to prove that they are capable of reaching the peak of their powers. Here are five teams that have a lot to prove in the upcoming season.

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets came scary close to returning to the playoffs last season. However, the Minnesota Timberwolves knocked them out of the postseason with an overtime victory in the last game of the regular season. While they did win 46 games last season, they have yet to make the playoffs under Mike Malone.

With (hopefully) a full season of Paul Millsap and the young backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, this has to be the year the Nuggets get back to the postseason. For Mike Malone, he begins on the hot seat. There are some media members that believe Nikola Jokic is going to be a top 10 player in the NBA this season. Time for him and his team to prove their status as one of the best in the west.

Milwaukee Bucks

By now, even casual NBA fans know how great of a player Giannis Antetokounmpo is. He has filled the stat sheet over the last two seasons and should be one of the contenders for MVP this season. However, the Milwaukee Bucks are still looking for their first playoff series win since 2000-01. After going to Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty, they turn to the former Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer to lead their team.

Budenholzer comes to a really talented team led by the Greek Freak and Khris Middleton, one of the more underrated players in the league. Add former rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon and a quality point guard in Eric Bledsoe and that is a formidable team in the east. If they can’t find their way past the first round, many questions will be asked of this team and specifically of Giannis.

Washington Wizards

John Wall and Bradley Beal are one of the best backcourt pairings in the NBA and the Wizards have added quality players to improve their depth. Jeff Green, a former Georgetown standout, is back home. They signed Dwight Howard and traded Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers for Austin Rivers. Overall, this team has the fifth highest payroll in the NBA.

Everyone seems to expect locker room problems with this team due to the arrivals of some of these players and I’m not one of them. However, this team has to come together to make a run deep into the eastern conference playoffs at the very least. Everyone will be talking about the Celtics, Raptors, and 76ers in the east, but the Wizards are talented enough to surprise.

Portland Trail Blazers

Speaking of teams with really good backcourts, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are another great duo. The Blazers seemed destined for a solid playoff run last season after being a top-three seed in the west. However, their season crashed and burned at the hands of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and the New Orleans Pelicans. A four-game sweep of the Blazers put their playoff losing streak at 10 games.

Lillard has felt disrespected his whole career despite finally being named first team all-NBA this past season. McCollum was involved in one of the big stories of the offseason when he called Kevin Durant’s move to the Warriors a soft one to his face on his own podcast. Overall, if the Blazers are unable to have a decent playoff run this season, it might be time to sound the alarm.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Andre Roberson is coming back from a knee injury that was devastating to the Thunder’s hopes for a deep playoff run. Dennis Schroeder is a nice acquisition and should be a quality backup point guard. Paul George shocked the NBA world and re-signed with the team after just about everyone thought he was going to his hometown Lakers. Most importantly, Carmelo Anthony is now gone from the team.

Barring injury, there is no excuse for Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to not be an elite team this season. They should have a top 10 offense and defense with two really good scorers and some great perimeter defenders like Roberson, George, and Jerami Grant. Add the tough and gritty Steven Adams along Nerlens Noel, a center with a lot of defensive potential and this team has a roster that can make a lot of noise even in a tough western conference.


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