Last season the Toronto Raptors were anything but exciting, but they did go 41-41 with the point differential of a 44-win team. Losing Fred VanVleet is noticeable, but they also will have a full season of Jakob Poeltl and additions in Dennis Schroder and Jalen McDaniels, not to mention a new head coach in Darko Rajaković. Their first-round pick is due to the San Antonio Spurs with a top-6 protection, so they won’t be incentivized to lose down the stretch. They seem on track to finish above .500 despite their offensive issues and lack of a team direction.
Two seasons ago the Atlanta Hawks were in the Eastern Conference Finals, but in two seasons since they have floundered at the bottom of the playoff picture. Can new head coach Quin Snyder help lift them out of the dregs? To do so, he’ll need to find a way to maximize Trae Young while bringing along young talent to be ready for the playoffs.
The Kings were the feel-good story of the league last season, putting together the best offense in NBA history and leaping all the way up to the No. 3 seed. They fall back just six wins but also six places in the standings. They were historically healthy last season and that will likely not repeat, and this team’s high-octane engine won’t purr once you start inserting backups into the equation.
If someone from the future traveled back in time to tell me that the New Orleans Pelicans were mostly healthy this season, I would say two things. First: “You used a time machine just to tell me that?” Second: I predict that the Pelicans will win 50 games. Zion Williamson is an undeniable force, their young players have a ton of upside and when healthy this team has played at that pace. Unfortunately, expecting the Pelicans to stay healthy is probably a losing bet.