With NBA free agency and the draft in the books, league rosters are starting to shape up to what fans will see on the court in October. With only three new playoff teams in 2012, “The Playoff Leap” only occurs for a select few.
Making a big leap, though, isn’t merely conducive to a playoff berth. Telling signs of a step in the right direction, such as a double-digit increase in wins, may be a huge jump for some NBA franchises.
So when taking a look through this select list of teams, some expectations must be tempered. If you’re a Bobcats fan, don’t think that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the missing piece; there are many missing pieces to that roster.
Enough with the instruction. Five NBA teams are in position to make a huge jump next season; click ahead to see which are in position.
Rewind back to March 8th this year.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were in the thick of the playoff chase, led by All-Star Kevin Love and dynamic rookie Ricky Rubio. The young T-Wolves were about to become relevant faster than everyone thought.
Then Rubio went down with an ACL tear, and Minnesota’s playoffs hopes slowly went down with it.
Which brings up an important caveat to Minnesota’s playoff chase: They must have a healthy Rubio running the point. Without him, their offense loses flow, and the players who can't create for themselves are non-factors. The latest update on the Minnesota point guard detailed he had not been cleared for running yet.
Along with their Fabio-esque point guard, the T-Wolves' offensive numbers were astronomical. They averaged the 10th-most points in the NBA, also playing at one of the fastest paces.
On the other hand, GM David Kahn has made strides to improve their 26th-ranked defense this offseason. Greg Stiemsma will be taking his charge-taking talents to the Midwest; he's the only player on this year's roster who has a defensive efficiency below 100. In addition, Chase Budinger is a worthy upgrade to Michael Beasley on the defensive end.
If this team gets defensive, look out. Add in a healthy return for Rubio, and Minnesota is a contender for one of the West’s last playoff seeds.
The Nets have a new home and new logo, and their first year should be something new as well: playoffs. Their free-agency haul of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Brook Lopez should be enough to contend for home-court advantage in the first round.
Considering how unimpressive the Nets roster was last season, a home playoff series would be a godsend to Nets fans, let alone a winning season altogether. Offensively, Brooklyn has the pieces in place to be an offensive handful for opponents; all of their new acquisitions had a 110-plus offensive rating in their last full season (Lopez 2011).
Nets coach Avery Johnson hasn’t had this much talent since he was in Dallas five years ago, when his team won 60 games and the No. 1 seed. This Brooklyn team does not have that potential with Miami and Boston in their conference, but their coach will certainly squeeze every ounce of potential out of this group.
Of all the teams on this list, the Lakers are the only one who can leap into championship contention.
The addition of Steve Nash in the offseason gives them a distributor to meddle with L.A.’s dysfunctional offense from last season. He makes it whole.
For a team that could’ve been up 3-2 in their second-round series with Oklahoma City, throwing Nash and Antawn Jamison into the mix should up their 14th-ranked offense incessantly. For those who point to that rank not being that bad, when the team has Kobe, Pau and Bynum, there’s more production to be had.
Lakers management is still in the market for supplementary help for Kobe and Co.; re-signing Matt Barnes could be useful for defending guards. Defensively, though, this team was highly ranked all season due to head coach Mike Brown’s defensive prowess. Expecting their defensive intensity to waver with Metta World Peace and that front line would be shortsighted.
The Lakers playing in June? They sure have the look of it.
After pining for a big man since he landed in Golden State, Mark Jackson finally got his man in the middle.
Andrew Bogut needed to take the season off to heal from injury, but the San Francisco brass has high expectations for a resurgent season. The Warriors' roster overhaul begins and ends with Bogut, who is a top-five center in the league when healthy. Being healthy, though, is a tall order for the Australian.
The Warriors continued to get bigger this offseason. They now have five players on the roster at 6'10" or taller, including Bogut and several second-round projects.
However, Golden State's first-round prize in this year's draft may be the reason they make a push in the West. Harrison Barnes entered the NBA draft underappreciated, but not without defined skills for professional play. The young wing can stroke it from anywhere and will easily fit in at the 3 alongside Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
An inside-out offensive approach with Bogut at the forefront (along with Lee, Curry, Thompson and Barnes spreading the floor) might just give us the West Coast Orlando.
It will surely be raining threes in Oakland.
The Raptors may have missed out on a Canadian homecoming with Steve Nash, but they recovered nicely in the 2012 free-agency period.
Toronto coach Dwane Casey finally has some talent, along with one of the most intriguing rosters in the East. Defense hasn't been a problem with Casey's squad; the Raptors went from a middling defensive squad to the ninth-best rank in defensive efficiency overnight.
The offensive talent on this team, though, had been in flux, and the buyout of Jonas Valanciunas was a huge part of that. Casual fans may not have a clue about the Lithuanian center who’s about to don a Raptors uniform, but NBA insiders have been perking their ears.
Adding Valanciunas gives Toronto an inside presence, which in turn will open up the floor for Andrea Bargnani to play the stretch 4.
Toronto's other fresh blood will also benefit from their new Lithuanian center. Kyle Lowry may be the backup plan for Steve Nash, but he was nearly an All-Star last season. In addition, new draft pick Terrence Ross will bring a gunner's mentality to the squad, which is perhaps exactly what they need to keep spacing.
A lot of new blood is in Toronto, and there's a lot of hope with it. This writer thinks it's well warranted.