Surprise NBA Teams That Will Be in the Playoff Hunt

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIINovember 5, 2012

Surprise NBA Teams That Will Be in the Playoff Hunt

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    The 2012-13 NBA regular season is one of the most highly anticipated campaigns in the history of this great league. Despite the surplus of injuries to stars such as Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and John Wall, there is more on the line in 2013 than any year in recent memory.

    We can thank the newfound art of the "super-team" for that.

    The Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat are amongst the numerous teams that have utilized the period of free agency to build championship contenders. Although we hold each of those teams to a level of expectation that is only to be met by postseason success, we must not forget an elusive truth.

    Each and every season, there are a handful of teams who shock the world with how close they come to the postseason. Every now and then, one of those teams finds a way to sneak into the playoffs.

    During the 2012-13 NBA season, there will be no alteration in said form. There will be a group of teams that surprise the league with their legitimacy in the pursuit of a postseason berth.

    So, which overachieving teams must we watch for down the final stretch of the 2012-13 NBA regular season?

Golden State Warriors

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    2011-12 W-L Record: 23-43 (14th in Western Conference)

    Key 2011-12 Statistic: 7.3 3PT/G (3rd in NBA) 

    Key Additions: Harrison Barnes, SF; Andrew Bogut, C; Festus Ezeli, C; Jarrett Jack, PG; Carl Landry, PF

     

    What to Build on

    The Golden State Warriors return a group of core players who could potentially lift this franchise to new levels of greatness. Those players include Stephen Curry, David Lee, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut.

    In case you're unfamiliar with the talent listed, this makes the Warriors one of the most dynamic teams in the NBA.

    Curry and Thompson are elite three-point shooters that are expected to shoot upwards of 40 percent from beyond the arc. David Lee, meanwhile, is a virtual lock to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

    Throw in Andrew Bogut's defensive prowess on the interior and you have yourself a balanced attack. As long as the chemistry is there, the Warriors will be as dangerous as anyone.

     

    Keys to Success

    The key for the Golden State Warriors is a mix of health and development.

    The Warriors acquired Bogut at the 2012 trade deadline by trading fan-favorite Monta Ellis. Unfortunately, Bogut failed to play a single game last season while recovering from a fractured left ankle (via ESPN).

    Joining Bogut on the sideline was franchise point guard Stephen Curry, who also suffered an injured ankle (via Inside Bay Area).

    Should Bogut and Curry remain healthy, however, the Warriors are a legitimate postseason threat. Curry is an elite three-point shooter at 43.8 percent for his career, while Bogut has anchored two Top 10 scoring defenses.

    Paired with David Lee's nightly 20 and 10, as well as Klay Thompson's rapidly developing scoring, the Warriors have a starting lineup worth fearing. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, top-five reserves at their position, only further strengthen this unit.

    The question is, how will rookies Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli progress? With Brandon Rush sidelined by a severe knee injury, the pressure is on (via ESPN).

Houston Rockets

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    2011-12 W-L Record: 34-32 (9th in Western Conference)

    Key 2011-12 Statistic: 32.5% OPP 3PT (3rd in NBA)

    Key Additions: Omer Asik, C; Carlos Delfino, SF; James Harden, SG; Jeremy Lin, PG

     

    What to Build on 

    The Houston Rockets return very few players from a year ago. With the departure of Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee, Chase Budinger and Samuel Dalembert, they actually return no one but Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons.

    Seriously, that was their entire rotation.

    The new Rockets deploy a rotation consisting of Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Parsons, Patterson, Omer Asik and Carlos Delfino as their sixth man. In other words, there is absolutely nothing to build upon but the return of role players such as Patterson and Parsons.

    Oh, and some head coach who goes by the name of Kevin McHale.

     

    Keys to Success 

    The key for the Houston Rockets to discover legitimate success is to develop their frontcourt rotation of Patterson, Asik, Marcus Morris and Greg Smith. Should they receive playing time, you can throw rookies Terrence Jones and Royce White in there as well.

    And no, folks, the tandem of Jeremy Lin and James Harden is not more important.

    Although Lin and Harden will lead the team, they are only as strong as their weakest link. As it stands, the offensive production from their frontcourt is that weak link.

    Asik is a monster on the boards, as evidenced by his average of 14.3 rebounds through three games. He is far from an offensive weapon, however, which places a heavy burden on Morris and Patterson to produce.

    Fortunately for Houston, they've combined to average 22.5 points per contest through three games. That number will need to rise, but it is a positive reflection of the upside each player possesses.

    If the frontcourt can score, Lin and Harden can lead this team to the postseason. If it cannot, the Rockets will fall short.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    2011-12 W-L Record: 31-35 (9th in Eastern Conference)

    Key 2012 Statistic: 99.0 PPG (5th in NBA) 

    Key Additions: Samuel Dalembert, C; John Henson, PF; Doron Lamb, SG

     

    What to Build on 

    The Milwaukee Bucks return virtually their entire core from one year ago, although Andrew Bogut has departed; he was dealt at the trade deadline for the pace-pushing and scoreboard-destroying Monta Ellis.

    Between he and point guard Brandon Jennings, the Bucks are looking at roughly 45 points and 13 assists per contest.

    For those who doubt the validity of this duo, keep in mind that they and Beno Udrih combined to help the Bucks rank third in the NBA in assists per game. That mark of 23.5 was just a hair behind the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets.

    It also set the table for the team's jaw-dropping 29.0 through the first two games of the 2012-13 regular season.

    The Bucks are an elite offensive unit with a defensive guru in Scott Skiles as their head coach. Look for the Bucks to make noise with the same formula they put forth in 2011-12.

     

    Keys to Success 

    Some might ponder why the Bucks would see any difference in terms of success when they plan to rely on the same style of play. The reason behind this belief is the fact that the Bucks have added a significant amount of talent.

    Most importantly, they've added the type of talent that fits within their system.

    Ersan Ilyasova, Samuel Dalembert, Ekpe Udoh, Larry Sanders and rookie John Henson should help make the Bucks a top-tier interior defense. Dalembert, Udoh, Sanders and Henson are amongst the better shot-blockers in the league, while Ilyasova is a world-class rebounder.

    With this being established, how could you not be excited by the Bucks' transition offense?

    The interior is where victories will start and end. If the Bucks can control the glass and alter shots as their talent and coaching suggests they're able to, they will be a tough out in the Eastern Conference.

    They might even secure a postseason spot before the final week of the season.

Phoenix Suns

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    2011-12 W-L Record: 33-33 (10th in Western Conference)

    Key 2011-12 Statistic: 98.4 PPG (8th in NBA)

    Key Additions: Michael Beasley, SF; Goran Dragic, PG; Jermaine O'Neal, C; Luis Scola, PF

     

    What to Build on

    Truthfully, there is virtually nothing for the Phoenix Suns to build upon. Despite the fact that the Suns return their leading scorer and rebounder, as well as their stellar head coach, Alvin Gentry, that's virtually all they've held onto.

    Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley and Luis Scola are all coming to the team as players who have never been teammates before. This is important to note, as they'll all become starters.

    Oh, and some guy named Steve Nash is no longer on the team. Don't know if you've heard of him.

    This is a time of change in Phoenix. Will the change be a postseason berth?

     

    Keys to Success

    It seems rather obvious, but the key to the Phoenix Suns reaching the postseason is the rapid development of team chemistry. With three new starters, the Suns could face a potential learning curve that will nullify any late-season push the team is able to make.

    For that reason, Phoenix's ability to make the postseason will hinge directly upon the quality of its record after the first two months of the season.

    If the Suns can remain at .500, they will be able to make the push their talent suggests they're capable of. Having veterans such as Scola, Jared Dudley and Jermaine O'Neal will certainly help, but the youth of players such as Dragic and Beasley could hurt.

    Although Dragic and Beasley are veterans by label, their experience as starters is limited or marred by inconsistency.

    Look for Shannon Brown to be the player that steps up in the face of adversity, posting a career year in terms of season averages. Whether or not Gentry can keep the Suns' heads above water for the first two months of the year, however, will determine how important Brown's production actually is.

Toronto Raptors

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    2011-12 W-L Record: 23-43 (11th in Eastern Conference)

    Key 2011-12 Statistic: 94.0 OPP PPG (9th in NBA)

    Key Additions: Landry Fields, G/F; Kyle Lowry, PG; Terrence Ross, SG; Jonas Valanciunas, C 

     


    What to Build on

    Despite managing to win just 23 games, the Toronto Raptors established themselves as a borderline elite defensive unit. The Dwane Casey-led group allowed an average of 94.0 points per game, good for ninth in the NBA.

    Unfortunately, the Raptors only scored 90.7 points per game. That ranked 28th in the NBA.

    With the addition of point guard Kyle Lowry and the drafting of sharpshooter Terrence Ross, the Raptors should improve significantly on offense. Their three-point shooting will enable the pick-and-roll with Andrea Bargnani, while DeMar DeRozan should benefit from facing man defense.

    Although they will not be a 100-point-per-game group, they will be able to keep the pace with their opponents. Something they could not do in 2011-12.

     

    Keys to Success

    As previously alluded to, the Raptors were one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. At the heart of these struggles was the fact that the Raptors only made 5.5 three-point field goals per game and shot 34.0 percent from beyond the arc.

    Considering the recently acquired Kyle Lowry averaged 1.7 on his own in 2011-12, you have yourself an improvement. With rookie Terrence Ross specializing in jump shooting, you also have a potentially elite team from a previously weak area.

    If the threes fall and the defense performs as it did a year ago, the Raptors will make the postseason.

Washington Wizards

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    2011-12 W-L Record: 20-46 

    Key 2011-12 Statistic: 15.2 OPP TO/G (8th in NBA)

    Key Additions: Trevor Ariza, SF; Bradley Beal, SG; Emeka Okafor, C

     

    What to Build on 

    Even prior to selecting Bradley Beal in the 2012 NBA draft, the Washington Wizards had a lethal backcourt combination in John Wall and Jordan Crawford. With Beal uncertain to produce at a high level as a rookie, that is exactly where the Wizards start the building process.

    Crawford is a nightly threat to go off for 20 points, while Wall joined Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the only other player to average at least 16 points and eight assists in 2012.

    In the frontcourt, rebounding machine Trevor Booker will work alongside Kevin Seraphin to provide the Wizards with quality interior play. Although recent acquisitions Nene Hilario and Emeka Okafor will steal the big minutes, the development of Booker and Seraphin is key to success.

    Also look for second-year forward Jan Vesely to play a key role in the Wizards' push for the postseason.

     

    Keys to Success 

    The Washington Wizards will only go as far as their replacement players enable them to. If the likes of A.J. Price, Booker and Seraphin are able to fill Wall's and Nene's shoes to an adequate level, the Wizards could make a postseason push.

    Whether or not the reserves can help the team flirt with .500, however, is something one simply cannot predict.

    Another wild card in this instance is head coach Randy Wittman. On one hand, Wittman motivated the Wizards and led them to an 8-2 finish during the final month of the 2011-12 NBA regular season.

    On the other hand, Wittman has a career record of 118-240 and has never once made the postseason. The keys to success are the most unreliable commodities on the roster—reserves stepping into starting roles and losing head coaches finding ways to win games.