By: Jason Gordon
Each fall, 30 teams begin the chase to capture an NBA title and league supremacy. Often, the list of contenders whittled down to two or three teams, but in the 2016-17 season, several second-tier clubs are ready to contend. For some, it might take an in-season trade that puts them into the playoff spotlight and becoming a serious threat to take LeBron’s crown away.
Here are three second-tier NBA teams that can take it to the next level by season’s end:
The Boston Celtics haven’t been a serious contender for a NBA crown since the days of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen wearing the Green & White. The hiring of Brad Stevens as head coach was the first step toward bringing the Celtic Mystique back into the NBA fold. The core of the (Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart) roster is young and has developed into quite a cohesive unit as each player compliments one another on the court.
Watch some of the core team here
Thomas is one of the top penetrating guards in the game today. He has great court vision to distribute the basketball to either a cutter going towards the basket for an easy layup or hitting an open teammate for a mid-range jumper. In one of the best moves of the previous offseason, Al Horford has been one of the most reliable Celtics this season, as his 15.3 PPG and 6.8 PPG combined with this veteran leadership have proved to key to the Celtics’ success this season.
The club’s biggest weakness is rim defense, and acquiring a shot-blocking, defensive rebounder should become the top priority for the Celtics at the trade deadline. A player that comes to mind is Tyson Chandler, who is a terrific rim protector that won’t force the other starters to alter their game. The Celtics aren’t a finished product by any means, but they have the necessary parts to contend for a NBA title by season’s end.
The Milwaukee Bucks haven’t been relevant in the NBA since the days of Don Nelson roaming their sidelines as head coach. However, that’s not the case anymore as the Bucks have developed a roster filled with young talent ready to take that next leap on the NBA food chain.
The improvement in Giannis Antetokounmpo is astonishing as he’s getting serious consideration for a starting berth in the upcoming all-star game. The 21-year old has become a defensive nightmare for opposing teams because of his height (6’11”, 220lbs.), ball-handling skills and athleticism to get up and down the court effortlessly. The one flaw in Antetokounmpo’s game is his inconsistency to shoot from beyond the arc, especially when trying to close out opponents late in games.
Here’s Giannis making his return
Jabari Parker is finally becoming a bona fide scorer, something the Bucks expected after drafting him with the number two overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The wait has been painful, especially after Parker’s ACL tear injury last season.
Head coach Jason Kidd has an excellent feel for his roster, but he would love to acquire a veteran that can assist with the daily teaching of how to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. An acquisition of this nature will help stabilize the situation and help the Bucks get into the mix for a berth in the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s rare for a team to embodied the temperament of the city where the franchise resides, but the Memphis Grizzlies have taken on the demeanor of this blue-collar town.
Yes, there are plenty of questions surrounding the health of the Grizzlies key players. There are no guarantees that Marc Gasol can last an entire season due to various foot ailments. Chandler Parsons’ lingering knee injury has rendered him all but ineffective from beyond the three-point arc this year.
Watch Highlights from Memphis vs. OKC
Mike Conley has returned to the starting lineup after missing eight games due to a transverse process fracture in his back. It was an injury that initially expected to keep Conley off the court for 6-8 weeks.
Few have complimented Zach Randolph for making the transition from a starter into a prominent role off the bench. He provides the grit and toughness as a low-post scorer that is needed come playoff time.
Head coach David Fizdale has done a masterful job of monitoring his player’s minutes and creating new offensive options in key player’s absence. He understands that Conley must fully healthy if the Grizzlies are going to have a long playoff run.