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NBA Playoffs

NBA Playoffs: Making the case for three fringe teams

NBA fans have been reveling in how open the field is for the upcoming season. After some serious player movement, close to a third of the league has a legitimate shot at the 2020 title, with many other teams feeling they at least have a puncher’s chance.

Other teams may not be in a position to start planning out parades but could still improve upon their 2018-19 campaigns. The playoff picture for both conferences may feel pretty set in stone for the most part, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect a surprise or two. There is a handful of teams that could defy the odds and keep playing when the regular season is a wrap. To be realistic, these teams would have to have everything go right to even have a chance, but, in being optimistic, that means that there is a chance for these fringe teams to sneak into the playoffs come April.

Sacramento Kings

After spending significant time down the stretch of last season appearing a potential threat to steal the eighth seed from the Clippers, the Kings couldn’t close and ended up nine games out of postseason basketball. This season could very well be a different story for the young team. New coach Luke Walton could be a blessing for the development of players like Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles, both of whom are set to be the future of Sactown’s front court.

What helps the Kings’ case for the playoffs more than anything else though is their backcourt, though. Guards De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are both positioned to have potentially incredible seasons. Hield spent last season shooting a spectacular 42.7 percent, making him one of five players to score 20 or more points per game while shooting at least 40 percent from deep. For what it’s worth, only Steph Curry averaged more made 3’s per game than Buddy out of that group.

If the Kings can earn a spot in the playoffs in the crowded West, though, it is going to come down to play from Fox. The third year point guard had a breakout season in 2018-19, improving across the board. If he can keep that trend moving in the right direction, he could easily become one of the more notable point guards in the league.

The focus is definitely there from the young star, as well. Fox, who withdrew from USA basketball this summer to focus on a playoff push with the Kings, has had strong words about Sacramento being the franchise for him, waving off any notion that he would be happier in another market.

New York Knicks

Knicks fans don’t need any reminding that their roster heading into the 2019-20 season looks drastically different than they expected it to. Despite missing out on marquee free agents this summer, the Knicks found a way to pick up plenty of players who could certainly have an impact on the team’s success.

Julius Randle was the headline signing for the team and we got a taste of what he can do when unleashed at times last season with the Pelicans. In a larger role, Randle put up a career high 21.4 points and tallied 11 games scoring 30 or more points- including a whopper of a 45-pont game against Portland late in the season. He will likely spend a lot of time as the first option on offense and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him play at an all-star level.

Other smart veteran signings of Wayne Ellington, Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis could prove fruitful as the remainder of the roster has only a combined 21 years of experience.

Young players like Mitchell Robinson, Dennis Smith Jr., and rookie R.J. Barrett shouldn’t be overlooked as potentially excellent sources of production, though. Barrett has been heralded as a natural scorer, and if the success he has had at previous levels translates quickly to the NBA, there is no doubt he could be valuable right away. This will also be the first full season in New York for Smith Jr. after being acquired via trade last season. If they can find the right mix of play from both their young core and vets, the Knicks could easily work their way into the back end of the playoff picture, especially in the East.

New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans may have had a rough go at it last season, but few teams in the history of the league have been able to turn a bad situation around as well as they did. In a matter of months, New Orleans hit the lottery, earning the first pick and a potentially generational talent in Zion Williamson, locked in a proven front office mind in David Griffin, and flipped their franchise star for multiple young players with some promise, a nice arsenal of draft picks, and even a little salary relief.

But they didn’t stop there. Griffin found a way to make a splash in his first free agency with the team by signing J.J. Reddick and acquiring Derrick Favors for next to nothing.

All moves considered, this is a very well rounded and deep roster. Much of their success, tough, will depend on if their young players can step up. Jrue Holiday is set to be the number one guy for the team and Griff is confident that Holiday has another level he can take his game to. If Jrue can have a special season and lead this team, and the young players on the roster can contribute, the Pelicans may remain the team with the best shot to fight into playoff seeding.