The 2022-23 NBA season is about to start. With most of the big preseason predictions going to be put to the test, here are five more possible surprises.
A surprise team can go either way, from being one that makes a run into the playoffs or one that heads for better lottery odds.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers are Legit
After picking up the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, it seemed like it would be a while until the Cleveland Cavaliers were back as an Eastern Conference playoff contender.
Instead, they finished with a 44-38 record as the eighth seed but missed the playoffs due to the play-in tournament. Missing out on the playoffs may have changed the team’s perception, but it is important to remember they were a top-six seed for most of the season.
Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen became All-Stars, and rookie Evan Mobley proved he was well worth the third overall pick. Kevin Love remade himself as a player off the bench and Ricky Rubio stabilized the second unit, before his injury.
Injuries derailed the season, which has left the Cavaliers overlooked despite making a trade for All-Star Donovan Mitchell. They did have to give up some of the team’s depth, but adding another All-Star more than makes up for it.
This team, bearing injuries, is headed to the playoffs. The question is, how far can they go? The Cavaliers had 44 wins with injuries and before the addition of Mitchell makes the over on 50½ wins seem inevitable.
2. Portland Trail Blazers Can Fall Apart Quickly
The Portland Trail Blazers are a peculiar team. They are coming off a season in which they had a 27-55 record and Damian Lillard was injured for most of it. The organization underwent changes in the front office, which may have led to some questionable decisions at the trade deadline.
This feels like a new team around Lillard, which could go either way. Anfernee Simons took a massive leap with Lillard out, allowing the Trail Blazers to trade CJ McCollum. The wing depth looks much improved, with Jerami Grant, Josh Hart and Nassir Little showing flashes.
However, the Trail Blazers seem to be heading toward another failed season. The team did need more wings, but it is not nearly enough as Grant is the only solid defender on this roster. Instead of finding themselves in the playoff battle, they could look toward the future and Victor Wembanyama. Winning over 35 games seems like a stretch.
3. Detroit Pistons Will Only Get Better
It has been a long time since the Detroit Pistons were relevant. The last time the Pistons made the playoffs, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin were the “stars” of the team.
These Pistons are set up to be a surprisingly competitive team, and maybe push for a play-in spot. Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey and Marvin Bagley III, when healthy, have proven to be the core of the team, which was bolstered by the addition of rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Having Bojan Bogdanović was a nice touch, adding spacing, defense stability and leadership.
The roster is filled with talent, and if it clicks on the court, which it was starting to last season, Detroit could be in for a massive improvement in the Eastern Conference. The teams that competed for the play-in last season all have question marks, which gives the Pistons a chance.
Last season the Pistons won 25 games and they could quickly move closer to 35. BetUS has an alternative win total of 32½, with odds at +240 for the over. If they are competing for a play-in spot, they could go over that number.
4. New Orleans Pelicans: Deep Playoff Run
After the trade deadline, the New Orleans Pelicans were a completely different team, primarily due to the acquisition of CJ McCollum. He came in and boosted the offense through his perimeter scoring and playmaking abilities for the Pelicans.
Not only did the Pelicans come back from winning just five games through the first 20 to make the playoffs, but they also won two games against the defending Western Conference champions. That shows how good this roster is behind McCollum and former All-Star Brandon Ingram.
Now imagine a team that fought its way into the playoffs, and played well, is about to add a top-15 player in the league. From all accounts, Zion Williamson is back, and the last time he was healthy, he averaged 27 points and was an All-Star.
If he can maintain that production and stay healthy, the Pelicans could be a scary team in the regular season and the playoffs. This could lead to a top-four finish, pushing them close to 50 wins. BetUS sets the win total at 48½, 12 more wins than last season. With the additions of McCollum and Williamson, that jump is possible.
5. Where are the New York Knicks?
The New York Knicks went from the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference to the 11th. After starting well, the season took a turn, and the Knicks never recovered.
A disappointing season was followed by an offseason that raised more questions. The trade rumors surrounding Julius Randle and Cam Reddish swirled. The Knicks made two signings, one being a max offer to Jalen Brunson, which could be an overpay. On draft night, they used their picks to dump salary in order to sign Brunson and bring back Mitchell Robinson.
Due to the lack of upgrades on the roster, the moves they did make needed to work in order to find success. Brunson needs to play up to his contract consistently. Randle has to get back to playing like an All-Star, and RJ Barrett must keep improving.
However, if this does not happen before the All-Star Game, in New York City, it can quickly become a circus. The next step would be to fire head coach Tom Thibodeau, reverting a fan base that had started to have hope back to one in despair. This could make the under on 36½ a lot more probable, leading the Knicks into the Wembanyama sweepstakes.