The NBA season is finally here and, as always, there are bound to be some teams that prove the naysayers wrong. For this list, surprise teams have been selected based on predicted achievements in 2017/18, while some playoff outfits from last season are also included. So, without further delay, let's get into the teams that will punch above their weight this season.
5. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are being tipped by many to regress this season, namely due to the loss of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics. However, outside of the predicted top-four teams in the Western Conference (Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder), it's an open race for playoff spots.
Hayward led the Jazz to the fourth seed last season and is a massive loss. Yet, the young Jazz squad, led by future All-Star Rudy Gobert should find themselves in playoff contention. Ultimately, after losing a franchise superstar in Hayward, the Jazz making the playoffs should be a surprise for NBA fans.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
I know what you're thinking, putting the Clippers on this list is a big stretch as they're almost certain to make the playoffs. However, with the loss of superstar point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, many are uneasy about the Clippers' prospects.
Fortunately for their fans, the Clippers received a lot out of the Paul trade, and also signed passing wizard Miloš Teodosić. This season will also test Blake Griffin's leadership and maturity, now that the team becomes his own.
I think if you were to ask NBA fans where they would predict the Clippers to finish in the West, the general consensus would be the sixth seed (behind the top four above, and the Minnesota Timberwolves). However, given their roster there is no reason why the Clippers couldn't shock the NBA and finish fourth in the West - ahead of the Thunder and the Timberwolves.
3. Brooklyn Nets
Let me start by answering the following, do I think the Nets have the slightest chance of making the playoffs? No. Even in the mediocre Eastern Conference, this team doesn't stand much of a chance. However, that's not to say they won't make a bit of noise and ascend from their spot as the league's cellar-dwellers.
The Nets are undergoing a youth movement which was punctuated with their trade of Brook Lopez. With the noteworthy additions of D'Angelo Russell and DeMarre Carroll, the Nets could definitely win between 25-28 games. This would be an increase from their 2016/17 win total of 20 and could see them finish the season a few spots above last.
2. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets could end up being a lot like the Clippers this season. That is to say, they should finish higher than most would expect. Throughout this article, I've mentioned the widely perceived top-six teams in the West, and the Nuggets may just be the team to shake that up this season.
The first major sign of improvement comes in the signing of All-Star veteran Paul Millsap, who will undoubtedly improve the squad in all areas. The addition of Richard Jefferson will also bring a veteran influence around the number of young stars, namely Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray. This team has a strong chance at a top-five finish in the West, a prospect which hasn't been properly considered due to the hype surrounding the Thunder and the Timberwolves as new contenders.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
It almost feels strange to put the Lakers in first place on the list, due to all the hype that has surrounded this team since, well, LaVar Ball. Yet, this is a team that can shock the NBA. It would be fair to say most would predict this team to fall anywhere between the tenth and 12th seeds in the West.
The Lakers boast a young lineup bursting with talent which includes Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Couple this with the veteran presence of Lopez and Andrew Bogut, and the Lakers have themselves a very well-rounded team. I'm not afraid to say that this team has a chance at stealing the seventh or eighth seed in the West come playoff time. It's Big Baller time in Los Angeles.
As you may have noticed, this list features just one Eastern Conference team. That is because the East isn't shaping up to be competitive outside of four or five teams. A lot of bona fide Eastern Conference talent moved West in the offseason, arguably leaving the East in tatters. The biggest justification for the Nets' inclusion on this list is - after finishing last, the only way is up. The surprise factor is waiting to see how far they ascend.
Who do you think the surprise teams are ahead of the 2017/18 NBA season? Comment below!