6. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers were several bounces away from making it to the Eastern Conference finals, as Kawhi Leonard ended their season on a dagger. The team they roll out next year will certainly look different as they lost JJ Redick and Jimmy Butler in the off-season.
In turn, they added Al Horford in free agency, acquired Josh Richardson in the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade and were able to keep Tobias Harris. Sure they lost star power in Butler, but you could make the argument that they will be better as Horford seems more of a natural fit for their lineup.
Horford doesn’t need the ball as much as Butler per se and is a better passer than Butler. In addition, Horford actually shot better from three than Butler in each of the last 2 seasons. Horford also averaged more rebounds and assists than Butler last season. The 76ers could make a legitimate run in the Eastern Conference this season with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James having left the conference in consecutive off-seasons. The only reason I don’t see them getting past the Milwaukee Bucks is because Milwaukee has chemistry as they will be returning essentially the same team, with the exception of Malcolm Brogdon.
5. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets were the biggest surprise of the NBA last season, as they finished 2nd overall in the West and made the playoffs for their first time since 2013. They made it to the Conference Semi-Finals last season and took the Portland Trailblazers to 7 games. They also are retaining their core of Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray, and Nikola Jokic and will likely win 50+ games again.
In my opinion, their young team will benefit from making a deep playoff run, however they didn’t make any moves unlike the other elite teams in the West. They didn’t necessarily get better while other teams around them did, which they may have thought was the best option considering they’ve got a fairly young team. But they also don’t have enough star players, which is where the difference is made in the NBA. Sure, Jokic is an All-Star but in a league where you need multiple star players, who else fits that bill for the Nuggets?
Next: Nos. 3-4