Across the NBA, training camps have already started to open up, and teams are allowing themselves to believe in their best-case scenarios for this upcoming season.
Just about everyone agrees that the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns are the league’s main championship contenders, and there is the possibility of the Cleveland Cavaliers joining that group at some point in the coming months.
But another intriguing group of teams is those that will surprise observers or surpass expectations this coming season.
Every year, it seems at least one team does so, and sometimes it’s a squad that no one ever thought would’ve done what it just did.
This year, these three teams could end up becoming feel-good stories:
After reaching the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, the Hawks finished 43-39 last season and got rolled in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat.
But they made a big move this summer by trading Danilo Gallinari and four future first-round draft picks to the San Antonio Spurs for Dejounte Murray, a 26-year-old All-Star guard who only seems to be getting better.
A couple of years ago, Murray looked like nothing more than a decent rotation player, but in the 2021-22 season, he put up 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 9.2 assists and a league-leading 2.0 steals per game.
He has also become one of the more explosive and exciting players in the NBA, on both ends of the floor.
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) September 19, 2022
Now, Murray will be teaming up with Trae Young, one of the more underrated stars in the game.
In a brutal Eastern Conference, Atlanta could end up pulling off another playoff upset, just as it did in 2021 when it knocked off the Philadelphia 76ers.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans were a bad team for much of the 2021-22 campaign, but they surged late after making a couple of moves.
One of those moves was trading for CJ McCollum, who played some of his best ball after being traded to New Orleans, averaging 24.3 points and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 39.4 from 3-point range.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) September 16, 2022
The team then overcame a big deficit versus the Los Angeles Clippers in its second play-in tournament game to make the playoffs, where it took the heavily favored Suns to six games.
It did all that without Zion Williamson, who is now presumably healthy.
The one thing they lack is a high-level point guard, but otherwise, they have all they need to far exceed last season’s win total.
Los Angeles Lakers
One reason why the team did so poorly was the lack of viable two-way role players, but for this season, it has several such players, including Patrick Beverley, Thomas Bryant, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Dennis Schroder.
Key injuries to James, Davis and guard Kendrick Nunn, another complementary player the Lakers didn’t have last year, contributed to their miserable season.
Many are picking L.A. to only reach the play-in tournament, but if they stay healthy and new head coach Darvin Ham proves to be a strong, competent leader, it could end up being a mid-tier playoff team that is very competitive.