The NBA provided its fans with an exciting playoff primer with the Play-In Tournament.
This four-team competition put the final two playoff spots up for grabs, and kept fringe playoff teams competing until the season’s last day.
Last year, the Play-In Tournament proved worthwhile.
The Memphis Grizzlies earned a playoff berth the team would not have otherwise had by beating the Golden State Warriors.
This season, the NBA’s Western Conference sports a clear set of contenders.
None of last year’s playoff teams expect to take a major step back in the standings.
But there are two teams who might make a surprise run at the league’s Play-In Tournament this year.
2. Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings seek to snap a 15-year playoff drought, which is tied for the longest such postseason absence in league history.
After pushing for the Play-In Tournament last season, the Kings ultimately fell short, finishing 31-41.
But heading into the 2021-22 season, Sacramento has quietly built an intriguing young core that can push for a Western Conference playoff spot.
Last year’s lottery pick, Tyrese Haliburton, made the All-Rookie first-team.
Haliburton averaged 13 points and 5.3 assists per game last season.
Paired with a dynamic talent in De’Aaron Fox, the Kings sport an exciting backcourt to build around.
The team added to that backcourt with the selection of Davion Mitchell with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Beyond those three, Buddy Hield stands as one of the top perimeter shooters in the league.
The Kings also have an intriguing young big man in Marvin Bagley III.
Thompson helps shore up a key weakness from last year’s team, interior defense.
Barnes, meanwhile, provides a floor-spacing forward to pair with the perimeter talent.
The Kings dominated the NBA’s Summer League, winning the championship in blowout fashion, so there’s plenty of interesting talent on the fringes as well.
𝟮𝗫 𝗦𝗨𝗠𝗠𝗘𝗥 𝗟𝗘𝗔𝗚𝗨𝗘 𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗠𝗣𝗜𝗢𝗡𝗦 🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/OUh4PDrIBg
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) August 18, 2021
Sacramento might shuffle the roster some this offseason, but if the team trades away talents like Barnes or Hield, it should land useful NBA players in return.
If Fox and Haliburton continue their developmental trajectory, the Kings should challenge for a Play-In spot.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
The 2020-21 season ended in disappointment again for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Expecting a playoff push, the Timberwolves faltered through a 7-24 start to the campaign and slipped in the standings.
As a result, Minnesota fired head coach Ryan Saunders and installed former Toronto Raptors assistant Chris Finch in his place midway through the season.
Although the team missed the playoffs for the third year in a row, the Timberwolves played well under Finch, finishing the year 16-25.
Finch is now tasked with taking the Timberwolves to the playoffs.
"They’ve seen their contemporaries having success. Devin Booker’s in the Finals. Nikola Jokic wins MVP. These are guys who they feel they are every bit as good as, if not better than —or at one point have been better than —in the league."
-Chris Finch on DLo & KAT
(The Athletic) pic.twitter.com/EUFKv7YkY5
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) August 19, 2021
The team also sports one of the most exciting talents from last year’s draft class in Anthony Edwards, who made a strong case for Rookie of the Year in 2020-21.
This offseason, Minnesota tinkered with the roster.
The key for the Timberwolves remains the health of their top stars, but added depth could see Minnesota sneak into the playoffs via the Play-In Tournament.