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Five Improved NBA Lottery Teams

by Photo of Scott Davis

These five NBA teams may take a jump from the lottery to the playoffs this season

Five Improved NBA Lottery Teams

The summer of 2013 has been a strange free agency period, marked by some major signings and trades and a whole lot of waiting. Unlike most summers where the biggest name free agents are scooped up in a week or two, this summer has seen both teams and players take their time about making moves. For instance, yesterday, the biggest move in recent weeks came out of the blue as the Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks completed a sign-and-trade that sent Brandon Jennings to the Pistons. It took 30 days for Jennings, largely considered one of the better point guards on the free agent market, to find a new home.

However, despite the slow pace of the summer, most NBA rosters are set, and it's fair to begin judging teams on their offseasons and how they will fare in the 2013-14 season. This season is gearing up to be, perhaps, one of the most competitive seasons in a long time. The Western Conference is stacked; the top teams mostly kept their rosters in tact and the middle and lower playoff seeds got stronger, too. The Eastern Conference is extremely top-heavy with the Miami Heat hoping to three-peat, the Brooklyn Nets making big moves to contend, the Chicago Bulls getting Derrick Rose back, and the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers building around their cores.

However, part of what will make this season so competitive is that several of last year's non-playoff, lottery teams have made moves to become playoff contenders. Here's a look at five improved teams that could jump into playoff contention.

1) Detroit Pistons

As mentioned, the Detroit Pistons completed a sign-and-trade yesterday that will bring Brandon Jennings to the team as the starting point guard. Jennings is a young talent, albeit flawed in many areas. However, he'll be tutored by Chauncey Billups who can certainly show Jennings a thing or two about shot selection and how to get a team into its offense. Likewise, earlier in the summer, the Pistons signed Josh Smith to a beefy contract that will team him up with two, young, promising big men in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. They hired Maurice Cheeks as head coach, a man who has coached playoff teams before and more recently spent time under Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City. After the Heat, Nets, Pacers, Knicks, and Bulls, the East is pretty open, and the Pistons could easily slide into the sixth, seventh, or eighth seed.

2) Washington Wizards

Despite a lowly 29-53 record in 2012-13, the Washington Wizards had a fairly strong second half of their season, at one point standing 14-11 after the All-Star break before going through a six-game losing streak to end the season. They were plagued by injuries for most of the year, but when healthy, the Wizards were a competitive team. Mike Prada, a Wizards blogger for SB Nation, posted a picture showing the Wizards had the most productive five-man unit to play at least 120 minutes last season.They didn't add much to their team this offseason, but if John Wall and Nene can stay healthy, along with the growth of Bradley Beal and Kevin Seraphin (and a little Otto Porter mixed in), the Wizards have a shot to claim one of the lower Eastern Conference playoff seeds.

3) New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Hornets slugged their way through the 2012-13 season, earning only a 27-55 record in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. However, with a name-change and an upgraded roster, the Pelicans could be the surprise team in the West. They added serious talent in acquiring Jrue Holiday on draft day and in signing Tyreke Evans. They also added some minor pieces in Anthony Morrow and Greg Stiemsma to surround a core of Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Al-Farouq Aminu. People around the league believe Anthony Davis will blossom into a superstar, and Eric Gordon, when healthy, is one of the league's best shooting guards. They're a little weak up front, but the Pelicans have assembled an extremely talented group on paper.

4) Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have a shot at winning most games, thanks to the brilliance of Kyrie Irving. Now, after being the laughing stock of the league the last few years, they could very well be a playoff team. They've brought back former coach Mike Brown to helm a ship that contains Irving and new signings like Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, and Earl Clark. Add the number one overall pick, Anthony Bennett, and youngsters like Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, and the Cavs have a talented team that could easily compete for the postseason. Their overall success is hugely reliant on the health of Irving and Bynum (not necessarily relaxing notions), but with a little luck, they could be playing in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James left.

5) Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves looked like a playoff team early last season before injuries knocked them off their feet. Kevin Love missed most of the season, Andrei Kirilenko and JJ Barea were oft-injured, and the rest of the deck had to be constantly re-shuffled. Although they lost Kirilenko, they signed Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, and Ronny Turiaf, and drafted Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Deng to bolster their depth and talent. Derrick Williams showed real flashes at the end of the season and Alexey Shved should make some strides in his sophomore year. Like many other teams, they need good health to compete in a tough conference, but they'll certainly make a run for those bottom playoff seeds.

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