The mid-tier sleepers:
These are the teams that I expect to finish 4-6 in the Western Conference playoff picture but I legitimately would not be surprised if any of these teams took that extra step to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers for the first seed. The Western Conference is that deep and I think you could legitimately make the case that any of these teams would be top three at worst in the East.
6. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is going to be an MVP finalist and I would not even be shocked if he won the award next season. Doncic is the best young player in the game and he got even better in the NBA bubble.
I do not love the moves that Dallas made and it seems as if they are re-calibrating for next summer. However, Doncic’s extremely high ceiling makes them a mid-tier sleeper that could still take that next step.
5. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets’ playoff run was fun and all but the team still got worse this offseason. They lost a really important role player in Jerami Grant and did not really make any improvements to the roster despite losing him.
Jamal Murray will get better and Nikola Jokic will continue being a revolutionary big man. You could easily make the case for them to be lower on this list but I leave them this high because they have the potential to add a significant role player at the deadline with the contracts and assets they have.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers got hot at the right time last year and as long as they stay healthy next season then I really like them to jump all the way to the fourth seed.
Damian Lillard is a top-three point guard in the league and the Blazers have really solid depth around him with CJ McCollum and the recently added Robert Covington. Covington is a massive addition as the Blazers’ biggest flaw was their defense and Covington is an elite defensive player.
Carmelo Anthony is returning as a bench player and the team replaced Hassan Whiteside’s bench role with Enes Kanter. I like Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic and I legitimately think this could be a team that challenges for the first seed if everything meshes together.