This particular NBA offseason has felt like one big blur of events just rolling into each other with the NBA Draft and free agency taking place just two days apart. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely altered the league's calendar, the NBA was forced to fit nearly three months of an offseason into a mere four weeks culminating with the 2020-21 season tipping off Dec. 22.
There are still several big picture questions that remain unanswered for the league, including how to map out the schedule for each team, and what health and safety protocols will be put in place to quell the spread of the virus. But with training camp just around the corner on Dec. 1, and most of the big names off the board for free agency, we can take a look at some future bets ahead of the season that are sure to bring great value.
William Hill Sportsbook released its 2020-21 win total projections for nearly every team in the league (the Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors were left out due to potential trades and the injury of Klay Thompson). Below are five teams with a great shot at outperforming William Hill's projections.
Los Angeles Lakers (Over 47 wins)
Coming off a championship in which LeBron James showed us that he is still very much the best player in this league, the Lakers followed that up with perhaps the best offseason thus far. Although Anthony Davis still hasn't put pen to paper on a new contract -- that is expected to happen shortly after Thanksgiving -- L.A. went out and completely reloaded its roster to position itself as the early favorite to repeat as champions.
The addition of Dennis Schroder in the backcourt is an upgrade to Rajon Rondo in age, defense and as a playmaker who can run the second unit and space the floor when LeBron is on the bench. Then, the Lakers went out and signed reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell away from the Clippers, both as a way to rub it in the face of their Staples Center neighbor, but to also account for the departure of Dwight Howard as an interior presence who can bring unparalleled energy off the bench.
Even if those were the only two moves L.A. made, it would still be a solid free agency going into next season, but the Lakers didn't stop there. They added Wesley Matthews to replace Danny Green, who is a nudge better defensively and a far more consistent 3-point shooter over his career. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope re-signed to a three-year, $40 million deal, bringing back one of the Lakers' best offensive threats from a season ago, but the coup de grâce that puts the team even further over the top is the signing of veteran big man Marc Gasol to a team-friendly two-year, $5.3 million deal.
The Lakers had some depth issues last season and still won a championship. Now, after all their moves on the trade market and in free agency, L.A. is overflowing with depth and should not only finish at the top of the Western Conference but push its win total closer to 50.
Philadelphia 76ers (Over 43 wins)
There's been a significant shake-up within the Sixers organization after bringing in Doc Rivers to take over as head coach in place of Brett Brown, and hiring Daryl Morey as president of basketball operations after he departed the Rockets. While it remains to be seen what Rivers will bring to this team, Morey wasted no time in improving this franchise for next season and beyond.
On draft night, the Sixers addressed one of their most glaring weaknesses by trading Josh Richardson for sharpshooter Seth Curry, who has the second-highest 3-point percentage (44.3 percent) in league history. Philadelphia needed consistent shooters as badly as the Knicks want to make the playoffs, and Morey delivered in trading for the Mavericks' Curry, who still has two years and $16.7 million left on his contract. He's the perfect backcourt weapon to pair alongside Ben Simmons and can act as a secondary ball-handler when needed.
Curry alone isn't enough to fix the Sixers' shooting woes, though, so Morey got 3-and-D specialist Danny Green for good measure, while getting off Al Horford's albatross contract in the process. They also picked up Dwight Howard to serve as a backup to Joel Embiid, and while that move may not be franchise-altering, Howard proved that he still has plenty left in the tank on both ends of the floor with the Lakers last season. He'll offer a much-needed spark off the bench for Philly, and can also step into a starting role if Embiid is out for a game here or there, and will give you production on both ends.
It may not seem like much, but Philadelphia already has one of the most talented rosters on paper in the league, but there were glaring issues with roster construction last season -- and injuries -- that prevented this team from reaching expectations.
With a healthy Ben Simmons alongside Embiid, who may be more motivated than ever with Rivers as head coach, the Sixers should be in contention for one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference and surpass the projected 43 wins that William Hill expects them to get.
Portland Trail Blazers (Over 38.5 wins)
It doesn't matter what Portland does the season before, this team always seems to be underrated and undervalued. The Blazers were banged up for most of last season pre-COVID and looked like a lost cause to make the postseason. Then, a ridiculous performance by Damian Lillard, paired with a fully healthy roster for the first time all season, and Portland jumped Memphis to make the playoffs and took a game off the eventual champion Lakers.
The Trail Blazers didn't have much cap flexibility to work with this offseason, but managed to improve defensively and add some more wing depth to their roster to be in a better position to fight for a higher seed in the daunting Western Conference next season. The Blazers traded for 3-and-D specialist Robert Covington, who will help significantly with Portland's perimeter defense, where the team ranked 29th in the league in opponent 3-point percentage (38.3 percent). It also gives Lillard another weapon on the wing to dish it to for an open look from deep.
Portland also re-signed Rodney Hood, who missed the majority of last season with an Achilles tear, and picked up the hyper-athletic and defensive-minded Derrick Jones Jr. to bolster the defense even more. The Blazers also brought back Carmelo Anthony, who had a rejuvenated year in the Pacific Northwest and gave Portland yet another scoring option to work with. Lillard and McCollum have had to carry the majority of the offensive load for the past few seasons, while getting scored on left and right on the other end of the floor. The moves Portland made this offseason shows a commitment to continue building around Lillard and McCollum, and to get significantly better on the defensive end of the floor.
This roster should exceed the projected 38.5 wins and could fight for a higher seed in the West.
Atlanta Hawks (Over 31.5 wins)
This win projection is the biggest proof of why these future bets should wait out free agency to see what teams do. The Hawks got significantly better with their signings as they were one of the few teams in the league that had a ton of money to spend. Adding Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn make the Hawks a near-lock to make the postseason next year.
While 31.5 wins would put them around the seventh or eighth seed in the East, considering how the schedule for the 2020-21 season is going to be constructed, Atlanta could easily pass that mark. The NBA announced that the upcoming schedule will focus more on division and intra-conference games, meaning that the Hawks are going to be able to beat up on the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards quite a bit next season.
Scheduling aside, though, the Hawks used this offseason to build a competitive team around their franchise cornerstone in Trae Young, and now that he has quality players flanking him, we'll be able to see just how far he can go with a more competent roster of players at his disposal. Dunn will account for Young's defensive shortcomings, and Gallinari will be a threat both from beyond the arc and in the midrange. Rondo will provide veteran savvy and championship experience to mentor players like Young. He can be a secret weapon in crunch time as well.
The Hawks look to be turning the page from a perennial lottery team the last few years, and should be more than just an easy win for other teams in the league. As talented as this new roster is, 31.5 wins just seems a bit too low for the Hawks next season.
Minnesota Timberwolves (Over 27.5 wins)
William Hill isn't cutting the Wolves any slack with its win total projection. To be fair, a season ago Minnesota was absolutely miserable, which is why it finished with the third-worst record in the league, and secured the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. But most of that was due to the fact that franchise star Karl-Anthony Towns was hampered with injuries, which limited him to just 35 games. A midseason trade for Towns' friend, D'Angelo Russell, brightened Minnesota's future, and drafting Anthony Edwards with the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft gave this team another scoring weapon to work with.
The Wolves didn't make any splashy big-name signings in free agency, although they did trade for Ricky Rubio, who will be making his return to the team that drafted him in 2011. Instead, Minnesota re-signed young guar Malik Beasley, who showed great promise after being traded from Denver last season. It's a small sample size, but in the 14 games Beasley played with the Wolves last season, he averaged 20.7 points, five boards and shot 42.6 percent from beyond the arc. His numbers may regress, especially considering he averaged just 7.2 points in three seasons with the Nuggets, but he'll be given more opportunity in Minnesota, and could help take some of the offensive burden off Towns' shoulders.
The addition of Rubio gives the Wolves a veteran presence in the locker room, something this squad has sorely lacked since Towns was drafted, and after coming off his most productive season of his career with the Suns, Rubio will make Towns's job easier on offense.
This will be the first full season of the Towns-Russell tandem, and between the two of them, Rubio, Beasley and rookie Edwards, the Wolves may be more competitive than people think. With the league moving toward a play-in tournament for the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds next season, don't be surprised if the Wolves are one of the teams competing for one of those finals spots in the West.