5 Lottery Teams That Will Actually Make the Playoffs Next Year

  • Rudy Gobert Andrew Wiggins block
    Utah Jazz

    If there’s one team that could collectively make an argument that they’re on the rise, it’s the Utah Jazz. Utah’s dramatic rise following the All-Star break has been powered by one of basketball’s biggest players, a man alternatively known as The Stifle Tower.

    Rudy Gobert, last year’s No. 27 pick out of France, has been the primary beneficiary of more minutes since Enes Kanter was extracted to Oklahoma City. The lineup numbers for Gobert are staggering – since the break, at the time of this writing, Utah had a 124 ORtg when he was on the floor, and a 91 DRtg to go with it. His pterodactyl-like wingspan has made it near impossible for teams to get good shots near the rim, and teams often shy away from the paint as a result.

    Other factors played into Utah’s 19-10 record after the break – improvement by Dante Exum, the continuation of a solid season from Gordon Hayward – but none have been as impactful as Gobert. The Jazz will add a lottery pick and return Alec Burks from injury to an increasingly gelling core – and the West will continue to flex.

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  • Indiana Pacers

    It seems like just yesterday that Frank Vogel was potentially on the chopping block while Indiana struggled through last season’s second half. Keeping Indiana in the playoff race this season, even in the weaker East, should silence a lot of his critics.

    The Pacers’ identity hasn’t changed – they’re still a slow-paced team that funnels opposing players towards Roy Hibbert at the rim, daring teams to deal with his verticality. What has changed is the absence of two major creators on the perimeter, after losing Lance Stephenson in free agency and Paul George to a gruesome injury.

    Thankfully for Indy, George will be the one-man reinforcement next season, and assuming he’s alright after the leg break, his presence should be enough to lift Indy back into the playoff picture. In the meantime, George Hill was spectacular after returning from his own injury.

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  • Joel Embiid between-the-legs dunk
    Philadelphia 76ers

    That’s right – the scourge of the league and everyone’s favorite tanking punching bag is going to make the playoffs next season. Perhaps this says more about their conference than the Sixers, but most will consider them a longshot either way.

    That’s no concern. They’ve shown marked improvement this season under Popovich disciple Brett Brown despite having little in the way of proven talent, and a massive infusion should be coming over the summer.

    Not only will silky smooth center Joel Embiid join the party, but 2-3 first round picks (and possibly a fourth) are in Philly’s possession in the 2015 Draft. In a draft as deep as this year’s, that’s enough ammo to completely reshape a franchise. Believe in the longshot.

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  • Kemba Walker crossover
    Charlotte Hornets

    Last year’s NBA feel-good story has been through troubled times in 2015–the Charlotte Hornets took a step back when everyone thought they were poised to leap forward. Don’t count them out just yet.

    You can point the finger at any number of factors, but the Hornets regressed due to a combination of circumstances. Kemba Walker missed almost two months due to injury, and Lance Stephenson struggled in his first year with a new team. Their offense cratered as a result, and Charlotte wasn’t exactly a juggernaut to begin with.

    This is more of a wild hunch than anything, but with hard-nosed competitors like Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist–slowly but surely improving, by the way–on the roster, I would bet on Charlotte figuring things out in the East. There’s no quit in this bunch despite a turbulent season, and that bodes well for the future.

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  • Russell Westbrook dunk
    Oklahoma City Thunder

    Um, there’s really not much to be said here. OKC will get Kevin Durant back. (He’s worth 12-15 wins by himself.) They’ll get Serge Ibaka back. Thanks to a couple of midseason deals this year, they now have the deepest team they’ve had in years. Completely healthy, this is probably the best squad in the Western Conference, at least in the regular season. The injuries will dictate how far OKC actually goes next year, considering how their last three postseason runs all suffered from untimely problems, but there’s no question they’ll be in the playoffs.

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  • Rudy Gobert Andrew Wiggins block
  • Joel Embiid between-the-legs dunk
  • Kemba Walker crossover
  • Russell Westbrook dunk

Unlike the NFL, the NBA doesn’t have many worst-to-first turnarounds. Even after acquiring superstar-level talent in the draft or free agency, the road to playoff success and contention can be long and winding.

But with the playoff field for 2014-15 set, those left out of the party must dare to dream. Not all teams that missed the playoffs are created equal – some are laughingstocks years away from relevance, others were decimated by major injuries, and serious transactions loom in the distance for at least one team looking for a shot in the arm. Playing fortune teller as it relates to the trajectory of an NBA franchise takes understanding of context first and foremost.

With months to go before the offseason gets going, all we’re equipped with are signs of what’s to come. For one franchise, maybe that’s as simple as guessing that they’ll make up a one or two-game difference that kept them out this season. For another, maybe that means focusing on their play following the All-Star break, as chemistry and momentum look to be tilting in their direction. Or maybe it’s as simple as one of college basketball’s exciting talents providing a big boost.

Whatever the case is, you shouldn’t be caught off guard when changes happen. Teams that seem like locks for the playoffs now will fall off due to injury, discontent or other unplannable factors, opening the door for surprise teams to rise out of the lottery muck. Who will it be? We’re betting these are the 5 Lottery Teams That Will Actually Make the Playoffs Next Year.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

image via Jason Miller/Getty Images