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What does the future hold for the NBA's in-season tourney hopefuls?

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Pumpkin Spice, Puffy Jackets, Falling Leaves and NBA Basketball. All things you can find when the calendar flips over to October each year. The league has experienced a new age as of late, with 5 different teams lifting the Larry OB in as many seasons. Could a 6th team continue the trend and start to cement this decade as one of true parody? Are any of the teams below up to the task?

A new season brings new changes and even more chances for glory. Adam Silver once again stirs the pot, with the new In-Season Tournament kicking off this year. 5 groups, 67 games, single-elimination knockout and "Tournament Nights". From Tip-off on Nov 3rd, all 30 teams will have a chance at the new NBA Cup. With the finals taking place in Las Vegas on December 9th, all it takes is one good hot stretch for any team to claim a new chance at glory. I am sure those below will be eyeing that chance. With that being said, let's take a look at the NBA's in-season tourney hopefuls.

Western Conference

NO Pelicans 22/23 Szn (42-40) | 21/22 Szn (36-46) | 20/21 Szn (31-41) | 19/20 Szn (30-42)

Welp, I did say "if" they can get 60+ games out of Zion and we didn't even get to the halfway mark of that. Another year lost for what should be one of the best young teams in basketball. The fact of the matter remains, (please don't get mad at me Giannis/Embiid fans) when Zion plays he is the most dominant force this game has seen since Shaq was breaking backboards. But 114 games in 4 seasons is not going to cut it, and Zion needs to lock in before his best years are wasted away.

Brandon Ingram did his part, with career highs in both points and assists, while shooting a fantastic 39% from 3 on almost 4 attempts a night. Even 31-year-old CJ McCollum played 75 games and pitched in 20 points a night. With players like Herb Jones, JV and Larry Nance, there is enough talent to win games against any team in the league. But without the centrepiece in Williamson being around to build up chemistry, all of it may just be wasted away. Kid needs to set himself straight and get focused on basketball if he ever wants to be considered among the truly great players of this game.

OKC Thunder 22/23 Szn (40-42) | 21/22 Szn (24-58) | 20/21 Szn (22-50) | 19/20 Szn (44-28)

Put on your seatbelts Thunder fans because I think that it is finally gonna be the year. The fact this team casually went 40-42 without the likes of Chet Holmgren is a scary proposition for the rest of the league. While fans screamed year after year to trade these picks for every disgruntled star, the front office held firm and now boasts a roster with 5 or more great up-and-coming talents under the age of 25.

Shai spent last season breaking into the MVP conversation, averaging a whopping 31 points on 51% with over 20 shots a night. In only his 5th season he has broken out into his prime, ready to lead this young core as a new force in the Western Conference. Josh Giddey is a wizard with the ball, Chet might just come out and win ROY and Lu Dort might be the most underrated defensive player in the league. When you add in new face Cason Wallace along with projects Jalen/Jaylin Williams, Tre Mann, and Pokusevski, the coaching staff has a plethora of options at its disposal. I think I will be shocked if they miss the playoffs once again.

DAL Mavericks 22/23 Szn (38-44) | 21/22 Szn (52-30)

Luka, buddy... I am so sorry to see you down here. A 25-year-old, top-5 MVP talent deserves better than what the Dallas Mavericks fielded for a roster last season. Year after year Cuban seemingly keeps making the wrong decision, and a rotating door of players has made the job very difficult for Doncic. Now though, with (maybe) a full season of Kyrie Irving and perhaps a bit of stability, they may be able to return to the playoff basketball that the Slovenian phenom deserves.

I am already prepared to declare Grant Williams as an absolute win of a pickup this offseason. The 24-year-old has always brought fire and passion to his game and will thrive playing with such a talented backcourt. Plus his defensive energy will be a welcome addition to a team that sat mid-table all year. If Kleber can be a reliable defensive anchor and Hardaway, Green and Curry can be green from long-range, this team might just be the best in the Luka era. But if they can't figure it out again and find themselves back here next year, I wouldn't be surprised to see Jason Kidd shown the door. Because firing the coach is always the answer right???

UTA Jazz 22/23 Szn (37-45) | 21/22 Szn (49-33)

Welcome the Utah Jazz to NBA purgatory. A new addition to this article, and rightly so after selling the core of 3x Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and All-Star sharpshooter Donovan Mitchell before the season. It is quite hard to replace 40+ points a night, though starting 12-6 surely turned a few heads. But like every year, there are always teams that come out of the gate fast before lagging behind once everyone else gets their footing under them.

The good news for Jazz fans is that there is some shining hope through the fog of a below-500 record. Walker Kessler (out of seemingly nowhere) very well may be the next great Jazz big man. Though his stats won't instantly jump off the page (23mins, 9p, 8.4r, 2.3 blocks) his interior presence kept opponents off guard all season long. With highs of 31 points, 21 rebounds and 7 blocks, the kid has shown glimmers of what could be an All-Star-level game down the line. With 24-year-old Collin Sexton as a running mate, and a freshly minted All-Star in Lauri Markkanen, the Jazz will have a very fun young team to watch this upcoming season. Just don't expect too many wins.

POR Trailblazers 22/23 Szn (33-49) | 21/22 Szn (27-55) | 20/21 Szn (42-30) | 19/20 Szn (35-39)

It's a new age in Portland! Almost 3 months after Dame requested a trade, one was finally put together much to the shock of the NBA world. He wanted Miami, the Heat wanted him, and everyone was just waiting for Pat Riley to give up enough assets for the Blazers to be happy. That never happened, and now Dame will be heading to Milwaukee to join MVP runner-up Giannis Antetokounmpo. #BestDuoInTheEast

So now it's time to see if Anfernee Simons and the kids can find a new direction for this franchise. Scoot comes into the league with a chip on his shoulder, saying he can be better than Wemby. Ayton arrives for a fresh start, but will this team allow him to be the type of player he wants to be? They are filled with good young talent just waiting to pop, and getting Rob Williams, Brogdan and a pick for Jrue was just icing on the cake. If the young guns can come together and gel, they have the rumblings of another up-and-coming Western Conference squad.

HOU Rockets 22/23 Szn (22-60) | 21/22 Szn (20-62) | 20/21 Szn (17-55) | 19/20 Szn (44-28)

In a league full of young teams looking to find their footing, many would say the Rockets have the bleakest outcome ahead. Ime Udoka, Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks have other ideas on that matter. Perhaps a strong coaching leadership along with the backcourt presence of these two veterans can help steer this ship in the right direction. No matter what, something has to change because ever since Harden left this team has just been going around in circles.

The good news? This roster is brimming with talent, from the likes of sniper Jalen Green to the versatility of Alperen Sengun. 6 different players under the age of 23 could find themselves with rotation minutes all throughout the season. Amen Thompson will slide right into the rotation and 2023 Summer League MVP Cam Whitmore (who fell to 20th! in the draft) is already making a few teams regret their past decisions. I don't love everything this team has going for it right now, but I have to admit the potential for success is there.

SA Spurs 22/23 Szn (22-60) | 21/22 Szn (34-48) | 20/21 Szn (33-39) | 19/20 Szn (32-39)

Saddle up San Antonio a brand new player just entered the Arena. Was it always meant to be? Did I speak it into existence? Can this kid really live up to his potential? Popovich has his next moldable star and a team that many expected to disappear to the wayside, may yet just turn heads this upcoming season. If Wemby can lock in and his teammates find their stride the sky is the limit for the future of this franchise.

I was only half joking when I mentioned last year that getting Wemby would have Pop coaching into his 80s. But when you consider the success he and Timmy had I don't think any of us will be surprised to see it happen. With the likes of Vassell, Sochan, Malaki Branham and Julian Champagnie as other young pieces to compliment the French phenom, Pop will be able to mould this young core to his liking. As long as they can stay healthy, a play-in push can't be ruled off the table.

Eastern Conference

TOR Raptors 22/23 Szn (41-41) | 21/22 Szn (48-34) | 20/21 Szn (27-45) | 19/20 Szn (53-19)

When I wrote last year about the upward trend this team was on, I could not have expected the rocky season that was about to unfold. Player drama, selfishness, Nurse losing the locker room, and a disconnect between the rookies and vets had us crawling into the play-in with no real identity. Ironic that I finished last year talking about chemistry. But with Fred having cashed out in Free Agency and Coach Darko coming in with a bold new direction, I am optimistic about the future

The team did not trade the farm for Dame (big sigh of relief) and now looks to build around the young guns and let them gain confidence through trial and error. Scottie is rolling into year 3, and a lot of weight will be put on his shoulders to step up next to Siakam. The ball will be mostly in these two players' hands, with recent World Champion Dennis Schröder being brought in as extra insurance. Draftee Gradey Dick may be able to provide some well-needed 3-point shooting for a team that finished 3rd from the bottom in percentage last year. But with recent news of OG Annunoby planning on testing Free Agency, the team may be in trouble of losing arguably one of the best defenders in the league. Again though, I am optimistic and can totally see this team surprising many come playoff time.

CHI Bulls 22/23 Szn (40-42) | 21/22 Szn (46-36) | 20/21 Szn (34-39) | 19/20 Szn (22-43)

Okay maybe it's just the Raptor fan in me, but Demar singlehandedly lost this team the last spot in the playoffs when he decided not to bring Play-in MVP Diar DeRozan (his 9-year-old daughter) to Miami. Let us not forget that without this decision the Heat never make the NBA finals and Demar could have been holding up an Eastern Conference MVP trophy (surely they wouldn't lose two years in a row to the Bucks in the first round right?) All jokes aside, questions loom over this franchise like a very dark rain cloud.

First and foremost, they have to figure out what exactly Lonzo Ball can be for this team. Media, Medical Experts, Aspiring Podcasters, many have given their two cents on the matter, with most expecting him to never be able to live up to his potential, and some even saying his career is done. A YouTube video posted by the man himself mocking Steven A. Smith for saying he struggles to get out of a chair gives me hope he can return. But I won't be holding my breath. On another note, will Zach Lavine be the next Superstar to say enough is enough and look for greener pastures?

IND Pacers 22/23 Szn (35-47) | 21/22 Szn (25-57) | 20/21 Szn (34-38) | 19/20 Szn (45-28)

Of all the teams in this article not named the Raptors and Kings, the Pacers are probably my favourite group going into this year. Tyrese is absolutely him and will look to show his worth after signing a max $260-million rookie extension. Canadian rookie Bennedict Mathurin is on my radar as an up-and-coming shooter, Obi Toppin gets a chance at a fresh start, and if Jarace Walker is anything like his 2k counterpart (is it just me?), there is something special brewing down in Indiana.

After years of me saying trade Buddy, he got fed up waiting for the front office to do it and put in an official request. A career 43% three-point shooter would be welcome on any contender, and I expect a few suitors to come knocking come the trade deadline. However, with the addition of recent NBA champion Bruce Brown, they may look to move him sooner rather than later. Regardless of any more changes before the season starts, I am excited to see how far this team can fly this year.

WSH Wizards 22/23 Szn (35-47) | 21/22 Szn (35-47) | 20/21 Szn (34-48) | 19/20 Szn (25-47)

Bradley Beal is a Phoenix Sun and all that talk I had last year about giving a 33-year-old a 57-million player option no longer matters. After proving last season that this team really was going nowhere under that deal, Washington shipped him off to a superteam, and will now look to (maybe) future scoring leader Jordan Poole to become the new saviour.

In reality, this team is in a pretty decent place at the moment. A core of Poole, Kuzma and Deni is enough to put bums in seats, and there's a possibility for 19-year-old draftee Bilal Coulibaly to surprise and make an immediate impact. Delon Wright is a great trade asset for a contender looking for that extra oomph, and who knows Patrick Baldwin Jr. could thrive in a place without championship expectations. At worst this will be "just" a fun team to watch this year.

ORL Magic 22/23 Szn (34-48) | 21/22 Szn (22-60) | 20/21 Szn (21-51) | 19/20 Szn (33-40)

While not quite reaching the pinnacle of success that many fans hoped, last season was a great step in the right direction for this franchise. Paolo indeed looks like a #1 option and a staple All-Star for the next generation in the Eastern Conference. Many consider Franz to be one of the most underrated young players in the league, and the amount of rookie contracts here could fill a starting roster and then some. The Magic look to be taking the slow role on the rebuild, and with some of the juggernauts currently in the east, I don't blame them.

Some will say falling to 6th in the draft was a worst-case scenario talent-wise and young Anthony Black will have a lot to prove if he wants to crack a guard rotation with the likes of Fultz, Harris, Suggs and Cole Anthony looking to play alongside Paolo. I could see this team in the play-in if everything goes their way, but it's possible they may just want to tank one more year and try and find the final piece to the Exodia puzzle.

CHA Hornets 22/23 (27-55) | 21/22 Szn (43-39) | 20/21 Szn (33-39) | 19/20 Szn (23-42)

It's a new day in Charlotte, at least that's what fans are hoping for now that MJ has sold the team. Perhaps the spotlight can truly shift to budding star Lamelo Ball (the man loves the attention) or even young rookie Brandon Miller, who was looked over as a potential #1 pick in the 2023 draft. Both of these guys have the potential to be All-Stars (Lamelo was in 2022), but in this NBA it will take more than just the two of them.

Nick Richards is one such role player who might be able to provide some of that help. With the departure of Plumgod, I expect Nick to fit into the starting 5 and continue to provide serviceable minutes at the center spot. He was a sleeper in fantasy last year, posting more than five 10+ point and rebound games after the deadline including a 17 rebound game against the Pistons. He might not quite be Walker Kessler, but with the likes of Lamelo and Miller doing the heavy lifting, and maybe some additional young talent if they move on from Hayword and Terry, the Hornets might actually be finding a way to set up for success in the future.

DET Pistons 2022/23 Szn (17-65) | 2021/22 Szn (23-59) | 2020/21 Szn (20-52) | 2019/20 Szn (20-46)

Welp.... they did not get close to 30 wins. Another rocky start with another injury to the future of "Detroit Basketball" led to the worst record in the league, and what should have been a top 3 pick. Falling to 5th was not the outlook fans wanted, but a sneaky pickup in young Ausar Thompson will be a fine addition to new coach Montey Williams collection.

There is enough young talent here that the front office has options on which direction they can take it. What is not up for question is that this is indeed Cade's team, even if he was limited to only 12 games last season. He says he learned a lot about his teammates from the sidelines last year which will hopefully allow him to come in and facilitate as a true PG should. If one of the reclamation projects in Bagley or Wiseman can become a serviceable big for this squad, there should be enough talent to avoid the bottom of the table. That being said, I would be shocked if they aren't back here once again next season.

Teams from Last Season that got out:

CLE Cavaliers 22/23 Szn (51-31) | 21/22 Szn (44-38) | 20/21 Szn (22-50) | 19/20 Szn (19-46)

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back. Many predicted the addition of Spida could bring this team into eastern contention, but few would have them falling short against the Knicks in the first round. A tough loss after a fantastic year, but one that can be brushed off and waved aside. A 51-win season is nothing to laugh at, and every contender in the East will be watching their backs as the Cavs creep up in the shadows.

First things first, at an average age of 25, and two breakout stars under 23 in Garland and Mobley, this roster is a juggernaut that only continues to grow. Can they step up and stand out among the great young talents rising in this league? Mitchell at 27 is smack dab in the middle of his prime and they just added another sniper in Max Strus who is coming off an NBA Finals appearance. I don't expect them back here anytime soon.

SAC Kings 22/23 Szn (48-34) | 21/22 Szn (30-52) | 20/21 Szn (31-41) | 19/20 Szn (31-41)

The drought is finally over! Sactown fans enjoyed the greatest regular season in years, finding their team with not only a playoff birth but home-court advantage at that. If only the juggernaut like the Warriors weren't waiting in the wings to take the wind out of this team's sails. But, much like the Grizzlies of 2022, I expect this team to be humbled by the experience, ready to roll back as a new staple in the Western Conference.

Fox absolutely thrived last year with a team built to work around his skill sets, putting up career numbers across almost the entire board (0.1 decrease in steals and blocks only!) Sabonis was right there alongside him, not only increasing his shooting efficiency but also adding an additional 2 assists a game to his resume. When you think about the upside of Keegan Murray, the shooting of Huerter and Monk, and additional young kids in Mitchell and Duarte (all under 26 might I add) the Kings are a prime example of building from the ground up. With possibly the best NBA arena to play in, combined with a team hungry for revenge, 2023 is going to be a great year. #BeamSeasonIsHereToStay

NY Knicks 22/23 Szn (47-35) | 21/22 Szn (37-45) | 20/21 Szn (41-31) | 19/20 Szn (21-45)

Regardless of the eventual end to this season, you have to call it success in the Big Apple. A first-round playoff victory, a first since 2013 and only the second time in the 2000s is a good step back in the right direction. Fans have witnessed 16 years with no post-season at all in that time! For a team that lives in the "Mecca" of Basketball, a couple more of these playoff years in a row would do really good for that image.

Brunson turned out to be a jackpot, enabling the whole team to thrive as only a floor general point guard can. RJ is finally starting to ramp up and was one of the few who tried to help Jalen against the Heat. Questions still remain (at least in my mind) on Randle's capabilities after once again disappearing in the playoffs. Last year I spoke on this team having a lot of questions to answer and that I would circle back in a year. Will we be talking about them again in 2024?

LA Clippers 22/23 Szn (44-38) | 21/22 Szn (42-40) | 20/21 Szn (47-48) | 19/20 Szn (49-23)

When Balmer broke ground on his new arena in 2021, I think he was expecting to be able to hang a few banners in the rafters once it is finally complete sometime next year. I mean when you sign Kawhi and Paul George only a few months beforehand wouldn't you? 4 seasons of injuries, questions and heartbreak later and they don't have much to show for it.

Is it a collapse? Is it a curse? Nobody can say for sure, but this might be the year that the dam breaks. In a perfect world, a championship closes out this season, the two stars extend past their player options next year and Balmer gets to open his new arena with the ceremony of his dreams. On the other hand, they could fall flat again and both could be looking to greener pastures in 2024 free agency. Which way will the scales tip?

LA Lakers 22/23 Szn (43-39) | 21/22 Szn (33-49) | 20/21 Szn (42-30) | 19/20 Szn (52-19) - Championship

Last year I talked about how we might be looking at Lebrons' last dance considering the man was going into his 20th NBA season. 35 minutes a game and 29 points a night let us know he isn't done just yet. Though he kind of had no choice after the team started 2-10, spending all season clawing their way back into the playoff race.

LeGM and Pelinka got a fuel injection at the trade deadline, retooling this squad into one that went 17-9 to close out the season. Cruising into the playoffs with a top-10 offence, it was only the eventual champion Nuggets that could stop this rejuvenated squad. They will now look to ride that success into a strong start to the upcoming campaign, one that they hope will end with the King once again crowned.

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