December 3, 2020

Ranking the 5 Most Improved NBA Teams in 2020-21

The NBA offseason has been quite the whirlwind. 

With the offseason moving at breakneck speed, it was almost like a pinball machine, bouncing from the NBA draft to free agency to training camp and in a few weeks, the start of the regular season.

With this incredibly odd offseason almost over, let's take a look at the five NBA teams that improved the most since last season. 

5. Portland Trail Blazers

After a flurry of moves, the Blazers have given superstar Damian Lillard the deepest and most-balanced squad of his career.

The prize of the Blazers' offseason was Robert Covington, a menacing shot-blocker who can hit 3s. He can also defend wings so guys like Carmelo Anthony aren’t forced to.

The Blazers also brought back an old friend in Enes Kanter, whose defensive shortcomings are well documented, but his offensive rebounding and post scoring are still valuable in select situations.

Toss in an extension for quality wing Rodney Hood, bringing back Melo, poaching the bouncy Derrick Jones Jr. from the Heat, taking a smart flyer on Harry Giles and — voila! — you have quite the quality offseason.

Take a look at this depth:

Guard: Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Anfernee Simons

Wing: Gary Trent Jr., Hood, Anthony, Covington, Jones Jr.

Big: Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, Kanter

If Simons takes even a mini leap, that is one of the deepest teams in the league which is of utmost importance in a season that will surely be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Atlanta Hawks

After a few years of stockpiling young talent, the Hawks are ready for a playoff push.

Atlanta has star point guard Trae Young surrounded by young wings Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter, as well as scoring machine John Collins and center Clint Capela. It was a promising start, but it wasn't enough to make an impact. This offseason, the Hawks put their league-leading cap space to good use, signing sweet-shooting Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic. They're veterans who will stop Young from getting double-teamed while serving as great secondary options on offense.

As for defense, the Hawks signed Rajon Rondo, a quality veteran point guard coming off his second ring, as well as Kris Dunn, perhaps the most ferocious ballhawk at the guard position. Dunn was miscast as a ball-handler in Chicago, but his new environment should be a perfect fit that enables him to focus on pestering opposing scorers.

Finally, Atlanta nabbed Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. Okongwu, who played high school with the Ball brothers at Chino Hills High School, projects as a fantastic rim defender.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

The defending champions could've chilled with their NBA title, but instead, the Lakers decided to upgrade at multiple positions in the offseason. 

Dennis Schroder, Wesley Matthews, Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol are all better players than the ones they are replacing in Rondo, Danny Green, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. 

Those are some serious talent upgrades. While the Lakers will miss Playoff Rondo, Schroder will be able to soak up more ball-handling duties in the regular season and is a young piece who could stay in Los Angeles for the long term.

Green is a perfectly solid 3-and-D role player, but at $15 million per year, he was a massively overpaid wing who disappeared in the playoffs. By replacing him with Matthews, who is a slightly better shooter and defender at a much smaller salary, it was a great move by Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.

As for the big men, Howard and McGee were big-bodied behemoths in the paint who vacuumed up rebounds and defended the rim admirably but offered little on offense. Although he's in the twilight of his career, Gasol can space the floor and serve as an expert secondary passer, while Harrell is an extremely explosive offensive threat despite his defensive shortcomings.

Not to mention, the Lakers also extended their two best players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis with max contracts

Throw in retaining free agent Markieff Morris, a tough power forward built for the postseason, and the reigning champs are looking very comfy at the top.

2. Brooklyn Nets

By the time the Nets got to the bubble, their team was a shell of itself, with Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant out due to injuries. But entering this season, a tide of talent is coming back to Brooklyn.

The Nets added Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni to coach the offense while former interim coach Jacque Vaughn will command the defense. With KD, Irving, Dinwiddie and the improving Caris LeVert, no team will boast close to the array of lethal creators the Nets have at their disposal.

Too many cooks in the kitchen along with a rookie head coach leave some room for potential disaster, but there’s no denying how much talent this team employs.

We haven't even mentioned sniper Joe Harris, who should work perfectly as an off-ball threat, and Jarrett Allen, a young defensive centerpiece and rim runner.

If everything clicks, the Nets are a potential NBA Finals candidate in the Eastern Conference. 

1. Phoenix Suns

It’s been over a decade since the glorious Steve Nash era, and since then, there's been a drought of good basketball in the desert.

But now the Suns are armed with a young star in Devin Booker and burgeoning big man DeAndre Ayton. With those two players on the rise, the Suns cashed in some chips by acquiring the Point God himself, Chris Paul.

Despite his age, CP3 is just the type of leader this Suns squad needs. Just look at what Ricky Rubio, a wily yet limited point guard, did for this franchise in one season.

With one of his best supporting casts in his career, Paul will put his master floor-general skills to good use. He also eases the playmaking burden for Booker, who can focus more on getting buckets, which is what he does best.

In another savvy move, the Suns inked Jae Crowder to a reasonable three-year contract. Crowder is the perfect versatile forward who can guard multiple positions and hit enough 3-pointers to keep defenses honest.

The most improved team in the league, the rising Suns have put themselves in a position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010. 

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration