We asked the ESPN Forecast panel of 44 experts to rank its top three choices for 2017-18’s Team Turnaround — the franchise poised to make the biggest jump — with a first-place vote receiving five points, a second-place vote receiving three and a third-place vote receiving one.
Here are the results:
Forecast: Team Turnaround for 2017-18
1. Minnesota Timberwolves
First-place votes: 22
Total points: 134
2016-17 record: 31-51
Comments: ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus projects the Timberwolves to win 50 games after they went 31-51 a season ago. The projected jump of 19 wins is nearly twice as large as any other team and would be the second largest in franchise history.
The team’s biggest addition, Jimmy Butler, ranked No. 7 in the NBA last season in RPM while the pieces Minnesota gave up for him, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn (along with the seventh overall pick), ranked 388th and 399th, respectively. Jeff Teague should also help ease some of the floor spacing issues, as he is a better shooter than the departed Ricky Rubio. — Micah Adams, ESPN Stats & Info
2. Philadelphia 76ers
First-place votes: 7
Total points: 78
2016-17 record: 28-54
Comments: Is this the season The Process yields a playoff berth? Last season, the Sixers’ prospects almost entirely hinged on the presence of Joel Embiid, as they had the scoring margin of a 51-win team with him on the floor and a 22-win team with him off it.
With reinforcements on the way in the form of a healthy Ben Simmons, No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and trusted vet JJ Redick, it’s reasonable to expect the 76ers to contend for a fringe playoff spot in the watered-down East. Though RPM currently projects the Sixers to finish No. 9 in the East, two games outside of a playoff spot, the window for error for that projection is likely much wider than typical given the difficult nature of predicting health. — Adams
3. Denver Nuggets
First-place votes: 7
Total points: 58
2016-17 record: 40-42
Comments: Forgive Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur for getting caught up in the moment this week as the team unveiled its new threads. “We can be a contender for sure, right up there with Golden State.”
Though expectations of title contention are a mile high for even the most optimistic in Denver, one area where you can mention the Nuggets in the same breath as the undisputed champs is on offense. The Nikola Jokic-led outfit ranked No. 1 in the NBA in offensive efficiency after he was inserted into the starting lineup in mid-December.
Natural progression from the kids, a more consistent rotation (31 different starting lineups last season, most in the NBA) and the addition of Paul Millsap make Denver a potentially potent squad out West. — Adams
4. Milwaukee Bucks
First-place votes: 2
Total points: 20
2016-17 record: 42-40
Comments: Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming off a season in which he became the youngest player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals (and just the fifth to do it overall). At just 22 years old, he’s already doing things we’ve rarely seen from anyone, and if this is the season he unleashes a credible jump shot, forget about it.
You can make a case that he’s already the second-best player in the Eastern Conference behind LeBron James, which means if the rest of the roster continues to develop (and Jabari Parker picks up where he left off prior to his ACL injury), the Bucks could be a serious dark horse in the suddenly wide-open East. — Adams
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
First-place votes: 0
Total points: 17
2016-17 record: 47-35
Comments: Oklahoma City could once again win 47 games yet present a much stiffer challenge in the postseason than the one-man band easily dispatched against Houston. Though lots of ink has rightfully been spilled on how Paul George will alleviate Russell Westbrook‘s offensive burden, don’t overlook Patrick Patterson‘s impact as he provides frontcourt spacing that Oklahoma City desperately needed last season and knows how to play off a pair of ball-dominant scorers from his time with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Patterson, who underwent knee surgery Thursday but is expected to be ready for the start of the season, made 94 3-pointers last season. That’s 90 more than second-half starter Taj Gibson has made in his career and should also help unclog the lane for pick-and-roll actions with center Steven Adams. — Adams
6. Los Angeles Lakers
First-place votes: 0
Total points: 16
2016-17 record: 26-56
Comments: Looking beyond this season, Tom Haberstroh has the Lakers pegged as the NBA’s next super team. But there’s more to the Lakers than simply gazing into the future.
Lonzo Ball won Summer League MVP, Brandon Ingram won the unofficial award for “sophomore way too good to be playing in summer league” even if it is just for a single game, and Julius Randle worked toward a ridiculous body transformation. The distractions have departed (Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell) while Brook Lopez is in position to showcase just how good he truly is.
Did you know that in addition to averaging over 20 points per game while leading all starting centers in made 3s, Lopez allowed a lower field goal percentage at the rim than noted defensive menace Hassan Whiteside? Throw in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope getting buckets on a one-year deal and Luke Walton’s crew could raise some eyebrows. — Adams