We’re coming up on the last few days of the NBA regular season, and the playoffs will be underway for 16 NBA teams. For the other 14 teams, there is only the lottery to look forward to … at best.
But I’ll miss something about them! So here is my appreciation for the teams that won’t be playing after Wednesday:
Miami Heat: An amazing comeback from 11-30 may not be enough to get Miami a playoff spot, as the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls have easier ways in. But this was a successful season in the spotlight for C Hassan Whiteside, who came through with career-highs in points and rebounds while setting the franchise-record for rebounds in a season. The Heat set a record for most wins in a season by a team that was 19 games under .500 within that same season.
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets had their shot at #8 in the West, but the Jusuf Nurkic trade with Portland backfired on them. Do not forget the reason why Nurkic was even available in the first place, though. C Nikola Jokic dominated in his second NBA season. The only players with more triple-doubles in 2016-2017 than Jokic’s six were MVP candidates LeBron James, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.
Charlotte Hornets: I wasn’t very high on PG Kemba Walker’s NBA potential coming out of Connecticut. I thought he was a poor shooter without the playmaking consistency to make up for it. Well, now Walker’s an All-Star with the second-most points in franchise history and more than 200 threes for the first time.
Detroit Pistons: If only the Pistons had started PG Ish Smith all season. Smith enters the final week of the season ranking 2nd among qualified PGs in assist-turnover ratio. The only PG ranked higher than Smith is Chris Paul, who is a fellow Wake Forest product.
New Orleans Pelicans: The trade for DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t enough to save the Pelicans from an 0-8 start this season. But PF Anthony Davis dominated all season. Despite leaving several games with minor injuries, Davis played more than 70 games and 2,500 minutes for the first time in his five-year career, and he became the first player in franchise history to score more than 2,000 points in a season.
Dallas Mavericks: C Nerlens Noel was too late to save the Mavericks from their first losing season this century after coming over from Philadelphia. But he gives the Mavericks a legitimate new-age center going forward. The Mavericks entered the week with a positive net rating when Noel is on the floor this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves: The NBA’s longest postseason drought continues in Minnesota, and they won’t have the Rookie of the Year this time. But SF Andrew Wiggins took another step as a scorer, averaging a career-high in points while adding a reliable three-pointer to his repertoire. Wiggins also had a five-game stretch in February where he averaged 33.6 points per game.
Sacramento Kings: In a season marred by the DeMarcus Cousins tank trade and Rudy Gay’s torn Achilles, only one player really stands out from Sacramento, and that is PG Darren Collison. Collison is the only player on the team that played over 2,000 minutes, and his efficiency as a shooter and ball-handler provided the Kings with a steady backcourt option.
New York Knicks: The Knicks have won only one playoff series in the 21st century. But they can say that backup C Willy Hernangomez was a hit. New York had to wait a year for their 2015 2nd round pick to debut, but Hernangomez has been one of the best rookie big men in the league, ranking first among rookies in double-doubles and field goal percentage this season.
Orlando Magic: Every year I put this piece together, I wind up circling back to C Nikola Vucevic. Only Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard have more career double-doubles than Vucevic in franchise history, and only DeMarcus Cousins has a longer streak of seasons with at least 25 double-doubles than Vucevic’s five. Vucevic continued to produce despite Orlando acquiring big men Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo in the offseason.
Philadelphia 76ers: Trust the Process. C Joel Embiid has had to deal with back, foot, and now knee issues since leaving Kansas in 2014. But he finally made his debut this season and showed why he was the 3rd pick in the draft by earning Rookie of the Month honors for the first three months of the season.
Los Angeles Lakers: The first post-Kobe Bryant season got off to a 6-4 start, but by midseason, the Lakers were hiring Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to head up the personnel department. At least PF Larry Nance Jr. was exciting to watch. Nance plays hard off the bench, rebounds and defends well, and he led the team in dunks despite missing 18 games this season.
Phoenix Suns: Like the Lakers, the Suns are in the worst stretch of their franchise history. While everyone likes to gravitate towards Devin Booker’s scoring barrages, PG Eric Bledsoe remains Phoenix’s best player. Bledsoe had the first of Phoenix’s league-high four buzzer-beaters this season, and he averaged career-highs of 21.1 points and 6.3 assists to go along with 4.8 rebounds per game. Only Kyle Lowry and MVP candidates LeBron James, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook matched those numbers this season.
Brooklyn Nets: The Nets clinched the worst record in the NBA, and the Boston Celtics are going to get the 1st round pick. But the Nets have basically been a .500 team since starting the season 9-49, and C Brook Lopez continues to toil away for this franchise. Lopez even added a three-pointer to his game this season after making only 3 threes in his first eight NBA seasons combined.