Last year, the Knicks were largely expected to be a team that finished toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and NBA as a whole, entering the season. 72 games later, we all looked back on our "foolish" predictions and wondered why we ever doubted that Julius Randle could suddenly become a nightly triple-double threat and All-NBA-caliber leader. So it goes.
More often than not, there are teams like the 2020-21 iteration of the Knicks that surprise us and far surpass expectations. But there are also teams that go into the season with low expectations from fans and analysts alike, and they exit the season having proven to us that we were right all along. In Tuesday's episode of the Audacy and Locked On Ultimate Season Preview, former NBA GM Ryan McDonough and a roster of experts broke down the six teams they see as potential "tankers," including the top-three teams in the 2021 NBA Draft.
Here's what McDonough had to say about each of those three teams, with additional analysis from Audacy Detroit affiliate 97.1 The Ticket's Jon Jansen regarding the Pistons.
"The ping pong balls bounced the Pistons' way in the 2021 lottery, with Detroit landing the No. 1 overall pick, which they used to acquire Oklahoma State stud guard Cade Cunningham. Cunningham dealt with a sprained ankle early in the preseason, so we'll see if he can get healthy and develop alongside two second-year players coming off of solid rookie years: wing Saddiq Bey and big man Isaiah Stewart. Detroit is another team going through a full-blown rebuild, so they'll want to see if their young pieces are able to successfully fit and play together, with the biggest questions revolving around the pairing of Cunningham and 2020 lottery pick Killian Hayes, who struggled as a rookie a season ago. Jerami Grant was in the Eastern Conference All-Star mix last year and Kelly Olynyk brings in frontcourt spacing, but this team is all about development with most of the attention centered on their No. 1 overall pick, Cade Cunningham."
— Ryan McDonough
"...Drafting Cade Cunningham, it starts the process, the next step of the rebuild. You go from young players like Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, those that you're excited about that can be here for the long run when the Pistons get better. And then you start looking at Kelly Olynyk and some of the other guys, Jerami Grant, Josh Jackson, that Troy Weaver has added. Those are all great components, and... you may still be a lottery pick, but you're not tanking to try and get that top pick. This is an opportunity to enter that next phase because Cade Cunningham, he brings a level of excitement, a level of anticipation, he brings that All-Star status to the Detroit Pistons. And like I mentioned, it signals the next step in the rebuild process. The excitement around Detroit, how Cade Cunningham carries himself, how he talks about the city of Detroit and how excited he is to be here, how excited he is to be a part of, restore the Detroit Pistons. He's a guy that can create his own shot, he's a guy that can go out there and create shots for other individuals, he is the complete package... everything that we've got going on, the horizon is extremely bright for the Detroit Pistons."
— Jon Jansen
"The Rockets loaded up on young prospects in the 2021 draft, adding guards Jalen Green and Josh Christopher as well as Turkish center Alperen Şengün. Houston's rookie trio certainly impressed in the NBA Summer League in Las Begas, with Green showing explosive scoring ability and Şengün playing effectively and looking like an experienced veteran. Any time your most talented players are in their teens-early 20s, you should expect a long season in terms of wins and losses, especially in a loaded Western Conference, but this year in Houston is all about player development and individual improvement. This team is full of young prospects and they have a lot of future draft picks coming in, primarily from Brooklyn as a result of the James Harden trade. The Rockets will want to develop all of their young players. They'll also want to see if any of their prospects can turn into future stars, with Jalen Green potentially having the most upside of any player to come out of the loaded 2021 draft class."
— Ryan McDonough
"The Cavs drafted the most talented big man in the 2021 draft class, nabbing versatile USC power forward/center Evan Mobley with the third overall pick. Cleveland also re-signed talented young center Jarrett Allen in free agency, so I'll be interested to see how much head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is willing to play Mobley and Allen together in a league that seems to get smaller and faster every year. They have a talented young backcourt led by Darius Garland who could be in the mix for most improved player this season, as well as Collin Sexton, who broke out a season ago and is eligible for a contract extension prior to opening night. Front office will be evaluating wing Isaac Okoro, the talented athlete starting his second season but a guy who struggled with his shot as a rookie. They'll also try to see if the pairing of Garland and Sexton is their backcourt of the future. Now, the Cavs brought in veteran point guard Ricky Rubio and also young veteran stretch big man Lauri Markkanen, but this year will be all about development once again in Cleveland, especially as they monitor the progress of Evan Mobley."
— Ryan McDonough