5 NBA teams on the rise that will surprise everyone in 2023-24

NBA All-Rookie Team favorites Paolo Banchero & Jabari Smith II (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)
NBA All-Rookie Team favorites Paolo Banchero & Jabari Smith II (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports) /
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NBA. Myles Turner.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder rank fifth on this list because they would be the least surprising team to take a leap in the upcoming season. Most NBA prognosticators think the time is nigh for OKC to get back into the thick of the Western Conference.

The Thunder nearly broke through a year ago. Despite finishing with a losing record, Oklahoma City slid into the play-in tournament and actually beat the New Orleans Pelicans to set up a do-or-die game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. There, the Thunder fell short.

The rebuild has been painful at times, dating back only a few years, but conceivably having its roots in the dismantling of the team after the departures of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and eventually, Russell Westbrook. The next core is in place, though.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a superstar, earning his first All-Star nod and First Team All-NBA a year ago. He is the player the Thunder can build around for years to come and he seemingly has no desire to leave the franchise anytime soon.

The team around him is solid, too. The first people that come to mind are Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams. The former can do it all on the court, finishing a rebound shy of a triple-double in the play-in victory over New Orleans. The latter made the All-Rookie First Team and led the Thunder with a 52.1 percent field goal percentage.

Chet Holmgren would’ve been a Rookie of the Year contender last year, but a Lisfranc injury caused him to miss the entire 2022-23 season. While Victor Wembanyama is getting all the press, Holmgren was one of the more intriguing prospects in recent years and should add another element to Oklahoma City.

Something all of those players share in common? They’re all 25 or younger. This team could be a serious threat in the NBA for years to come.