It's rare for the NBA season to go the way that most people would have expected before opening day. Everyone is going to have varying expectations, but there are almost always a few teams that outperform general expectations and a few that underperform.
Using last season as an example, I'm not sure you could find anyone who was predicting the Phoenix Suns to finish with the second-best regular-season record on their way to an NBA Finals appearance. The Atlanta Hawks making the Eastern Conference Finals was also a surprise.
Then there were the Boston Celtics, who finished as the seventh seed in the East. Toronto didn't even make the play-in games and became draft-focused towards the year's end. James Harden was on the Houston Rockets to start the season but was quickly rerouted to the Brooklyn Nets and Houston wound up winning just 17 total games.
There are some unpredictable factors - injuries being the primary one - but sometimes rosters just finally find their ideal style or a coaching change makes all the difference.
On that note, here are five teams who could end up overperforming in the 2021-22 NBA season.
#5 - Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets have an intriguing roster heading into the 2021-22 season, headlined by their offensive versatility. LaMelo Ball secured the Rookie of the Year award last season and should take another jump as the team's future leader.
Terry Rozier secured the bag this offseason after producing borderline All-Star numbers. Gordon Hayward somehow seems to be forgotten about in many NBA conversations, but he is now reportedly healthy.
Expecting internal growth in the young talents of Miles Bridges and PJ Washington seems reasonable as well. If either one of those two can take a substantial leap, the trajectory of this Charlotte team could change quickly.
Losing Devonte Graham could be seen as crucial to some, but the team has plenty of guard depth and Graham seemed like the odd man out at times last season. Brining in Kelly Oubre Jr. makes the roster more well-rounded, and Oubre could greatly benefit from playing alongside gifted distributors like Ball and Hayward.
Rookie James Bouknight could end up as one of the steals of the draft with his scoring acumen, and Kai Jones and JT Thor are intriguing as well. However, production from any of those players should not be expected.
With a fairly similar roster, promising coaching, and the potential for some internal improvement, the Charlotte Hornets could surprise people in the 2021-22 NBA season.
#4 - Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors were presented with one of the weirdest circumstances any team in NBA history has dealt with last season. Due to COVID-19, traveling outside of the United States to play games in Toronto would have proven to be too complicated for the league.
As a result, the Raptors were given a temporary home in Tampa Bay, Florida. They spent the season playing their "home" games there, rather than in front of their actual fanbase while also being forced into different training facilities and housing than they were accustomed to.
The national pandemic has affected the entire NBA, but no team was affected more than the Raptors. As for their offseason changes, the Raptors lost what many would say is the best player in franchise history, Kyle Lowry, to free agency.
With the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Raptors selected Scottie Barnes from Florida State. Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa were the return of Lowry's sign-and-trade, and Khem Birch was their notable signing.
Pascal Siakam becoming the focal point could be beneficial for him, as he was reportedly questioning how the front office viewed him. OG Anunoby is primed for a breakout season with a larger role and flashes of self-creation last year. Internal growth from Achiuwa, Malachi Flynn, and Yuta Watanabe could be on the way.
With the Raptors now back in the comforts of their home arena and city, one of the best coaches in the league in Nick Nurse, and intriguing young talent, Toronto could comfortably make the postseason.
#3 - Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards lost Russell Westbrook this offseason, but gained three quality rotational pieces in return. Combining that trio with the additions of Spencer Dinwiddie and Aaron Holiday, along with players returning to health, the Wizards suddenly have the makings of a deep roster.
The point guard position consists of Dinwiddie, Holiday, and Raul Neto. Shooting guards include superstar Bradley Beal and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope. Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert, Davis Bertans and Kyle Kuzma make up the wings and forwards. Thomas Bryant and Montrezl Harell are their dynamic offensive center duo. At least 10 players on the roster can be relied on to play consistent NBA minutes on a nightly basis.
Last season, the Wizards dealt with a handful of unfortunate injuries and some of their young pieces needed time to get acclimated to the NBA. Rui Hachimura is due for a jump in production to be one of the top options on this team, and Deni Avdija can work his way into being the ultimate "do it all" wing.
Of course, the team is still going as far as Bradley Beal takes them. Beal led the NBA in points per game last season and showed the ability to put up 40 at any moment. The Wizards' new depth could lead to a notable increase in wins this season.
#2 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Yes, the Minnesota Timberwolves were recently in the headlines for the wrong reasons with the firing of Gersson Rosas. Yet there are still ways to find optimism for the Wolves.
After hiring Chris Finch at the end of last season, the team went 7-5 in the 12 games with a new voice leading the way. Additionally, the trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards have hardly been able to share the floor.
It's always going to be hard to win games when your best players are not able to share the floor. Malik Beasley also had some off-court issues that led to him only participating in 36 games. If all four of the aforementioned players are able to consistently be on the floor, the team has a path to improvement.
Internal growth from Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, Edwards, or Okogie could be on the way. Patrick Beverley was added to the roster for some veteran experience, grittiness, and infectious energy at the guard spot. Bevereley has been vocal about never missing the playoffs in his career and he doesn't plan to make 2021-22 the first time.
If the Timberwolves can remain healthy and work past the off-court drama in a timely manner, they are candidates to overperform this season.
#1 - Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry proved he can still produce at an MVP level in the NBA last season, and Draymond Green showed his defensive impact remains game-changing. That wasn't enough for Steve Kerr and the Warriors to appear in the 2020-21 NBA postseason, however, and the chief difference this season is the return of Klay Thompson.
Thompson suiting up and contributing even 80 percent of his previous rate would be a ginormous relief to the previously thin Warriors roster. Andrew Wiggins' vaccination situation may end up being complicated, but if that is worked out then the former Timberwolf has proven the ability to play well in his new home.
The veteran additions of Andre Igoudala, Otto Porter Jr., and Nemanja Bjelica should help bolster their regular-season depth. Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson emerged as legitimate NBA rotation players last season who could have another leap in them.
The wild card is the raw but supremely talented young trio in Golden State. James Wiseman still has a lot to figure out before he is a net positive. Jonathan Kuminga will likely need time to adjust to NBA physicality and find his way to contribute alongside the stars. Moses Moody is the only rookie I could see leaving a mark on the Warriors during his rookie campaign as someone with a very complementary skillset on the wing.
If all goes right for the Golden State Warriors, they have a shooter's chance of making it to the NBA Finals in 2021-22.