What fans of NBA’s non-playoff teams should watch in final weeks: Scoot’s strong finish, who fits with Wemby?

We’re entering the final stretch of the NBA regular season, and while many teams are focusing on playoff positioning, there’s a handful of teams who are either eliminated officially from postseason contention or are all but mathematically out of the race.

To be exact, right now nine teams don’t have a shot at either a playoff or Play-In Tournament spot, and, at this point of the season, it can be difficult to figure out what’s there to play for when the postseason isn’t a possibility.

And while the days of egregious tanking are over because of the flattened lottery odds, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to still pay attention to about the teams at the bottom of the standings.

With that being said, here’s either one storyline or one thing each of the nine teams at the bottom of their conferences should be focusing on as the regular season draws to a close.

Detroit Pistons: Get creative

The Pistons should be looking ahead to next season, so they should be getting creative with lineups to see if there’s something they haven’t tried yet that could be a building block for next year.

Head coach Monty Williams has been pretty rigid with his lineups for the most part, whether that’s rotating in a whole bench lineup when it hasn’t worked the entire season, or starting Killian Hayes for far longer than he should have until Detroit waived him at the trade deadline.

Now’s the time to try some new things, and let some of the younger players prove their worth. The Pistons have a lot of talented young pieces, but this season has been a total disaster, so it’s time to throw things at the wall and see what sticks for next year.

Head coach Monty Williams needs to get creative to close the season, writes Jasmyn Wimbish.  Getty Images

Washington Wizards: Deni Avdija’s breakout season

The Wizards have to be the one team on this list who probably can’t wait for the season to end.

They ended their dreadful 16-game losing streak recently, but nothing has really gone right for the Wizards. Jordan Poole has been truly awful, Kyle Kuzma hasn’t impacted winning on a consistent basis and rookie Bilal Coulibaly went down with a season-ending injury this month.

But there has been one positive piece to what has otherwise been a disastrous season: Deni Avdija’s breakout year. After averaging 8.1 points through his first three years in the league, Avdija’s production took a jump, he’s at 14.2 points per game on a super efficient 50.9% from the field and 39.2% from deep.

Avdija’s production has been encouraging after three subpar seasons, and it’s truly the only remaining reason to turn on a Wizards game over these last few weeks.

Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Miller finishing strong

The Hornets’ injury list just keeps getting longer, and at this rate, the one thing really worth watching them for is Miller, who has had an impressive rookie campaign.

Miller’s role drastically changed when LaMelo Ball went down with an ankle injury in late January, shifting from mostly operating off ball to becoming the lead guy for Charlotte’s offense. It’s opened up a wealth of opportunity for the No. 2 pick in the 2023 draft, who has been able to develop more as a ball handler and playmaker, and he hit a high in February, averaging 20.5 points.

But after that strong month, Miller’s efficiency tapered off to where he’s averaging a season low 41.5% from the field and 33.8% from deep.

He could be hitting the rookie wall at this point, which is to be expected, but seeing him climb out of his rut is important for what has otherwise been an underrated rookie season.

Brandon Miller climbing out of his rut will be an important development for Charlotte. Getty Images

Toronto Raptors: Development and future plans

The Raptors finally hit the reset button at the trade deadline after dealing Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby and are fully embracing the rebuild — or rather the retool.

Scottie Barnes, RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley provide a solid nucleus, but beyond that Toronto has a bunch of young, unproven players who teeter between being a solid rotation player or end of the bench guy.

Players like Gradey Dick have shown positive signs of improvement, and seeing what he and others like Ochai Agbaji can do as the season winds down should be the main focus. Toronto enters an important offseason where it will have the Pacers’ first-round pick and potentially its own if it falls within the top six.

So seeing which young players will prove their worth now will better help the franchise plan for the draft as well as free agency.

Brooklyn Nets: Is Kevin Ollie the coach of the future?

I don’t think anyone — the Nets included — expected Brooklyn’s season to go this bad, but here we are. They fired their head coach and elevated Kevin Ollie to interim, and determining if he’s the guy going forward should be the main focus as the season comes to a close.

Since Ollie took over, Brooklyn has gone 5-12, and while that doesn’t inspire confidence going forward, it can be difficult for a new coach to step in and implement their gameplan so late into the season.

But beyond if Ollie is going to be the head coach for next season, Brooklyn really has to figure out what direction the team wants to head in.

Its got a lot of talent, but it hasn’t translated to success, and given that they don’t own either of their 2024 picks, a Nets rebuild isn’t happening in the near future without a trade.

Kevin Ollie has made the most of the hand he was dealt since being named interim head coach.  Getty Images

San Antonio Spurs: Who has staying power around Wemby?

If one thing was made abundantly clear this season it’s that the Spurs need to quickly build around Victor Wembanyama.

If there was an award for the most improved player over the course of this season he would win, and he could garner some late-season attention for Defensive Player of the Year, too.

That’s just how good he’s been. That level of talent means the Spurs need to evaluate the guys around him to see how they can double their wins next season.

Guys like Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson seem like locks to remain part of San Antonio’s young core, but beyond that San Antonio has to see if Tre Jones is the answer at point guard going forward.

It also has to find a better frontcourt pairing for Wembanyama than Zach Collins, who didn’t really work well sharing the floor with Wemby.

The last couple weeks should serve as a final evaluation for the Spurs to see who they could target to trade or re-sign this offseason.

Portland Trail Blazers: Scoot Henderson ending positively

Things didn’t go as planned out of the gates for Henderson in large part due to injuries, but after a slow start, he’s started to show flashes of the dynamic, athletic guard everyone expected him to be.

However, the biggest drawback of his rookie season has been his lack of efficiency.

He’s shooting 37.7% from the field this season, and 30.7% from deep, and while those issues aren’t going to be completely solved over the next couple weeks, seeing some sort of improvement to end the season would be a positive sign.

It’s not uncommon for rookies to come in and struggle with efficiency as they’re getting a feel for the NBA game, but progression over the course of a season is important and so far Henderson hasn’t shown significant improvement in that area.

Can Scoot Henderson be more efficient to close the 2024 season? Getty Images

Memphis Grizzlies: Gregory Jackson’s ascension

It was a lost season for the Grizzlies as soon as Ja Morant went down with a season-ending injury, but one bright spot has been Gregory “GG” Jackson, who is flirting with becoming a permanent rotation player for next season.

He’s shooting 36.8% from deep, while averaging 13.4 points, and just last week he became the youngest player in NBA history to record seven 3-pointers in a game, when he dropped 35 points against the Warriors.

His stats have been eye popping recently, and while it’s mostly been in losses or blowouts, the reps Jackson is getting this season will be important as the Grizzlies expect to return a fully healthy roster next season.

His continued development is the main storyline for this Memphis squad over the final few weeks.

Utah Jazz: Taylor Hendricks’ development

Hendricks didn’t see consistent playing time until the trade deadline, and since then, not only is he averaging over 25 minutes a night, he’s also started in every game since the All-Star break.

He’s averaging 8.9 points and 6.7 rebounds during that stretch on 47.1% shooting from the field, and he’s showing that he can make an impact on the defensive side of the ball, too.

He said prior to Utah’s game against the Mavericks that he wants to guard the best players every night, and he’s certainly taken that task on, guarding the likes of Luka Doncic and Anthony Edwards.

You can see the growth in real time nearly every possession he plays, and after not seeing the floor a bunch through most of the season, he’s been trending in the right direction over the last month on the way to becoming a quality role player for this young Jazz team.

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