Golden State Warriors
Fresh off of their fourth championship and sixth Finals appearance in eight years, the Warriors don’t appear ready to slow down. Stephen Curry finally has a full trophy case, adding his first Finals MVP to the collection. After averaging thirty-one points, six rebounds, and five assists over the course of the series, Curry cemented his place amongst the greats and relinquished any doubt that this era of basketball partially belongs to him. Klay Thompson looks like about seventy-five percent of his former self. A full offseason of conditioning should allow him to get back to his elite defensive stature, and I am not the least bit concerned about his ability to put the ball in the basket. Jordan Poole put himself in the Most Improved Player conversation this season after showcasing his ability to drop thirty on any given night. His tough shot making and dynamic finishing ability has made him one of the most enjoyable young players to watch. He is yet another lights-out shooter for Steve Kerr’s arsenal. Andrew Wiggins proved his worth in the Playoffs. After much skepticism over his All-Star status back in February, Wiggins put haters to shame by stepping up when his team needed him most. He proved an elite defender, consistently taking the toughest assignment in each series. In addition to his improved defense, Wiggins filled a much needed scoring role in games where Steph and Klay were less than impressive. It’s also worth noting that he led the team in rebounding over the course of the Playoffs despite being a wing. Losing Gary Payton II hurts, but Golden State has plenty of talent holstered and ready to be unleashed in the coming season. Moses Moody impressed in the Summer League, and Jonathan Kuminga has shown flashes of electrifying athleticism and floor-running ability. Former second overall pick, James Wiseman is also set to start the season for the Warriors and compete for minutes with Kevon Looney, who has proven himself to be a consistently adequate big. All the pieces are in place for Golden State to grab yet another Larry O’Brien trophy.
It’s rare for a conference championship team to significantly improve their roster in the off season. That’s exactly what Boston did. The Celtics traded for former Rookie of the Year, and 50-40-90 club member, Malcolm Brogdon from the Indiana Pacers. Brogdon provides Boston with a third scoring option, as well as an intelligent playmaker to run the pick and roll with either Al Horford or Robert Williams III. Jayson Tatum was inconsistent in the Finals, by superstar standards. His maturity and willingness to get back in the gym is clear, however, and Celtics fans shouldn’t be worried. Jaylen Brown is one of the most underappreciated players in today’s league and maybe the best ‘Robin’ in the NBA. The Celtics also added much needed wing depth with Danilo Gallinari. Marcus Smart, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, will continue to be a pest and a valuable part of the team as well. Ime Udoka also has some promising young players in Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams, who played very well in the Eastern Conference Finals. JD Davison, the fifty-third pick in this year’s draft, impressed in the Summer League and should get some minutes over the course of the season. Robert Williams III played through injury in the 2022 Playoffs, but should return to his elite defensive stature next season. After their first Finals appearance since 2010, the Celtics aren’t going anywhere.
The 2021 NBA Champion, Milwaukee Bucks fell short of retaining their title after an unfortunate injury to All-Star Khris Middleton. Two time MVP and 2021 Finals MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo is still arguably the best player in the world. His dominance is virtually unmatched, and as he continues to improve his shooting, he will only continue on this path. Not only is Giannis a proven winner, but he is a humble leader as well. His supporting cast is relatively untouched from the Bucks’ Finals run a year ago. Jrue Holiday is one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, and an improved playmaker as well. Middleton will be back and ready to showcase his silky three-level scoring. Brook Lopez, who has been incredibly efficient will also be back for Milwaukee this season. Bobby Portis, a fan favorite, recently signed his extension. Serge Ibaka was also brought in, further adding to the Bucks’ depth and Playoff experience. The Bucks will have as good a shot as anyone to win the 2023 NBA Championship.
Ja Morant is one of the league’s best young stars. The Grizzlies have the best young core in the league, having proven that they can win and are hungry for more. Without the injury that Ja sustained during the Playoffs, Memphis could have very well moved on and competed for a Championship. Jaren Jackson Jr. has proven more durable and a dynamic player on both ends of the floor. Desmond Bane is the perfect running mate for Morant in the backcourt. He has quickly become one of the best shooters in the NBA, but his game reaches far beyond just that. Dillon Brooks is a tough, ‘three and D’ wing who brings even more versatility to the lineup. Memphis is also bringing back Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, and Xavier Tillman, all of whom have proved productive young players. The Grizzlies also elected to bring in four draft picks who all seemed to impress in the Summer League. Second year player Santi Aldama also showed out in the Summer League and should get some runs this season. There is a lot to be excited about in Memphis
Unlike his predecessor, James Harden has not run from the criticism that he received after the Playoffs. Harden says he wants to get back to that ‘elite level’ that he was at prior to coming to Philly. He and multi-time MVP candidate Joel Embiid could very well be the most talented duo in the NBA this season. Tyrese Maxey has blossomed into a young star with incredible dynamic scoring. He has complimented Harden well and become a reliable third scoring option. Daryl Morey was also able to bring in some much needed depth and physical toughness with new additions P.J. Tucker, Danuel House Jr., and De’Anthony Melton. Tobias Harris is overpaid but underappreciated and will continue to be a solid contributor for the Sixers as well. Superstar Joel Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career, and if Harden can get back even half of what he was in Houston, Philadelphia has a real shot at the title.
Devin Booker is one of the most dynamic scorers in the league. Chris Paul is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league. This combo has proven lethal when healthy. After a Finals run and a sixty-four win season in consecutive years, the Suns have finally played their way into Championship relevancy. DeAndre Ayton is a perfect third option and a top ten big in the league without question. Mikal Bridges walked his way into the Defensive Player of the Year discussion while also maintaining his reliable scoring prowess. The Suns have strength in numbers, though, as one of the deepest teams in the league. This season they will bring back key players Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, Jae Crowder, and Dario Saric to name a few. Monty Williams is the reigning Coach of the Year and has the Suns planted firmly in the Championship discussion.
Jimmy Butler is a winner. He will always have his squad ready to make a run. Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the league and now has a retooled roster which has been scary good at times. While there are still some questions about potentially landing a star in a trade, the Heat belong up there with the best teams. Bam Adebayo probably needs to add more to his offensive arsenal, but he has proven tough and sometimes reliable as a scorer. His defense is impeccable. Tyler Herro recently won Sixth Man of the Year after averaging twenty points off the bench for Miami. Kyle Lowry and Victor Oladipo are also running it back. Miami has a slew of shooters which they rotate based on their current three-point clip, which makes them awfully dangerous and less vulnerable to a bad shooting night. They also added promising young rookie, Nikola Jovic who has an exciting and unique skill set for his size. Miami’s title odds in Vegas won’t be at the top unless they make a trade, but they could still win it all with some luck regardless.
Los Angeles Clippers
After what felt like an eternity, the Clippers are finally healthy and ready to compete in the West again. Kawhi Leonard was one of the league’s best players the last time he stepped on the court. His running mate, Paul George was able to play a little bit this season, but the Clippers still missed the Playoffs. The Clippers brought in former All-Star guard John Wall to compliment the pair next season. If he can remain healthy, he will be a solid contributor on both ends of the floor. Norman Powell or Terrance Mann could also potentially step up and claim the ‘third-scorer’ role this season. They have each proven capable of efficient, high-scoring performances. Luke Kennard is another solid piece. He brings elite shooting to the rotation. Marcus Morris will always be an elite competitor and will be back for LAC this season. The Clippers also have some young talent who could potentially contribute this season for Ty Lue and company. If everyone’s healthy, the Clippers will be in contention.
Los Angeles Lakers
It’s hard to say whether the Lakers are a true contender after failing to make the Playoffs last season. However, the last time LeBron missed the playoffs, he followed it up with a Championship in LA. Anthony Davis has been in the gym and appears to be healthy, but his durability and stamina are still concerning. Russell Westbrook had a disastrous season by his standards, so honestly, he can only go up from here, right? Who knows. Darvin Ham will provide a refresh in the locker room which could be beneficial for a Laker team that wants to put the past behind them. Rob Pelinka also brought in Lonnie Walker IV, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Thomas Bryant to the squad. Their production is to be determined, but their acquisition bodes well for much needed depth. Could LeBron grab ring number five in year twenty? It’s possible.
New Orleans Pelicans
What?! The Pelicans? Is this guy crazy? Maybe, but why can’t I have one sleeper team on this list. The Pelicans turned it around last season after acquiring All-Star, C.J. McCollum from the Trailblazers. Brandon Ingram has shown the ability to torch teams in a baby-Kevin Durant type fashion. What Pelicans fans should be most excited for, however, is the return of Zion Williamson. Zion is the only player in NBA history to average over twenty-five points per game on over sixty percent shooting from the field. He’s only twenty-two. New Orleans pushed the first seeded Phoenix Suns to a six game series which was unexpected to say the least. Jonas Valanciunas has proven more versatile offensively, knocking down threes in bunches with an absurd rebounding clip. Herbert Jones and Jose Alverado were also key parts of the Pelicans turn around last year, and will continue to improve as young pieces. Jones is particularly dominant on the defensive end, and showed great maturity for a rookie in the Playoffs. The Pelicans have a potential Superstar in Zion, and two other All-Stars on the roster. Not to mention their superb depth and team chemistry. Don’t count them out of the title race.
Luka Doncic is a team-carrying, do-it-all type of guy. With new Head Coach Jason Kidd, the Mavericks were able to reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time since they won the title in 2011. Losing budding star Jalen Brunson is a big blow, but this opens up the opportunity for other role players to step up offensively. Dallas has a myriad of versatile wings who can stretch the floor and guard positions one through four. In addition, they traded for Christian Wood who has shown flashes of greatness and could be the second star that Dallas needed to compliment Luka. Jaden Hardy was also a phenomenal pickup in the draft, and will prove to be a steal. Hardy has natural scoring instincts and could play a role for the Mavs immediately. Recent signing Javale McGee also provides more depth and Playoff experience. With big seasons from both Tim Hardaway Jr. and Christian Wood, the Mavericks could be one of the top teams in the West, and very much compete for a title.
The Nuggets finished last season with forty-eight wins. This is without their second and third best players. They also have the reigning two-time MVP in Nikola Jokic. Starting with Jamal Murray who will be returning for Denver this season, the Nuggets regain a proven scorer and facilitator who has shown the ability to hit clutch shots when it matters most. Michael Porter Jr. will also be back this season. MPJ has been dynamic on all three levels scoring the basketball when he has been on the court. His defense also improved toward the end of the 2020-2021 season. Aaron Gordon is another returning starter who has fit Mike Malone’s system very well thus far. Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland can play a bench scoring role similar to the one that he did last season. The Nuggets also added veterans Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who provide needed depth on the wing. Denver is stocked with talent and the Joker has his circus back.
It wouldn’t be right to count out last season’s total points and assists leader. Trae Young and the Hawks had a disappointing season after a Conference Finals berth in 2021. Still, they were able to snag a game in a series against the top seeded Miami Heat. One of the biggest trades of the summer was Atlanta’s acquisition of Dejounte Murray for virtually nothing other than picks. Murray is fresh off of his first All-Star selection, and put up ridiculous stat-sheet-stuffing numbers for the San Antonio Spurs last season. It’s unclear who will be the ball dominant guard in Atlanta next year, but having too much scoring and playmaking ability is a good problem to have. The Hawks also have Clint Capela and John Collins as of right now, two very solid bigs who have shown All-Star type production at times. The Hawks also bring back key role players in Bogdan Bogdanovic and De’Andre Hunter who can put up fifteen to twenty points with relative consistency. The Hawks selected A.J. Griffin from Duke in the 2022 NBA Draft. Griffin brings elite shooting and solid athleticism to add to a rotation without Kevin Huerter. The Hawks could be surprisingly good next year. The question is, will it translate to Playoff success?
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