Only one team can win every year. It’s a shame—especially since there are 30 teams—but that’s the whole point, I guess. You can have the goddamn Greek freak Giannis Antetokounmpo on your team and still not make the Finals. It’s absolute madness. Predicting this sport is silly, and yet, I love to do it anyway. Below is a rundown of how I feel about every NBA team this 2022-2023 season—what fans should be excited about, and what fans should fear.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Grayson Allen, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Pat Connaughton, Jevon Carter, Wesley Matthews, Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Joe Ingles
In Milwaukee’s Game 3 loss to the Celtics last year, the defending champs core trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, and Jrue Holiday scored 80 points of their 103-point total. Khris Middleton was sidelined with an injury and Wesley Matthews started in the hole PJ Tucker left. It’s a game that I love to bring up because the Bucks have seemingly been wracked with how to fix this ever since. One of their potential fixes has involved Duke’s Grayson Allen. This season, he’s averaging around 10.3 ppg with a 3P% just under 40% (as of Jan. 3). Not great, and not what you want from one of your main post-up-in-the-corner options. According to RAPTOR—a scoring system that measures the number of points a player contributes to team offense and team defense per 100 possessions, relative to a league-average player—Allen sits at a net 0.0. That basically means you could throw anyone out there and they would perform relatively the same. So, not to keep ragging on Allen (who is also not very-well liked around the league), but the Bucks have to find a better answer than this unless Giannis is going to drop nearly 50 pts every game (which he may very will still do). Ending 2022 at 23-13 isn’t awful, but you have to figure out how to replace PJ Tucker’s defense or Middleton’s three-point’s shooting if you’re going to be a title contender once again.
- DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, Patrick Williams, Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso, Javonte Green, Andre Drummond, Coby White, Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones Jr.
Chicago is in a bad spot. Lonzo Ball may be out all season with a knee injury, DeRozan is talking to the press about how he really thought he was going to play for the Lakers, and teammates are openly yelling their frustrations at Zach LaVine. The team is “not understanding what needs to be done collectively to help out each other,” DeRozan told ESPN back in mid-December. Ouch. Maybe it’s time to blow it up? If the rumors are true, Chicago is candidate numero uno to trade away their stars at the trade deadline, including LaVine, DeRozan, Caruso, and possibly even Vucevic. LaVine to the Knicks could land them picks and DeRozan to LA could maybe get them Patrick Beverly. Doesn’t sound that bad when you’re already looking at a potential play-in birth that is only trending downward anyway.
- Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Kevin Love, Lamar Stephens, Dean Wade, Raul Neto, Ricky Rubio, Robin Lopez
Even with Donovan Mitchell’s recent 71-point game, The Cavaliers still feel like they’re just one piece away from dominance. Namely, who to start at small-forward. If basketball was a four-person game, god help anyone who faces the Cavs. Much like the Bucks, Cleveland could really benefit from a defensive-minded three-point shooter. They do have one, crazy enough, but Lamar Stevens was oddly given way too many starting minutes before they finally replaced him with Okoro. Stevens was just 29.8% from the three-point line. Maybe head coach J.B. Bickerstaff finally learned something. Cedi Osman, who currently has a +2.6 total RAPTOR score when on the court, is the complete opposite of Stevens—a guy who can help your team win. Hell, he’s got the third-best RAPTOR score per 900 minutes played for Cleveland behind Mitchell and Garland. Even Isaac Okoro has a better defensive presence, and he should probably keep on starting so that Osman can take the floor when Mobley or Allen step off.
- Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Robert Williams III, Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet
With the best record in the league right now, I’m not too worried about the Celtics. That being said, they’ve lost three games recently to some of the youngest squads including the Thunder and the Magic (twice). How can we explain this? Is the bench not playing good enough defensively? Is interim coach Mazzula not what Idoka was? Are Boston’s stars just tired from all the minutes they’re playing? It’s nothing to get completely worked up on, but its cause for concern. Their 2022 Finals foes, The Warriors, were able to still win five games in a row even with Curry sidelined. Could Boston do the same if Tatum or Brown sat out? “We’ve been the best team in the league for a minute and every night throws a different challenge at us,” Marcus Smart told ESPN back in early December. “No matter what we go through, we’re not going to make any excuses. We’re going to continue to play and we’re going to own up to whatever happens.” It took until February for Boston to get it together last year, so in a way they’ve kind of only just got an early start should they be championship contenders once again.
- Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris Sr., Ivica Zubac, Terrance Mann, John Wall, Nicolas Batum, Normal Powell, Luke Kennard, Amir Coffey, Robert Covington, Moses Brown
The NBA changed the three-point shooting foul rules solely because of what happened to Kawhi Leonard, and the Clippers have been dealing with his recovery for nearly two years now. Because of various injury recovery schedules, the LA squad can’t keep a starting lineup intact. The intended starting five have only played together for 10 games so far, and Kawhi recently just played at least 36 minutes in consecutive games for the first time this season so far. And yet, LA is still at a 22-21 record (as of Jan. 11). It helps that the Clippers are one of the deepest teams in the league, but they’re often lifted up by Paul George and Kawhi when in need. Still, the Clippers feel like a team built for the playoffs if they can work things out defensively. “We got to keep working,” head coach Tyronn Lue recently told ESPN. “No one is going to feel sorry for us.”
- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Santi Aldama, John Konchar, David Roddy, Jake LaRavia, Xavier Tillman, Ziaire Williams
For what Ja Morant is on offense, Jaren Jackson Jr. is on defense. In a season that turned the young hopefuls into the No. 2 team in the West last year, Ja Morant won Most Improved Player and Jaren Jackson Jr. was the 2022 blocks leader. Desmond Bane, who recently returned healthy, was also 43.6% from the three-point arc. Even Steven Adams, a center entering his 10th year in the NBA, is putting up career-high rebound and block numbers. Along with Jackson Jr.—who currently ranks 9th overall in defensive RAPTOR at +3.8 (as of Jan. 11), the Grizzlies have four teammates in the top 20 in the NBA this season so far for players with over 630 minutes of playing time, including John Konchar (10th), Dillon Brooks (11th), and Adams (18th). Things look good, and the young squad even have playoff experience now. Could they make a run in the West?
- Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu, AJ Griffin, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Jalen Johnson, Aaron Holiday, Justin Holiday, Trent Forrest
Clint Capela is the best player on the Hawks. His absence is why Trae Young, who has a -2.3 defensive RAPTOR score compared to his impressive +5.3 offensive rating, is still losing despite averaging 27.5 points-per-game. Capela is a walking double-double who’s just about guaranteed one life-saving block per outing, but because of injuries he only played 7 games last month. Dejounte Murray has helped out a lot in in getting Trae some scoring help, but the Hawks are still at a middling 19-21 record (as of Jan. 11). Plus, Trae is reportedly very difficult to work with and head coach Nate McMilllan even thought about quitting. But it’s also their bench. Those three players (Young, Capela, and Murray) are the only ones with over 700 minutes played on the Hawks with total positive RAPTOR scores. If the team isn’t clicking—and reports sound like they’re not—then I don’t know what’s left. And honestly, I’m not sure what can fix this.
- Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Victor Oladipo, Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, Gabe Vincent, Nikola Jovic, Duncan Robinson, Dewayne Dedmon
I don’t understand the Heat and maybe I never will. Apparently, you can take away both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and a guy like Max Strus can still hit 5 three-pointers and lead Miami to victory over the Timberwolves. Another night, Tyler Herro can do the same time along with an additional 30 pts from Butler and the team can still lose to the Spurs. Even with one of the best defenses, they’re currently ranked last in average points-per-game and 27th in field goals made. Can’t win if you don’t score. Bam Adebayo can put down a 20-10 double-double every night if they need him to—and improved defensive play from veteran Haywood Highsmith has helped the crew out a bit—but Miami has to find some sort of consistent rhythm if they’re going to turn this thing around. “It’s been extremely disappointing every time we get a little bit of footing on the season, and then we have a disappointing loss,” head coach Erik Spoelstra recently told ESPN, later adding that it’s been tough with “a lot of moving parts, guys in and out of the lineup.” Sure looks like it.
- LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr., P.J. Washington, Mason Plumlee, Dennis Smith Jr., Kai Jones, Jalen McDaniels, Gordan Hayward, James Bouknight, Mark Williams
You’d think someone like Boston, Phoenix, Brooklyn, or Los Angeles would have the most problems in the league, but it’s actually Charlotte. The injuries just keep stacking. The Miles Bridges situation effectively removed their top scorer, and the Hornets do not many options before the trade deadline to acquire anyone better outside of draft capitol. “We’ve got a lot of talent, but we’re not disciplined and stuff like that,” Terry Rozier recently said following a loss. “It kind of puts us on the back burner.” Seems like a team who should be gunning for Victor Wembanyama—even though I personally would hate to see him end up in Charlotte. With an 11-31 record this season so far (as of Jan. 11), these games are just not fun to watch.
- Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, MIke Conley, Kelly Olynyk, Collin Sexton, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Walker Kessler, Talen Horton-Tucker, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Ochai Agbaji, Rudy Gay
After impressing with an early lead, the Utah Jazz have settled down to a 21-23 record (as of Jan. 11). Lauri Markkanen, who impressed in Finland this Summer, has really brought the improvement to Utah. Could we see Lauri up for Most Improved Player? Collin Sexton’s great playing may also prove that the Donovan Mitchell trade to Cleveland was actually a win-win for both teams involved. As far as TV goes, this Jazz squad is certainly more interesting to watch than last year’s. Rookie Walker Kessler is also one of my favorites from this latest draft class, and he’s a rebound machine with a +2.9 defensive RAPTOR score when he’s on the floor (as of Jan 11). For a team that was expected to be the worst, the roster ain’t looking too bad now as it is.
- De’Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes, Domantas Sabonis, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Malik Monk, Davion Mitchell, Trey Lyles, Terence Davis, Chimezie Metu, Richaun Holmes, KZ Okpala
On December 28, 2022, the Kings defeated the Nuggets thanks to 30-point games from De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and Malik Monk. Sabonis—seemingly one of the best centers in the league—even did it through a thumb injury. It was a fantastic night for Sacramento, especially for a team that has not made the playoffs since 2006. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but at a 21-18 record (as of Jan. 11), it looks like it could be possible for the young squad. Sure, No. 4 pick Keegan Murray may not be the breakout star that Paolo is on the Magic, but he’s getting significant minutes as a rookie and still averaging 11 points-per-game this season so far. I’m liking what I’m seeing, and the vibes in Sacramento seem good. They are, without a doubt, a more exciting team to watch than last year—and for some squads there’s really nothing more you can ask for than that.
New York Knicks
- Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Obi Toppin, Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose, Cam Reddish, Miles McBride, Isaiah Hartenstein
As I’ve said before, the Knicks betting everything on acquiring Jalen Brunson in free agency this off-season probably ensured a play-in spot, but it’s not the win-now move this New York team was anywhere close to being ready for. Brunson can’t make up for the Knicks’ other problems on his own. The up-side? The Knicks now hold a massive 21-pick stash through 2029, including an unheard-of four first-round picks in next year’s draft. It may have cost them some breakout rookies, but it’s one the largest positives for a team that—for reasons I will never understand—chose keeping RJ Barrett over trading for Donovan Mitchell.
Los Angeles Lakers
- LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverly, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, Thomas Bryant, Austin Reaves, Troy Brown Jr., Kendrick Nunn, Wenyon Gabriel
Why can’t LeBron James and Anthony Davis play together and win? How is Los Angeles currently ranked 12th in the West? These are unanswerable failures, and yet because they’re the Lakers, I have to hear about them all the damn time. Los Angeles has me out here rooting for Thomas Bryant to save them for god’s sake. Maybe the Lakers just don’t really care? I mean, recently LeBron James told reporters that he guessed he would just have to score 40 points-per-game to win instead 30 points and he just did that—twice-in-a-row somehow—and he was right. “Try 40 and we got a win. It’s math,” James told ESPN. My guy, if it’s so easy then why are you 19-22 this season so far.
- Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Bol Bol, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr., Terrence Ross, Mo Bamba, Moritz Wagner, Gary Harris, Admiral Schofield, Caleb Houston
Paolo Banchero is probably Rookie of the Year, so props to Orlando for landing the No. 1 pick there. The 20-year-old forward is averaging 21 ppg, 6 reb, and 4 ast (as of Jan. 11), even on one of the worst teams in the NBA this year. It’s not his fault though, as he’s definitely helping them win a lot more than they would have lost without him. So are the Wagner brothers, who are exciting to watch play together like they’re some Anime sports duo. Hell, they even beat the Celtics twice in a row.
- Luka Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddle, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell, Jaden Hardy, Josh Green, Davis Bertans, Frank Ntilikina, JaVale McGee
Tim Hardaway Jr. coming back has done wonders for a Mavericks squad that was relying on Luka scoring 40+ points-per-game to even have a chance at winning. So has this new starting lineup of Luka, Dinwiddie, Hardaway, Wood, and Powell. The JaVale McGee experiment at the beginning of the season may not have worked out, but the Christian Wood trade certainly did. He’s averaging 18 pts, 8 reb, and 39.9% 3PT shooting (as of Jan. 11). Luka, as well, is a total beast this season. The first 60-20-10 triple-double in NBA history, the highest offensive RAPTOR score at +10.5, and a prime MVP candidate season. If the Mavericks can manage how many hard minutes he plays, they have a real good shot.
- Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton, Seth Curry, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, T.J. Warren, Yuta Watanabe, Patty Milles, Edmond Sumner, Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe
It took shutting up and just playing basketball for Kyrie irving and Kevin Durant to go on a 12-game win streak, reminding everyone that they’re actually really good at this game when they play it. Center Nic Claxton’s has also improved his defensive RAPTOR score to +4.3 total over the course of his first starting season, which is ranked 7th overall in the NBA so far (as of Jan. 11) for players with over 600 minutes of playing time. Hell, even Ben Simmons has worked his way to the positive defensive presence we knew he could be. If they keep playing like this once Durant returns from a minor knee injury, Nets as title contenders may not be the near-joke it’s been for the past two years.
- Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Andrew Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Bruce Brown, Bones Hyland, DeAndre Jordan, Christian Braun, Vlatko Cancar, Jeff Green, Zeke Nnaji
Jokic should win the MVP for a third year in a row this season by stats alone. The MVP race—which is pretty stupid—is entirely narrative based, however, and I could see someone like Doncic or Tatum winning instead. They’re all great players, and I could honestly care less who wins, but Jokic has still been nothing short of amazing. His +14.1 total RAPTOR score (as of Jan. 15) is miles above anyone else’s, and Denver finally has a good team around him to possibly help a deep playoff run. I’m a big fan of KCP’s added size on defense, Aaron Gordon’s dunk prowess, and especially anytime Bruce Brown is on the floor. Much like Dallas and Luka, what to do when Jokic is not on the floor is the top concern, but I think Denver handled free agency very well.
- Tyrese Haliburton, Budddy Hield, Myles Turner, Jalen Smith, T.J. McConnell, Oshae Brissett, Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Nesmith, Chris Duarte, Isaiah Jackson
In the beginning of the season, the Pacers seemed to be joining the Jazz in their pursuit to blow everything up and tank for Victor Wembanyama. Instead, they found that their current roster surprisingly had some juice. It may not seem like it, but Tyrese Haliburton is ranked 3rd in offensive RAPTOR scoring (as of Jan. 11), influencing the Indiana squad heavily in both consistent points and assists when he’s on the floor. He’s one of the only players averaging both 20 ppg and 10.3 ast this season. Haliburton’s play has been a great fit for Indiana alongside young talent such as rookies Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, enough that the Pacers are thinking of even extending Myles Turner’s contract instead of placing him back on the trade market.
New Orleans Pelicans
- Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, Jonas Valunciunas, Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III, Devonte’ Graham, Larry Nance Jr., Dyson Daniels, Naji Marshall, Jaxson Hayes
It’s a shame that Zion’s big return season has been marred by so much additional injuries, but the Pelicans are still an intriguing team to watch. Their new rivalry with the Suns is exciting (even though both teams are currently banged up), and breakout playoff star Jose Alvarado is still a wonder on defense. He boasts a +4.1 defensive RAPTOR score to rank 8th overall in the NBA this season so far (as of Jan. 11), and he’s even scored in double-digits in their last three games. It may be a bit rough right now, but the playoffs could look mighty interesting with a fully healed Pelicans involved.
- Cade Cunningham, Bojan Bogdanovic, Saddiq Bey, Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, Killian Hayes, Alec Burks, Hamidou Diallo, Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Stewart, Cory Joseph, Kevin Knox II, Nerlens Noel
Year three of the Pistons rebuild felt like it was right on track until Cade Cunningham’s shin injury took him out for the rest of the season. These other talented rookies such as Jalen Duren and Jaden Ivey are now getting signifiant minutes—which is good for their rookie year development—but their lead scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, seems like a guy with a big enough contract for Detroit that they’ll want to move him for even more young talent and picks before the trade deadline. With one of the worst records in the league, Detroit will surely be in the market for 2023’s promising draft class as well.
- Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, Christian Koloko, Thaddeus Young, Malachi Flynn, Precious Achiuwa, Otto Porter Jr., Juancho Hernangomez
Toronto has one of the best development programs in the league, a highlight that makes poor performance from last year’s Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, that much more puzzling. Toronto’s starting lineup also boasts VanVleet, Siakam, Anunoby, and Trent Jr. So why are they 17-23 with the 6th worst record in the league? Well, Toronto is currently ranked 28th in three-pointers made and 26th in assists. Sounds like there’s a lot of shots going up but not in, and a lot of quick shots being taken 1-on-1, instead of passing it around and finding the open man. Oh, and the Raptors are dead last in defensive rebounds, so they’re not getting stops on the other end as well. This makes them sound like the worst team in the league—but they’re not, they’re just the 6th worst. I know everyone wants Chicago to blow it up, but Toronto seems like a way better candidate. Everyone’s healthy now, so, this isn’t even going to miraculously get better anytime soon.
- Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Garrison Mathews, Kenyon Martin Jr., Tari Eason, Jae’Sean Tate, Usman Garuba
John Wall may have derailed the Rockets’ rebuild for nearly two years due to contract disputes, but after having the worst record in the league last season, some promising rookies finally came to Houston. No. 3 pick Jabari Smith Jr. hasn’t been the kind of breakout star that No. 1 overall Poalo Banchero has been for the Magic, however, which pretty much proves his downgrade to the No. 3 pick. At the end of the year, veteran Eric Gordon also dejectedly told ESPN that “There’s no improvement” from the younger players. Eek. At least Jalen Green can still ball. Maybe Wembanyama would like it in Houston, too.
- Joel Embiid, James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobiah Harris, PJ Tucker, De’Anthony Melton, Shake Milton, Georges Niang, Paul Reed, Montrezl Harrell, Matisse Thybuile, Danuel House Jr.
After a rocky start, the city of brotherly love seems to have found its mojo. Maxey is back, despite a brief Embiid respite, but James Harden is being the 20 ppg playmaker that he’s been needing to be ever since his hamstring injury messed him up but good. It’s pretty rough playoff-wise without Embiid, however, who is leading another MVP-caliber season of multiple 40-point games. The big man said it himself back in mid-December (via ESPN): “James is doing a great job getting everyone easy shots. My teammates are doing a fantastic job moving the ball and being in the right spots. That’s what we’ve got to do—stay healthy. But we’re not there yet.”
San Antonio Spurs
- Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, Doug McDermott, Keita Bates-Diop, Malaki Branham, Gorgui Dieng, Zach Collins
At the beginning of the season, I joked that the Spurs would be the worst team in the league and the leading candidate percentage-wise to tank for Victor Wembanyama. While I wouldn’t want to see the big guy land in San Antonio surrounded by such a pitiful lineup, it’s looking more and more possible with each new game. Especially after they moved Dejounte Murray for picks in the off-season—that really felt like the final nail in the coffin. Tim Duncan, shield you eyes.
- Devin Booker, Chris Paul, DeAndre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Torrey Craig, Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Damion Lee, Duane Washington Jr., Bismack Biyombo, Dario Saric
Mark my words, this year’s Phoenix Suns are last year’s Utah Jazz, just one off-season removed. Running it back with the same lineup is usually only a good decision if you came really close to winning the title—like say, Boston—but the Suns decided to run it back with the same lineup, pay the maximum to keep DeAndre Ayton when they could have kept him for less, and bench Jae Crowder as if he was the only problem. Oh, and dare I forgot that the whole damn team has to be sold because their toxic owner was banned from the NBA. Especially with Devin Booker, Cam Johnson, and Cameron Payne all injured, I don’t see Phoenix having a chance in hell to perform better than last year, if they can even secure a play-in spot in time.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort, Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams, Tre Mann, Darius Bazley, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Isaiah Joe, Mike Muscala, Aleksej Pokusevski
I wanted Oklahoma City to have a better time this year, but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards. Chet Holmgren missing his entire rookie season to injury was not only a huge let down, but it momentarily made the seemingly-weak-boned rookies’s flaws that much less “seemingly.” Add injuries to just about every other potential center they had in Poku and Robinson-Earl, and you’re looking at a Thunder squad with a backcourt under 6’6”. You’re not going to win games without size, even if Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can put down over 30 points every night. Which he does.
- Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, D’Angelo Russell, Kyle Anderson, Jaden McDaniels, Austin Rivers, Jaylen Nowell, Taurean Prince, Bryn Forbes, Jordan McLaughlin, Naz Reid
So far, the Rudy Gobert experiment has failed. It seemed like a good idea in practice, but real life doesn’t play out like NBA2K. You can’t account for a massive injury to Karl-Anthony Towns, or Anthony Edwards just getting super apathetic on the court. I mean, for a young talent as good as he is, you’d think his scoring ability would be able to take some games over the competition even if his regular season energy level just wasn’t there. “There’s a lot of guys out there that maybe think we’re a lot better than we are,” head coach Chris Finch said without naming anyone in particular. Yikes. I wouldn’t call the vibes “good” in Minnesota.
Portland Trail Blazers
- Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkic, Shaedon Sharpe, Justise Winslow, Drew Eubanks, Gary Payton II, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, Trendon Watford
With Damian Lillard back and the acquisition of Josh Hart, Portland looks like a real playoff contender. That is, if they can get there in good standing. Portland has made a lot of costly turnovers as of late, falling to 10th in the West and an under .500 record (as of Jan. 11). Rookie Shaedon Sharpe also looks promising maybe 2-3 years down the line, but it’s clear now that he’s the kind of project everyone expected. “We know what it takes to win games, Lillard recently told ESPN, “it’s just not easy.” A positive: Anfernee Simons is averaging 22.4 ppg—the kind of progress you want to see from such a young, coveted asset.
Golden State Warriors
- Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole, Donte DiVencenzo, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, Andre Iguodala, James Wiseman
Steph Curry being out may have hurt the Warriors in the short term, but it’s been long known that this squad doesn’t have to be No. 1 in the West to win a title. They’ve won four of the last five, after all. Although the bench has thinned out a lot since their championship run last year, Golden State is returning with the same starting lineup—rumored to cost around $500 million in luxury tax payments next year. Draymond Green punching Jordon Poole is even water under the bridge now. I guess Steph Curry really just is that good. What can ya do?
- Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, Kyle Kuzma, Monte Morris, Will Barton, Daniel Gafford, Corey Kispert, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Taj Gibson, Dyson Daniels, Vernon Carey Jr.
It’s a shame not seeing things work out in Washington, especially after a great player like Bradley Beal cemented himself there with one of the few no-trade-clause contracts in the history of the NBA. Monte Morris is a good point guard, but he can’t contribute starting numbers now that Beal is away with injury. He’d be better off leading a secondary unit, but the Wizards are low on usable bench players as a whole. Kristaps Porzingis’s weak body makes him seem way older that 27, and Kyle Kuzma’s great play feels more like it’s working to make him a higher trade asset than a positive for Washighton’s future. The Wizards will barely make the play-in if this continues, especially since Bradley Beal has missed close to half of the team’s games due to various ailments. It’ll be an exciting year.