10 Things To Look Out For This NBA Season
18 Oct 2022
Tonight, the NBA season tips off, with each team looking to book their spot in the NBA Finals next June. We have rounded up some key things to look out for as we preview the next 82 games:
The Brooklyn Nets Are Volatile
The Brooklyn Nets are the most difficult team to predict going into this season. On paper, they have two of the most talented players of their generation in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, as well as an elite defender and playmaker through their acquisition of Ben Simmons from Philadelphia. Add to this the three point shooting of Seth Curry, Joe Harris, and Patty Mills, as well as the athleticism of Nick Claxton, and this team should be the favourites to win a title this year.
If only it was that simple. A summer of turmoil saw Kevin Durant request to be traded, as well as asking the front office to fire head coach Steve Nash. Kyrie Irving is wildly unpredictable off the court and has proven across the last few campaigns that you cannot rely on him to play 82 games in a season. Ben Simmons had struggles with injuries last year, and still hasn’t developed any kind of outside shot going into his 7th year in the league, which could limit his playmaking ability if defences sag off him. If everything clicks for the Nets, they could be an unstoppable force in the Eastern conference, but it feels as if at least some heads will roll, be it the players or coaching staff, before we reach the playoffs in April.
Joel Embiid Has Never Had A Better Shot At The Title
As we approach the ten year anniversary of Sam Hinkie’s tenure as Philadelphia 76ers general manager, ‘The Process’ that he started has never been this close to an NBA championship. Hinkie’s exploitation of the draft helped the Sixers acquire a wealth of top picks, bringing elite talent to Philadelphia and making them a contender in the East for the past 5 years. All of these teams have been built around their franchise player, Joel Embiid, but previous iterations have not complemented his game to get the best out of him. The struggles between Embiid and Simmons were well documented, and Joel was rightly unhappy about the team’s decision to trade away All-Star Jimmy Butler a few years ago.
This new-look Sixers team gives Embiid his best chance of going the distance since he joined the league. Alongside James Harden, who looks more in shape than he has done in the previous two seasons, Philadelphia have two MVP calibre players, as well as a supporting cast that is deep and skilful. Tyrese Maxey is projected to make another leap this year, while PJ Tucker adds defensive grit and tenacity, in addition to a winning mentality. De’Anthony Melton also looks like a smart pick up by GM Daryl Morey from the Memphis Grizzlies, adding a competent back up point guard to take the load off Harden in the regular season. It has never looked so sunny in Philadelphia over the last ten years, and Embiid, Harden, and the rest of the Sixers will be hopeful of putting everything together and winning the title this year.
The Phoenix Suns Window For Success Is Closing
Just two seasons ago, the Phoenix Suns were the media darlings of the NBA. Fresh off their sensational record in the NBA bubble, the Arizona franchise hit the ground running, with Chris Paul and Devin Booker leading the team to the NBA Finals, losing narrowly to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Last year’s dismal performance in the playoffs however has left a sour taste in the mouth of Phoenix fans, and it may well be the case that their championship window has now closed. Head coach Monty Williams has done an incredible job since taking over, but the locker room seems fractious, especially after Deandre Ayton nearly left for Indiana in the summer, as well as Jae Crowder requesting to be traded. Chris Paul is one of the best point guards to ever play the game, but he will be turning 38 next year when the play offs reach crunch time, and for an offence to be reliant on a player of his age could spell trouble when it matters.
If the Suns have any hope of making it back to the NBA Finals, they will need a leap in productivity on the offensive end from their role players Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. Moreover, Devin Booker will need to play at an MVP level in order to steady the ship. An alarming loss in preseason to the Australian side, the Adelaide 36ers, has shown that there is more than a cause for concern in Phoenix. If Paul, Booker, and the supporting cast get off to a slow start, things could turn very ugly, very quickly.
Kawhi Makes The Clippers An Instant Contender
Kawhi Leonard is back after missing all of last season due to injury. The Klaw makes any team a contender, and Leonard looks to have made the most of his time off, using his rest to bulk up and get himself into the best shape possible. Leonard won Defensive Player Of The Year and Finals MVP while with the San Antonio Spurs, as well putting the city of Toronto on his back and guiding them to their first ever Championship in 2019. Alongside Paul George in the forward position, the Los Angeles Clippers have the potential to be elite on both the defensive and offensive end.
With former number one pick John Wall added into the rotation, and Reggie Jackson playing some of the best basketball of his career last season, the Clippers will be a threat on any given night in this NBA season. It may well be the case that they are missing one or two pieces in their squad rotation, but the allure of Los Angeles and the opportunity to play with two stars in George and Leonard could tempt players to seek a trade to LA in the middle of the season. The weight of expectation will be heavy on Kawhi’s shoulders, but he has proven in the past he has the mentality and skill to handle pressure under the brightest of lights.
The Denver Nuggets Can Secure The 1 Seed
The Denver Nuggets might not be the sexiest of franchises in the NBA, but they have built a roster that gives them a legitimate shot at making a deep run in the playoffs this year. Nikola Jokic has won back to back MVP titles, and his playmaking ability is something that we have never seen before from the centre position.
With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. returning from injury, the Joker will have better players around him that can feed off his passes, and take the offensive load off of him by creating their own shots. The likes of Bruce Brown and Aaron Gordon can make the most of Jokic’s passing by cutting to the basket and getting easy buckets, as well as contributing on the defensive end of the floor.
I expect the Nuggets to be an incredible regular season team who could well secure the number one seed in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if they can carry this over to playoff success, but with everyone healthy the Nuggets are definitely a sleeper pick for winning it all this year.
The Lakers Have Not Finished Trading
In terms of biggest disappointments from the last NBA season, the Lakers have to be top of the list. Their trade for Russell Westbrook has not worked out, and made them short of depth across the roster. Anthony Davis has struggled to stay healthy, and for a team with such star quality, missing the playoffs would have been unthinkable going into last year.
There is slightly more optimism going into this season though, as Lebron James and Anthony Davis seem ready to drag this team to where it needs to be. When Lebron played last year, he was still one of the best players in the league, and a healthy AD ranks among the very best in the NBA. The addition of Patrick Beverley brings a much needed voice of leadership in the locker room, as well as some defensive weapons. New head coach Darvin Ham will also be hoping to stamp his authority on a squad that lacked identity last season.
As the Lakers are currently constructed, they are probably not a threat in the West to challenge for the title. However, as the season progresses, I would expect a trade to be made with Russell Westbrook departing Los Angeles. If the Lakers can get a good package back – possibly Myles Turner and Buddy Hield from Indiana – they could become more of a contender. Furthermore, should the Lakers manage to make the necessary changes to their roster, Lebron James cannot be written off in the playoffs, even in his 20th year in the league.
The Two Finals Teams Must Sort Out Off Court Distractions
Both teams who made the NBA Finals last year, the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, would normally be the firm favourites to make it back to the promised land. However, both franchises have found themselves in the midst of turmoil off the court, and this could have a profound impact on the standings at the end of the season.
The Boston Celtics had a historically good defensive team last year, and could rely on Jayson Tatum and Jayden Brown to fill up the stat sheet on the offensive end. They fell short at the final hurdle against Golden State, but with a young core, there should really be no reason for them not to contend again this year. That being said, the suspension of their head coach, Ime Udoka, for engaging in a relationship with one of his staffers, has thrown a spanner in the works and could derail the Celtics chance for another shot at a championship.
In the Bay Area, Golden State should be basking in the glory of another championship, but instead find themselves mending relationships in the locker room. Draymond Green punched young guard Jordan Poole at a practice in preseason, and has since apologised for his actions and taken himself away from the team. While things seem to be patched up, Poole has just been given a contract extension, meaning that if Green wants to stay at the Warriors beyond this year, he will have to take a pay cut. The last time the Warriors had a situation like this was in Kevin Durant’s final year with the franchise, and Green had an on court bust up with Durant during the regular season. This could well be the ‘last dance’ for Draymond in Golden State, and it remains to be seen if he can keep his composure and help his teammates secure another ring.
Both franchises have more than enough firepower to get themselves back to the NBA Finals, but their progress could be hampered by relationships away from the court. While Boston has a young core and could bounce back next year, the Warriors are in more of a period of transition, and this year could be make or break for them.
Expect A Tank Like No Other For Wembanyama
Tanking is an alien concept in British sport, but with the draft system in America, it is a tried and tested way to turn a franchise around in a short period of time. Due to the lack of promotion and relegation in the NBA (and NFL, MLB, etc.), teams are rewarded with a higher pick in the draft if they underperform in the previous year. This is essentially to create parity within the league, and allow the small-market teams to compete at a higher level by acquiring star names through the draft lottery. This is how we end up with Zion in New Orleans, or Ja Morant in Memphis, rather than the Knicks or the Lakers.
This leads teams to ‘Tank’, which essentially means they strip their squads of the best players in order to lose on purpose. The draft lottery however really does live up to its name. There are no guaranteed successes when picking at number one. You only have to look at Anthony Bennett, or Markelle Fultz to see that teams can waste their picks and continue to wander through the NBA wilderness. This year however feels different, and all because of one man – Victor Wembanyama.
Wembanyama is the most hyped prospect since Lebron James 20 years ago, and with good reason. He stands at 7 feet 4 inches, with an 8 foot wingspan, the handles of a guard, and a three point shot that always looks as if it will go in. The Frenchman has the skill set to be the best player to ever play the game if he can stay healthy, and that does not feel hyperbolic.
With such a prodigious talent on the board for next year, we can expect teams to tank this year like they have never tanked before. The Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs have already started to clear out their rosters, and the likes of the Hornets, Thunder, Rockets, Magic, and Pacers could also be historically bad this year if they feel they can snag Wembanyama. This could lead to some very boring basketball towards the back end of the season, but teams will feel it is worth it in order to secure a generational talent.
Luka Doncic Can Win League MVP
With Jalen Brunson departing for the New York Knicks in free agency, the offensive load has never been greater for Luka Doncic. Entering into his fifth year in the league, Luka has already shown he is one of the most gifted offensive players the NBA has to offer. His step-back three is lethal, and the passes he can find when driving into the paint are other worldly at times. He has carried the Mavs to the playoffs in the previous three seasons and will be expected to do the same this year with a change in supporting cast.
Christian Wood may be the most complementary player to Luka’s game that he has had in Dallas. Wood offers a threat close to the basket, and can also step out to the three point line when necessary. This gives Doncic a dual offensive weapon in the pick and roll, as Wood can either cut to the hoop or pop out and shoot a three. Spencer Dinwiddie will take Brunson’s role this year, and will need to step up if Dallas are looking to make a deep run. If everything clicks in Dallas, and Luka plays as well as we expect, he could be in with a chance of securing his first MVP title.
Big Trades Leave Three Teams With Bigger Questions
Three teams used this summer to swing for the fences and acquire players that drastically change their ceiling going into this season. Minnesota’s acquisition of Rudy Gobert firmly puts them in win-now mode, and they will be hoping the multiple Defensive Player of the Year winner will shore up their defence and take some of the load off of their star players, Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony Towns.
The move however seems somewhat short sighted, as both KAT and Gobert have been exposed defensively in the playoffs over the last few years. While they may be a good team in the regular season, Timberwolves fans should be cautious about their hopes of challenging for a title with their new big three.
The same can be said for the Atlanta Hawks and their trade for Dejounte Murray. The former Spurs guard brings much needed defensive ability alongside Trae Young, and will help the Hawks rise up the rankings in terms of steals, but in such a stacked Eastern Conference the move does feel as if it will not be enough against the physical powerhouses of the Bucks and the Sixers when we reach playoff time.
The other trade to focus on is the Cleveland Cavaliers picking up Donovan Mitchell. The Cavs over performed last year, with their rookie Evan Mobley establishing himself as one of the best defensive prospects in the league. Alongside Darius Garland, the Cavs have a backcourt that can light up teams from the perimeter, while if Mobley makes a jump offensively, they could be a very difficult team to come up against.
With so much talent in this top-heavy league, these trades undoubtedly make each franchise a lot better, but it feels as if the stars acquired may not be quite enough to get them to the upper echelons of their conferences. The Cavs and the Hawks both have young cores, so their trades don’t necessarily feel as make or break for their respective teams. The Timberwolves however have a very limited window with Rudy Gobert, and I am sceptical of the Frenchman’s ability to bring playoff success.