We’ve seen some big offseason storylines: Damian Lillard is now part of a superstar duo with Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Milwaukee Bucks, Chris Paul joined the Golden State Warriors and James Harden still wants out of Philadelphia.
Expect to see talented rookies take center stage. San Antonio Spurs‘ sensation Victor Wembanyama already has us stunned with his unbelievable moves, but don’t sleep on Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren or the Portland Trail Blazers‘ Scoot Henderson to make waves.
Let’s preview all 30 teams with where they stand and what to expect ahead of the 2023-24 season.
Note: Team rankings are based on where members of our panel (ESPN’s Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) think teams belong heading into this season. Title odds, over-under win totals and best bets for 2023-24 by Caesars Sportsbook.
When we last saw them … Nikola Jokic finally put his dancing shoes aside and returned from his summer of celebrating in Serbia. Along with fellow star Jamal Murray, the champs are back, healthy and ready to defend their title. Michael Malone’s starting five is still probably the best and most cohesive in the league.
Malone wants to see more leadership from Jokic and is challenging Murray to take his postseason tear (26.1 points, 7.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 39.6% shooting from 3) and continue it this season to become a first-time All-Star and All-NBA performer. Denver is excited about having Murray and Michael Porter Jr. entering this season fully healthy after easing their way back last year.
The Nuggets’ second unit will also have a new look. After losing key contributors like Bruce Brown and Jeff Green, veterans Christian Braun and Reggie Jackson are poised for bigger roles. Peyton Watson could be an exciting contributor if he earns Malone’s trust. The Nuggets also like what they saw from Justin Holiday and mature rookies like Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett and Hunter Tyson in camp. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Nuggets in NBArank
Nikola Jokic (2)
Jamal Murray (17)
Aaron Gordon (51)
Michael Porter Jr. (68)
Number to watch: Plus-0.1 playoff net rating with Nikola Jokic on the bench.
Perhaps the single biggest reason the Nuggets dominated the postseason was their ability to survive with the two-time MVP on the bench. In the regular season, Denver was outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions when Jokic rested, according to NBA Advanced Stats. With more starters on the court and timely contributions from now-departed reserves Bruce Brown Jr. and Jeff Green, the Nuggets played even against playoff opponents without Jokic. — Kevin Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The defending champs are backed against the wall if their young and inexperienced bench stumbles. Denver does not have a first-round pick to trade (it does have three seconds), has 15 players on guaranteed contracts and is $4.7 million below the hard cap.
Because the Nuggets are over the first apron, they are not allowed to sign a player who was waived and had a salary greater than $12.4 million. — Bobby Marks
Best bet: Over 51.5 wins (-125).
The Nuggets had the best record (53-29) in the Western Conference last season then dominated the postseason, posting a 16-4 record on their way to a championship. The team was significantly better than its 53 wins indicated, and with a relatively young team of veterans at or near their primes and Nikola Jokic still playing at the top of the league, the Nuggets should be better this season. — André Snellings
When we last saw them … After entering last postseason with the best record in the NBA, the Bucks lost in the first round to the Miami Heat in five games, an upset that shook the organization.
Milwaukee fired coach Mike Budenholzer and replaced him with first-time head coach Adrian Griffin and then traded for seven-time All-NBA guard Damian Lillard. It’s the first time in either Lillard or two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s career they have played with another superstar.
Although the Bucks traded guard Jrue Holiday to acquire Lillard, the move makes them one of the favorites to win the NBA championship. — Jamal Collier
Bucks in NBArank
Number to watch: 0.95 points per chance with Antetokounmpo as pick-and-roll screener.
Despite Giannis’ obvious gifts as a screener, Milwaukee’s pick-and-roll game wasn’t particularly effective with him in that spot last season. Per Second Spectrum tracking, the 0.95 points per chance the Bucks averaged when the pick-and-roll led directly to the shot ranked 84th out of 103 players who set at least 500 screens last season. That figures to improve dramatically with Lillard on the other end of those screens as the ball handler. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: With the blockbuster addition of Lillard, the Bucks have a championship roster but little roster flexibility. Milwaukee does not have first-round picks to trade, is not allowed to swap firsts in future seasons and have two second-rounders: 2024 (via Portland) and its own in 2027. The Bucks’ top-heavy roster features nine players who earn between $1.1 to $2.6 million.
The Bucks could be a landing spot for players bought out of their contracts during the regular season, but because they are over the second apron, Milwaukee is not allowed to sign a player who is waived and had a salary greater than $12.4 million with his prior team. — Marks
Best bet: Antetokounmpo over 11.5 rebounds per game (-140).
Antetokounmpo has averaged more than 11.5 RPG in four of his past five seasons, including the past two, despite playing one of the highest intensity offensive styles in the league against opposing “wall” defenses.
This season, with Lillard lightening his offensive responsibilities and changing the way opponents can defend him, Giannis should have more energy for the defensive end of the floor and rebounding.
He seems poised for his best defensive and rebounding season since winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2020 with averages of 13.6 RPG. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Celtics nearly pulled off the first 3-0 comeback in NBA history in the Eastern Conference finals last season. Instead, they fell flat on their face in Game 7 against the Miami Heat, leaving them once again heartbreakingly close to raising an 18th banner.
As a result, Boston made significant changes this summer — most notably, swapping out Marcus Smart, the longtime leader, for Kristaps Porzingis (along with a pair of first-round picks) in an offseason three-team deal with the Memphis Grizzlies and Washington Wizards.
How Porzingis fits in Boston alongside Al Horford will be one of the most important storylines to start the season. Whether it works or not could wind up defining this era of Celtics basketball. — Tim Bontemps
Celtics in NBArank
Number to watch: plus-4.6 clutch net rating.
The Celtics boasted the league’s best overall net rating, but weren’t as strong in the clutch (score within five points, last five minutes and OT), ranking just eighth in the league per NBA Advanced Stats. Those problems were exacerbated in the playoffs, when Boston was outscored by 8.5 points in the clutch. The Celtics added Porzingis in part to have what coach Joe Mazzulla describes as a “curveball” in these situations. — Pelton
The good news is in the past two seasons, president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has been aggressively improving the roster, including adding Holiday and Porzingis this summer.
The Celtics can trade up to two firsts, have nine additional seconds to use in a deal and have a $6.2 million trade exception and only 10 players on guaranteed contracts. — Marks
Best bet: Brown under 26.0 points per game (-140).
Brown had the best scoring season of his career in 2022-23, averaging 26.6 PPG as the second option on a Celtics squad where he and Tatum (30.1 PPG) were the only two players to average 15 or more points. This offseason, the Celtics traded for two more volume scorers in Porzingis (23.2 PPG last season) and Holiday (19.3 PPG last season).
On what should be a much more balanced scoring lineup still led by Tatum, it is hard to imagine Brown getting enough shots to average 26 or more PPG this season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Suns won as many games (two) against the Nuggets as the rest of Denver’s playoff opponents combined, but after losing Games 5 and 6 of their second-round series by a combined 41 points, it was clear Phoenix had some work to do to catch up to the eventual champs.
New team governor Mat Ishbia didn’t waste time, continuing to retool the organization in the same bombshell fashion that yielded the Kevin Durant trade. Phoenix parted ways with Monty Williams a season after he was named Coach of the Year and replaced him with Frank Vogel. The Suns traded Chris Paul for Bradley Beal and dealt 2018 No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton to Portland, acquiring Jusuf Nurkic and some role players to try to boost a bench unit that was woeful last season.
Devin Booker is now the only remaining member of the Suns’ 2021 Finals team. Despite all that roster turnover, a new coach and a 35-year-old Durant playing for his third team in the past five years, nobody on the outside will have the patience to allow Phoenix to figure things out. There is pressure to win from the start. — Dave McMenamin
Suns in NBArank
Kevin Durant (7)
Devin Booker (11)
Bradley Beal (37)
Adding Beal and getting a full season with Durant alongside Booker will clearly require some sacrifice from Phoenix’s new big three. Only one trio that played more than 1,000 minutes together had combined usage rates higher than 90% of the team’s plays: Anthony Davis, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook (91%). So it’s almost certain their usage rates will go down compared to those from last season. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Trading Chris Paul and Cameron Payne left Phoenix with no established point guard. That leaves new coach Frank Vogel with Bradley Beal and Devin Booker as the primary ball handlers. Neither Beal nor Booker have ever averaged seven assists or more at any point in their careers.
If Phoenix does look to find a permanent solution at point guard, it has the $8.7 million salary of Grayson Allen, three trade exceptions ($6.5, $4.9 and $1.8 million) and four second-round picks to offer in trades. — Marks
Best bet: Bradley Beal under 21.0 points per game (+110).
Deandre Ayton saw his scoring average and field goal attempts per game drop from 18.7 PPG and 13.8 FGA to only 12.5 PPG and 9.9 FGA in games Durant played in the regular season. Beal is a professional scorer, and the Suns will integrate him better into the offense with Ayton now gone, but alongside Devin Booker and Durant (both efficient, high-volume scorers), it is difficult to see Beal getting enough shots to average 21 PPG. — Snellings
When we last saw them … At the conclusion of the Lakers’ training camp ahead of their preseason opener, Anthony Davis couldn’t help but be encouraged by what he saw.
“We obviously look good on paper,” Davis said of L.A.’s offseason moves involving retaining the core that made it to the Western Conference finals and adding complementary pieces. “And we got a chance to put us on the floor for a couple of days and it’s kind of a reflection of what the paper looks like.”
Darvin Ham’s second season as coach will coincide with LeBron James’ 21st and Ham’s biggest challenge will be getting the most out of the four-time MVP during the regular season while trying to keep James fresh for a postseason run. The hope is that the talented young trio of Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura — who all got new contracts during the summer — can shoulder the load with Davis so James doesn’t have to do too much.
Beyond James’ and Davis’ sustainability, the biggest question for this team is whether their playoff run last spring was truly a “proof of concept,” as vice president of basketball operations and general manager, Rob Pelinka, described it, or a bit of a mirage, taking out an injured Memphis team and tired Golden State squad before being swept by Denver.
For Davis, whom James dubbed “the face” of the franchise, only a title will cut it.
“That’s it, honestly,” Davis said. “We’re playing for a championship. That’s our goal.” — McMenamin
Lakers in NBArank
LeBron James (9)
Anthony Davis (10)
Austin Reaves (66)
Number to watch: No. 4 in defensive rating after the All-Star break.
As much as the Russell Westbrook trade helped the Lakers clarify offensive roles, they won with defense down the stretch. Although they benefited from poor opponent 3-point shooting (33.5%, also fourth-lowest), that success carried over into the playoffs with Anthony Davis as the league’s most impactful postseason defender. The Lakers repeating or improving on their run to the conference finals will start on defense. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Don’t expect a shakeup to the Lakers roster even if they get off to a sluggish start like last season. Out of the 14 players under contract, 10 cannot be traded until at least Dec. 15. Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt signed extensions and are ineligible to be traded this season.
One of the players who will become trade-eligible is D’Angelo Russell, who signed a two-year $37 million contract with a player option for next season. (Russell waived his one-year Bird restriction and is trade eligible without his permission.)
The Lakers are allowed to trade a 2029 or 2030 first-round pick and four seconds and are a luxury tax team for the fourth straight season — this time $1.2 million over the threshold. — Marks
Best bet: Pacific Division Winner (+340).
The Lakers made major roster moves at the trade deadline last season to turn around what had been a losing campaign. They went 18-8 down the stretch of the regular season to make the play-in game, then went on a run in the postseason to the Western Conference Finals.
They retained their new nucleus this offseason and added several key free agents, giving them championship aspirations going into this season. With the third-longest odds in the division, there is value in taking the Lakers to win the Pacific this season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Warriors’ playoff elimination in the Western Conference semifinals by the Los Angeles Lakers was the last chapter of their incredibly rocky 2022-23 season. Five months later, they say that season is behind them.
The Warriors look incredibly different now. Bob Myers, the constructor of their dynasty, is gone and Mike Dunleavy was named his successor as general manager. Jordan Poole — a player at the center of Golden State’s drama last season — was packaged in a deal to Washington for Chris Paul. There also is a slew of new role players. All of the moves — at least to the roster — should help the Warriors improve.
The official word of the Warriors’ training camp has been “connectivity,” something they were lacking. As they move throughout the season, they will test this connectivity both on the court and in the locker room. — Kendra Andrews
Warriors in NBArank
Number to watch: 110.4 offensive rating without Curry.
The Warriors are hoping adding Paul can solve a decade-long riddle: how to keep the offense afloat with Curry on the bench. Even when they had another MVP in Kevin Durant, Golden State struggled to score without Curry — a testament to his unique offensive ability. But the Warriors have never had a second lead ball handler like Paul, who figures to play most of the minutes Curry doesn’t despite currently starting alongside him. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Extension talks with Thompson will linger. After missing the better part of two-and-a-half seasons, Thompson played 69 games in 2022-23, posting his third-best scoring average. While he shot over 40% from deep for the ninth time in 10 seasons, he shot under 60% on layups and dunks for the first time since 2014-15. His 47% shooting on 2-pointers was his worst in a season under coach Steve Kerr.
Thompson is eligible to sign a four-year, $223 million extension, but a contract that size is reckless considering that Thompson would be set to earn $61 million in 2027-28, when he turns 37. A max extension would also put Golden State closer to the $190 million second apron next season if Chris Paul is retained.
The Warriors have no players (including Curry) under contract past 2026-27 and will be over the salary cap next offseason with or without Thompson on the roster. — Marks
Best best: Over 48.5 wins (-105).
The Warriors won 53 games and the NBA title during the 2021-22 season, then managed only 44 wins last season under unusual circumstances. They missed a combined 81 games from Curry and Wiggins, dealt with internal strife in the aftermath of a physical altercation between Green and Poole and were historically poor on the road for a playoff team with an 11-30 record.
This season, a reasonable “regression to the mean” plus the addition of Paul to stabilize the second unit should see them return to their more typical win patterns. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Knicks arguably had their most successful season in this century in 2022-23. They not only reached the second round of the playoffs for the second time in 20-plus years, but also did so while signing RJ Barrett to an extension and most importantly, landing Jalen Brunson on a four-year deal that instantly became one of the NBA’s best contracts.
After signing Brunson’s former Villanova teammates as a free agent (Donte DiVincenzo) and to an extension (Josh Hart) this summer, the question for the Knicks will be how much of that success from last season is sustainable — and can they possibly build on it this year? Or, will things regress the other way yet again in Gotham? — Bontemps
Knicks in NBArank
Jalen Brunson (32)
Julius Randle (45)
RJ Barrett (71)
Josh Hart (91)
Immanuel Quickley (92)
Mitchell Robinson (100)
Number to watch: plus-11.9 net rating with Josh Hart on court.
After dealing for Hart at the trade deadline, the Knicks crushed opponents with their second unit, led by Hart and Sixth Man runner-up Immanuel Quickley. New York doubled down on small, quick reserve units by signing Donte DiVincenzo in free agency to join his former Villanova teammate Hart. However, the Knicks must also decide on Quickley, who will be a restricted free agent next summer if he doesn’t agree to an extension by Monday. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Knicks are well-positioned financially, with no player earning more than $28 million and 11 first-round picks at their disposal (eight that can be traded) and eight second-round picks in the next seven years.
If the next disgruntled All-Star becomes available, New York has the assets and contracts to make a trade and not ruin future flexibility.
Evan Fournier played the fewest games in his career last year, is likely out of the rotation as the season starts and is owed $18.9 million this season. He has a $19 million team option in 2023-24. — Marks
Best bet: Jalen Brunson over 24.5 points per game (-120).
Brunson had a breakout campaign in his first season in Gotham, particularly after he settled into his new team and firmly took the reins around the New Year. Once the calendar flipped to 2023, Brunson’s scoring game exploded and he averaged 27.9 PPG on 51.7 FG% in his last 34 games of the season despite often playing through injury. He should maintain that level for his second full season with the Knicks. — Snellings
When we last saw them … With six minutes to go in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston, Philadelphia might have been the favorite to win the East — if not the title. Then, in typical Philadelphia fashion, everything fell apart.
Since then, also in typical Philadelphia fashion, chaos ensued. Doc Rivers was fired and replaced by Nick Nurse. Georges Niang left in free agency. And most notably, James Harden has requested a trade from the 76ers, though it appears one won’t be coming anytime soon.
This team, led by reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid, is good enough to contend for a title. But only time will tell if this group will stick together long enough to see whether it can get there. — Bontemps
76ers in NBArank
Number to watch: 49% of picks defended in drop coverage by Joel Embiid.
Just six players defended more screens than Embiid in what Second Spectrum tracks as “soft” defense — NBA teams typically call this drop coverage. That’s an interesting contrast to how new coach Nick Nurse deployed his smaller big men in Toronto. The Raptors were in the NBA’s bottom 10 in using soft coverage, although Jakob Poeltl was marked as soft on 55% of the picks he defended in Toronto after the trade deadline. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: No team this year has as many questions than the 76ers. Former MVP Harden requested a trade in late June and is a free agent next offseason. Maxey could have been extended in July but Philadelphia bypassed a new contract, instead focusing on cap flexibility in 2024.
The 76ers could have up to $65 million in room but with only two players on the roster, Embiid and the free agent hold of Maxey. — Marks
Best bet: Maxey over 21.5 points per game (-120).
There is a lot of uncertainty with the 76ers, much of it surrounding Harden’s trade request and what that means for him, and even Embiid’s future with the team. One player who the team seems confident in, based upon their reported adamance that he would not be traded this offseason, is Maxey.
The 22-year old has improved significantly in each of his first three NBA seasons, up to 20.7 PPG last season, and he got better as the season went along. From his last game in February to his first game in April, Maxey averaged 23.1 PPG on 55.3 field goal percentage in 19 games. He seems poised to make another leap this season, particularly if the drama surrounding Harden leads to more minutes and opportunities. — Snellings
When we last saw them … After securing the franchise’s first 50-win season without LeBron James since 1992-93 and entering the playoffs at the No. 4 seed, the Cavs were quickly dismissed by the Knicks in five games in the first round. New York outscored Cleveland by 40 points over its final three wins to advance. Donovan Mitchell, after averaging career highs in points per game (28.3) and field goal percentage (48.4) in his first regular season with the Cavaliers, took a step back when it mattered most, averaging just 23.2 points on 43.3% (including 28.9% from 3) against the Knicks.
Cleveland’s president of basketball operations, Koby Altman, was arrested in September for driving under the influence. He continues to steward the front office as the team allows the legal process to play out. While momentum has been building in a positive direction the last couple years, Cleveland suddenly finds itself in a pretty consequential season.
Mitchell has two years left on his contract, with the second being a player option, and is extension eligible. Just how fast the Cavs’ young core of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen can continue to develop around him will be key in convincing Mitchell that there’s no better place for him than The Land. — McMenamin
Cavaliers in NBArank
Donovan Mitchell (15)
Darius Garland (36)
Evan Mobley (40)
Jarrett Allen (50)
Number to watch: 24th in 3-point attempts.
The Cavaliers weren’t a particularly inaccurate 3-point shooting team last season, ranking 12th in the league at 37%, but were near the bottom of the league in attempts. Cleveland hopes that changes this season with the additions of Georges Niang and Max Strus. It would help if Evan Mobley adds a 3-point dimension to his game. His 1.3 attempts per game were unchanged from his rookie season and his accuracy dropped from 25% to 21.6%. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Cavaliers return the starting five that won 50 games and improved their team with the additions of Max Strus, Georges Niang, Ty Jerome and Damian Jones. But roster questions remain.
The first is the status of Ricky Rubio. The veteran guard announced in early August that he was stepping away from basketball to focus on his mental health. Rubio has $6.1 million and $6.4 ($4.3 million is guaranteed) on his contract the next two seasons.
The second is whether general manager Koby Altman has authority to enter the luxury tax. Cleveland is $752,000 below the threshold and has an open roster spot. The last time Cleveland paid the luxury tax was 2017-18, the last year LeBron James was on the roster. — Marks
Best bet: Over 50.5 wins (-115).
The Cavaliers have made major strides as a team in each of the past two seasons, from the deep lottery in 2020-21 to a winning record and play-in appearance the next season then to a 51-win campaign and the first round of the playoffs in 2022-23. They’ve put together a core of four All-Star caliber talents, all age 27 or younger, that should continue to improve going into their second full season together. — Snellings
When we last saw them … Miami’s run to the NBA Finals as a No. 8 fell short as it lost to the Denver Nuggets in five games. In an attempt to strengthen the squad heading into the new season, the Heat made a run at a trade for Damian Lillard but that was unsuccessful as Portland dealt him to Milwaukee.
Without replacing either player with Lillard, the Heat will have to rely on the return of Tyler Herro — who played in only one game in the playoffs because of a broken wrist — and hope they can get others to step up like Caleb Martin, second-year forward Nikola Jovic, free agent signee Josh Richardson and rookie Jaime Jaquez. Of course, it’s hard to doubt Jimmy Butler in any scenario after last year’s run. — Andrew Lopez
Heat in NBArank
Jimmy Butler (12)
Bam Adebayo (16)
Tyler Herro (79)
Number to watch: 34% 3-point shooting (27th).
The Heat’s accuracy beyond the arc has fluctuated wildly over the past two seasons, mirroring their success as a team. In 2021-22, when they finished atop the East standings, they led the league in 3-point percentage (38%). And come the 2023 playoffs, Miami was back to 38% en route to the NBA Finals. My SCHOENE projection system forecasts the Heat settling in between at 21st in 3-point percentage this season. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Heat bypassed Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, electing to keep the core of their Eastern Conference championship roster intact. Miami still has the $29.7 million expiring contract of Kyle Lowry, two first-round picks, pick swaps in multiple years and three valuable trade exceptions ($9.5, $7.2 and $4.7 million).
In his two seasons with Miami, Lowry started 107 out of 118 games, but his 55 games played last season were his second fewest in the past decade. — Marks
Best bet: Over 44.5 wins (-115).
The Heat won a prorated 49 and 45.5 in the shortened seasons of 2019-20 and 2020-21, then followed that up with 53 wins in 2021-22. Last season they only won 44 games but awoke in the postseason to make the NBA Finals, defeating the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference in the Bucks and the Celtics on their way.
The Heat’s down regular season can be attributed in part to aging starters and injury to young guard Tyler Herro. With Herro and Bam Adebayo healthy to carry a larger load, and star Jimmy Butler in “Emo Jimmy” mode after the summer disappointments of losing the Finals and missing out on the much rumored trade of Damian Lillard, expect the Heat to bounce back to their typical win levels this season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … A turbulent season, in which the Grizzlies played without Ja Morant during his eight-game suspension stemming from a February incident in which he posted a video that showed him handling a gun in a nightclub, ended in embarrassing fashion. Memphis earned the West’s second seed but got knocked out in the first round, finishing with a 40-point loss to the Lakers in Game 6. Two weeks later in May, Morant again flashed a handgun on an Instagram Live video, which ultimately resulted in a 25-game suspension to start this season.
The Grizzlies pounced on the chance to trade for Marcus Smart, giving up outstanding backup point guard Tyus Jones and two first-round picks to get the former Defensive Player of the Year. Memphis’ hope is that Smart provides the smart, tough leadership the Grizzlies have been missing while also filling departed free agent Dillon Brooks’ role as an elite on-ball defender.
Memphis needs Morant on the floor at his best to have hopes of contending, but the continued development of the Grizzlies’ other young stars could also be a major factor in elevating their ceiling. Desmond Bane (21.5 points per game) and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr. (18.6) are both coming off career-best scoring seasons and will have increased offensive opportunities during Morant’s suspension. — Tim MacMahon
Grizzlies in NBArank
Jaren Jackson Jr. (31)
Ja Morant (35)
Marcus Smart (59)
Desmond Bane (61)
Number to watch: No. 3 in defensive rating.
Continued defensive success for the Grizzlies, a top-five team at that end each of the past two seasons, will be key to staying afloat during Ja Morant‘s 25-game suspension. Morant has hardly been the lynchpin of the Memphis defense, and in 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart, the Grizzlies now have an ace defender to step in at point guard before sliding to shooting guard when Morant returns. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Grizzlies were aggressive in addressing their lack of backcourt depth due to Ja Morant’s suspension, trading a 2024 first-round pick (via Golden State) and Tyus Jones to acquire former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
Now with four first-round picks at their disposal, does Memphis enter the market for a starting small forward, or is Desmond Bane a permanent solution when Morant returns? Per Basketball Reference, Bane played 48% of possessions at small forward his rookie season but only 10% last season. — Marks
Best bet: Desmond Bane over 22.5 points per game (-115).
Bane will be the primary scoring option for the Grizzlies to start the season while Ja Morant serves his suspension. Last season, after a slow start in the first few games, Bane reeled off a nine-game span during which he averaged 28.0 PPG on 52.4 FG% before sustaining a toe injury and missing the next 17 games. He returned and played the rest of the season, but was slowed until he underwent surgery on the toe in May.
He should be healthy and get more touches than he ever has before at the start of this season. Bane has improved his scoring average significantly in each of his three NBA seasons, and that pattern should continue this season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … Russell Westbrook was doing all he could to keep them alive in the first round of the playoffs against Phoenix with an injured Kawhi Leonard and Paul George watching. This is not how team owner Steve Ballmer envisioned things.
Entering Year 5 of the Kawhi-PG era, the Clippers are in a massive prove-it year. Leonard and George, both seeking extensions, have to stay healthy amid the new player participation policy but have to show they can go deep into the playoffs. Westbrook is rejuvenated after having found a new home and with a full season to work with the two stars.
And while they hope Terance Mann, Bones Hyland and Kenyon Martin Jr. can add some talent and energy to a veteran group, the Clippers continue to pursue James Harden in hopes of adding another star scorer and playmaker to keep them in contention. Power forward remains a question mark after Marcus Morris Sr. fell out of the rotation late last season. — Youngmisuk
Clippers in NBArank
Paul George (18)
Kawhi Leonard (24)
Russell Westbrook (94)
Number to watch: 33-19 record with Leonard.
The math is simple for the Clippers: The more games Leonard plays, the better. They won at a 52-win pace with their star, who spent the first half of the season working his way back into health after missing all of 2021-22. If Leonard plays at least 60 games this season, it would help the Clippers stay afloat in the crowded Western Conference standings and avoid the threat of the play-in. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Both Leonard and George have $48 million player options for the 2024-25 season and can be extended an additional four years for $223 million. If the Clippers don’t sign Leonard and George to extensions, would they look for trade suitors or play out the season?
In the scenario that both decline their option and sign with a different team, the Clippers enter their new building with cap space but a roster led by Norman Powell, Mann, Ivica Zubac, Amir Coffey and Hyland. The Clippers will also be monitoring what happens with Harden in Philadelphia.
Could the Clippers go all-in closer to the trade deadline for a player like Harden? The team has expiring contracts (Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris), young players (Mann and Hyland) and draft capital (2028 and 2030 first-round picks) to get a deal done. — Marks
Best bet: Leonard over 6.0 rebounds per game (-160).
Leonard has averaged at least 6.5 RPG in each of his past four seasons while playing for both the Raptors and the Clippers. Leonard plays a lot of power forward in the Clippers’ smaller lineups, keeping him near the rim to consistently grab a significant number of rebounds. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The beam was bright for the Kings last season. They broke their 16-year playoff drought. And despite losing in the first round, they pushed the defending champion Warriors to seven games. Mike Brown was named NBA Coach of the Year and Monte McNair earned league Executive of the Year honors.
The Kings didn’t make any flashy moves over the summer but don’t blame them. The ones they did make are enough to keep them in the top portion of the highly competitive Western Conference. They signed Domantas Sabonis to a $217 million five-year extension, while also extending Harrison Barnes on a three-year, $54 million deal. They also added JaVale McGee, Chris Duarte and EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov.
They feel confident in the young group they have, and with another year under their belt, they’re ready to see how they can follow up their breakout season. But that is the question — how can they follow it up? What will make for a successful season in Sacramento? — Andrews
Kings in NBArank
Domantas Sabonis (22)
De’Aaron Fox (23)
Harrison Barnes (96)
Number to watch: 55 games lost due to injury or non-COVID illness.
The 2022-23 Kings were the healthiest team in recent NBA memory. Their 55 games missed were the fewest in an 82-game schedule since 2015-16. All-Star center Domantas Sabonis did play through an avulsion fracture of the ulnar collateral ligament of his right (non-shooting) thumb, missing just one game after the injury, but remained productive. Averaging 17.9 PPG on 62% shooting prior to the avulsion fracture, Sabonis averaged 19.9 PPG on 61% shooting thereafter. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Kings were one of the great success stories in 2022-23, advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2006.
Sacramento, which returns 10 players including their starting five, will be in a holding pattern if they get out to a slow start; including All-Star De’Aaron Fox, the Kings have seven players ineligible to be traded until Dec. 15. — Marks
Best bet: Pacific Division Winners (+575).
The Kings were the surprise team in the Pacific Division last season, going from worst in the division in 2021-22 to winning the division by three games in 2022-23. The Kings are young and return their entire nucleus from last season, yet they enter this season with the longest odds of any team in the division to win the Pacific.
The Kings may not have the championship ceiling of some of the other teams in the West, but they have a strong team that should only get better, and they don’t have nearly the injury concerns that any of the other four Pacific teams have based on recent history.
At 6-1 odds as the defending division champions, the Kings are a value pick to repeat as Pacific Division champions. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Thunder made a 16-win improvement to finish 40-42, missing the playoffs by losing the second play-in game in Minnesota. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander soared into the superstar stratosphere in his fifth season, averaging 31.4 points per game and earning a first-team All-NBA selection in the first year of his five-year maximum contract extension.
General manager Sam Presti took a patient approach this offseason, opting not to pursue any high-profile free agents or make any splashy trades despite the Thunder being positioned to do so. Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick whose rookie season was delayed a year due to a foot injury, should make an immediate impact. The Thunder also traded up to get guard Cason Wallace with the No. 10 overall pick and persuaded 29-year-old former EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic to sign a three-year deal and finally play in the NBA.
For the first time since Russell Westbrook’s departure, the Thunder enter a season with a lot of buzz. Oklahoma City features arguably the league’s best young core — Gilgeous-Alexander, Holmgren, Rookie of the Year runner-up Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey — and seems poised for a bright future beginning with a playoff berth this season. — MacMahon
Thunder in NBArank
Number to watch: 23.9 drives per game by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
During his breakthrough season, which earned All-NBA first team honors, Gilgeous-Alexander lapped the field in terms of drives. According to Second Spectrum data on NBA Advanced Stats, Ja Morant was the only other player to average over 20 per game. Because Oklahoma City’s starting lineup included four guards, Gilgeous-Alexander enjoyed excellent floor spacing. The Thunder could double down on that by starting Chet Holmgren at center, giving them five starters who can shoot 3s. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: There is a walk-before-you-can-run approach in Oklahoma City. Despite reaching the play-in tournament last season, president of basketball operations Sam Presti is preaching patience.
“I’m not trying to dismiss everyone’s excitement, but we’re not a .500 team. Like I said earlier, we have to finish our breakfast before we start acting like we’re on the cusp of something. … I wouldn’t want to ‘cash in’ to become average or above average,” Presti said before training camp.
But what happens if the Thunder are a top-six team when the trade deadline approaches? Would Presti be willing to move draft equity if a star becomes available? OKC has 15 first-round picks and 21 second-rounders available. — Marks
Best bet: Chet Holmgren wins Rookie of the Year (+275).
Holmgren was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft, and many (including ESPN Analytics’ NBA draft projections) had him as the top prospect in the class. He missed last season with a foot injury, but the added year before his rookie season helped Holmgren develop more physical strength to help him quickly acclimate to the NBA game.
He has many similar strengths as a scorer, rebounder and defender to fellow Rookie of the Year contender Victor Wembanyama, but Holmgren is a year further along and could potentially be an impact player on a playoff contender in the Thunder.
If so, that narrative would help strengthen his Rookie of the Year credentials and place him among the favorites to win the award. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Timberwolves made one of the biggest trades of last offseason by acquiring Rudy Gobert, but never really got to see their experiment of playing two big men come to fruition. Karl-Anthony Towns played in only 29 games and struggled during the playoffs as Minnesota lost to the Denver Nuggets in five games in the first round.
The Wolves hope their plan of complimenting their two frontcourt stars with All-Star Anthony Edwards, the breakout performer for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, comes together this season. — Collier
Timberwolves in NBArank
Anthony Edwards (13)
Karl-Anthony Towns (20)
Rudy Gobert (64)
Mike Conley (93)
It’s no secret that for the Timberwolves to live up to my lofty stats-based wins projection for them, they’ll need to figure out how to pair their two All-NBA centers. Because of Towns’ calf injury, he played just 529 minutes with Gobert, during which the Minnesota offense was middling. The Timberwolves are expecting a second full training camp to figure out spacing and a full season of Mike Conley Jr. will improve those results. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: There is a financial wrecking ball coming to Minnesota. Not including a new contract for Jalen McDaniels in 2024, Minnesota has $160 million in salary, $130 million of which committed to Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards.
Starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. will be a free agent and the Timberwolves could have only the veteran minimum exception to replace him. (Minnesota swapped the expiring contract of D’Angelo Russell for Conley Jr. at the trade deadline in February.) — Marks
Best bet: Anthony Edwards over 26.0 points per game (-115).
Edwards has made major strides as a scorer and player every season of his career, and last season started making the leap to superstardom. After opening the season as a co-lead with Karl-Anthony Towns, Edwards stepped up when Towns got injured and developed into an elite scorer. Over the 41 games from Dec. 18 through March 15, after which he sprained his ankle.
Edwards averaged 26.8 points per game on 46.4 FG%. In the playoffs, playing with Towns, Edwards averaged 35.0 PPG in the last four games against the eventual champion Nuggets. Steve Kerr touted Edwards as the unquestioned alpha of Team USA at the FIBA World Championship, and Edwards should be that for the Timberwolves this season as well. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Pelicans’ injury-filled and disappointing 2022-23 campaign ended when the team was bounced from the play-in tournament by the Oklahoma City Thunder. There was no Zion Williamson on the court, and CJ McCollum was playing with an injured thumb and shoulder.
But for now, the Pelicans are healthy again. The team is leaning into Brandon Ingram playing more of the point guard role although he, Williamson, McCollum or Herb Jones could initiate the offense in the starting group.
Former Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego joined Willie Green’s staff and has had a large impact so far on the offense. Also, the team has made changes to their medical staff to help ensure players — and not just Williamson — stay on the court. — Lopez
Pelicans in NBArank
Brandon Ingram (27)
CJ McCollum (44)
Zion Williamson (57)
Jonas Valanciunas (99)
Number to watch: 29 games played for Zion Williamson.
When Williamson has been on the court, the Pelicans have been a contender for home-court advantage in the playoffs. Their 17-12 record in his 29 games last season projects to a 48-win pace, which would have tied the Sacramento Kings for third in the West. Alas, Williamson has only surpassed that total once in his four years as a pro, playing 61 of 72 games in 2020-21. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: New Orleans has already been bitten by the injury bug before the season started. Trey Murphy III had left knee surgery Sept. 7 and is expected to return to basketball activities in 10 to 12 weeks. Murphy averaged 14.5 points on 40.6% 3-point shooting and 90.5% shooting from the free throw line.
The Pelicans’ front court is left with Zion Williamson, Larry Nance Jr., E.J. Liddell, Jonas Valanciunas and Cody Zeller. The Pelicans have the draft assets (six tradable first-round picks) to make a trade but are a projected luxury tax team for the first time in franchise history. — Marks
Best bet: Win Southwest Division (+210).
The Pelicans have a team built to win, with a strong mix of stars in their primes, contributing veterans and young, energetic players. They held the number two spot in the Western Conference last season just before Zion Williamson went down with a season-ending injury, and as time went on they learned to win without him and won nine of their last 12 games.
With the Grizzlies facing Ja Morant’s suspension and the Mavericks only 5-11 in the 16 games Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have played together, the Pelicans have a window to win the Southwest division this season. — Snellings
17. Dallas Mavericks
When we last saw them … Dallas was the league’s most disappointing team last season, finishing 38-44 despite making a midseason blockbuster trade to land Kyrie Irving. The Mavs blatantly tanked their last two games to position themselves to keep the top-10 protected pick they owe the Knicks from the failed Kristaps Porzingis trade.
The Mavs emphasized defense and unselfishness in their attempts to upgrade the supporting cast around Luka Doncic and Irving. Grant Williams is a lock in the starting lineup. Rookie first-rounders Dereck Lively II and Olivier-Maxence Prosper will have opportunities to earn roles. And Derrick Jones Jr. and Dante Exum give the bench some talented depth.
Everything in Dallas revolves around Doncic, and Mavs management does not want to test the superstar’s patience after taking such a huge step back last season. Doncic is a four-time first-team All-NBA selection entering his sixth season and has only been out of the first round of the postseason once. Success in Dallas this season should be defined as providing Doncic reasons for optimism about the short- and long-term future. — MacMahon
Mavericks in NBArank
Luka Doncic (4)
Kyrie Irving (34)
Grant Williams (97)
Number to watch: Plus-4.2 rating with Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.
To return to the postseason, the Mavericks have to get better results when their star duo is on the court. Dallas’ offense was predictably effective, posting a 119.2 offensive rating according to NBA Advanced Stats, but the Mavericks gave up 115.0 points per 100 possessions — which wasn’t the product of hot opponent 3-point shooting. Dallas hopes the additions of Grant Williams and rookie Dereck Lively II can help balance Doncic-Irving lineups with defense. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Despite limited draft assets, general manager Nico Harrison has turned over the Mavericks roster, adding nine new players since February, including Irving.
The Mavs are still restricted in draft picks they can move (they have a 2027 first and two seconds) but do have the $18 million contract of Tim Hardaway Jr., who is under contract through 2024-25 but with a $16.2 million salary that declines. (In three of the past four years, Hardaway Jr. shot greater than 38.5% from deep.)
After waiving and stretching the $11.7 million owed to JaVale McGee, Dallas is $3.6 million below the luxury tax. — Marks
Best bet: Over 44.5 wins (-105).
The Mavericks are coming off a down season where injuries, particularly the 16 games missed by Luka Doncic, as well as changing team demographics with major personnel turnover, contributed to their 38-44 record. In the three seasons before, pro-rated for 82 games a season, the Mavericks averaged 49 wins per season with Doncic as the centerpiece.
Doncic had to learn to play with Kyrie Irving, who came over in a late-season trade, but having had the offseason and a full training camp to get acclimated, the two All-NBA performers should return the Mavericks to their previous winning ways. — Snellings
When we last saw them … After making a coaching switch from Nate McMillan to Quin Snyder, the Hawks mostly continued along the same path. In fact, from Jan. 14 to April 4, Atlanta was either one game below or above .500. They finished the season 41-41 and beat the eventual Eastern Conference champion Heat in the play-in tournament before losing in six to the Boston Celtics in the first round.
The Hawks mostly stayed pat with the roster, finally dealing out John Collins. They added Patty Mills and Wesley Matthews but will be asking a lot of forward Saddiq Bey to consistently play up at the power forward spot. One of Snyder’s top tasks of the 2023-24 season will be trying to improve the defense. — Bontemps
Hawks in NBArank
Trae Young (29)
Dejounte Murray (60)
Clint Capela (84)
For the Hawks’ All-Star backcourt to work better in Year 2, it will require the two guards to set each other up better. Although Murray’s 51 assists were the most by any player to Young according to Second Spectrum data on NBA Advanced Stats, Young’s 82 assists to Murray were the fewest he had to any other Atlanta starter. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: A full season under Snyder should bring more clarity on the viability of the Trae Young-Dejounte Murray backcourt. In 352 regular-season minutes the duo shared the court under Snyder, Atlanta had a minus-7.6 net efficiency, including a 111.7 offensive rating. For comparison, only five teams had a worse offensive efficiency in 2022-23.
Murray signed a four-year $120 million extension in the offseason and Young enters Year 2 of the five-year rookie max extension he signed in 2021. Murray has a signing restriction and cannot be traded until Jan. 9.
Also, keep an eye also on the center position in Atlanta. The Hawks ducked the luxury tax this season but will not be as fortunate if former lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu signs a long-term contract. Starting center Capela has two years and $43 million remaining on his contract. — Marks
Best bet: Clint Capela under 11.0 rebounds per game (-115).
Capela’s rebounds and minutes have gone down in each of his three seasons with the Hawks, from 14.3 RPG in 30.1 minutes per game in 2020-21 to 11.0 RPG in 26.6 MPG last season. The 29-year-old Capela’s statistical declines have correlated almost perfectly with the rise in minutes and production of 22-year-old Onyeka Okongwu, from 3.3 RPG in 12.0 MPG in 2020-21 up to 7.2 RPG in 23.1 MPG last season.
These trends seem likely to continue as Okongwu moves toward his NBA prime, likely pushing Capela under 11.0 RPG this season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … Although the Pacers missed the postseason in 2022-23 after finishing 35-47, they entered the offseason optimistic — and they might be ahead of schedule. Trading for point guard Tyrese Haliburton has been a home-run acquisition, as the star guard made his first All-Star team, averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds, nearly led the league in assists and signed a rookie max extension this summer.
Combine his emergence with the free agent signing of Bruce Brown, fresh off winning a championship with the Nuggets, and the Pacers could find themselves back in the playoff picture sooner than later. — Collier
Pacers in NBArank
Tyrese Haliburton (21)
Myles Turner (65)
Buddy Hield (87)
Because Mathurin spent most of his rookie season coming off the bench, he played more with Indiana’s backup point guard T.J. McConnell (1,052 minutes per NBA Advanced Stats) than with All-Star Haliburton. Mathurin has started in the preseason, albeit with Haliburton sitting out, suggesting we’ll get a longer look at what the Pacers are hoping will be their starting backcourt of years to come. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Indiana enters the season with the risk that Buddy Hield could leave in free agency next offseason. The Pacers are not forced to trade Hield and could play out the season, even waiting until free agency to explore sign-and-trade options. Last season, Hield shot more than 40% from 3 for the third time in seven years. He also ranked No. 2 among all players in made 3s.
If Hield gets traded, he could sign an extension with his new team, but rules would limit him for the next six months to adding only two more years at a maximum 5% increase. The Pacers have $7.5 million in cap space and could create more if less salary is taken back in a Hield trade. — Marks
Best bet: Tyrese Haliburton wins the regular-season assists title (+160).
Haliburton has averaged 10.2 assists per game in his season and a half with the Pacers and is still improving rapidly as a player at only 23 years old. He would have finished second in the NBA with 10.4 APG last season, but he didn’t play enough games to qualify.
With questions surrounding last season’s assists leader, James Harden, and his future in Philadelphia, Haliburton has a great chance to ascend to the assists title in his fourth NBA campaign. — Snellings
When we last saw them … After all of the chaos of the past few seasons in Brooklyn, there’s serenity surrounding the franchise. They will open the year without any of the same expectations they had when Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden were in town.
Instead, this year is going to be about seeing whether Mikal Bridges can officially make the leap to being an All-Star after he made impressive strides as the focal point of Brooklyn’s offense. And if the Nets can make it back to the postseason, that’ll be seen as a success. — Bontemps
Nets in NBArank
Mikal Bridges (33)
Cameron Johnson (82)
Number to watch: Minus-24.3 clutch net rating post-All-Star break
Although Brooklyn remained competitive after trading Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the lack of star talent reared its head late in games. Only the lottery-bound Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers had worse net ratings in the clutch (score within five points, last five minutes and OT) post-All-Star. The good news for the Nets is that sample represented just 35 minutes, and their defense in particular should regress to the mean. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Will a healthy Ben Simmons decide the future of Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn? Dinwiddie is in the last year of his contract and eligible thru June 30 to sign a four-year, $128 million extension. In 26 games with Brooklyn this season, Dinwiddie averaged 9.1 assists per game, trailing only Hawks guard Trae Young in that span.
Dinwiddie, Jrue Holiday, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley and Tyus Jones are projected as the top point guard targets next offseason. The Nets could have $25 million in room to replace Dinwiddie but at the expense of losing Nic Claxton and Royce O’Neale. — Marks
Best bet: Mikal Bridges wins NBA’s Most Improved Player award (+800).
Bridges made his name on the Suns as one of the best young 3-and-D wings in the NBA, but after being traded to the Nets he spent the last third of last season showing he could also be a primary offensive option.
Bridges averaged 26.1 points per game in 27 games for the Nets, and if he maintains or increases that production it would represent at least a full 6.0 PPG increase over his previous career high and give him the kind of case that voters usually like for Most Improved Player. — Snellings
When we last saw them … After a 5-20 start to the season, the Magic finished above .500 (29-28) over the season’s final 57 games to give the young squad something to build on heading into the new season.
Prior to Orlando’s first preseason game, coach Jamahl Mosley was asked about how that can help this year’s team and he said because of the roster continuity, he noticed players came into camp this year with more confidence than before.
The hope is that the team can continue to grow. Third-year forward Franz Wagner helped Germany to the FIBA World Cup Championship during the summer and the 2022 No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero played a big role for Team USA during the competition, as well. If those two continue to take off, the Magic could push for more in 2023-24. — Lopez
Magic in NBArank
Paolo Banchero (30)
Franz Wagner (52)
Number to watch: 46.5% effective field-goal percentage for Paolo Banchero.
Among players who averaged at least 20 PPG, Banchero’s effective field-goal percentage (which counts 3s as 1.5 field goals to reflect their value) was lowest. That’s typical for a rookie, and Banchero maintained his efficiency by tying Zion Williamson for third most free throw attempts per game (7.4) among rookies in the 2000s behind Joel Embiid and Blake Griffin. Still, just how quickly Banchero can develop may depend on his ability to shoot more accurately. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Lottery pick Anthony Black joins a crowded Magic backcourt that already includes Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Gary Harris and Caleb Houstan. Black is at his best as a facilitator but the challenge comes with Fultz, Suggs and Anthony struggling from the perimeter.
Anthony was the only one out of the three that shot above 36% from deep last season, with Suggs and Fultz below 33%. Keep an eye on Jonathan Isaac: The forward has played a total of 45 games over the past four seasons and has $34.8 million left on his contract — only $7.6 million is guaranteed. — Marks
Best bet: Paolo Banchero over 22.0 points per game (-120).
Banchero justified his position as the top pick in the 2022 NBA draft by taking home the 2022-23 Rookie of the Year award after averaging 20.0 PPG. Banchero was the most physically prepared of the rookie class for the rigors of the NBA game, but his scoring was relatively inefficient with a 42.7% field goal percentage and 29.8% 3-point shooting percentage.
With a year under his belt, the 20-year-old is likely to return with a better feel for how to score at this level. The Magic still don’t have a lot of offensive talent around him, so Banchero will retain the ultimate green light in his sophomore season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Bulls are running it back … again. Despite losing in the play-in tournament last season, Chicago kept its core intact by re-signing Nikola Vucevic and keeping DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. It also added a few complementary pieces around the group — Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig — but it enters the season returning its top eight players in minutes played.
The Bulls have won only one playoff game in two seasons with this group and have already ruled guard Lonzo Ball out for the entire season. Yet, management still believes the ceiling for this group is higher than their record last season has shown and is giving them another chance to prove it. — Collier
Bulls in NBArank
Zach LaVine (38)
DeMar DeRozan (39)
Nikola Vucevic (75)
Number to watch: plus-6.1 net rating with Alex Caruso on the court.
Although Caruso averaged just 5.6 PPG last season, his defensive contributions made him perhaps Chicago’s most important player. Despite the offensive reputations of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, all of whom have been All-Stars, the Bulls were far better defensively (ranking fifth in the league) than offensively (24th) — with Caruso’s versatile defense a key factor. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Is DeMar DeRozan the next All-Star to ask out? Entering the last year of his contract, DeRozan is eligible until June 30 to sign a four-year, $179 million extension. DeRozan has averaged at least 20 points per game in each of the past 10 seasons and has ranked top five in clutch time points in the last four seasons, including second in 2022-23.
The Bulls committed $215 million to Zach LaVine in 2022 and $60 million to Nikola Vucevic this offseason. Chicago is projected to have significant cap space if DeRozan is not brought back and the Bulls petition the NBA to remove the $21.4 million salary for Lonzo Ball, who hasn’t played since January 2022 due to knee injuries and already has been ruled out for 2023-24. — Marks
Best bet: Over 37.5 wins (+100).
The Bulls are entering their third full season built around the core of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. They averaged 43 wins in the first two seasons, with at least 40 wins both seasons. Their expected value for 2023-24 is that level or higher, particularly with LaVine entering this season healthy after dealing with knee issues and surgery in 2022. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The surprisingly competitive first season of the Jazz’s full-blown rebuild ended with Utah losing nine of its last 11 games to secure a lottery pick. Utah came out of coach Will Hardy’s first year with confidence that All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen and All-Rookie center Walker Kessler could be long-term foundation pieces.
Utah’s offseason acquisitions were headlined by former Hawks forward John Collins, a starter who arrived in a salary-dump deal, and three first-round picks (Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George and Brice Sensabaugh). George, who starred in the NBA summer leagues, is considered the most ready to contribute among the Jazz’s rookies. There is hope that he could emerge as Utah’s future lead guard.
After spending his entire career in Atlanta, Collins has said it’s “refreshing to have a group of guys that truly emphasize playing team basketball and want to do so.” However, it will likely be a process to figure out how Collins best fits between the sweet-shooting Markkanen and traditional big man Kessler. — MacMahon
Jazz in NBArank
Lauri Markkanen (28)
Walker Kessler (70)
Jordan Clarkson (77)
John Collins (90)
Collin Sexton (98)
Number to watch: Fifth in 3-point attempts (37.8 per game).
Volume 3-point shooting helped the Jazz compensate for playing one of the league’s biggest front courts last season. However, two of their four leaders in attempts per game, Malik Beasley and Mike Conley Jr., were traded at the deadline. The Jazz’s key newcomer, John Collins, shot a career-low 29% from 3-point range last season, although his attempts (3.4 per game) did not drop off. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Jazz traded starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. at the trade deadline and then relied on a combination of Talen Horton-Tucker and Kris Dunn as fill-ins.
Both players are unrestricted free agents next season, but Utah has the draft assets to search for a permanent replacement. The Jazz have twelve first-round picks and Kelly Olynyk’s expiring $12.1 million contract. — Marks
Best bet: Over 35.5 wins (-125).
The Jazz were expected to take a major step back as a team last season after trading away several of their best players, including Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Instead, they assembled a team of young talent in new coach Will Hardy’s system and spent much of the season in serious contention to make the postseason.
New addition Lauri Markkanen became an All-Star and Walker Kessler developed into an All-Rookie First Team selection. This offseason they added another starting caliber forward in John Collins and several promising first year players to their young nucleus, and should be even better than last season’s 37-win team. — Snellings
When we last saw them … After losing in the play-in tournament last season, Toronto dismissed Nick Nurse after five impressive seasons and replaced him with longtime NBA assistant Darko Rajakovic. Then, the team’s on-court leader, Fred VanVleet, left to join the Houston Rockets in free agency, becoming the latest player to depart from the Raptors with nothing coming back in the last few years.
Now, Toronto enters this season with not only a new coach and a new point guard — freshly minted FIBA World Cup MVP Dennis Schroder — but also both Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby one year away from free agency. This leaves Toronto in yet another precarious position when it comes to keeping top-end talent on the roster — something that will hang over the team yet again this season. And, after last year ended with a play-in loss to the Bulls, making it further in the postseason will be a challenge. — Bontemps
Raptors in NBArank
Pascal Siakam (25)
Scottie Barnes (63)
OG Anunoby (67)
Number to watch: 26th in assist rate (57%).
Last year’s Raptors depended heavily on self-created scoring and finding mismatches. Now, Toronto has lost Fred VanVleet, who led the team in assists. Replacement Dennis Schroder hasn’t averaged as many assists per 36 minutes as VanVleet had last season (7.0) since 2017-18. Whether the Raptors can set each other up will help determine if their offense bounces back. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The clock is ticking for Toronto’s roster. The Raptors lost free agent Fred VanVleet this offseason to Houston and could be facing the same fate with O.G. Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Gary Trent Jr. next offseason.
Anunoby is extension-eligible, but a four-year $117 million contract is less than what he projects to earn as a free agent. Siakam is eligible to sign a four-year $190 million extension but could reach supermax criteria if named to an All-NBA team this season. Trent Jr. is also extension-eligible. — Marks
Best bet: Scottie Barnes over 16.0 points per game (-130).
After a Rookie of the Year campaign with the Raptors in 2022, Barnes plateaued statistically in the first half of his sophomore season. He picked it up as the season went along, attacking the rim more aggressively and averaging 17.1 PPG over 29 games from Jan. 12 until March 16 before dealing with wrist injury issues that slowed him down the stretch.
Barnes is entering “magical” season three and should build upon his strong finish to make a leap this season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … the Spurs finished 22-60 for the worst season since 1996-97, when Gregg Popovich took over midseason. San Antonio won the lottery that spring and drafted Tim Duncan with the No. 1 overall pick. This time around, the Spurs once again picked up the No. 1 pick and took top prospect Victor Wembanyama.
After a rocky debut in summer league, Wembanyama has been as advertised — if not better — for San Antonio. How he and the rest of the Spurs’ young players develop will determine how quickly San Antonio can return to the top of the Western Conference standings, a place they were familiar with for so long. — Lopez
Spurs in NBArank
Victor Wembanyama (47)
Number to watch: Last in opponent FG% (51%).
Last year’s Spurs were last in the league defending both 2-point shots (57%) and 3-point attempts (39%), becoming the fourth team since the NBA expanded to 30 teams to finish 30th in both categories. Adding No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama will undoubtedly improve the San Antonio defense, but just how much will be a telling indicator of the immediate impact Wembanyama can have at that end with his 8-foot wingspan. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: Spurs general manager Brian Wright has been aggressively retooling the roster during the regular season. Last year, Wright accumulated one first-round pick and eight seconds in four different trades.
Best bet: Victor Wembanyama wins Rookie of the Year (-145).
Wembanyama is the most anticipated NBA rookie since LeBron James in 2003, and perhaps since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970. At 7-5, his combination of length, shooting touch, ballhandling ability and passing ability on offense is unique and his potential as a defensive anchor is unmatched.
The Spurs are a team deep in rebuilding mode and Wembanyama is the focal point. If he produces and is among the rookie leaders in points, rebounds and blocks as expected, he has the inside track to the Rookie of the Year award. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Rockets had the West’s worst record for the third straight season, matching the Spurs at 22-60. Houston bid farewell to head coach Stephen Silas after his three-year contract expired.
Owner Tilman Fertitta trumpeted the hiring of head coach Ime Udoka as the start of “Phase 2” of the Rockets’ rebuild, emphasizing that he expects Houston to be competitive again this season. The Rockets spent heavily in free agency for a group of veterans headlined by Fred VanVleet (three years, $128.5 million) and Dillon Brooks (four years, $86 million). Houston also selected Amen Thompson with the franchise’s third straight top-four pick.
The infusion of veteran experience raises the Rockets’ floor beyond basement level, and the hope is that the free agent additions will help guide Houston’s crop of talented youth. The development of those high-upside young players — particularly Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengun and Thompson — remains the most important issue for the franchise. — MacMahon
Rockets in NBArank
Fred VanVleet (56)
Jalen Green (80)
Number to watch: 29th in defensive rating.
After finishing dead last defensively in 2021-22, the Rockets showed limited improvement a year ago, a sign of their general lack of seriousness during a rebuild. With the arrival of Ime Udoka and veterans Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks, Houston is now committed to trying to win. Even more so than wins, how much the Rockets climb in terms of defensive rating will be telling on how quickly the culture can change. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Rockets were aggressive in the offseason, reshaping the team with Ime Udoka and nine new players, including veterans Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks.
With half of the roster unable to be traded until mid-December and the other half consisting of former lottery picks, including Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Amen Thompson, expect Houston to preach patience in the early part of the season.
The Rockets do have valuable trade assets in Jae’Sean Tate’s $6.5 million contract, two unprotected first-round picks from Brooklyn and five seconds. — Marks
Best bet: Jalen Green over 23.0 points per game (-120).
When Green was drafted number two overall in 2021, he was touted as the best pure scorer in that draft. He improved from 17.3 PPG as a rookie to 22.1 PPG as a sophomore, and finished the season by averaging 23.2 PPG in his last 36 games.
Green can score at all three levels, from knocking down an average of 2.5 3-pointers to his high-flying finishes at the rim where he drew an average of 6.1 field goal attempts last season. The 21-year old should continue to improve in his third NBA season. — Snellings
When we last saw them … Detroit’s aspirations were derailed early on last season when a stress fracture in former No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham’s leg ended his season after just 12 games. Without him, the young Pistons struggled to the worst record in the NBA at 17-65.
As a result, the team moved coach Dwane Casey to a front office role and inked Monty Williams to the richest coaching contract in league history. However, Detroit has vowed to be patient with their young core and hope Cunningham’s return will propel them to more success. — Collier
Pistons in NBArank
Cade Cunningham (74)
Number to watch: 283 minutes with Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey both on the court.
The shin injury that ended Cunningham’s sophomore campaign after 12 games was disappointing for many reasons, not least the limited sample we got of the 2021 No. 1 pick playing with last year’s No. 5 selection. Ivey, forced into more of an on-ball role, predictably shot a low percentage (46% on 2s, 34% on 3s) with 3.2 turnovers per game. With Cunningham back to sop up that responsibility, we should see Ivey improve dramatically. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Pistons lost Cade Cunningham twelve games into last season but did not waive the white flag, electing to keep veterans Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks. With Cunningham now healthy, are the Pistons reluctant trading either player even if the return is draft equity?
Detroit does not not control its first-round pick in the next four drafts, owing New York a protected first. Bogdanovic played a career low 59 games but still managed to average a career high 21.6 points and shoot 48.8% from the field.
He has two years left on his contract, including a $19 million non-guaranteed salary in 2024-25. Burks averaged 12.8 points and shot 41.4% from three, the second highest in his career. He is on an expiring $10.5 million contract. — Marks
Best bet: Cade Cunningham over 21.5 PPG (-145).
Cunningham enters his third NBA season after missing most of his sophomore campaign injured. Cunningham was averaging 21.4 points per game through his first 11 games, up from 17.4 PPG as a rookie, before suffering a shin injury that limited him to only 12 games.
The first overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft returns as the primary engine on a young Pistons squad that has assembled some exciting talent to surround their franchise player. Cunningham projects to statistically improve across the board in what could be a breakout campaign. — Snellings
When we last saw them … The Trailblazers posted their worst record in 16 years last year, going just 33-49, and were hit hard with injuries. But through it all, Damian Lillard pledged he wanted to stay with the team that drafted him, eventually wanting to retire with them. But then July came around. Lillard requested a trade and two months later, he was on his way to Milwaukee.
In return for Lillard, Portland got Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, Milwaukee’s 2029 unprotected first-round draft pick and unprotected Milwaukee swap rights in 2028 and 2030. They then flipped Holiday to the Boston Celtics for Robert Williams III, Malcolm Brogdon and two future first-round picks.
These moves usher the Blazers into a rebuilding phase centered around their youth, which includes third overall pick Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe. With this new reality, where will Jerami Grant fit in? The 29-year-old forward signed a five-year, $160 million extension this summer. — Andrews
Trail Blazers in NBArank
Deandre Ayton (49)
Jerami Grant (58)
Scoot Henderson (78)
Anfernee Simons (85)
Robert Williams III (89)
Number to watch: 4th-youngest projected weighted age (25.7).
After trading Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic last month, the Blazers have just one player in their 30s on the roster: guard Malcolm Brogdon, who could also eventually be on the move after coming from the Boston Celtics in return for Jrue Holiday. Starting forward Jerami Grant will turn 30 in March. Besides them, Matisse Thybulle (26) is the third-oldest player in a youthful Portland rotation. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Trail Blazers have retooled their roster, trading All-Stars Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday. Now with the youngest roster in the NBA, the focus this season is player development and surveying the trade market for veterans Malcolm Brogdon and Jeremi Grant.
Brogdon can be traded immediately, but his $22.5 million contract cannot be aggregated with additional contracts from the Trail Blazers until Dec. 2. The 30-year-old Brogdon is the oldest player on the roster and has two years left on his contract. Grant signed a five-year $160 million contract and cannot be traded until Jan. 15. — Marks
Best bet: Scoot Henderson wins Rookie of the Year (+275).
With the long-awaited trade of Damian Lillard complete, Henderson is the new face of the Portland Trail Blazers. The 6-foot-3 guard with the 6-foot-9 wingspan, who joined the G League after his junior year in high school, has been compared to Russell Westbrook.
Henderson will be the primary ball handler and decision-maker for the Trail Blazers, is a natural scorer that can finish in the paint and, when his shot is working, knock down the 3-pointer. He projects to be among rookie leaders in points, assists and potentially steals and has the type of electric game that leads “SportsCenter” highlights and sticks in the memories of fans — and Rookie of the Year voters. — Snellings
When we last saw them … Last season was a lost one for the Hornets, with LaMelo Ball playing just 36 games and Miles Bridges sitting out the entire season after pleading no contest to a felony domestic charge and was sentenced to three years of probation.
But it was a busy offseason in Charlotte. The Hornets were sold, with Rick Schnall and Gabe Plotkin buying the team from Michael Jordan. The team selected Alabama forward Brandon Miller with the third overall pick in June’s NBA draft and waived forward Kai Jones.
With lots of other top-end talent in this year’s rookie class — between Victor Wenbanyama, Scoot Henderson, Amen and Ausar Thompson and Chet Holmgren — Miller’s progress will be closely monitored. So, too, will the work of Schnall and Plotkin as the new owners, and what it means for how the Hornets will operate moving forward. — Bontemps
Hornets in NBArank
LaMelo Ball (48)
Number to watch: 30th in offensive rating.
The Hornets’ drop to last in the league in offensive efficiency was shocking after they finished eighth the year before. Relative to league average, just seven teams since 1997-98 have fallen farther. Charlotte actually improved defensively with Steve Clifford’s return as head coach but needs the offense to join the party with a healthy LaMelo Ball in order to return to postseason contention. — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The Hornets cannot trade a first until 2027 (they owe San Antonio a top-14 protected first in 2024 or 2025) but have one of the league’s big trade chips: the $31.5 million expiring contract of Gordon Hayward. Signed to a four-year $120 million contract in 2020, Hayward has played 44, 49 and 50 games the last three seasons.
Forward Miles Bridges signed a one-year $7.9 million qualifying offer and is eligible to be traded starting on Jan. 15. Bridges would need to approve a trade and the acquiring team would not inherit his Bird rights. — Marks
Best bet: Over 30.5 wins (-115).
The Hornets looked like a team on the rise in 2021-22, winning 43 games on a team led by two young stars in LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges. The next season, they would only get a combined 36 games (of a possible 164) out of Ball and Bridges due to a combination of injuries and off-court issues, and the team limped to a lost season of only 27 wins.
This season, the Hornets get both Ball and Bridges back, in addition to the second pick in the 2023 NBA draft in Brandon Miller. They are a good candidate to bounce-back to their previous levels of success, well beyond 31.5 wins. — Snellings
When we last saw them … It’s a new era in D.C. as Michael Winger is in charge of the new Wizards regime. Bradley Beal is in Phoenix and the Wizards are starting over, collecting as many assets as possible and adding some new pieces in hopes of not only building a more up-tempo offense but finding some building blocks.
There should be plenty of 3’s and offense from Jordan Poole, who gets a fresh start and joins Kyle Kuzma as D.C.’s young guns. Tyus Jones has his chance to run an offense as a full-time starter and the Wizards will assess what they have in past draft picks like Deni Avdija, Corey Kispert and Johnny Davis.
New general manager Will Dawkins drafted Bilal Coulibaly and added shooters who can stretch the floor like Landry Shamet, who is recovering from a broken toe. While Washington is a long way from contending, the Wizards are at least invested in a new direction. — Youngmisuk
Wizards in NBArank
Jordan Poole (72)
Kyle Kuzma (86)
Number to watch: 28% usage rate for Kyle Kuzma.
The Wizards’ offseason makeover has particularly affected their shot creation. Of the top five players in usage rate for Washington in 2022-23, only Kuzma — re-signed to a new four-year contract as an unrestricted free agent — returns. Little-used rookie Johnny Davis was the other Wizards incumbent with a usage rate higher than league average (20%), meaning plenty of opportunities for Kuzma and newcomer Jordan Poole (29% usage). — Pelton
Major decision on the horizon: The retooling Wizards made four offseason trades under new president of basketball operations Michael Winger. One of those deals was acquiring veteran point guard Tyus Jones, who is on an expiring $14 million contract but is not extension-eligible. He will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason and could be a valuable addition to a contending team.
In 22 starts with Memphis in 2022-23, Jones averaged 16.4 points, 8.1 assists and only 1.5 turnovers per game. — Marks
Best bet: Jordan Poole over 25.0 points per game (-130).
Poole has shown explosive scoring upside when called upon to start for the Warriors, particularly when Stephen Curry has been out. For example, last season, Curry missed 11 games from Dec. 16 through Jan. 7, and Poole averaged 27.9 PPG. On a Wizards team where he has the green light, few scorers around him and no structure to fit into, Poole should be among the league leaders in scoring this season. — Snellings