With a new NBA season tipping off Tuesday night, we paneled our NBA staff to answer the biggest questions heading into the 2022-23 season. Before the action officially begins (so long, preseason basketball), here are our predictions for the Finals, individual awards, and more.
Which team are you most excited to watch in 2022-23?
Logan Murdock: 76ers. The James Harden Experiment™️ had its peaks and valleys last spring, but by all accounts, he has bought into Philly’s championship ambitions, getting into his best shape in years, and taking a pay cut to help the Sixers round out their roster. Joel Embiid is months removed from an MVP-caliber season, and Tyrese Maxey is primed to take the next step in his ascent. But everything leads back to Harden, who’s known to flame out in the postseason, or shut down if things aren’t going his way. This season can be the best in Philly sports history, or a legendary collapse in a city known to turn on teams it deems unworthy of its brotherly love. Either way, the wings and hummus are ready.
Rob Mahoney: Nuggets. I very much need to see the Nuggets back at full strength—with the reigning MVP in the middle, Jamal Murray breathing fire, Michael Porter Jr. making good on everything he could be, Aaron Gordon settled back into a more comfortable role, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope filling in as a perfect complement. We only got the smallest glimpse of this core in early 2021. Then came the mounting injuries, and all of Denver’s hopes deferred. This team looks like the real thing. It feels like the real thing. Let’s see what they’ve really got.
Michael Pina: Hawks. Trae Young was an elite offense unto himself before Atlanta traded for Dejounte Murray, a well-rounded playmaker who improves every season and could be the exact second option this team needs. There’s more balance and a clearer hierarchy than in years past, while a couple young talents (the Official De’Andre Hunter Bandwagon is driven by yours truly) are positioned to make a leap. Few teams will make scoring the ball look easier, or have as much fun doing it.
Tyler Parker: Pelicans. Feisty bunch, aren’t they? Or at least they were when last seen. Adding a healthy Zion Williamson to Brandon Ingram, C.J. McCollum, and Herb Jones? That’s baby-making music right there. Point Zion bordered on a religious experience. Would love for him to take us to church again. With the Pels, you’ve also got Jose Alvarado sneaking around the chicken coop, pissing people off. And who doesn’t smile when they see Larry Nance Jr.? No friend of mine. I see a buddy of mine see Larry Nance and not smile, then that person stops being a buddy and starts being an enemy.
Chris Ryan: The Land. (Are we still doing that?) Last season, the Cavs somehow made transition defense as entertaining as a fast break. I actually know the reason: Evan Mobley, now primed for a sophomore breakout season. Add a healthy Jarrett Allen to mind the rim, one of the most exciting young guards in the league (Darius Garland), and the arrival of a legit, if much-maligned, All-NBA talent in Donovan Mitchell, and you’ve got the makings of an Eastern Conference contender that might surge past some familiar names in their peer group.
Zach Kram: Nuggets. The NBA hipster reason to pick the Nuggets is to watch Nikola Jokic pass to a cutting Bruce Brown (one of the offseason’s most underrated additions). The actual reason to pick the Nuggets is just as strong: Jokic ranks among the league’s most entertaining players by himself, and now he’s reuniting with his pick-and-roll partner, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. after spending most of last season as Denver’s only star. The Nuggets will score a bunch of points this season, in a bunch of different ways.
J. Kyle Mann: Pelicans. This is tough; my reasons for excitement vary. Purely in the “fascination with whether or not this’ll work” sense, it’s Minnesota (with Cleveland close behind), although I worry that the Wolves will be a slog to watch at times offensively. For entertainment, I expect to enjoy watching the Nuggets, as they return two enormous sources of offensive firepower in Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray, while adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. That said, I actually think I’m the most curious about the Pelicans, for the fact that they are a team that could be both extremely fun to watch (Zion is a nightly inescapable tractor beam of temptation on League Pass) and also completely jump tiers of playoff seriousness if things mesh quickly.
Seerat Sohi: Clippers. We have yet to see the Clippers’ full arsenal this preseason, but even in bits and pieces, they are terrifying. Much has been made of their potential all-wing lineup, uniquely suited to go small while mitigating its lack of size. Kawhi Leonard, brawnier than ever, is one of the best wing rim protectors in the NBA. Robert Covington honed that skill playing small-ball 5 in Houston. In L.A. he can be a deflection machine, while Paul George and Norman Powell handle one-on-one duties. John Wall’s time wasting away on the bench on the tanking Rockets has provided a silver lining in the form of fresh legs. He could be the playmaking table-setter they’ve always needed in the half court, with the burst to turn their defense into quick offense in transition. This could be the most destructive two-way small-ball lineup we’ve seen since the Warriors plugged Kevin Durant into the Death Lineup.
Matt Dollinger: Metropolitans 92. Half the league is competing for this year’s title, the other half is competing for Victor Wembanyama. NBA League Pass should absolutely include Wemby’s games this season. And as a Denver resident, it might actually be easier to watch a professional French team than the Nuggets.
Which NBA player has the most at stake this season?
Mann: Anthony Davis is at a crossroads. It’s interesting to think about how, from 2012 to 2015, we were thinking about how generationally special AD was, and how his career was shaping up to be one of the best of all time. In him we saw apex switchability, elite disruption, and offensive touch that seemed to carry over from his younger days as a guard. It’s hardly been bad, and if he can even regain his form from the fall of 2020 we’re talking about one of the most defensively dominant players in the world, but think about how decisively Giannis Antetokounmpo snatched this era away from Davis. The ink is dry on that conversation. Unless he can somehow magically shift the way he plays and win multiple MVPs in his early 30s, there’s no getting that back. [Daryl Hall voice] It’s gone.
Kram: James Harden. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me for the fifth or sixth time, shame definitely on me. But I believe the 76ers have a legitimate title shot this season, with Joel Embiid and an improved supporting cast. Whether Harden—who peaked in the playoffs as a member of the Thunder a dozen seasons ago—can slay his well-known playoff demons is the biggest question standing in the 76ers’ way.
Parker: Anthony Davis. Davis looked like a top-five player in the 2020 bubble. Since then, (understatement incoming) he hasn’t been the same. The jumper has failed him, and he goes to it too much. Sometimes the play is a little too ineffectual. You want to see more juice. The injury history is well known. If the Lakers have any prayer of contending it will be because he got back to being Godzilla.
Murdock: Draymond Green. After punching Jordan Poole, Green went from a man vying for another max extension to a guy whose future with the Warriors is murky beyond his current deal (he holds a player option for next season). The next few months will be spent winning back a locker room, finding common ground with Poole, and trying to regain his on-court respect all while dealing with the media circus that follows the biggest hoop show on the planet. Should be a wild ride.
Sohi: LeBron James. By proxy of what another ring would mean for his legacy, and what his legacy means to the league at large. Another ring would tie LeBron with Magic and Kobe, and bring him one closer to Michael Jordan. Another season in the toilet would make it increasingly likely that he’ll retire with four.
Dollinger: Joel Embiid. The pressure is on James Harden to live up to his reputation and extension, but his teammate is the one with everything to lose. Harden’s legacy is more or less cemented at this point. Embiid has a chance to win an MVP and a title and join the likes of Hakeem and David Robinson as a generational center with the hardware to back it up.
Mahoney: Russell Westbrook. Is he coming off the bench this season? Is he even still a Laker by January? If he gets traded and sent home, is there any coming back from that? What’s scary about Westbrook’s process is how steep the fall could be. Thad Foucher, Westbrook’s former agent, said it best in his unusual public statements following their split: A trade from the Lakers at cost articulates Westbrook’s value in a plain and pretty damning way. If the future Hall of Fame point guard can’t play his way back into being an essential contributor, things could get pretty bleak.
Pina: Anthony Davis. It’s easy to forget how bright AD’s future looked after the 2020 Finals. Two seasons later, it’s pseudo-foolish to even pencil him in as an All-Star. Overshadowed by the twilight of LeBron James’s career, Russell Westbrook’s poor fit, and an incompetent front office, Davis’s fall from basketball’s mountaintop is the actual story that matters in Laker Land. He’s only 29 years old and should be enjoying the prime of a generational career. Instead, we’ve reached a point where anything below the excellence he regularly summoned earlier in his career may lead to AD being best known for everything he doesn’t accomplish.
Ryan: James Harden. As a Sixers fan, I no longer have an emotional or intellectual response to offseason workout videos (thanks, Ben!), but it sure seems like Harden has been wisely using his offseason. He better have: One more postseason swoon and he’s in danger of falling into the toxic “maxed out but unplayable big-name player” zone, like his old teammate Russell Westbrook.
What’s one overlooked story line to watch for?
Kram: Expansion news. Expansion is coming, and overdue. The last franchise to join the NBA was the Charlotte then-Bobcats 18 seasons ago; previously, the longest lag between expansions was just eight seasons. In other words, the current expansion gap is more than twice as long as any that came before it.
But it seems like the next expansion effort will pick up momentum this season, and when it does, the news will begin to touch every aspect of the league, from finances to realignment to LeBron’s likely involvement with the new Vegas franchise.
Parker: Dejounte Murray in Atlanta. Murray can take some pressure off Trae Young on both ends. He could be a perfect backcourt mate and give Atlanta more playmaking ammunition come playoff time. This is assuming Young makes room for Murray. If he does, hoo boy, what fun. And if he doesn’t, hoo boy, what fun. Trae, turn on notifications for Dejounte and keep your head on a swivel.
If you don’t know, ask Paolo.
Mann: Bojan Bogdanovic potentially getting flipped at the deadline to a team that thinks it’s closer than the rest of us do. Detroit is close to being interesting, in that phase where you might say “play-in game?” and have your voice pitch up delicately at the end of the question. It’s a touchy question because the Pistons might just be outright terrible again this season, which would be great motivation to pry some picks away from teams like the 76ers, Nuggets, or Warriors, just to name a few. Bojan is 33 years old and currently makes $19.5 million. He was reportedly looking for a multiyear extension as he approached the last year of his deal, and while I’d imagine there is some hesitancy to commit to a player at his age, he still has enough scoring juice to make a significant impact on a playoff team.
Mahoney: Toronto as a perfect spoiler. No matter where the Raptors end up in the East playoff picture, they’re positioned to be a nightmare opponent—either as a fully-realized contender that lands a higher seed, or exactly the kind of upset candidate that the best teams will want no part in playing. Can you imagine earning a top-three seed only to run straight into all that length, guile, and versatility in the first round?
Ryan: A midseason coaching carousel—especially in the Eastern Conference. I wouldn’t say Joe Mazzulla, Doc Rivers, Steve Nash, or Nate McMillan have hot seats, per se. But I’m also not saying that their seats couldn’t be occupied by Quin Snyder by the spring.
Sohi: Will the Pacers have the stomach to be bad? I’ll believe it when I see Myles Turner in a Hornets jersey. With Buddy Hield and Turner still on the roster, this tanking-reticent team could be a legitimate threat to make the playoffs. Tyrese Haliburton will be another year wiser. Bennedict Mathurin looks rotation-ready, the shining piece in a supporting cast featuring Jalen Smith, Oshae Brissett, Isaiah Jackson, Terry Taylor, and Aaron Nesmith—just enough youth that the organization could convince itself to take the middle road of developing through winning instead of risking it all for Wemby.
Murdock: I’m trying to see whether Anthony Davis can finally put together an MVP campaign. I know, I know, I’ve been hoping to see it for years, but this could be the difference between a Lakers playoff run or the team’s second straight postseason absence.
Pina: No-trade clause be damned, will Bradley Beal finally wear a different jersey this season? The partnership between franchise and franchise player ran its course even before Beal signed his latest contract. For all involved and those watching from home, it needs to end.
Dollinger: Could the Suns take a major step back? Last season’s no. 1 seed in the West had a disastrous summer, from the Robert Sarver investigation to Deandre Ayton wanting out of Phoenix only to be brought back against his wishes. Now, Jae Crowder wants to be traded. Who’s next? In terms of foreshadowing, I’m pretty sure losing an exhibition game to an Australian team despite playing all five starters is a pretty troubling harbinger. Monty Williams, the NBA’s reigning Coach of the Year, has his work cut out for him.
Name one player you want to see traded in 2022-23, and to where?
Kram: After trading for Patrick Beverley, the Lakers now have a grand total of one player on their roster with a career 3-point percentage of 37 or better. That’s no way to build around LeBron James, especially considering that Anthony Davis is at 23 percent from distance since the bubble. Buddy Hield is an obvious trade candidate and the right player to address that glaring weakness, as the King turned Pacer is at 39.8 percent on 3s for his career, and ranks third in NBA history in made 3s per game.
3-Pointers Made Per Game
|Player||3s Per Game|
|Player||3s Per Game|
Parker: Bojan Bogdanovic. The Pistons’ youth movement is fun and exciting with loads of young talent. It is going to be a laser light show of lobs with Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren. Take the reins off and let them run wild. I’d imagine Bojan would probably prefer to be on a contender. The Heat need more shooting. Let’s make a deal.
Dollinger: I’d like to see Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook traded for one another for the second time in four years. Partially for comedic sake. Partially because I think Paul and Westbrook will be so miserable by December that both franchises will be ready to make a deal. Getting CP3 and LeBron together at this point is kind of like getting Mayweather-Pacquiao when we did, but I’d take it.
Sohi: Jae Crowder to the Hawks. They badly need an old guy to boss them around when they don’t play 48 minutes of defense. Plus, it gives them some insurance if De’Andre Hunter gets hurt again.
Murdock: Myles Turner would look great in purple and gold. Just saying.
Pina: Eric Gordon to the Sixers. With James Harden, Daryl Morey, P.J. Tucker, and the great Danuel House Jr. all in Philly, it only makes sense for Gordon to join them. May the late Harden-era Houston Rockets live forever!
Mann: It’s been talked about, but Myles Turner on the Raptors is an interesting proposition for me. The Raptors are a headache stylistically and in a playoff series they’re capable of keeping teams off-balance for a long time, but to level up they’re going to need a legitimate defensive anchor to solidify that switchable attack of theirs that’s so effective. Turner is not the perimeter switching big that teams clamor so intensely for these days—but with the other Raps personnel, this could be a situation where it doesn’t matter. I also think he’d benefit from their shooting development program.
Mahoney: Mike Conley to the Pelicans. Let’s rehome a rock-solid veteran point guard to a rapidly ascending team that could use one. Conley is a bit overqualified as a potential Sixth Man in New Orleans, but his flexible, low-maintenance game slots in perfectly alongside two point forwards. Give Conley some of the boring, administrative work of running a team, and let the younger, more explosive Pelicans really take off.
Who’s your preseason MVP pick?
Sohi: Luka Doncic. In recent years, a mix between ability, availability, and need have been the defining hallmarks for what constitutes an MVP. Doncic finished fifth in voting last season despite missing 17 games and having Jalen Brunson on his side. With Brunson gone, the Mavericks will lean into Luka-dependent heliocentrism even more. If he’s healthy for most of the season, he’ll be the player most likely to put the “V” in valuable.
Ryan: Giannis. The logic being: Jokic isn’t Bird, Wilt, or Russell, so I can’t see him winning a third straight MVP strictly on VORP. Giannis comes back and takes what is his.
Kram: Joel Embiid. The last four MVPs have gone to big men, and it’s Embiid’s turn to take home the hardware after two runner-up finishes in a row. If the 76ers are as good as I think they’ll be, he’ll receive an ample (and deserved) share of the credit, and voter fatigue with Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo would give Embiid the narrative tiebreaker he needs to win.
Mahoney: Joel Embiid. His is a case years in the making, based on one of the most important factors of all: Embiid desperately wants to win MVP. If James Harden manages to walk the line this season as a scorer and facilitator, Embiid could be perfectly positioned to get enough easy offense to boost his efficiency while still carrying so much of the offense (and defense, for that matter) that he winds up making a massive overall impact.
Pina: Ja Morant. Fresh off winning Most Improved Player in just his third season—and briefly entering the MVP race before injuries derailed his case—Morant has every ingredient to win basketball’s most significant individual award in 2023.
Mann: Giannis Antetokounmpo. I think we’ll see a vengeful return to form for the Bucks, and Giannis in particular. Milwaukee’s two-way jet engine turns 28 this December, coming off of a season that was in many ways exceedingly similar to his two MVP seasons. He hit marks of 29.9 points per game, 5.8 assists, and 11.6 rebounds, while generating 11.4 free throw attempts per game. This is not a guy who is looking to pace himself—he looked like a man possessed at times this summer at EuroBasket. I expect to see a lot of that familiar stomping around, flexing, and scowling that we’re used to seeing. That 27 to 28 age range is often when players with superhuman gifts start to really bake in additive skill sets that round out their games.
Murdock: Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s the best player in the league, and after last year’s second-round exit, he’s got a point to prove.
Parker: Luka Doncic. Down to two packs a day, as I understand it. This on top of the switch to Mich Ultra. Leaner, brand-new shoes, definition in the arms. Doncic is falling victim to his own bonkers success, the numbers so consistently cartoonish it’s desensitized some of the basketball public. But a healthy Mavs with some shooting around him are going to have his numbers intergalactic and Dallas winning plenty. Feels like it’s his year.
Dollinger: Luka Doncic. Luka plays with a childlike enthusiasm, and he’s going to have an unlimited, all-access wristband to the ball this season. Jalen Brunson is gone and Christian Wood will have to wait 40 minutes in line just to touch the rock. I expect Luka to put up astronomical numbers this year. While other stars like Giannis and Jokic might pace themselves after already winning the hardware, we’ll see Luka fully unleashed all year.
Most Improved Player
Mahoney: Tyrese Maxey
Pina: Devin Vassell
Parker: Jaden McDaniels
Sohi: Tyrese Maxey
Kram: OG Anunoby
Ryan: John Wall
Mann: De’Andre Hunter
Murdock: John Wall
Dollinger: Anthony Edwards
Rookie of the Year
Mahoney: Keegan Murray
Pina: Paolo Banchero
Parker: Keegan Murray
Sohi: Keegan Murray
Kram: Paolo Banchero
Ryan: Jaden Ivey
Mann: Bennedict Mathurin
Murdock: Paolo Banchero
Dollinger: Paolo Banchero
Defensive Player of the Year
Mahoney: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Pina: Bam Adebayo
Parker: Rudy Gobert
Sohi: Rudy Gobert
Kram: Rudy Gobert
Ryan: Evan Mobley
Murdock: Bam Adebayo
Mann: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Dollinger: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Mahoney: Brandon Clarke
Pina: Malcolm Brogdon
Parker: Jordan Poole
Sohi: Jordan Poole
Kram: Jordan Poole
Ryan: Russell Westbrook!
Mann: De’Anthony Melton
Murdock: Jordan Poole
Dollinger: Jordan Poole
Coach of the Year
Mahoney: Willie Green
Pina: Ty Lue
Parker: Erik Spoelstra
Kram: Chris Finch
Sohi: Ty Lue
Ryan: JB Bickerstaff
Murdock: Ty Lue
Mann: Chris Finch
Dollinger: Michael Malone
NBA Finals Prediction
Pina: Clippers-Celtics. These two contenders mirror each other. They’re comically deep, endlessly versatile, and stocked with the world’s premier two-way wings. This particular matchup in a seven-game series would be extremely tight, but tie goes to whoever employs a healthy Kawhi Leonard.
Parker: Bucks-Warriors. Boring, but whatever. The Bucks may well have been there last year if Khris Middleton hadn’t gone down. The Warriors bring back everybody of substance, plus James Wiseman, who, look, I don’t know what’s real. Maybe Draymond punches him? Anything can happen. Gimme Bucks in 6.
Mann: Bucks-Warriors. Call me a coward, but like a lot of people, my fingers hovered over the keys that might type “Clippers” and I just couldn’t do it. As I stated above, I think the Bucks are going to reset and reestablish themselves this season, and that they’ll relish the chance to get back to the biggest stage. And while we argue about and debate the Draymond-Poole altercation, it seems possible to me that we’re overthinking it. These styles warring in the Finals is a thing that we all deserve to see, and I think the Warriors have enough defensive pliability to do it again.
Kram: Clippers-76ers. This prediction could look incredibly foolish next spring; the last time either of these teams reached the Finals was 2001. But the Clippers and 76ers have a few common advantages that increase my confidence in their fortunes this season: a two-way star to lead the way, wing depth, and lineup flexibility. What a matchup this would be, pitting the Clippers’ five-out approach against Embiid, and Doc Rivers against his former team. I predict the 76ers will come closer to a title than they have in decades, while the Clippers will win the first title in franchise history.
Ryan: Clippers-76ers. With the Clippers winning the Finals in a Crypto.com Arena filled with Philly fans and Lakers fans who just bought Kawhi jerseys two weeks prior.
Mahoney: Clippers-Bucks. Somehow, I’ve talked myself into the idea that a purely hypothetical Clippers team would win a Finals matchup against a championship-validated squad led by the surest thing in the league in Giannis. But seeing as it’s preseason, allow me to get a little carried away with the thought of what the Clippers could be, and how their depth could break the mold of what title contention looks like. All it would take to replicate their model is a superstar with a singularly dominant playoff résumé and one of the most expensive rosters in NBA history.
Sohi: Clippers-Bucks. Milwaukee was a Khris Middleton injury away from the Finals last year, and I just have this sneaking suspicion that Giannis is going to try to set the league on fire this season, before running into the brick wall of Leonard’s newfound frame. The Clippers win their first title in a grueling seven-game series.
Dollinger: Mavericks-76ers: After looking at how many of us picked Lakers-Nets last season, it felt right to zag this year. I think the right pieces are around Embiid for Philly to finally make it and I think the Mavs will sneak in ahead of schedule on the shoulders of Luka. I really want to see an Embiid-Harden championship parade, so I’m going with my heart. And the content. My god, the content.
Murdock: Warriors-Bucks. The networks will love it, the streets need it, and the Bucks will win in seven.