Atlanta Hawks - Is Trae Young the solution, or the problem?
When trading for Dejounte Murray, the Hawks likely presumed he could be a good off-guard for Trae Young, especially because of Murray’s defensive abilities. However, Atlanta failed to improve last year with their new guard tandem, losing two more games than they did the previous season. One of the biggest reasons why the two all-star guards didn’t work out last season is due to the two not knowing how to play off of each other. Trae Young seems to not move much when he doesn’t have the ball, making defenders who guard his jobs easier. While Murray also contributed to this issue, Young needs to be the one to change his style of play, no matter how valuable his ball-handling and three-point shooting skills are.
Boston Celtics - Can the frontcourt defense hold up?
After acquiring Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis this offseason, the Celtics look to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference yet again. Boston’s defense will be their identity, as they have elite defenders throughout the floor. However, durability was an issue with Robert Williams III down low, and the health concerns surrounding Porzingis are alarming to say the least when considering his history. With the 37-year-old Al Horford backing him up in the paint, the Celtics could lack true rim protection and switchability should Porzingis go down. Boston will likely run a defense where they switch almost everything, which could work with Porzingis, but Horford’s foot speed could cost them and make Boston’s defense succeptible to points in the paint.
Brooklyn Nets - The sixth man
Cam Thomas and Ben Simmons provide two completely different things for the Nets. Thomas provides isolation scoring, while Simmons provides almost everything else on the court. If the Nets lack scoring to start a game, Cam Thomas would likely be the first player off the bench to provide a quick spark. However, with Ben Simmons at his best, he can be one of the best defenders and playmakers in the league. While we haven’t seen Simmons at his peak since the 2021 playoffs, he isn’t too old or too removed from basketball to return to that form.
Charlotte Hornets - Is it time to trade away the vets?
The Hornets have few bright spots outside of LaMelo Ball and number-two pick Brandon Miller. Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward are two veteran players who have helped the Hornets win games over the past two seasons, but they don’t seem to fit this roster with their current age and ability. Both Rozier and Hayward are average defenders at best nowadays, and while veteran leadership is very important in the developmental years for younger players, the lack of defensive ability and playmaking from the two could hurt the team. Whether it’s dumping them to save salary, or doubling down on the veteran experience, Charlotte needs to figure out its roster construction.
Chicago Bulls - What is the direction?
The Chicago Bulls have an all-star duo with DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine. These two players are some of the best players in the league, but they do not necessarily provide a great ceiling to the Bulls. The duo hasn’t won a playoff series together, and not much has changed to heighten their ceiling. This season looks to be the crossroads of change for the Bulls, as they have now both made and missed the playoffs with Lavine and DeRozan. Should it falter, Chicago should be able to find suitors for Lavine or DeRozan, and they would head for another rebuild. With DeRozan and Lavine’s age and contracts, that might be worth it.
Cleveland Cavaliers - Can Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen play together?
Evan Mobley is one of the best defenders in the NBA at only 22 years old. He made the All-Defensive First Team last year, but his presence wasn’t felt in the playoffs where Cleveland was crushed in the first round. Mobley and Jarrett Allen were liabilities offensively, and the Cavaliers played at their best when only one of them was on the court. One will need to develop themselves further on the offensive end to fix Cleveland’s spacing issue down low.
Dallas Mavericks - Do Luka and Kyrie have enough help?
Luka Doncic has proved that he doesn’t need much help to succeed in the playoffs, but to win a championship, anyone would need solid role players around a star. The addition of Kyrie Irving was expected to help with this, but the Mavericks dropped all the way out of the playoffs after trading for Irving. Dallas has a very similar team to last season, but they did add a couple of big men to help. Grant Williams is a good shooter and defender who has proved he can play in big playoff games during his time with Boston. The Mavericks also drafted Dereck Lively II from Duke who has the potential to be a serviceable NBA center. These two additions should help Dallas compete this season, but time will tell
Denver Nuggets - Do they care about the regular season?
Head Coach Michael Malone has led his team to care about regular season seeding. However, after postseason success, many teams changed their philosophy. Teams like the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, and Golden State Warriors have shown that less emphasis and stress on the regular season, but rather only care about doing enough to get into the playoffs and take off from there. Whether the Denver Nuggets care more about seeding or rest during the season will be one of the biggest factors as to whether they will put themselves in position to repeat as champions or not.
Detroit Pistons - Is Cade Cunningham the franchise player?
Cade Cunningham is the best player on the Pistons. However, can he be the building block of this franchise? He has a comparable skillset to a young Russell Westbrook in that he can score, rebound, pass, and defend at a high level for his position. However, Cunningham has shot about 30% from three so far in his career, which could be a hinderance. There’s no doubt that he is one of the best young point guards in the NBA, but should they build around him? Depending on how he plays this season after recovering from his shin injury, the team should be able to evaluate whether the Pistons are ready to make trades to compete, or if they should continue to get high-end draft picks.
Golden State Warriors - What is their best lineup?
After trading for Chris Paul this off-season, the question for the Warriors has been who will be their starting five. While the starting five is important, the more important question is which five players will play during crunch time. Is it realistic to have Klay Thompson defending power forwards as Steve Kerr suggested? Kevon Looney has been such a crucial piece for Golden State’s recent success, so doesn’t he deserve a spot in their crunch-time lineup? These questions don’t have much of an answer, as Kerr will have to experiment with these potential lineups to play with Stephen Curry during the season.
Houston Rockets - Does Ime Udoka bring a culture shift?
After hiring Ime Udoka as their new head coach, the Houston Rockets look to be seeking a culture change. Houston signed Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks to help with this cause, bringing in veteran players with playoff experience. However, Brooks and VanVleet showed last season that they could be the wrong vets for this team. Brooks’ had notable outbursts in last year’s playoffs and both Brooks and VanVleet also struggled to score the ball efficiently last season. Houston’s current core has struggled to run an efficient offense over the past few years due to a lack of a true point guard and veteran leadership, so the addition of Udoka, Brooks and VanVleet are a wait-and-see scenario on if they’ll help turn things around in H-Town.
Indiana Pacers - Is Bruce Brown the missing piece?
Bruce Brown played a big part in the Nuggets’ championship run a year ago with his great defense and the Indiana Pacers saw this and wanted it for themselves. If Brown can similarly play alongside Tyrese Haliburton in the way he played with Jokic, he could help the Pacers make the play-in games. However, he may have to take on a bigger role in the offense, rather than just hitting threes and cutting. Still, his value as an elite perimeter defender will be invaluable, but will it be enough to get Indiana to the playoffs?
Los Angeles Clippers - Can Kawhi Leonard and Paul George stay healthy?
The Clippers haven’t made much progress in recent years, and a lot of that has been due to their bad luck with injuries. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could play 82 games in the regular season, but it wouldn’t matter. Los Angeles’ only goal is to win a championship. Hopefully, the Clippers can have their star players healthy in the playoffs this season, as they have challenged teams like the Suns with only one of their stars. With both Kawhi and Paul George playing, Los Angeles could win their first NBA title. Without them, it could get ugly.
Los Angeles Lakers - Can Austin Reaves be a third star?
The Lakers made the Western Conference Finals last season despite entering as the seventh seed. This was due to Los Angeles having two of the best players in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but their best success has come when their role players have played at their best. During their 2020 championship run, role players like Dwight Howard and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were a big part. Last season, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura were the role players that propelled them during the playoffs. The Lakers didn’t make any serious changes to their starting lineup over the offseason, so to get better, it has to come from the development of Austin Reaves. Reaves has shown flashes over the past year of being a great complimentary player to James and proved that he can score and defend at a high level during the run. If Reaves can continue improving, Los Angeles should be a top-tier team this season.
Memphis Grizzlies - How do they perform without Ja Morant and Steven Adams?
The Grizzlies’ offseason has been a disappointing one, with the news that Ja Morant would be suspended for 25 games and Steven Adams will miss the full season due to a lingering knee injury. These two losses will have a huge impact on Memphis’ success. The Grizzlies’ season may rely on how well Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane can play during the first 25 games. If Bane can take an all-star-level leap to start the season, the blow would certainly be lightened. However, there is a realistic possibility that the team could start the season toward the bottom of the conference without two starters, needing Morant to come back and help make a playoff push.
Miami Heat - How do they match up against the new-look East?
The Miami Heat are the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, however, it may be hard for them to repeat this success. With Milwaukee’s addition of Damian Lillard and Boston’s addition of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, Miami got left behind in the arms race. Jimmy Butler has proved to be one of the best playoff performers in the league, but it might be too much to ask of him to take on these newly formed superteams. Tyler Herro would need to take an all-star jump as a top-two offensive option this season to help the Heat’s cause. Bam Adebayo would also need to step up on the scoring end, to ensure Miami doesn’t get stuck outside the paint. If the Heat can compete with these teams, it would help prove that having a strong nucleus, rather than building a superteam, can still win championships.
Milwaukee Bucks - Perimeter Defense
The Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo pick-and-roll may be the most unstoppable play in basketball this season. However, who will replace Jrue Holiday’s defensive presence? The Bucks relied on Holiday’s defense heavily, and his play was critical in Milwaukee’s 2021 championship. Without it, they were still sound on defense, but the impact was seen whenever Holiday would miss time. Damian Lillard and Malik Beasley are not close to being the defenders Holiday is, and this could have a surprisingly negative effect on the Bucks. Trading away Grayson Allen could also prove to be a bigger loss than expected if Milwaukee lacks perimeter defense.
Minnesota Timberwolves - Does the double big lineup work?
The reason why Karl-Anthony Towns is so special on the basketball court is because of his shooting ability at his size, which makes him a threat whenever he crosses half-court. When he is on the perimeter, defenders need to choose whether to help at the rim or to stay tight on Towns. This dilemma for defenses has helped the Timberwolves in the Towns era. However, with Rudy Gobert, it makes it hard for Anthony Edwards to play at his best ability. Gobert cannot space the floor, clogging the lane which allows for opposing defenses to put their best rim protector on Gobert, while only needing to put a body on Towns to stay tight on him from three. Now that Gobert is camping down low, Towns doesn’t have the space to post up, creating for a messy offense. This problem has proved to be a hard one to solve, as Chris Finch was not able to fully solve it last season in a first-round loss.
New Orleans Pelicans - Can Zion Williamson stay healthy?
The success of the Pelicans fully relies on the health of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. While Ingram is a crucial piece to this team, Williamson’s health is a bigger issue. Zion has played in only 114 games over four years, which is a big concern for a supposed franchise star. The worst part of this situation is that there is no real answer to the question. Williamson is one of the most talented players in the league, but he needs to be on the court to help the Pelicans reach their full potential.
New York Knicks - How do they build off last season’s success?
The Knicks had a successful season last year, as they won their first playoff series in a decade. The addition of Jalen Brunson proved to be valuable, as he was one of the best guards in the league last season. However, New York didn’t do much to improve their roster this offseason. The only way they can improve off last season can be for their players to develop. R.J. Barrett seems to be more of a solid role player than a star player so far in his career, which increases the pressure on Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes. If Quickley can build off his 2023 campaign off the bench and win the Sixth Man of The Year Award this season, that should improve the dynamic of New York’s offense. Grimes was a great wing shooter and defender last season, but if he can become more of a scoring threat, that would add more versatility to the offense, alongside a quality ball-stopping unit.
Oklahoma City Thunder - How much better does Chet Holmgren make this team?
Last season, the Thunder played the majority of the season without a true rim protector. Chet Holmgren should change that insantly. His defensive versatility was shown both during the summer league and the preseason. A seven-foot rim protector who can also score on his own should bring the Thunder a whole different scheme on both offense and defense. It will be interesting to see how Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey can use Holmgren in a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop offense. While Oklahoma City had bright spots last year, their season was cut short in the play-in. On paper, Holmgren should get them to the first round. Keyword, on paper.
Orlando Magic - Can Paolo Banchero take an all-star leap?
The Orlando Magic won the draft lottery in 2022 and selected Paolo Banchero with the first overall pick. The Magic have built a solid young core with Banchero, Franz Wagner, Markelle Fultz, and Wendell Carter Jr. This is one of the best young cores in the league, but they are missing an all-star level player to take them to the next level. Although Banchero won Rookie of the Year last season, there is another step he could hit that could lead him into superstardom and the Magic into contention.
Philadelphia 76ers - What happens with Harden?
The future of the 76ers franchise lies so heavily in how Daryl Morey handles this James Harden situation. Harden does not want to play for the team, but Morey doesn’t want to trade him. Philadelphia would lose value trading Harden, but getting something would be better than nothing. One bright side for the 76ers is that Tyrese Maxey could take an all-star leap without Harden. The addition by subtraction tapproach could help the 76ers out long term. However, this situation is much bigger than just this season. If Harden negatively impacts Philadelphia’s season in a meaningful way, as he has to this point seemingly, this could lead Embiid to request a trade and lead the 76ers back to the lottery.
Phoenix Suns - The primary ball-handler
Throughout the offseason, Phoenix Suns fans have wondered what the offense will look like for the team. Bradley Beal or Devin Booker could initiate the offense, but will it work? Throughout preseason, Devin Booker has been the main facilitator of the offense. While this can work for most of a game, in the fourth quarter of an important game, who will initiate the offense? This could cause chemistry problems at crucial points, on a team that’s already delicately built as is.
Portland Trail Blazers - Who is part of the rebuilding core?
For a team that is not expected to win many games this season, the Trail Blazers have a clog jam at two positions. Portland has three similar, young guards who need the ball in their hands to play at their best: Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, and Scoot Henderson. They also have two centers that probably cannot share the court with Deandre Ayton and Robert Williams III. The Blazers should try to evaluate these players and try to trade one of each position to free up space for others to develop, but they have until the trade deadline to figure out who is best fit for this team.
Sacramento Kings - How can they take another step forward?
Last year the “Beam Team” had the most success since 2006, but is it realistic to think they can improve on last season’s success? De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and Domantas Sabonis all had career years last season. While this could be a sign that their best players all leaped, it could also be a small thing to worry about for Sacramento. If two of these players regress to their mean, the Kings would drop off significantly. Sacramento didn’t make any major offseason moves, so they are relying not only on their key players to play as well as they did last season but also to improve on career-best seasons.
San Antonio Spurs - How good can Wembenyama be in Year 1?
The Spurs should not worry about anything this season other than how Victor Wembenyama can perform. While he had some jaw-dropping moments in Summer League this summer, his most impressive highlights came in the preseason. The most important things for Wembenyama to develop this season are his defensive abilities and his three-point shooting. While his defense has been great, it will be interesting to see how the Spurs use him as a defender. He could play on-ball defense, stopping the other team's best big man, but off-ball defense could be where he’s most impactful. If Wemby can play more like Giannis Antetokounmpo defensively, that’s where his ceiling lies. Wembenyama is so long and fast that he could recover easily, so if the Spurs put him on whoever the worst shooter for the other team is, he could not only move to the paint to rim protect, but even if the other team kicked out to the corner, he could realistically block a few three-point attempts in the air. If Wembenyama could shoot at a league-average percentage, he would be virtually unguardable. Gregg Popovich will likely have Wemby spend a lot of time shooting threes and playing many different styles of defense this season.
Toronto Raptors - Is it time to rebuild?
Since Kawhi Leonard left, the Toronto Raptors have had mostly the same core players. While the core of Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes might have potential, the team is in no man's land for the moment. Siakam and Anunoby don’t allow Barnes to fully develop. These three players bring such similar things to the team that they cannot all be at their best. They’re all 6’7 or 6’8 forwards who can bring the ball up the court at times, and while O.G. can shoot threes at a high percentage, the other two cannot. Trading O.G. and Pascal to contenders could fully clear a path for Scottie Barnes to develop, but the Raptors could make the playoffs if they keep their stars.
Utah Jazz - Can Walker Kessler be the defensive anchor?
Utah has a lot of promise in the future due to trading Rudy Gobert. The biggest returning piece was Walker Kessler. Kessler was not only one of the best rookies last season, but he was one of the best defenders across the league as well. If he can prove to be almost as good as a defender as the three-time defensive player of the year, that would help the Jazz. Utah traded Gobert for Kessler and five first-round picks. If the Jazz can essentially replace Gobert with Kessler, the draft picks would serve as a bonus in the trade.
Washington Wizards - Will they finally give it up?
While the Wizards have been successful in some years over the past decade, their ceiling was never high. It was unrealistic to think that they could ever take down LeBron’s Cavaliers, but their team was too good to have a high draft pick. Washington has only made the playoffs once since the 2018-19 season. With this, you’d assume they have been bottom three in the conference at least once or have a top-seven pick. This would be an incorrect assumption, as they finished between 10th and 12th place each during these four seasons, leaving them in a tough place. This season, however, should bring a change in direction for the franchise. When comparing the Wizards to other teams in the league, they are one of the lower-tiered teams. Hopefully, this means they could trade players like Tyus Jones, Kyle Kuzma, and Delon Wright to contending teams. This could help them acquire draft picks and tank this season to have a higher chance of getting a top pick. Washington won’t be able to compete at a high level this season, so tanking and getting better young talent should help them in the long run.