After a boring hiatus, the NBA is back!
Who is a player that you believe is poised for a breakout season?
Kenzo Fukuda: Year two Jalen Green is going to go on an absolute tear. Like most rookies, Green took his time finding his NBA sea legs but once he found them, he was a scoring machine. Green really found his groove in the final 10 games of the season, racking up multiple 30-point outings, which culminated in a career-high 41 points in the final game of the season. The next step for Green is moving away from volume shooting and becoming an efficient scorer. Those final 10 games displayed a positive trend toward more efficiency; whether that translates to wins in the near future remains to be seen, but expect an improved Jalen Green this season.
Joaquin Ruiz: After being traded to the Indiana Pacers, Tyrese Haliburton will transition into the NBA’s next premier point guard. The former Sacramento King is the ideal candidate to break out, as he posted 17.5 PPG, 9.6 APG and 4.3 RPG in his 26 appearances with the blue and yellow. Amidst the trade rumors surrounding Myles Turner and Buddy Hield potentially becoming Lakers, Haliburton is viewed as a franchise cornerstone alongside second-year guard, Chris Duarte. The third-year floor general is a dominant shooter and facilitator — proving to be at the forefront of the league’s future stardom.
Kyle Ngo: Ayo Dosunmu of the Chicago Bulls is ready to be the floor general the Bulls are missing. Entering his second season, Dosunmu will be tasked with running the offense for the foreseeable future as regular starter Lonzo Ball nurses his knee injury from last season. Last year, due to a multitude of Bull injuries, Dosunmu started 20 out of 23 games after the All-Star break, averaging a respectable 10.4 points and 3.9 assists. With a whole season and offseason under his belt, in which Dosunmu says he’s been working on his jump shot, the 2022-2023 season can be Dosunmu’s rise to floor general. We’ve seen what Dosunmu can do when given the opportunity, as his final year at Illinois featured points in bunches and a 29.2% assist percentage. With All-Stars Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan alongside him, Ayo Dosunmu is primed to lead the charge.
What team is everyone sleeping on right now?
Kenzo Fukuda: The Pelicans have quietly built their team into one of the most interesting young cores in the entire league. Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum are the obvious headliners but New Orleans has squeezed water out of a stone from some of their late draft picks. The Pelicans coaching staff is in love with Herbert Jones, a blossoming three-and-D wing who’s work ethic is up there with the best. Trey Murphy III is another wing they found in the draft; his shooting and scoring abilities are looking smoother with every game. Not to mention Jose Alvarado, the scrappy point guard who’s become known for sneaking up behind players to steal the ball. This team took the Suns to six games last year; now they add a healthy and in shape Williamson back into the fold. I am here for the Zion Williamson revenge tour; he heard all the terrible weight shaming jokes last season and he’s ready to dunk on everyone.
Joaquin Ruiz: The NBA’s sleeping giant is the Denver Nuggets. After finishing as the West’s sixth seed, the team returns Nikola Jokic’s partners in crime, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. There isn’t much to dislike about Denver, as its roster blends elite spacing and defending around the back-to-back MVP. Offseason acquisitions Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown make an already versatile roster that much more flexible and only strengthen the supporting cast that’s seen current role players Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and Bones Hyland have success. The Western Conference is competitive as ever, but the Nuggets are only two seasons removed from a conference finals appearance. With all eyes on the Warriors, Suns and Clippers, the Nuggets have the opportunity to strike out of thin air and compete for a title.
Kyle Ngo: The Atlanta Hawks made a splash in the offseason, trading for All-Star Dejounte Murray, and are in a position to return to the Eastern Conference Finals two years after being bounced by the Bucks. Murray’s defensive prowess and ability to make plays all over the court make him a perfect fit on the Hawks, both next to superstar Trae Young and as a leader of the second unit in non-Young minutes. The team around this explosive backcourt is not lacking either, as John Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela all fill their respective offensive and defensive roles at a high level to complement Young’s playmaking and scoring. Now operating as the sixth man, offensive flamethrower Bogdan Bogdanovic will put up points in a hurry, and multiple young players off the bench can blossom this season. The Hawks are ready to swoop in and take the league by storm.
Favorite storyline heading into the season?
KF: How bad is the tanking going to get? With Victor Wembanyama entering the draft next year, teams are going to torpedo their records to get a shot at winning the first pick in the lottery. It might sound like a dumb plan, as even with the worst record, a team would only have a 14% chance to get the first pick, but the fact that Scoot Henderson, an uber-athletic scoring point guard prospect, will also enter the draft makes tanking more viable. We are going to see the bottom half of the league absolutely crater. Teams on the fringe of the play-in tournament will pull the plug early and sink to the lottery. Veterans on losing teams are going to have month-long load management breaks. Drafting Wembanyama has the potential to add $500m in value to a team according to some, not to mention a chance to win a title down the road. A 60-loss season is a small price to pay to have a chance to get Wembanyama.
JR: Can the Cleveland Cavaliers make a deep run without LeBron James? Led by youthful All-Stars, the Cavs as a whole have my pick as the storyline to follow this year. The Cavs made the play-in tournament last season and are adding a top-scoring guard in Donovan Mitchell to the mix. Alongside Mitchell, Cleveland kept current All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, forming the league’s latest “big three.” Perhaps the most underrated aspect of the Cavs is their role players; Evan Mobley, Caris LeVert and Kevin Love are all guys who can take pressure off the team’s bigger names. In particular, Mobley’s potential stardom allows Cleveland to take a major leap on both ends of the floor this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cleveland finish with a top-four seed in the East, and it would be remarkable to possibly see the LeBron-less Cavs finish better than the LeBron-led Los Angeles Lakers.
KN: With the NBA world buzzing about the recent Draymond Green-Jordan Poole issue, it will be interesting to see how the Golden State Warriors’ season unfolds. It is clear that there is some turmoil within that team, and considering Draymond’s role as the heart and defensive anchor of the squad, the Warriors could find themselves in a rough patch if things don’t get figured out soon. Coming off of a championship high, veterans Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are going to have to lead their young teammates past all of the distractions to make another deep run. The Warriors are still within the top three in betting odds to repeat as champions, so the world will be curiously watching to see just how much this Draymond issue will persist over the course of the year, and if the Warriors can maintain their composure to take home their sixth championship.
Quick, predict the finals matchup right now!