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Picking up where we left off last Tuesday before the draft interrupted the fun, here’s Part II of something positive about every team!
I firmly believe that the NBA has never been in a better situation. There’s plenty of negativity online, so I wanted to spread a little sunshine to every team’s outlook.
Houston Rockets: The Nets drama could bolster an already promising young roster
The Rockets had an incredible week. Jabari Smith Jr. fell to them unexpectedly with the third pick, and it’s hard to imagine a better fit next to their second-year scoring dynamo Jalen Green. Smith is huge and excels as a defender and a shooter without necessarily needing to pound the rock into dust. The Rockets then drafted Tari Eason, who many believe is the best defender in the draft, with the 17th selection, and TyTy Washington, a buy-low point guard with lottery-pick upside, at 29 (which they got along with two seconds for giving the Timberwolves the 26th pick — another fine deal).
But having a good draft was just the tip of the iceberg. The Kyrie Irving drama in Brooklyn threatens to sweep up even Kevin Durant in its wake – Kyrie opting into his deal doesn’t change that. A Brooklyn team without Kyrie and Durant would be forced to rebuild, but Houston owns pretty much every Nets pick for the next thousand years thanks to the James Harden trade. Even if Kyrie and Durant do suit up (with Ben Simmons! Remember him?), the only thing we know for sure is that Kyrie’s ability to create drama from nothing is unparalleled. Durant, the self-proclaimed god, can only do so much — the Rockets must be licking their chops with every new headline this story has created.
Houston’s future core pieces are all in their teens or early 20s. They aren’t going to actualize for a few years. But with a future this bright, Houston fans might need to wear two pairs of sunglasses.
Indiana Pacers: Tyrese Haliburton is the real deal
The Pacers were stuck with semi-competent but unexciting players for so long that you can’t blame Indiana fans for forgetting what fun feels like. You could count on the Pacers to finish in the middle of the East every year without fail, not good enough to win a playoff series but not bad enough to draft an exciting young player.
Indiana finally realized the errors of its ways and traded big man Domanta Sabonis for young guard Tyrese Haliburton last season. Free from De’Aaron Fox’s shadow and finally given the reins of his own offense, Haliburton immediately showed out for his new squad.
In 26 games for Indiana last year, Tyrese averaged nearly 18 points, 10 assists, and four rebounds while shooting an incredible 50% from the field and 41% from three. While he’s not the biggest guy, he’s long, skilled, and smart, and he’s incredibly charismatic to boot.
Indiana hasn’t had a true point guard this good since… Jamaal Tinsley? Mark Jackson? Ever? It’s been a minute, for sure.
Los Angeles Clippers: This might be the best paper roster in the league
Much like Denver, LAC’s 2021-2022 season felt like a long waiting period for 2022-2023. With Kawhi Leonard returning and Paul George having a healthy summer, the Clips have two alpha-dog wings. Norm Powell is a fantastic fit as a third scoring option who can hang on defense and get out in transition, and Robert Covington looked revitalized for Los Angeles as a 3-and-D wing after an uneven run in Portland. They still have Brandon Boston, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, and Ivica Zubac under contract. If owner Steve Ballmer is willing to swallow a monstrous luxury tax, the Clips could conceivably bring back Isaiah Hartenstein, Nic Batum, and Amir Coffee for even more punch.
LAC’s 11th man might be Boston’s seventh-best player. Their depth also gives the Clippers a wide range of skill levels and salary slots to play with for potential trade fits. Few teams can be as flexible on and off the court as Los Angeles, and there’s a chance they will enter the year as the favorite to come out of the West.
Los Angeles Lakers: Darvin Ham is the man
The Lakers scapegoated former coach Frank Vogel after last season’s predictably dismal performance, but they found a fantastic replacement. Ham was named the “best assistant coach” in NBA.com’s annual survey of league GMs, which shows how much respect he has around the league.
Although he’s never been a head coach, Ham’s been an assistant with or for many high-profile clipboard warriors, including Mike Budenholzer during the Bucks’ title run in 2021.
Ham is a former NBA player himself who is known for his ability to establish a rapport with stars and role players alike while still holding players accountable. The King certainly seems pumped:
An excited LeBron is a happy LeBron, and a happy LeBron is a motivated LeBron. With a new voice in the locker room and a healthy Anthony Davis, the Lakers are looking forward to a strong bounce-back campaign.
Memphis Grizzlies: Last season was just the beginning
The Grizzlies have a lot of, uh, self-belief. They think they would’ve been in the NBA Finals if Ja Morant hadn’t gotten injured halfway through their series against Golden State. After a surprising season that saw them post the second-best record in the league behind a snarling defense and Ja’s breathtaking highlights, who can blame them?
Next year promises to be just as exciting. Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Ja Morant are all still under 25. Second-year wing Ziaire Williams held his own in last year’s playoffs and looks ready to play significant minutes (and will get tons of run with De’Anthony Melton now residing in Philadelphia). Dillon Brook will start the year healthy (and might be an attractive trade piece). Two new first-round rookies provide upside and intrigue. The Grizzlies transformed themselves overnight from precocious young cubs into title-contending maneaters, and they should be poised to contend well into the mid-2020s.
Miami Heat: Pat Riley and Andy Ellisburg will do anything to improve
Miami is bringing back almost the entire core of last year’s first-seeded team with one exception (PJ Tucker seems likely to leave in free agency). Miami can and should expect internal improvement from young guys like Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo. First-round pick Nikola Jovic can add a dollop of jumbo-sized playmaking and shooting at the four (although at just 19 years old, it may be a few years before he becomes a dependable playoff performer).
That said, Trader Pat and his lieutenant Andy Elisburg are always looking for a disgruntled star who wants to live the good life in South Beach. There’s a real possibility that another shot creator gets added to the roster before the trade deadline hits. Miami has been linked to virtually every playmaking guard giving off even a whiff of discontent, and they have a couple of interesting trade pieces (most notably reigning Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro).
Even if nothing major materializes, the Heat have perhaps the best scouting and development staff in the league. Last year saw the emergence of Max Strus and Gabe Vincent, among others; perhaps this season Haywood Highsmith or the aforementioned Jovic can pop in similar ways?
Being one shot away from the Finals means the Heat don’t need much, but they do need a little more. Riley and Ellisburg are nothing if not greedy, and they’ll constantly be hunting in places both obvious and obscure for improvements.
Milwaukee Bucks: You can watch even more Giannis this summer
Ok, so this isn’t strictly Bucks news, but it’s still pretty cool! Giannis has confirmed he’ll be competing in the Eurobasket competition (a continent-wide tournament held every four years) for his homeland Greece. This is the first time he’s ever repped Greece internationally, and it’s a huge deal overseas — just a small step below the basketball World Cup and the Olympics.
Many Grecians haven’t fully accepted Giannis as the greatest Greek player of all time due to his previous refusals to play for the national team. The tourney will be a huge opportunity for him to prove himself to his compatriots (as strange as that might seem). Other notable NBA players participating include Nikola Jokic (Serbia) and Luka Doncic (defending champions Slovenia), among many others.
The Eurobasket tips off in early September and lasts until September 18th, and select games will be available to watch stateside. And don’t worry; Giannis will have plenty of time to rest and recover before the NBA season begins in mid-October.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Anthony Edwards might be on the verge of becoming a top-10 player
Edwards is on the cusp of superstardom. He improved in virtually every category last year (his second), bolstering both his scoring numbers and efficiency while playing more attentive defense and getting his teammates involved.
He can still dunk people into oblivion, but he’s not going 100% at all times anymore. He’s developed a better feel for the game and can work in various moves to get defenders off-balance, opening up easier shots for himself and others.
I’ll have more to come on Anthony Edwards soon, so I’ll save the good stuff for then, but I legitimately think he has an excellent chance to be an All-NBA Second Team player this season. He also showed out in his first playoff performance, averaging 25 points against the Grizzlies in a fun first-round battle. I’m hoping for more of that this season, please.
New Orleans Pelicans: I could talk about other things, but it’s Zion
A refresher, in case you forgot what Zion was up to before last year’s disappearing act. A healthy Zion played 61 out of 72 games for New Orleans in 2020-2021 and was perhaps the most devastating offensive player in the league, averaging 27 points on 61% shooting (the first time a player had done that since Kevin McHale in ‘87) while taking over playmaking duties for long stretches. He tied a league record held by Shaq for the most 20+ points/50% shooting games in a row (25). It was one of the most impressive offensive seasons of all time, and he wasn’t even old enough to order a celebratory cocktail.
The Pelicans’ roster gelled nicely last season after a horrific start and a midseason trade for scoring savant CJ McCollum. Brandon Ingram, CJ, and Zion give the Pellies three All-Star caliber offensive players, while NBA-nerd darling Herb Jones and rookies Dyson Daniels and EJ Liddell can form a switchable defensive trio.
New Orleans has one of the most unique roster constructions in the league, thanks to Zanos; watching them isn’t quite like watching anyone else. After all, you don’t get to see a mountain dunk every day.
New York Knicks: There’s a lot of young talent on this roster
For all the hand wringing about the Knicks, they’ve done a reasonable job drafting talent, particularly with their later picks. Coach Thibs started playing the under-22 guys more at the end of the regular season when it was clear the Knicks weren’t going to be a playoff team, and surprise! Several blossomed with increased opportunity.
Obi Toppin remains a one-man fastbreak. Immanuel Quickley has always played well when given bigger minutes (although the Knicks are hellbent on bringing in a point guard in free agency). Quentin Grimes showed off a sweet shooting stroke in his rookie year.
But it all comes back to wing RJ Barrett. At different times, Barrett has shown flashes of being a long-range sniper, a lockdown defender, a voracious rebounder, and an aggressive foul-hunter (16th in the league in free throws attempted despite not having the ball nearly as much as the guys above him). He hasn’t often put those things together simultaneously, but inconsistency is to be expected with a player who just turned 22 two weeks ago.
With three seasons under his belt, this needs to be Barrett’s breakout year (especially if he wants to secure the bag). He’s the rare young player who has earned Thibs’ trust, and he doesn’t need to worry about choking on a short leash. Barrett can assume as much responsibility as he’s willing to take; it’s up to him now to grab two handfuls.