Something Positive About Every NBA Team, Part III

After taking a brief hiatus to address Summer League and trades, I’m back with the final part of the optimism series. Sorry to fans of the following teams for being so late! If you’re new here or want a reminder, here are Part I and Part II (seeing Darvin Ham at Summer League has only reinforced my positive impressions of him).

Oklahoma City Thunder: The Ja(len/ylin) Williamses looked good, too

You might’ve heard, but the Thunder drafted ambulatory columnar tree Chet Holmgren, and he looked good during Summer League. All of the hullabaloo over Holmgren overshadowed the fact that both Jalen and Jaylin Williams, two of Oklahoma City’s other rookies, also had strong debuts.

Jaylin Williams struggled with his shot, but the second-round center showed a deft passing touch, relentlessness on the boards, and the willingness to throw his body all over the floor. He must’ve led Summer League in attempts at taking charges, and he managed to draw several offensive fouls.

Jalen Williams was a late lottery pick. He worked well off the ball and kept the offense moving. The wing almost reminded me of the Warriors’ Moses Moody with his comfort within the defense’s creases. He shot well, drew free throws, and demonstrated some ball-hawking ability on defense.

Chet is obviously the one everyone will be watching, but the Thunder seem to have added two more NBA-caliber players to their increasingly crowded cupboard of young talent.

Orlando Magic: The team actually fits

The Magic have a team with complementary skill sets for the first time in years. Paolo Banchero’s point-forward abilities will do wonders for Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, and Markelle Fultz as they man the point guard position. Wendell Carter Jr. showed strong two-way abilities as a stretch big man in the best season of his career last year, and Franz Wagner is the kind of 3-and-D-and-maybe-even-a-little-bit-more guy that all 30 teams desperately covet.

The Magic aren’t likely to make the playoffs next season, but they finally have a collection of players that can grow together without getting in each other’s way. That’s the most important win they’ve had in years.

Philadelphia 76ers: This team’s depth is now a strength

I have a lot more coming on the 76ers soon, so I’ll keep this short. Last year’s Sixers had maybe the worst fifth through eighth players of any contender. This year, they’ve added 3-and-D wing Danuel House to patrol the perimeter, rugged grizzly bear PJ Tucker for mental and physical toughness, and talented combo guard De’Anthony Melton to fill in the gaps on offense when Harden or Maxey needs a breather. As always, the 76ers’ ultimate success depends on their stars’ health and mental fortitude, but at least their core can rest a little more often and a little easier.

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Phoenix Suns: Ayton is still here

Whew! Things were looking dicey there for a moment. It’s unclear exactly how good or essential Ayton has been for the Suns, but he’s a very talented big man who has been instrumental in their success. Phoenix and cheapo owner Robert Sarver may have misplayed the Ayton situation, but they might’ve achieved their goals anyway!

Forcing Ayton to get an offer sheet on the market from Indiana means that the Suns only signed Ayton to a four-year deal instead of the maximum five, a key goal of theirs. Ayton might be mad, but he’s still in Phoenix. This team believes they were let down last year by injuries (and a rumored COVID eruption) that prevented them from putting forth their best effort. With Ayton in tow and unable to be traded until January at the earliest, this team can settle in and focus on running back one of the most dominant regular seasons in recent memory.

Portland Trail Blazers: They finally added some two-way players

After three straight years finishing 27th, 29th, and 29th in defensive rating, the Blazers made moves to fix their woes on that side of the ball.

Jerami Grant is who the Blazers thought they were getting when they traded for Robert Covington a few years ago: a big forward who can create a little offense on his own while limiting the apex predator wings who lurk below the surface, eyes just above the water line, in the Western Conference.

Gary Payton II was one of my favorite stories of last season. He shot well on low volume, moved off-ball, and thrived in transition. He is, in my opinion, the best guard defender in the NBA. He’ll be a superb running mate next to Portland’s defensively-limited starting backcourt of Damian Lillard and new $100-million-man Anfernee Simons.

It’s impossible to tell what the Blazers got in the draft with mystery box Shaedon Sharpe, but if he can contribute at all as a rookie, this is a sleeper team headlined by a superstar guard ready to remind people what time it is.

Sacramento Kings: The Fox and the Ox looked good and will be better

De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis complemented each well from the get-go last season. In 13 games together, Fox averaged 28/6/4 on 50% FG%, and Sabonis chalked up 18/12/6 on 55% shooting from the field. Those are big numbers that hint at the chemistry the two quickly developed.

Of course, the team went 5-8, so it wasn’t all great. But with upgraded talent around their two stars, the Kings will put forth a roster that could easily crack the top-10 in offense. The Fox/Ox (that nickname is growing on me) pick-and-roll will be the core of the attack. Last year, Sabonis set 14 ball screens for Fox per game, and the team averaged an astonishing 1.22 points per possession on those play calls, a superlative number. For comparison, the unstoppable Harden/Embiid pick-and-roll averaged 1.25 points per possession.

An offseason spent getting more familiar with each other will surely supercharge their synergy even further. Sabonis is one of the best screeners in the game (check out this piece from the incredible Caitlin Cooper on all the ways he weaponized picks for Indiana), and Fox’s shot should recover this season after he found a groove at the end of last year. They should put up points in bunches.

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San Antonio Spurs: They’ve finally embraced the tank!

Let’s start with something that might be controversial to some: the Spurs had one of the least talented young cores last season. Years of being mediocre but not truly bad left them with draft picks in the middle of the first round. So despite having a roster filled with recent draft picks, the Spurs didn’t have anyone who looked the part of a future star except maybe Dejounte Murray.

To their credit, they took a hard look in the mirror, realized they weren’t going anywhere, and decided to go all-in on a reset. Out went Derrick White first, to the Celtics for a 2022 first-round pick that became Blake Wesley. Then this summer, they bid farewell to Lonnie Walker and traded Dejounte Murray for a bushel of picks.

This year they might be led in scoring by Keldon Johnson, a nice player but one who likely would be the fifth-best player on a championship contender. The Spurs have only tanked once before, and it landed them Tim Duncan. They’re hoping to have just as much luck the second time around, and they’ve positioned themselves to make a strong play for the top pick in the draft.

Toronto Raptors: No team has more flexibility

It must be nice to be a Raptors fan. The championship is still fresh in people’s minds, and despite losing the tentpoles of that team, the Raptors are yet again a beast in the East. Nobody in the league can match their optionality: they have intriguing young players that could be combined for a disgruntled superstar (cough, *KD*, cough); they can look to add supporting pieces and depth for their picks (they somehow possess all their future firsts still); or they could bank on internal development and run it back with a successful team while hoping reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes makes a leap.

Forgive me for the fuzziness of this post, but it’s hard to make any predictions or analysis of this team until we know what the roster will look like come tip-off. But the Raptors are the rare team that seemingly has multiple paths towards success, and I’m excited to see which road they go down.

Utah Jazz: Ainge is doing it again

Say what you will about Danny Ainge, and people have, but the man knows how to drive a hard bargain. Getting a first-rounder for Royce O’Neale was a win, and the deal for Rudy Gobert was so astronomical that it might have reset the market for stars entirely (in fact, I believe we will see fewer big trades in the future because teams will balk at the new price). He likely will get as much or more for younger, more marketable star Donovan Mitchell.

The Jazz should end the offseason as loaded in draft capital as any team in the NBA (non-Thunder edition). It will not be the most enjoyable season of on-court basketball Utah has ever witnessed, but they’ve established a clear new direction and are charging hard toward the future.

Washington Wizards: They have the best uniforms in the league

The Bloom City duds are perfect (see the pic at the start of this email). Mortal eyes weren’t meant to behold such beauty. If jerseys could give players power-ups, this year’s Wizards would be like the 2017 Warriors combined with a team of only prime Michael Jordans but also ten feet tall.

I’m a little more curious than most to see how the new big three of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyle Kuzma look together on the court, but I’m mostly going to tune in to admire how they look on the court.

And with that, we’ve successfully listed something for fans of every team to look forward to in the coming season! Thanks for sticking with me. If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe to basketballpoetry.com to have articles like this delivered directly to your mailbox every Tuesday and Friday! Also, please follow me on Twitter @bballispoetry. Thanks!

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Michael Shearer is an NBA obsessive who writes to answer the questions he has about the league. You can follow him @bballispoetry. He also is a contributing writer for Fansided at Hoops Habit and writes a free NBA analytical newsletter at basketballpoetry.com that goes out every Tuesday and Friday.