With the NBA season underway, we are at the best part of the year. Making impossible predictions about title contenders and guessing what every franchise front office aims to achieve in the 22/23 season off of 4 games. The influence that Scoot Henderson and Victor Wembanyama is going to have on the league will be comical. There has never been such a small NBA middle class, a distinct race to the 1st seed, a race to the 15th, and whatever the LA Lakers are. This creates a wonderful movement in the league dubbed “#tankforwemby”. While some race to the bottom, we have a wealth of quality teams who will find themselves in the play-in. We may see the most seven game series in NBA history this season.
Starting in the west, I’ll run you through what every franchise is seeking to do and if they’ll succeed, ordered from the tank for Wemby’s, the middle class, the contenders, and the championship teams.
The Tank For Wemby’s
The Utah Jazz blew up the whole team in under 48 hours. I’ve never seen anything like this. They went from being a former first seed to the worst squad in the NBA over a weekend. They’ve got the cap space, incentive and all the tradable assets required to move up in this draft to go for Wembanyama. They have 14 draft picks in the next seven seasons plus Collin Sexton, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, couple that with a top 5 pick in the 2023 draft of their own and they can put together a nice draft package. Clearly no one told the Jazz this cause they opened the season 3-0 and have already beaten the Nuggets, Pelicans and Timberwolves. Pull yourselves together and lose already, 25 wins book it.
The Utah Jazz as soon as they start trying to tank pic.twitter.com/uQrIpJWl6G
— NBA Memes (@NBAMemes) October 24, 2022
My team, the only team to stand up against the mighty Utah Jazz, and the worst team in the NBA for two seasons running, including a franchise record low 17 wins. It’s gotten them Jalen Green at the 2nd pick, a player many projected to go first, and Jabari Smith Jr. with the 3rd pick, another player also projected to go first. That’s two first overall quality players drafted without the first overall pick. They’ll look to suck this year, because unlike the last two drafts there is a snowflakes chance in hell Victor Wembanyama falls below the 1st pick. However, a unique problem with the Rockets is no team has ever had the worst record in the NBA three seasons in a row, so Rafael Stone and Stephen Silas have to decide whether they like that label or not. 26 wins, book it.
San Antonio Spurs
I won’t claim to understand the mind of Greg Popovic. I’m genuinely scared to know what happens in there, he looks like a Pierce Brosnan Bond villain mixed with president Snow from the Hunger Games. He is, however, both the greatest basketball coach of all time, and the President of Basketball Operations at the Spurs. If he wanted to make the playoffs I’m sure he could, but there’s nothing Pop loves more than an elite European basketball player. Wemby is his guy. 33 wins, book it.
I’m going full Greg Popovic during whole-school assembly next week pic.twitter.com/CWU3ayZlPw
— Mr Crome (@Mr_Crome) October 25, 2022
Oklahoma City Thunder
Sam Presti is a fiend for draft picks. He’s like a dragon curled up in some ancient hall in a deep slumber lying on his staggering 24 draft picks in the next five drafts. I don’t think he knows you can only have 13 players in a lineup. A month ago I would say the only issue is the Thunder are too good to lose, but conveniently Holmgren is injured for the foreseeable future and SGA has injury doubts. I like to imagine Sam Presti walking around the practice court stomping on his players toes to guarantee a bottom finish. If Shai is healthy, 37 wins, if he’s spotty, 24 wins, book it.
I believe in the Kings. I like how they refuse to tank and I like how they have made maybe three good draft picks in the last 16 years. They are, and this is not an exaggeration, the worst franchise in NBA history. No team has missed the playoffs for this long, it’s not even supposed to be possible. They’ll make the play-in this year, and if they’re lucky enough to draw the Lakers they’ll make their first playoff appearance since 2007. Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Heurter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, Davion Mitchell, this is a team that I believe can reach the soaring heights of a first round exit. Couple this with how many western conference teams are tanking this year, they have a real chance of sneaking into the post season with a nice record, maybe even breaking even. They are 0-3 right now, but lost to the Clippers and Warriors by a combined 7 points, this team is real. 40 wins, book it.
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) October 24, 2022
Their big three may have looked good on a box score against the warriors on opening day, but this team is a disaster. Name one thing they’re good at. They don’t have an avenue to improve, we’re way past trying to find a decent trade package for Westbrook, questions need to be asked if he’ll even be in the league this time next year. He took an open 3 against the clippers and you could actually hear the Lakers fans gasp, that’s unreal. I’m not delusional enough to count a team with LeBron out, under any circumstance, and they’ll make the play-in thanks to the bottom five teams chasing Victor Wembanyama. It’ll take another 27+ ppg season from James, AD to maintain his defensive performances this season, good injury luck with their big three, and Russ to take higher efficiency shots, but they’ll be better than last year. They should nuke the whole roster next year. 42 wins, book it.
Look at Dame man, so inspirational. If he can endure this kind of torture and get up and ask for more there’s nothing we cannot do as a civilisation. I know what the Blazers can’t do, and that’s make it out of the first round against anyone. I like Jerami Grant, but he won’t be the guy to make the Blazers real contenders. The depth just isn’t there. Don’t fall for their 4-0 record, the Blazers always start well. They won’t tank, but I think they should. 36 wins, book it.
Ja Morant, aka Black Jesus, is a premier MVP candidate, I don’t think many would disagree. They are one of the best teams to watch in recent memory, their chemistry electrifying, which gives them a chance against almost every western conference team. The only team I believe the Grizz don’t stand a chance against in western conference playoff series is the Warriors, so their season can go as far as the Warriors let it. I think they’ll be fantastic, but there are so many contenders this year it’s possible they’ll find themselves in the play-in, unless the Denver Nuggets continue to underperform. 48 wins, book it.
Ja Morant tipped a waitress $500 and her reaction was priceless.
“I’m Black Jesus.” 💀💀💀
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) July 5, 2022
The Rudy Gobert and Karl Anthony-Towns twin towers could cause serious issues for smaller teams. They could just as easily kill any spacing for the other three players on the court. In theory, taking defensive duties from KAT will allow him to explode as a versatile offensive threat, but I don’t think Gobert is as good a defender as everyone thinks he is. He’s slow, bad on the chase down and has to stay within a foot of the rim to be effective. And he gets worse in the playoffs on both ends of the court. Offensively, he’ll get in Anthony Edwards’ way. D’angelo Russel is overrated as a facilitator, and they’ll miss Patrick Beverly more than they think. Everyone else in that roster is fantastic, but having given up five important players, three unprotected picks and one top 5 protected pick, they’re locked into this team without any of their first round picks until 2030. They’ll be an interesting team running two very big’s in a modern era, but I doubt their post season success. 48 wins book it.
Rudy Gobert is a fraud pic.twitter.com/zB4TL9OQ93
— Isaiah 👑 (@HoodieIsaiah) February 8, 2020
I don’t know what this team is capable of when healthy. Defensively they are not good on paper but having Nikola Jokic on the floor elevates their defensive play. He generates so many open looks for his teammates, it’s just up to the Nuggets’ shooters to make their shots and stay healthy. Jokic won’t win another MVP, he just won’t, even if he deserves it. He will have one of the most efficient 25/9/10’s you’ve ever seen, but at the end of the day this season will live and die by Michael Porter Jr.’s consistency from 3. Jamal Murray’s plus-minus remains concerning, as demonstrated again against the Jazz in their opening game. If a healthy Nuggets team can’t make a deep playoff run this season, serious questions have to be asked of the viability of this roster. Also DeAndre Jordan is rubbish and I can’t believe he is still in the league let alone a contender. Regardless they’ll be boring and slow and still get 50 wins, book it.
I’m not convinced by Chris Wood. That could be the Rockets fan in me, but him and Luka Doncic are a huge defensive liability on the court together unless Wood proves he was just refusing to defend on the Rockets and not incapable of it. I actually like JaVale McGee, and he played well against the Suns in their opening game, but he is not versatile enough defensively to manage the paint between himself and Reggie Bullock. Losing Jalen Brunson will put additional pressure on Luka offensively. Spencer Dinwiddie looked like he could alleviate that pressure when he first signed, but now I’m not so sure if his game is versatile enough to be a meaningful second option. But seeing Christian Wood’s 12 fourth quarter points against the Suns does give me a little confidence. This is another one of those post-season teams that’ll see success until they run into the Warriors, but of the non-championship teams they have the best chance of walking away with a win in a seven-game series with Golden State. 51 wins, book it.
New Orleans Pelicans
I have been converted to Zionism. It only took two games, he’s back. And with the best supporting cast of his career. Look at the shot chart for Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum in their season opener against the Nets;
Now look at Zion’s;
That’s basketball heritage. With a bit of injury luck, this team can make it out of the west. They have the size and strength advantage, and the perimeter defense to pester the Golden State guards. Don’t sleep on this team, if Zion stays fit, they’ll make 56 wins, book it.
I don’t know with these guys. They have the roster with the skillset to make it back to the NBA finals, but I genuinely don’t think they have the mental fortitude. I’m sick of defending playoff Chris Paul, he is a serial choker. Their biggest off-season moves were signing Deandre Ayton to a max contract they were strong-armed into, rumours of growing unrest in the dressing room, losing Jae Crowder and getting blown out by the Adelaide 36ers. They’ll be the 2nd seed this season only because they’ll load manage CP3 in the regular season. The team dynamic appears fragile, and their inconsistency last season makes it hard for me to say what the Suns will be able to do this year. Devin Booker has proven himself as a top 10 player in the league and he’ll be the most important player in this Suns team with CP3 taking on a reduced role. In the playoffs their ceiling is a finals appearance and their floor is being swept by the Kings. 58 wins, book it.
This team, on paper, should win the NBA. The 2022 Clippers are the most complete basketball team since the 2014 San Antonio Spurs. Coincidentally, both featured Kawhi Leonard. If Kawhi and Paul George both passed away in a tragic LA traffic-related accident, the Clips could still make it to the conference semi-finals without them. Maybe I’m delusional just because I don’t want the Warriors to win, but I think it’d be quite an upset if any team barring the Celtics, Bucks or Warriors managed to beat this team. They are so versatile, down low, from deep, in transition and stacked with great defenders. This team is so deep that John Wall is a role player not a star player. The clips are due a W, it’s just the way of things. In any case, it’s unlikely Kawhi plays more than 60 regular season games, and averages more than 28 minutes in the games he does play. For that reason they’ll be the 3rd seed, but don’t let their seeding fool you, they are probably title favourites. In any case, 57 wins, book it.
Good looks.👀 pic.twitter.com/v9kdcnuGXr
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) October 24, 2022
Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry has consistently gotten better every year he has been in the league, and now he has significantly improved his perimeter defending and his interior scoring. He can go as cold as he likes in big games, you still have to send two defenders to him just in case. Jordan Poole will make another leap this year, and as much losing Otto Porter Jr and Juan Toscano-Anderson will hurt them, Wiggins staying on and putting up improved numbers makes me think they’ll be just as good this season. My only worry is Draymond Green and Klay Thompson don’t have the legs for another long post-season, and with the number of quality playoff teams in the west, their endurance could well fail them. Regardless, in the regular season they can load manage Klay and Steph and walk their way to 64 wins. Book it.
Main image Wikimedia.