The biggest question for every NBA team as training camp begins
With training camp on the horizon, here is each NBA team’s biggest question.
1 of 30
Atlanta Hawks: Is Quin Snyder good enough to change the trajectory of this team?
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: No.
In 2019-20, the Hawks finished 20-47 (14th in the Eastern Conference); in 2020-21, the 41-31 (5th); in 2021-22, 43-39 (9th); and in 2022-23, 41-41 (8th). In those four seasons, Trae Young‘s usage rate has been as follows: 34.9 (4th); 33.0 (6th); 34.4 (4th); and 32.6 (9th). Young is very good, but there is no way a team with him as a heliocentric offensive hub is ever contending for a title (I know, they miraculously made the Conference Finals in 2021, but that was a combination of luck and opponents melting down). If Young’s usage remains in the top 10 under the tutelage of former Jazz coach Quin Snyder, nothing will change in Atlanta. If, however, he learns to play off-ball, allowing Dejounte Murray to utilize his offensive skills and get other teammates involved, this team has a new ceiling on offense.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: No, but they’ll still be a contender
Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t even reported to training camp as a member of the Celtics yet and he already has a foot injury (plantar fasciitis). The 7-foot-3 Latvian was the NBA’s original unicorn until lower body injuries derailed a potential superstar career. He experienced a nice career rejuvenation in Washington last season averaging 23.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 BPG with 50-39-85 shooting splits and, importantly playing 65 games for only the third time in his career. It was a strong enough showing for the Celtics to trade Marcus Smart for him in a decision to embrace an offensive identity that better conforms with head coach Joe Mazzulla‘s style. Whether it works or not still doesn’t change the fact that the team still has Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in their prime, which is enough on its own to keep the team in contention in the East.
3 of 30
Brooklyn Nets: What is Mikal Bridges’ ceiling as an offensive player?
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: A Jaylen Brown type of high-level secondary scorer
After enjoying what appeared to be a bit of a leap in his fifth season as a member of the Phoenix Suns, improving his scoring to 17.2 PPG in 56 games, Bridges took what appeared to have been The Leap in his 27 games as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, averaging 26.1 PPG (on similar efficiency). That certainly turned some heads. How real was it? Is Bridges simply an elite scorer and potential go-to guy now? Or was it a hot streak fueled by an unsustainable increase in his usage rate (19.2 to 30.3 percent)? I’m guessing it was real and I could totally see him being a Jaylen Brown-level scorer (26.6 PPG in 2022-23).
4 of 30
Charlotte Hornets: Does LaMelo Ball have the same ceiling as his supermax draft mates?
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
My guess : He lacks the requisite “dog in him” that Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton have.
In case you missed it, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton and LaMelo Ball all received max extensions on their rookie contracts this summer. Edwards and Haliburton are clearly deserving of those extensions and went about further justifying that during the FIBA World Cup this summer where each showed flashes of superstardom. LaMelo Ball, on the other hand, hasn’t quite proven that he can be the catalyst of a winning team in the NBA. Last season was a fiasco in Charlotte, but this season will be an important one for Ball with the addition of Brandon Miller and the return of Miles Bridges. Will he make a leap? I’m skeptical – Ball is a very talented, aesthetically pleasing player, but I want to see him perform in a high-leverage situation before I start considering him a superstar-level player.
David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: There is none, and they will finish between 8th and 11th in the East again.
In the past four seasons, the Bulls have finished in 11th, 11th, 6th and 10th in the Eastern Conference. That year they finished sixth (2021-22) was their best season since the Tom Thibodeau era ended in 2015. After missing the playoffs last season, what did the Bulls do this offseason? Nothing really – just dug their feet in deeper by extending their slightly above-average center, Nikola Vucevic, and re-signing their two dime-a-dog backup guards, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. They should have tried to trade everyone – Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso – and started a full rebuild this summer. They should do it at the trade deadline too, but they’ll probably just maintain the status quo…and lose in the Play-In again.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The Cavaliers had a very nice summer…in a vacuum . Yes, shooting guard Max Strus and power forward Georges Niang will both provide spacing with their shooting – the two were 35 percent and 40.1 percent, respectively from three last season – and play tough defense against smaller wings and slow-footed forwards. That’s great – might be able to help them get past the Knicks in the first round. What happens when they match up with the Celtics in the second round? Nobody outside of maybe Evan Mobley – if he makes a leap – is slowing down either of their wings. The same goes for the Heat with Jimmy Butler. And nobody can slow down Giannis or Embiid as it is. So basically, the Cavs will need to have an all-time great shooting performance to beat any of the top-four teams in the Eastern Conference.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: My brain says it implodes, but my heart says they get at least one LeBron-Kyrie type of season together.
My brain says, let’s look at the evidence: In 2017-18, Kyrie demands a trade from Cleveland, goes to Boston, gets hurt, doesn’t even show up to watch Game 7 of the Conference Finals to support his team. In 2018-19, Kyrie implodes Boston’s season, bolts to Brooklyn in free agency after telling fans he’d be back if they’d have him back. In 2019-2020, he tries to talk the NBA out of holding the Bubble Playoffs. In 2020-21, he balls out for Brooklyn, gets hurt in playoffs. In 2021-22, he refuses to get vaccinated, and becomes a part-time player. In 2022-23, he balls out, then demands a trade out of nowhere. But in 2023-24, he’ll act normal, I swear!
8 of 30
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets lost Bruce Brown…does that even matter?
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
My guess : Probably not because they’re still got Nikola Jokic, the best player in the world.
We have ample evidence that playing alongside Nikola Jokic tends to maximize teammates’ potential. Look at Gary Harris, Will Barton, Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, and Jamal Murray…and the list goes on. My guess is that we’ll see players like Christian Braun, Peyton Watson and others take off this season. They may miss some of Brown’s playmaking ability in the playoffs, but the way they mowed down opponents, they have some room for error.
9 of 30
Detroit Pistons: What kind of trajectory is Cade Cunningham going to be on?
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
My guess : Brandon Roy (hopefully without the injuries)
Cade Cunningham seemed poised to make a second-year leap last season before a mysterious shin injury cut his season short after only 12 games. Through 12 games, he was averaging 19.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 6 APG. I would expect all of those numbers to jump a couple of clicks, especially after his dominating performance in the FIBA World Cup scrimmages in which he was apparently the best player on the court.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: As a great distributor…until he inevitably gets hurt
Never underestimate Chris Paul! Remember when people wondered how on earth he’d fit next to James Harden? Guess what? He fit in beautifully because he’s the Point God and knows how to adjust to any offensive scheme. So, while most people are raising legitimate concerns about how the Warriors offensive system is predicated upon constant player and ball movement, which isn’t a style of play CP3 is accustomed to. However, my guess is he’ll figure out a niche and will look great for the portion of the season that he’s healthy for.
11 of 30
Houston Rockets: Which of the youngsters are left standing now that recess is over?
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Coach Ime Udoka might hold the belt for being the most intimidating head coach in the NBA, so don’t expect to see the Rockets playing the BS pickup style of basketball they played the past two seasons anymore. So which of these guys sticks? And which are too far gone? We don’t need to talk about Kevin Porter Jr. obviously – he won’t be in the NBA anymore. Amen Thompson seems like a hard-working kid and elite athlete/talent who will thrive under Udoka. Same goes for Jabari Smith Jr. Cam Whitmore has some health concerns and will be a bit of a project, but still has a chance. The interesting one will be Jalen Green – aka the “King of Houston” according to Paul George. My guess is Green will clash with Udoka due to his freelancing ways and the Rockets will eventually try to trade him, which should net them a healthy return that could really kickstart Houston’s turnaround.
12 of 30
Indiana Pacers: Can they be this year’s version of the Kings?
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: I could them jumping into the top-6 in the Eastern Conference
Last season, the Kings jumped from 30 wins the previous season to 48 wins, finishing third in the Western Conference standings. What was behind this 18-game difference? Offense! Offense! Offense! They went from the 25th-rated offense to the top-rated offense in a single season. Something tells me that the Pacers, who won 33 games with the 19th-rated offense, may experience a similar leap this season with Tyrese Haliburton primed for a leap into stardom (similar to the one De’Aaron Fox made last season).
13 of 30
LA Clippers: Will a full season of Russell Westbrook get them playing faster?
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: Yes, but will it help them in the postseason? To be determined…
Despite having a pretty youthful second unit led by Terance Mann, the Clippers were one of the slower teams in the NBA last year, finishing 24th in pace. Russell Westbrook, who is notorious for pushing the pace, only suited up for 21 games last season. What kind of impact will he have with a full 82-game season? My guess is we’ll see the Clippers much closer to the middle of the pack pace-wise, which should help them by giving Ty Lue more optionality with lineups and playing styles when his superstars are inevitably out.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: All-Star. This season.
Yes, I saw him get posted up and iso’d late in games during the FIBA World Cup. So what? That team was undersized and a train wreck on defense; the Lakers are huge and elite on defense whenever Anthony Davis is playing. Plus, nobody posts up in the NBA with the same vigor the way the Lithuanians did. What you should have seen at the World Cup was that Austin Reaves is on his way to becoming an elite offensive player, playing arguably better than he did last postseason when he averaged 16.9 PPG, 4.6 APG and 4.4 RPG with 46-44-90 shooting splits. I’d expect those numbers to increase even beyond that as the Lakers should run much more of their regular season offense through Him, pun intended.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: Yes, so long as he stays healthy.
Marcus Smart, who was acquired from the Celtics this offseason, will look to follow the footsteps of another defensive-minded Celtic-turned-Grizzly, Tony “The Grindfather” Allen. Allen endeared himself to the Memphis faithful with his tough-nosed style and tough-guy personality – Smart has that same style and personality, plus he’s a much more productive player. With Ja Morant out for the first 25 games of the season, and Tyus Jones now in the Nation’s Capital, the Grizzlies will need Smart to be a stud this season. And I think he will be.
16 of 30
Miami Heat: What happens if they don’t acquire Damian Lillard?
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: Grind another year out in the Play-In Tournament
Tell you what – the Heat had damn sure better land Damian Lillard sometime soon, or else they could be in big trouble this season. And that’s because they didn’t do much in free agency and ended up losing contributing pieces from last season’s Finals team like Max Strus (Cavaliers) and Gabe Vincent (Lakers). They’ve also sufficiently ticked off their best young player, Tyler Herro, as every Lillard and James Harden rumor has his name attached. For a core that just barely made the playoffs, I’d be pretty nervous if I were a Heat fan right now… then again, they still have Jimmy Butler.
17 of 30
Milwaukee Bucks: How does new coach Adrian Griffin differ from Mike Budenholzer?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: The Bucks will be worse in the regular season, but better prepare for playoff basketball.
Mike Budenholzer was famous for building an absolute wood-chipper of a regular-season team that would destroy opponents with his system. He was also notorious for sticking with that system in the playoffs and struggling to make adjustments. So what did the Bucks do this offseason? They brought in a coach who will likely be the opposite in Adrian Griffin. Griffin most recently was an assistant under Nick Nurse in Toronto. Nurse’s best coaching quality was his ability to make adjustments – recall some of the crazy box-and-one defenses he threw at Steph Curry in the 2019 NBA Finals. I’d imagine Griffin will use the regular season as a testing ground for different situations and lineup variations he can use in the playoffs.
18 of 30
Minnesota T’Wolves: Are there enough minutes for all three of their centers?
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
My guess : No, so they should trade…Rudy Gobert.
The T’Wolves’ first, second and fifth-highest cap hits this season will all be centers (Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid). All three of them bring something different to the table, so coach Chris Finch will be able to utilize them in different lineups. However, because he can’t possibly (could he?) play all three together, having all three on the roster fails to maximize the team’s potential. So, the team should probably make a trade – and it should probably be the guy on the downside of his career that nobody seems to like – and make it soon so they don’t hamper Anthony Edwards’ ascent to superstardom. Yes, I know they traded sooo much for Gobert, but sometimes you have to recognize you made a huge mistake and do the best you can to get the ship turned back in the right direction.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: If not this season, then when?
Last season, the Pelicans had everything in place and just needed Zion Williamson to play at his customary All-NBA level in order to be a contender. Unfortunately, Zion Williamson and his hamstring decided to not cooperate. This season, with Trey Murphy III already out for a good chunk of the season, and Brandon Ingram coming off an ugly summer at the FIBA World Cup, and CJ McCollum a year older, they’ll need a healthy and committed Zion to simply keep the team afloat. On an individual level, Zion needs to show out this season or else his shine is going to lose the remainder of its luster.
20 of 30
New York Knicks: Are Julius Randle and RJ Barrett long-term core pieces?
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: I don’t think Randle is, and Barrett probably isn’t the third banana on a contender the Knicks wanted him to be.
As dominant as he can be in the regular season, Julius Randle (25.1 PPG, 10 RPG, 4.1 APG with 46-34-76 shooting splits with 2.8 TPG) seems to either get injured, and/or fall apart come playoff time (17.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.7 APG with 34-28-76 shooting splits and 3.9 TPG in his 15 playoff games with New York). His battering ram style of play doesn’t translate well to playoff hoops, and it’s pretty clear that he can’t be the go-to guy on a contender. And until Barrett learns how to shoot three-pointers if he’s going to be a playoff guy, plain and simple (31.5 percent in 16 playoff games; 34.3 percent in his career).
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: Regular season-ready
Anyone who watched the FIBA World Cup now realizes how for real Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is – he’s a bonafide MVP candidate this season and might be the best closer in basketball. Josh Giddey also played excellent ball in the World Cup and appears to be ready for primetime. Jalen Williams, who closed last season on a tear, averaging 18.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 4.2 APG on 55-44-89 shooting in his last 26 games, should be a high-level contributor. In other words, this team is loaded with young talent that is ready to compete and possibly even contend. It’ll all come down to the big man position – aka the untested Chet Holmgren – and whether he can hang with the big men in the Western Conference. I suspect he’ll do just fine in the regular season, but may struggle when things slow to a crawl in the postseason and his slender frame becomes a real problem for him.
22 of 30
Orlando Magic: Do we see the Magic play any Paolo Banchero at the five?
Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: Yes
Not going to lie. It never even occurred to me that Paolo Banchero could play small-ball five until we saw Steve Kerr unveil it during the FIBA World Cup this summer. And while he struggled a bit on defense later in the tournament, the overall impact was a positive one. After all, Banchero is a massive 20-year-old and is listed at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds – there are centers in the NBA that are smaller than that. If he learns to bang a bit on defense and on the boards, it would make the Magic an impossible team to guard in space and could help alleviate some of their poor shooting. Orlando would be crazy to not experiment with the lineup for a couple of minutes every game.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: I mean, duhhhh
Whether it’s from Daryl Morey reneging on a handshake agreement to give him a huge deal or refusing to trade him after he opted it, it’s safe to say that James Harden is very upset with Morey and the 76ers. James Harden is notorious for mailing it in when he’s upset with his employer. He did it in Houston; and he did it in Brooklyn too. And those were instances of quiet quitting – he’s straight up said he “will never be a part of an organization that [Daryl Morey’s] a part of.” There’s no way on earth he shows up focused for this training camp. He’s definitely going to make a scene, and I cannot wait!
24 of 30
Phoenix Suns: Which star does the dirty work and sacrifices the most?
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
My guess : Devin Booker
Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal – those are three hellacious scorers. Throw in Deandre Ayton and Eric Gordon and that’s a whole lot of offensive firepower. But who is going to be passing them the ball? Who is the point guard on this roster that’s going to be able to be on the court, distributing the rock in high-pressure situations? Some reports have suggested, Beal is going to play point, but I think it’s going to be Booker. Unlike Durant and Beal, Booker has experience playing point guard and is also in his absolute athletic prime. Booker also has that dog in him, and has is an elite competitor. You could tell that losing in the 2021 NBA Finals absolutely gutted him, and made him a better all-around player. I could see Booker’s PPG dropping a bit, but his playmaking, rebounding and defense all improving for the good of the team this season.
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: No.
Most people, myself included, have framed the Damian Lillard situation in terms of how Miami needs to get him. And that’s certainly true. That said, it behooves the Blazers to move on from the Dame Era and begin the Scoot Henderson Era in Portland. As professional as Dame is, his presence in camp will be a cloud over the franchise that will only get more uncomfortable as the season nears. I feel like Miami is going to finally push their chips to the center of the table and make their best offer – some combination of Tyler Herro, Nikola Jovic, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and their future first-round picks – and Portland would be smart to accept it. Sure, if they drag this out to the trade deadline, they might be able to get a better package. But then again, Dame could get injured or show signs of decline – he’s a 33-year-old, small guard – or get combative like James Harden is in Philly. All of those things would cause his trade value to dwindle and the Blazers’ season to be way more drama-filled than their young core needs it to be. Make the deal before training camp and move on.
26 of 30
Sacramento Kings: Was maintaining the status quo the right decision this summer?
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: Negative
When you look at the Kings’ stats from last season, one thing really jumps out: They were so healthy compared to other teams. Their top eight players all played at least 73 games! For comparison, the Lakers only had one player appear in over 73 games, and it was a guy who wasn’t even in their playoff rotation (Troy Brown Jr.). The Kings effectively brought back the same team this summer – adding EuroLeague standout, Sasha Vezenkov, as their one big addition. Continuity is a great thing in the NBA, so that’s great for Sacramento. However, one could certainly argue that last season was a best-case scenario for them with how healthy they were and how unhealthy some of the rest of the Western Conference was. This season should be even more competitive with only the Blazers and Spurs being obvious tanking teams, and teams like the Suns, Lakers, Warriors and Mavericks ramping up more firepower in the offseason and teams like the Thunder on the rise. I think the Kings will be battling for a Play-In spot come springtime.
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
My guess : It won’t revolve around him like it did during Tim Duncan’s rookie season, but Coach Popovich will get him more touches than Kawhi Leonard‘s rookie season.
As you may recall, Tim Duncan came into the NBA as a polished 21-year-old who was ready to be an immediate contributor and averaged 21.1 PPG, 11.9 RPG and 2.5 BPG. On the other end of the spectrum, Kawhi Leonard was a raw prospect who never had plays run for him as a rookie and only averaged 7.9 PPG on 6.3 FGA/game. Victor Wembanyama will be somewhere between Duncan and Leonard in terms of having the offense run through him. The Spurs have every reason to give him the rock and let him learn by trial and error considering they won’t be a playoff team. At the same time, they don’t want him to develop bad habits or wear his young body down, so I’d imagine we’ll see him putting up around 10-12 shots per game early in the season, with that number ramping up as the season progresses.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: He’s not a superstar
Last season, there was a clip that went viral on Twitter of Scottie Barnes telling some opponent, ” you is not Him.” Besides the poor grammar, Barnes had a lot of nerve telling someone else that during a disappointing sophomore campaign where he effectively had a less efficient version of his rookie year. His PPG stayed the same, his RPG dropped a bit, his APG went up a big and his shooting efficiency got worse. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still going to be a good player, but I think his game is way closer to that of an RJ Barrett as opposed to a Jayson Tatum. In other words, you he can be a piece of your team’s core, but he’s not going to be a franchise player like Toronto treated him as last summer.
29 of 30
Utah Jazz: Can Will Hardy rehabilitate John Collins too?
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
My guess: Yes, at least enough to trade him for a first-round pick or other asset
Considering what Will Hardy did to Lauri Markkanen‘s career, how could I not expect him to revive Collins’ career a little bit too? Markkanen, on his way to winning Most Improved Player last season, went from averaging 14.8 PPG and 5.7 RPG on 45-36-87 shooting in 2021-22 to averaging 25.6 PPG and 8.6 RPG on 50-39-88 shooting as a 25-year-old. John Collins, who, as a 22-year-old averaged 21.6 PPG and 10.1 RPG with 58-40-80 shooting splits, has seen his production fall off a cliff in the past few seasons (the Trae Young Effect!), culminating in an ugly year last year, averaging only 13.1 PPG and 6.5 RPG with 51-29-80 shooting splits. Let’s see what Will Hardy can do with Collins, who will turn 26 years old right before training camp.
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports
My guess : Maybe Bilal Coulibaly, maybe Jordan Poole
I’ll be honest, Wizards fans, it’s going to get ugly here in DC for a couple of seasons. As previously stressed by yours truly, this team should have been moving towards a full rebuild the second John Wall tore his Achilles. Instead, they handed Bradley Beal a supermax, a no-trade clause and a crooked knife to shank the team with on his way out of town, forcing his way to Phoenix and ensuring that they received nothing in return. The rebuild has finally begun though, so there’s some solace in that. Acquiring Jordan Poole from Golden State was a good low-risk, high-reward move. Drafting Bilal Coulibaly was a nice home run swing. Re-signing Kyle Kuzma was a good asset play – he’s not a long-term piece, but they should be able to deal him for a first-round pick or young player in the next year or two. The rest of the roster is pretty bad, but that’s by design! Struggle through these next few years and hope that Cooper Flagg falls into your lap in two years!