NBA 2022-23 predictions: Will Giannis be able to stop the Warriors from a repeat? | NBA

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This will be the year of…

The unabashed tank, unfortunately. It’s been whispered for a while that Victor Wembanyama is a generational talent, but after his mind-blowing performance in his Las Vegas exhibition games this month, it seems all but certain that it will be a race to the bottom for a chance to draft him. CDL

The Eastern Conference bloodbath. For decades, the imbalance between conferences was so glaring that league officials once flirted with the idea of a 1-16 playoff seeding to offset years of Western dominance. However, the tables have turned, and the East has at least eight teams that are capable of winning 50 games or more. Look for most Eastern Conference games to feature playoff-like intensity because there will be a few good teams on the outside looking in once the postseason starts. AS

The return of the super-team. Last year, the big-name-infused Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets dealt with all sorts of chemistry problems: the Lakers missed the postseason altogether while the Boston Celtics humiliated the Nets in the first round. It would be hilarious for that to happen again but unlikely. Sometimes talent trumps all. HF

Normalcy. Although last year featured a full 82-game schedule, player absences owing to Covid protocols plagued the regular season. Another year on, fans should be able to refocus their attention entirely on basketball – for example, Kyrie Irving will be in the news for his peerless dribbling again, rather than his sciencelessness. JP

One bold prediction

Bang the over on the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, the roster is a bit of a disaster, but that’s mostly because Russell Westbrook’s salary is eating up the equivalent of two or three competent role players. With more teams bowing out of competitive basketball to tank, the trade options for Westbrook’s contract are about to become a lot more plentiful, and the team will look different by the trade deadline. CDL

Russell Westbrook will flourish as a sixth man. Westbrook’s Los Angeles homecoming has been a nightmare thus far. But with his new role as a sixth man, Westbrook (who averaged 18/7/7 last season) will feast against second units and remind the league of why he’s a future Hall of Famer. AS

Draymond Green doesn’t last the season with the Golden State Warriors. It doesn’t matter how valuable Green has been historically for the team, the video that emerged of him attacking teammate Jordan Poole feels like the beginning of the end for the veteran, unless he escapes further controversy. And Green thrives on drama. HF

The NBA commentariat won’t use LeBron James’s inevitable coronation as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer to engage in more tedious GOAT discussions. Sports debates are fun, but Jordan v LeBron v Kobe etc has become what The Simpsons once lampooned as a “daily conversation in which we rank and rerank three demigods” and is boring at this point. JP

I’d most like to see Victor Wembanyama go to …

You’ll be seeing plenty more of Victor Wembanyama in the years to come
You’ll be seeing plenty more of Victor Wembanyama in the years to come. Photograph: John Locher/AP

I can’t help but marvel at the potential symmetry of another generational big man ending up in San Antonio. I also love the idea of one very fun Wembanyama victory lap season for Coach Pop before he retires. They’re due for a renaissance in south Texas, and we know the Spurs are no stranger to international talent, so it makes sense on several levels. CDL

Magic often appears to be on Orlando’s side when it comes to No 1 draft picks. Over the past three decades, the franchise has landed Shaquille O’Neal; Chris Webber, who would be traded for Penny Hardaway; Dwight Howard; and Paolo Banchero. If Orlando can pull off more wizardry in 2023, Wembanyama would fit perfectly with the team’s emerging stars and immediately lead them to the playoffs. AS

It would be interesting for the Utah Jazz, having just moved on from the 7ft 1in Frenchman Rudy Gobert, to land the 7ft 4in Frenchman Wembanyama as a replacement. Not only have they picked a good time to tank, Utah have three first-round picks this season (although here’s a bonus prediction: whoever lands No 1 overall will not trade down). HF

Anywhere but the Knicks. Madison Square Garden is the center of the basketball universe but, under the ownership of James Dolan, it’s also where promising young players go to implode. With an already talented roster and a history of drafting and developing young superstars, Oklahoma City is the ideal landing spot. JP

Rookie of the year

I was among the chorus lambasting the Sacramento Kings for what seemed to be another draft day blunder, but I happily appear to stand corrected. Keegan Murray has been an extremely pleasant surprise so far in the preseason and at NBA Summer League, and I like his chances for ROY. CDL

Bennedict Mathurin. The Canadian rookie turned heads in the preseason by exploding for 27 points against the New York Knicks. He has the size, skill, and confidence to stand out amongst his peers. With the Indiana Pacers in rebuild mode, Mathurin will get the minutes and shots to put up big scores. AS

It should have been Chet Holmgren, but the intriguing Oklahoma City Thunder center is out for the season with a very worrisome foot injury. Instead let’s go with forward Jabari Smith Jr, who will have plenty of opportunity to put up eye-popping numbers on a rebuilding Houston Rockets team. HF

Paolo Banchero is the bookmakers’ choice, but don’t sleep on Jaden Ivey. As the Orlando Magic’s primary scorer, Banchero will receive the brunt of opposing teams’ defensive efforts whereas Ivey, as the Detroit Pistons’ No 2 option behind Cade Cunningham, should encounter enough space to stuff the stat sheet. JP

MVP

Joel Embiid is a popular choice for MVP
Joel Embiid is a popular choice for MVP. Photograph: Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

Vegas has had Luka Doncic as the odds-on favorite for MVP for a few years running, but I really think this is his year. He finally broke the Dallas first-round-exit playoff curse last season, and all signs point to it being his time. CDL

Even with the Ben Simmons controversy hovering over the Sixers last season, Joel Embiid put up the best numbers of his career and finished second in the MVP race. With James Harden appearing to be in better shape and the emergence of Tyrese Maxey, Embiid will get more one-on-one offensive opportunities. Embiid’s overall dominance will be undeniable. AS

It’s not going to be Nikola Jokic. Voters go out of their way to avoid picking the same player three times in a row. I always go with Giannis Antetokounmpo as the de facto best player in the NBA for his unbelievable combination of offensive skills and game-changing defense. HF

An international player will win MVP for the fifth year in a row – but it won’t be Doncic. Joel Embiid came second in MVP voting last season and, playing with a more focused Harden and stronger supporting cast, he’ll win this season’s award (barring injury). JP

Most underrated team

It might be hyperbolic to call the New Orleans Pelicans “underrated,” as a lot of people are excited to see what they look like after holding their own in last season’s playoffs against the then-juggernaut Phoenix Suns. But I think the Zion Williamson discourse has overshadowed just how dominant he can be when healthy. And even when they were Zion-less, this team looked damned impressive towards the end of last season. CDL

The Atlanta Hawks are often viewed as a second-tier team in the East. But only one year removed from the Eastern Conference finals, the Hawks have an opportunity to finish in the top-three in the East with All-Star Dejounte Murray joining Trae Young (who led the league in points and assists last season) in the backcourt. AS

Cleveland Cavaliers. Last season, the Cavaliers returned to the postseason, their first trip there without LeBron James since 1998. OK, so it was just a one-game cameo in the play-in tournament but it still counts as an improvement! Don’t expect them to parlay that into a finals appearance but they could improve into a tough postseason out. HF

There are a lot: new-look Minnesota, perennially under-the-radar Toronto, a re-Zioned New Orleans. Last time their roster was injury-free, however, the Denver Nuggets were one of the league’s best teams and, led by the two-time reigning MVP, may just finish the regular season at the top of their conference. JP

Final eight Eastern Conference teams

Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks. CDL

Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors. AS

Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks. HF

Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks. JP

Final eight Western Conference teams

Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, LA Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans. CDL

Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans. AS

Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers. HF

Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers. JP

Eastern Conference finals

Milwaukee Bucks 4-2 Philadelphia 76ers. CDL

Philadelphia 76ers 4-3 Atlanta Hawks. AS

Milwaukee Bucks 4-2 Brooklyn Nets. HF

Boston Celtics 4-2 Milwaukee Bucks. JP

Western Conference finals

Golden State Warriors 4-3 Denver Nuggets. CDL

Golden State Warriors 4-3 Los Angeles Clippers. AS

Golden State Warriors 4-3 Los Angeles Lakers. HF

Los Angeles Clippers 4-2 Denver Nuggets. JP

NBA finals

Will another season of brilliance from Giannis Antetokounmpo bring home the title for the Bucks?
Will another season of brilliance from Giannis Antetokounmpo bring home the title for the Bucks? Photograph: Aaron Gash/AP

Milwaukee Bucks 4-3 Golden State Warriors. We’ll look back on this year as the peak of Gianniss storied career. During the 2021 finals he conquered his free throw demons, and last year he added a solid three-point shot to his repertoire. With one championship and a cabinet full of individual awards under his belt, the only thing left for Giannis to do to strengthen his resume is to add a couple of rings to his oversized Greek mitt. The Bucks could have won it all last year had it not been for an untimely Khris Middleton injury, and the throne is once again theirs for the taking. CDL

Golden State Warriors 4-2 Philadelphia 76ers. The Warriors could easily come out of the West again due to their veteran leaders who know how to win big games, and their young, fearless athletes. The Clippers will be their greatest threat with the return of Kawhi Leonard and addition of John Wall, but the Warriors’ experience will get them back to the finals. In the East, the Sixers will most likely be the last team standing due to Embiid’s dominance, Harden’s return to form, and team defense. However, the Warriors’ combination of elite shooting and experience will keep the Larry O’Brien trophy in the Bay Area. AS

Milwaukee Bucks 4-3 Golden State Warriors. No matter what happens with Green, the rejuvenated world champions should be favored in the West, but winning back-to-back titles is a trick. Even without Khris Middleton, the Bucks forced the Boston Celtics into a seven-game series during last season’s playoffs. Assuming another MVP-caliber year from Giannis – and a 50 point-performance in a deciding Game 7 – there’s no reason to believe that they can’t go all the way this go-around, even against the modern-day dynasty that is Golden State. HF

Boston Celtics 4-3 Los Angeles Clippers. Coaching issues aside, the reigning Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics should be even better this year. In addition to the natural improvement of their still (surprisingly) young star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Boston had a productive off-season. By trading for 50/40/90 shooter Malcolm Brogdon, the Celtics increased their depth while addressing their biggest weakness last postseason—poor ballhandling (and subsequent turnovers). The Clippers’ tendency toward load management means that, after a lackluster regular season, Kawhi Leonard and company should peak at the right time and make the finals. However, the NBA has a history of teams winning after suffering heartbreak the year before, and the Celtics should win in seven games. JP

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