Every NBA Team’s Biggest Question for 2022-23 Season
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Russell Westbrook (Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
With NBA teams all over the league hosting media days this month, reporters throughout the country (and some in Toronto) will be able to ask players, coaches and front offices a boatload of questions.
What’s the philosophy heading into this season? What did you do to improve this offseason? Is [insert name here] healthy?
There’s one specific question that’s more important than any other for each of the league’s 30 teams, though. Put another way, the answers to the following questions will best inform how every team’s 2022-23 campaign will go.
What’s the biggest question for each of the league’s 30 teams? Scroll below to find out.
Atlanta Hawks: How Do Trae Young and Dejounte Murray Coexist?
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When you combine usage percentage and assist percentage, the top five in the league from 2021-22 were Luka Doncic (83.4), Trae Young (81.1), Nikola Jokic (74.5), Dejounte Murray (67.9) and Ja Morant (67.8).
Now, Young and Murray are teammates.
The old “there’s only one ball” cliche has to be considered. Both these players have grown accustomed to engineering nearly every aspect of their teams’ offenses. One or both will have to take a step back offensively.
The passing ability (and willingness to pass) of both suggests they can make it work, though.
More off-ball catch-and-shoot opportunities for Young could serve as a boost for his scoring efficiency. And the attention Young commands with the ball could open wider slashing and cutting lanes than Murray has ever seen.
The obvious benefit of having a high-end perimeter defender to spare Young on that end is big, too.
There may be a few weeks (or months) of growing pains, but these two are talented enough to figure this out.
Boston Celtics: Does Al Horford Have One More Big Season in Him?
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Every superteam needs a glue guy, and the Boston Celtics have one of the ultimate ones in Al Horford.
He has 15 years of experience and a 12.2 percent chance to get into the Hall of Fame, according to Basketball Reference’s Hall of Fame probability model.
He can hit threes, create for teammates, protect the rim and generally handle switches onto the perimeter.
All the little stuff he did for the Celtics in 2021-22 translated to a significant boost to the team’s net rating (it was plus-9.4 points per 100 possessions when he played and plus-5.2 when he didn’t).
He was also remarkably durable for a player in his age-35 season, averaging 29.1 minutes.
Even with the addition of Malcolm Brogdon this offseason, Boston’s ceiling may be determined by whether Horford can repeat what he did last season.
Brooklyn Nets: What Is Ben Simmons?
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Good luck answering this one.
When we last saw Ben Simmons actually playing NBA basketball in the 2021 postseason, he was famously eschewing shots in fourth quarters and being described as a 6’11” Rajon Rondo.
Since then, he’s missed an entire season with back and mental health concerns. On more than one occasion, it seemed like he was on the verge of playing, but we never saw him on the floor with the Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets in 2021-22.
After all that time off, will he return to the Nets with some wrinkle in his game we haven’t seen yet (like, oh say, a jump shot)? Will he come back as the same transition weapon, floor general and perimeter defender? Is he a lesser version of that player?
Whatever he is, how does he fit alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving?
What is Ben Simmons? is one of the biggest questions in the NBA this season, and there’s really no way to know the answer till we see him in action for a bit.
Charlotte Hornets: Can Gordon Hayward Stay Healthy?
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Gordon Hayward is making over $30 million this year (and over $31 million in 2023-24). As his team’s highest-paid player, he should be expected to move the needle in the right direction.
But he’s managed fewer than 50 appearances in each of his two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets. And with Miles Bridges involved in a criminal case for felony domestic abuse that’s still in the early stages of litigation, Charlotte is even thinner up front than it was a year ago.
If the Hornets are going to threaten a postseason berth this season, they need Hayward to play and live up to his hefty salary.
It’s now been five seasons since Hayward was an All-Star with the Utah Jazz in 2016-17. As LaMelo Ball’s No. 2, he has a chance to show he can still be a high-end NBA starter.
Chicago Bulls: When Will Lonzo Ball Be Back?
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Lonzo Ball last played an NBA game on January 14. When he went down, it didn’t seem like an injury that would knock him out for the rest of the season.
The team seemingly slow-played his recovery (and sharing news about it) before he was eventually ruled out for the campaign.
But surely, he’d be ready for 2022-23, right?
Not so fast, as ESPN’s Jamal Collier and Ramona Shelburne reported earlier this month Ball is now “expected to miss training camp and is doubtful for the start of the regular season because of lingering pain and discomfort following meniscus surgery on his left knee in January.”
When Ball was on the floor last season, the Chicago Bulls were plus-2.9 points per 100 possessions. They were minus-1.7 when he wasn’t.
Without his steady-handed playmaking, hit-ahead passing, defense and three-point shooting, Chicago was underwater. He was an ideal low-usage point guard for a team with two aggressive scorers in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.
He certainly still can be, assuming he can ever get back to 100 percent.
Cleveland Cavaliers: How Do Garland and Mitchell Coexist?
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The question about the fit between Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell probably isn’t quite as vital as it is with Young and Murray on the Hawks, at least not on offense.
On the aforementioned “usage percentage plus assist percentage” leaderboard, Garland and Mitchell ranked sixth and 18th, respectively, in 2021-22. Sorting out touches between those two is a concern, but it shouldn’t be impossible.
The bigger question is how the Cleveland Cavaliers will defend the perimeter.
Whether it was growing apathy over his being on the Utah Jazz or the load he carried on offense, Mitchell became a sieve on that end of the floor over the last couple of seasons. He’d routinely be dusted by his matchup outside, allowing teams to put almost constant pressure on Rudy Gobert.
Garland, meanwhile, was above average on that end last season (barely), according to Dunks and Threes’ estimated plus-minus, but he too is 6’1″. And having a starting backcourt with two players that size puts you at an inherent disadvantage against most opponents.
With Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley on the back line, Cleveland may have the perfect roster to cover for them, but it’d certainly be preferable to avoid the same avalanche of drives that Gobert faced in Utah as the rim protector for Mitchell and Mike Conley.
Dallas Mavericks: Can Spencer Dinwiddie Replace Jalen Brunson
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Back in July, host of the Locked on Mavericks podcast Isaac Harris requested a side-by-side comparison of 2021-22 Jalen Brunson and 2019-20 Spencer Dinwiddie.
The results may have come as a bit of a surprise for some.
Much was made of the loss of Brunson this offseason. And sure, it probably would’ve been better if the Dallas Mavericks could’ve held onto him.
But if the Mavs can get that version of Dinwiddie (or at least something close to it), they should be fine.
Beyond the numbers, Dinwiddie is also four inches taller than Brunson. That alone makes him easier to fit into a modern defensive scheme.
And with the addition of Christian Wood, Dinwiddie doesn’t have to replace all of the production Brunson put up in 2021-22. He just has to be able to step into that secondary creator role, and plenty of his history suggests he can.
Denver Nuggets: Can Michael Porter Jr. Stay Healthy?
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Michael Porter Jr. was the No. 2 prospect in his high school class, but back problems limited him to just three games in his lone season at Missouri and all of what would’ve been his rookie campaign with the Denver Nuggets.
After enjoying relatively decent health in 2019-20 and 2020-21, more back issues and surgery limited him to nine games in 2021-22.
For a player starting a five-year, $179.3 million contract this season, the history is more than a little alarming.
Even beyond the money, not having someone who appears to be the ideal floor-spacer for a Nikola Jokic-led offense would just be a shame.
Jokic is the best passing big of all time and one of the best offensive engines we’ve ever seen.
Having a 6’10” teammate who moves off the ball like Klay Thompson and shot 44.5 percent from deep on 6.3 attempts per game (as MPJ did in 2020-21) is like supercharging that engine.
Detroit Pistons: Is Cade Cunningham Going to Take a Leap?
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Cade Cunningham’s shooting splits (41.6 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from three) are concerning, but his basic production still puts him in pretty exclusive company.
Alvan Adams, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan are the only rookies in NBA history who matched or exceeded all of Cade’s marks for points (17.4), assists (5.6) and rebounds (5.5) per game.
Those raw numbers and Cunningham’s size (6’6″ with a 7’0″ wingspan) are enough to be high on his future. At some point, it feels like his shooting numbers are going to look closer to what they were in college (when he shot 43.8 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from three and 84.6 percent from the line).
If that happens this season, the Detroit Pistons might even threaten the play-in range in the Eastern Conference.
Golden State Warriors: Is this the Last Dance?
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The Golden State Warriors just secured their fourth title of this dynasty, but an eye-popping luxury-tax situation and the advancing ages of Stephen Curry (34), Klay Thompson (32) and Draymond Green (32) are suddenly making a breakup feel possible.
Surely, Golden State can’t just keep paying the repeater tax in perpetuity until Curry retires (or can it?). Surely, a decline has to be one the way for Curry at some point (or does it?). Surely, if another young player like Jonathan Kuminga breaks out the way Jordan Poole did, the Warriors won’t be able to afford him (or will they?).
Timing was perfect for Golden State in the summer of 2016, when a cap spike and below-market deal for Curry (thanks to those ankle injuries) allowed the signing of Kevin Durant. Six years later, fate seems to be conspiring in the other direction.
A perfect storm may make this season (or another one in the very near future) this team’s Last Dance moment.
Houston Rockets: Is Jalen Green Going to Take a Leap?
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Just like Cade, Jalen Green posted rookie numbers that were, at the very least, encouraging.
His last nine games, in particular, were easy to get excited about. Over that stretch, he averaged 28.1 points and 4.6 threes while shooting 42.7 percent from three.
That kind of scoring and three-point shooting on the heels of several jaw-dropping displays of athleticism throughout his rookie campaign suggests he has All-NBA guard potential.
While he almost certainly won’t get there in year two, a few more stretches like the nine-gamer with which he ended 2021-22 will make he, Jabari Smith, Alperen Şengün and the Houston Rockets a League Pass darling.
Indiana Pacers: How Long Will Buddy Hield and Myles Turner Be Pacers?
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The Indiana Pacers seem about as committed as anyone (save perhaps the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs) to the Victor Wembanyama (or Scoot Henderson) chase.
Getting enough losses to secure a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick may depend upon how long Buddy Hield and Myles Turner are on the team.
Their names have floated around the rumor mill all summer, and if they survive the offseason without a trade, they could jeopardize the hunt for ping-pong balls.
The sooner the Pacers move these two for whatever draft assets they can get, the better off they’ll be in the long run.
Los Angeles Clippers: Can Paul George and Kawhi Leonard Stay Healthy?
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It’s hard to believe, but Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have already been teammates on the Los Angeles Clippers for three full seasons.
Unfortunately, injuries have limited them to fewer than 3,000 minutes together over that span. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne recently pointed out that each star has played fewer games during those three seasons than the notoriously fragile Anthony Davis.
When they’re available, though, the Clippers play like a juggernaut.
In the limited time they’ve had together (including the postseason), L.A. is plus-11.3 points per 100 possessions when both Kawhi and PG are on the floor.
If they’re relatively healthy in 2022-23, the Clippers will absolutely be in the contenders’ tier.
Los Angeles Lakers: What Happens With Russell Westbrook?
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The Russell Westbrook saga has felt like a multiverse movie this summer.
One day, he’s sure to get traded. The next, he’s going to remain a Los Angeles Laker. One day, he’s a surefire starter. The next, he’s seen as the third guard in a pecking order behind Dennis Schröder and Patrick Beverley.
If he isn’t moved, questions about his role, fit, playing time and shooting numbers are going to hover over the Lakers like Winnie the Pooh at the honey tree.
If and when he is traded, the return will likely determine whether or not the team competes for another title during the LeBron James era.
For example, the long-rumored “Westbrook and picks for Hield and Turner” deal probably makes L.A. a real contender. Anything less, and it’s hard to imagine the Lakers reaching the same level as the Warriors, Suns, Clippers, Nuggets and Grizzlies, to name a few.
Memphis Grizzlies: Are the Rookies Ready to Contribute?
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De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson were fifth and seventh, respectively, among Memphis Grizzlies in minutes played last season. The team was plus-7.0 points per 100 possessions when both were on the floor.
This summer, the Grizzlies seemingly had little to no problem letting both go. In fact, they traded Melton for Danny Green’s expiring contract (he’ll miss this season with a torn ACL) and the pick that became David Roddy.
In essence, it was a straight-up swap of Melton for an incoming, post-lottery rookie.
For a team that relied so heavily on one of the game’s best benches in 2021-22, putting this kind of trust into Roddy, Jake LaRavia (who was taken four picks earlier) and the coaching staff’s ability to develop young talent is significant.
One or both will have to be a positive contributor for Memphis to recreate last season’s success, especially with Jaren Jackson Jr. set to miss the start of the season with an injury.
Miami Heat: What Does Kyle Lowry Have Left in the Tank?
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The Miami Heat didn’t make any significant moves this summer, so a return to the conference finals (or beyond) could depend on a lot of things going right.
Jimmy Butler may have to maintain his top-10 to -15 level play. Tyler Herro may need to take a leap, particularly on defense. Caleb Martin may have to fill or even improve upon the role P.J. Tucker occupied last season.
The biggest key, though, is likely Kyle Lowry, Or, more specifically, what he has left to offer.
Lowry is entering his age-36 campaign. He missed 19 games in the 2021-22 regular season and then shot 29.1 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three in the postseason.
If the flameout down the stretch was a sign of things to come, it’s tough to see Miami playing at the same level as other Eastern Conference powers like the Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers or even the Nets (if they can all pull in the same direction for a few months).
Milwaukee Bucks: Is Khris Middleton Healthy?
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At this point, whenever they’re healthy, we pretty much know what the Bucks are.
The trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton is one of the best and most well-balanced in the league. It just needs all three in action.
Last season, the absence of Middleton in the second round of the postseason may well have cost Milwaukee the series against the Celtics.
And now, an offseason surgery puts his availability for the start of the season in doubt.
But even if he misses a few games out of the gate, Giannis and Milwaukee are likely to be fine and end up at or above 50 wins.
Minnesota Timberwolves: How Do Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert Coexist?
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Offensively, it’s actually pretty easy to see how Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns will coexist.
The former is one of the best rim-runners in the league. His screening and dives to the rim consistently pull defenders to the paint, which should give KAT (one of the best shooting bigs of all time) precious extra time on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
The most intriguing potentiality might be 4-5 pick-and-rolls with the two All-Stars. Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch was an offensive assistant who had a lot to do with Nikola Jokic’s breakout in 2016-17, so perhaps he’ll entrust Towns with a little playmaking responsibility, too.
The bigger question is how this works on defense. Gobert will fill his role just fine, but the idea of KAT chasing some stretch and playmaking 4s around is daunting.
With Gobert, Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota may have enough plus defenders in the lineup to cover for Towns, but it’s far from a given.
New Orleans Pelicans: Can Zion Williamson Stay Healthy?
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We’ve never seen a player bring the combination of size and athleticism that Zion Williamson does.
He’s 6’6″ and nearly 300 pounds, but he can get from the ground to above the rim in a heartbeat, and the fact that he’s only played 85 games in three years suggests the human body might just struggle with the kind of torque and explosiveness he can generate.
If Zion proves that assertion wrong, though, the New Orleans Pelicans will almost certainly be a problem for the Western Conference this season.
They made the playoffs without him in 2021-22, and their net rating was significantly better when he was on the floor during the previous two campaigns.
With the immense pressure that he puts on the basket, life will be far easier for CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram outside.
New York Knicks: Will Tom Thibodeau Rely on the Young Core?
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The New York Knicks have one of the more intriguing young cores in the NBA. It wasn’t just the stockpile of picks that made them a potential trade partner with the Utah Jazz for Donovan Mitchell. Utah’s interest in RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes and others was a story all summer (at least until the Cavs swooped in and snagged Mitchell).
Now that the Knicks know Barrett, Grimes, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley are on the team for 2022-23 (for now), it’s time for coach Tom Thibodeau to unleash them all.
Of course, throughout his career, Thibodeau has generally been averse to playing young talents over veterans. And that was certainly true for much of last season.
We’ve seen the ceiling of a team led by Julius Randle, though. It’s not particularly high.
Things may not be much better with more reliance on the young core, but there’s no way to know without trying.
Oklahoma City Thunder: How Much Will Veterans Play?
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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kenrich Williams and Mike Muscala all had thoroughly positive impacts on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point differential last season.
In the asset-accumulation phase of a rebuild, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Of course, the more losses you get, the more ping-pong balls you accumulate for the lottery.
So, if OKC wants to continue to get and take big swings in the lottery, it might need to keep players like Muscala and Williams on the fringe of the rotation.
As for SGA, a sprained MCL will reportedly cost him the start of training camp. Given the Thunder’s situation, a long, cautious timeline could be established for his recovery.
Orlando Magic: Is Paolo Banchero Already a No. 1 Option?
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The Orlando Magic are loaded with intriguing young talent.
Wendell Carter Jr. finally started living up to the Al Horford comparisons he received prior to being drafted. Franz Wagner started to look like a borderline alpha for stretches of EuroBasket. Cole Anthony could be a prototypical heat-check-off-the-bench guy. Jalen Suggs looks like a potential lockdown perimeter defender.
We could go on with the likes of Mo Bamba, Markelle Fultz, Chuma Okeke and Jonathan Isaac, but you get the point.
The thing is, even with all that talent, Orlando’s leading scorer last year topped out at 16.3 points. Last season, 50 players qualified for the minutes leaderboard and averaged more than 16.3.
There’s certainly a chance for further offensive development from Carter, Wagner and potentially others, but if incoming rookie Paolo Banchero is already a bona fide No. 1 option, the Magic can take a shortcut to competitiveness.
Philadelphia 76ers: What Does James Harden Have Left in the Tank?
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No, James Harden doesn’t look quite as explosive as he was during his peak years with the Houston Rockets, but that’s a pretty ridiculous standard to hold a 33-year-old point guard to.
A more appropriate way to analyze Harden’s 2021-22 may be relative to others at his age.
Last season, he became just the third player in NBA history to average at least 20 points and 10 assists in an age-32 (or older) season, joining LeBron James in 2019-20 and Russell Westbrook in 2020-21.
If he can repeat that kind of production, he and perennial MVP candidate Joel Embiid should have the Philadelphia 76ers in the title picture.
Phoenix Suns: What Does Chris Paul Have Left in the Tank?
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Speaking of aging point guards, Chris Paul is four years older than Harden. And he too is ridiculously productive for his age.
Last season, he led the league in assists at 10.8. Steve Nash is the only player in league history who averaged more in an age-36 (or older) season.
But CP3 has run into late-season injury woes during his younger years. If those resurface in 2022-23, the Phoenix Suns may have a hard time keeping pace with the Warriors, Clippers, Nuggets and other Western Conference powers.
Over the last two seasons, their point differential is still positive when Paul is off the floor, but his experience, playmaking, shotmaking and poise, particularly in the clutch, are key components of Phoenix being a contender.
Portland Trail Blazers: What Does Damian Lillard Have Left in the Tank?
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Yes, three teams in a row with the same question, but this is just alphabetical, and I wasn’t the one who built these teams, at least in part, around post-prime point guards.
In 32-year-old Damian Lillard’s case, an abdominal injury limited him to just 29 games last season.
And his 40.2 field-goal percentage and 32.4 three-point percentage were way below his career norms in those appearances.
If Lillard immediately bounces back to his pre-2021-22 form, the Portland Trail Blazers should be back in the playoff mix.
If he’s somewhere between that and what he was last season, the West may swallow them up.
Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II were smart additions this offseason. A full season with Josh Hart should help, too. But there really isn’t another star on the roster after Lillard. Healthy or not, he’ll be under immense pressure to carry Portland.
Sacramento Kings: Are De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis a Star Duo?
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On paper, De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis fit together seamlessly.
The guard-big combo has a long tradition in the NBA, and you’d think the Fox-Sabonis pick-and-roll could deal plenty of damage.
But the Sacramento Kings were minus-2.7 points per 100 possessions when both were on the floor last season. And the team’s defense was borderline disastrous with those lineups.
The addition of shooting from Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk should help, but with the possible exception of Murray, it’s hard to see any of the new players addressing the bigger issue.
Could Sacramento find some success simply outgunning opponents and more or less not worrying about the defense? Maybe, but a cleaner path back to the playoffs involves Sabonis and Fox making a deeper commitment to the defensive end.
San Antonio Spurs: How Much Will Veterans Play?
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Like the Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs should be (and maybe are) in the market for losses.
A year (or a few years) of pain in the standings is worth the opportunity to draft a superstar, and San Antonio clearly knows that.
Why else would it have traded its best player (Murray) for nothing but draft picks (the player who came back, Danilo Gallinari, was immediately bought out)?
With the Spurs likely angling for a better position in the draft, players such as Jakob Pöltl, Doug McDermott and maybe even Keldon Johnson (even if he turns just 23 in October) might actually frustrate that overarching purpose.
Does that mean each could be benched at some point this season? Are Murray-like trades on the way for Pöltl and McDermott?
At the very least, those options should be on the table.
Toronto Raptors: Is Scottie Barnes Going to Take a Leap?
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Scottie Barnes won Rookie of the Year, showed off solid multipositional defense and even had a couple of stretches of decent outside shooting (he shot 37.5 percent from three in February) in 2021-22.
His most intriguing skill, though, was sort of kept under wraps last season.
Barnes was essentially a point guard during his lone season at Florida State, and unleashing those point forward skills should be the next step for Barnes and the Toronto Raptors.
Giving him more on-ball and playmaking opportunities will make life easier for Fred VanVleet by giving him more catch-and-shoot looks. It could also force opponents to commit their best perimeter defenders to Barnes, leaving better matchups for his teammates.
Utah Jazz: How Long Will Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson Be in Utah
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When the Utah Jazz traded Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for pick-heavy packages, it felt like deals for veterans Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley had to be right around the corner.
On the precipice of training camp, Bogdanovic is on his way to Detroit, but Conley and Clarkson are still on the roster.
Like OKC and San Antonio, Utah appears ready to jump into the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, but if those two are on the team for long, it might have a hard time catching the Thunder and Spurs in the race to the bottom.
No, a team with those guards, Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen isn’t going to contend for a championship. It might not even make the play-in tournament, but it might at least be competitive.
For a team at the outset of a rebuild, avoiding that is a legitimate goal. And trading Conley and Clarkson will help achieve that goal.
Washington Wizards: Will Bradley Beal Live Up to His Contract?
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Assuming he picks up the player option on the final year of his contract, Bradley Beal is set to make $251 million over the next half-decade.
FiveThirtyEight‘s projection system, meanwhile, pegs Beal’s five-year market value at $58.6 million.
The source of that discrepancy is likely years of poor defense, below-average shooting from the field and the fact that the end of the 29-year-old’s prime could be around the corner.
Of course, no person or system, no matter how sophisticated, can predict the future. And perhaps the addition of Kristaps Porzingis and the development of intriguing forwards such as Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura could motivate Beal in 2022-23.
If he suddenly starts playing like a $50 million-per-year player, the Washington Wizards can get back to the playoff picture.