The next NBA (National Basketball Association) season is right around the corner, and it’s certainly shaping up to be a great one! This offseason featured numerous league-altering trades, an exciting rookie draft class, and crazy contracts dominating the headlines. As we approach the opening day of the 2023-24 season, it’s time for us NBA fans to pretend we know how these next few months will play out.
Top Teams (East)
It’s hard to see a world in which a healthy Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics don’t dominate the rest of the Eastern Conference after the additions of Damian Lillard in Milwaukee, and Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis in Boston. These two teams are honestly interchangeable, but I would put Boston in the top spot. While Milwaukee has the better superstar duo in Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks' squad depth just doesn’t quite match up against the more well-rounded Celtics team.
Worst Teams (East)
This offseason the Washington Wizards traded away Bradley Beal the one player that has been keeping them somewhat mediocre for the past decade and I can’t say I have high hopes for the Washington outside of a breakout year from recently acquired Shooting Guard Jordan Poole. The Charlotte Hornets are also a team you can expect to see at the bottom of this year’s standings, although the pairing of All-Star Point Guard Lamelo Ball and second-overall pick Brandon Miller could prove intriguing.
Before last season, the New York Knicks had only won one playoff series since 2000. Still, the Knicks quietly ended that streak last year, making the second round, before losing to the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat. The Knicks could definitely make some noise again this season. Being a New York team makes them an attractive destination for free agents and unhappy stars, meaning they will always have the potential to acquire high-end talent to add to their existing, underrated core. The Orlando Magic are also a team to watch for, as they have hit big on numerous draft selections over the past few seasons.
With their second-best player, James Harden, potentially refusing to play, and reigning league MVP (Most Valuable Player) Joel Embiid becoming increasingly unhappy with his situation, the Philadelphia 76ers might want to consider hitting a reset on “The Process”. They haven’t gotten out of the second round in over twenty years, and it’s hard to say they’ve improved their chances of breaking that run this offseason. The Toronto Raptors are another team some might still see as contenders, but the reality is that they just are not the same team that won it all back in 2019. They too, might want to seriously consider breaking up their core and building around 2022 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.
Top Teams (West)
The Phoenix Suns have their “Big Three” of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and the aforementioned Bradley Beal. In addition to this, they were able to add some much-needed depth pieces after trading away disgruntled center Deandre Ayton. Still, I’m just not completely sold on them. This Suns team feels like one that would be built on NBA 2K; good on paper, but not so much in real life. Having said this, I’m still very excited to watch them, and I certainly consider them as a top team, although the number one team for me is still the Denver Nuggets. Losing Bruce Brown was a big hit for their defense, but the reigning NBA Champions still have the skill and chemistry to secure that top spot and make another deep playoff run.
Worst Teams (West)
The Portland Trail Blazers did the right thing in trading away franchise legend Damian Lillard, managing to get a great haul of players to add to their young roster. They are well in rebuilding mode now, which makes it hard to see Portland any higher than a 12th seed. The San Antonio Spurs do have Victor Wembanyama, and while he may be the most anticipated draft prospect since LeBron James himself, he won’t win MVP or lead the Spurs to a championship in his rookie season. They have the potential to be a great team in the future, but they are too young to compete as of now. Meanwhile, The Houston Rockets have made some moves that just don’t make sense, but considering The Oklahoma City (OKC) Thunder have possession of their 2024 first-round pick, they might have decided that it’s not worth taking the risk of throwing a season away with no draft reward, and attempt to become a decent team. That being said, they’re still not a good team, and these three teams will probably fall in some order at the bottom of the standings.
The OKC Thunder are still underrated by the majority of NBA fans, but they’re about to prove many people wrong. They already have a proven young star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander; the heir to Russell Westbrook’s triple-double throne in Josh Giddey; Jalen Williams, a finalist for last year’s ROTY award; and second overall pick Chet Holmgren returning from a year-long injury. A playoff push is definitely not far-fetched for this squad. Heading north, The Minnesota Timberwolves have been underwhelming since trading their entire future for Rudy Gobert, but they still have a young, ascending star in Anthony Edwards, who is improving by the day. The Timberwolves, to me, have the potential to be a really good regular season team, and I think they’ll put it together and obtain a higher seed than people might expect.
As long as they have Steph Curry, The Golden State Warriors will always be relevant, but people tend to overrate them so much that it's hard not to list them in this tier. Golden State simply isn’t the same team they were when they won all those championships. Their star players are getting older, and the team chemistry is far from what it used to be. Another team that might not live up to expectations is the Sacramento Kings, who were potentially the biggest surprise last year in the entire NBA last year. I still see them as an established playoff team with a strong star duo of Fox and Sabonis, but the “Beam Team,” in all likelihood, won’t live up to all the hype they’ve now grown since their impressive campaign last year.
In the NBA world, unpredictability keeps fans engaged and excited season by season. Every year, some teams outperform expectations, while others underwhelm; players who put up career numbers, and players who have off nights; unexpected moments that take the league by storm, and moments we know are coming but are hyped for nonetheless. It’s fun to pick apart this unpredictability with hot takes and predictions, but at the end of the day, we as fans can only sit back and watch everything play out on its own, and with the regular season finally here, I’m certainly ready for it.