It’s your favorite annual tradition — Micah Wimmer is back with 50 reasons to be excited about the upcoming NBA season.
1. The Cavaliers were one of the most pleasant surprises of the league last year, with two young All-Stars in Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland and the Rookie of the Year runner-up in Evan Mobley. Their vibes were immaculate. They were a team with no expectations that appeared pleasantly surprised by their own success. It’s hard to recapture that feeling, but I’m remaining hopeful that the Cavaliers remain as pleasant as they were last year even if the arrival of Donovan Mitchell and the inexorable passage of time appear primed to disrupt such animating joy.
2. Watching the Celtics make their FInals run last year, they looked like a team poised to return and contend for many years. Of course, a quick glance at NBA history tells us that young teams that go on deep playoff runs are not necessarily destined to build on that success. Can Boston return to the Finals or will last year’s run turn out to be the peak of this incarnation of the Celtics?
3. Masai Ujuri appears to be putting together a team solely consisting of athletic players between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9 with wingspans that exceed their height. I’m not sure what the end goal is, but I’m fascinated.
4. Getting to watch Kawhi Leonard break down defenses and disrupt the plans of whoever he is guarding again for the first time in over a year.
5. Zion Williamson returning from injury and combining brutality and grace in a way few players ever have.
6. There was no player who brought me more joy than Jordan Poole last year. He took shots that were so foolhardy and audacious so regularly that they became commonplace. And they went in often enough to seem, if not prudent, somewhat reasonable. I can’t wait to see what he does as an encore.
7. Despite flashes of his previous All-Star form, Klay Thompson often struggled throughout his first year back after missing two full seasons due to injury. Maybe it was just rust, maybe it was a new normal.
8. Discovering whether Jimmy Butler keeps those long (and, in my opinion, unsettling) extensions or returns back to a style that does not make him look like he came to the arena straight from a costume party.
9. Watching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drive to the hoop, making his way to the basket using a vast array of slithers and feints and hesitations in a way no one else does — at least when the Thunder let him suit up.
10. I am not excited to watch teams tank in the hopes of increasing their odds of landing Victor Wembanyama in the 2023 Draft. However, I am curious to see how creative, or brazen, these teams will be. What methods will they develop to have plausible deniability in a post-Process world where Adam Silver seems more intent on stamping such intentional losing out? Could be a real boom year for innovation in this regard.
11. A Dejounte Murry and Trae Young backcourt.
12. The annual parade of Myles Turner trade rumors.
13. Watching Jrue Holiday play perimeter defense.
14. The Spurs are likely to be worse than they have been in over two decades this year. Will Gregg Popovich keep this team of young players and misfits competitive and compelling or will his twilight years be spent shepherding a series of uninspiring lottery teams?
15. There is so much that has and can still go wrong in Brooklyn, but there still may not be a better trio in the league than that of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons. At least in theory. Watching it all go awry for them last year was either a profound bummer or a hilarious case of schadenfreude depending on your perspective. Despite all their talent, there’s a decent chance of it happening all over again.
16. After spending years hampered by injuries and then in exile in Houston, John Wall hopes to make a proper return to the court with the Clippers this season. While it’d be foolish to expect him to return to his previous form, even seeing bursts of transcendence would be a pleasant delight after seeing his promising career derailed for so long.
17. After making the postseason in 2021, the Knicks promptly relapsed and missed making a return trip last year. Will the addition of Jalen Brunson and continuing development of R.J. Barrett be enough to bring them back and give the Garden faithful a team worthy of their devotion?
18. Hearing how announcers find ways to differentiate between rookies Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams when announcing Oklahoma City Thunder games.
19. Ja Morant dunking the ball with such force that it would destroy the backboard if not for the invention of breakaway rims.
20. Stephen Curry making shots that would make someone who has not watched a basketball game in the last decade believe that they are watching a different sport.
21. LeBron James breaking the all-time scoring record – a record that long appeared near-untouchable – if he stays relatively healthy and continues scoring at a steady rate.
22. Last season, former Lakers coach Frank Vogel showed relative fealty to Russell Westbrook’s status as a former MVP and got fired in the process. Now, new coach Darvin Ham does not appear to have that same sense of awe in Westbrook’s past achievements. The Lakers were not willing to attach the necessary draft picks to trade him this offseason and many big questions remain. Will Ham find new ways to deploy Westbrook? Will Westbrook buy in? Is there any way that Westbrook can help the Lakers? Westbrook may have been scapegoated a little too much for the Lakers’ failings last season, but they need him to be a better player — or at least a much different one — if they are not to have their third disappointing season in a row.
23. I may be Charlie Brown running to kick the football here, but I still believe in Markelle Fultz and am hoping that he can have a (relatively) healthy season for only the second time in his still (relatively) young career.
24. Jerami Grant is not going to transform the Trail Blazers into contenders, but he is going to make them so much more fun to watch, bringing an element of reliable explosiveness that was too often lacking last season.
25. Derrick Jones Jr. throwing down at least four or five ridiculous alley-oops over the course of the season.
26. After tearing his ACL in the 2020-21 season, Jamal Murray missed the entirety of last season and is now returning to give reigning MVP Nikola Jokic his best teammate back. Jokic kept the Nuggets competitive through force of will and immense talent but it was a fruitless endeavor. Now, having Murray back could be enough to move Denver up a tier or two in the West’s pecking order.
27. Robin Lopez continues his quest of terrorizing the league’s mascots by joining the Cleveland Cavaliers where he will be in a season-long faceoff with Moondog and Sir CC and let me tell you, Sir CC has it coming.
28. The Orlando Magic have been mired in a rebuild for a full decade now. In that time, they’ve accumulated a bevy of intriguing and intermittently promising young prospects but have never been more than a fringe playoff team in that time. With number one overall pick Paolo Banchero in the fold, along with Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and the Bros. Wagner, the foundation for a good young team is there. But can they transform that talent into something actual rather than only theoretical?
29. The Pelicans were such a pleasant surprise in the second half of last season, making the postseason and then giving the Phoenix Suns everything they could handle before bowing out in the first round. They have some really solid players in Brandon Ingram, C.J. McCollum, and Herbert Jones and even without Zion Williamson returning, they would be a team to watch. With him, they may be something more than intriguing; they may be dangerous.
30. Neither Cade Cunningham nor Jalen Green were bad last season, but their rookie seasons were a bit rough. This is to be expected considering the situations they found themselves in though seeing them come into their own and hopefully take big leaps in their sophomore seasons may be enough to make watching the Pistons and Rockets more appealing than it was last year.
31. Robert Williams dunking or blocking every ball that he gets his hands on.
32. It felt like last year was Tyrese Maxey’s breakout season, but watching him in the preseason, it looks like it may have just been a prelude to something even more special. I cannot wait to watch him run circles around defenders, grinning with delight the entire time.
33. Seeing which random player can potentially follow in the footsteps of Terrence Ross, Brandon Jennings, or Tony Delk and put together an unexpected 50-point game.
34. Watching Josh Giddey make passes that defy the laws of physics, passes that move through lanes that were not apparent until the ball moved through him. Ditto LaMelo Ball and Nikola Jokic.
35. The Bulls’ promising start to the season was derailed by a series of injuries and while they are still not likely to be one of the East’s best teams, with a healthy squad, they are sure to be a lively one. The Bulls may not be all the way back, but after a lost decade, fans will likely be happy to settle for fun.
36. Jonathan Kuminga taking advantage of the opportunities afforded him by playing with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green to cut and convert easy dunks where he looks propelled by a hidden trampoline.
37. The Dunk Contest hasn’t been good in a few years so, hopefully, we’re due for a good one this year in Salt Lake City.
38. Giannis Antetokounmpo initiating a fast break and traversing the entire court in three to five massive steps.
39. The Phoenix Suns wrapped up a wonderful season in a shocking and depressing fashion, getting blown out by the Mavericks in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals. Will they be able to regroup and build off their regular season success or will the soul-crushing end outweigh all the progress the team has made since bringing in Chris Paul two years ago? With Chris Paul nearing 40, the team’s title window is not indefinite. Perhaps the Mavericks already closed it.
40. Scottie Barnes’ smile.
41. De’Aaron Fox singlehandedly making the Kings must-see TV every time he rebounds the ball and spans the court in a few seconds, speeding past defenders on his way to the basket.
42. Joel Embiid busting out his arsenal of post moves, all in slow motion, with defenders still unable to do anything to stop him from getting to his spots.
43. Anthony Edwards making everyone who tries to stop him from dunking the ball look silly.
Jaren Jackson Jr. walking the tightrope between being the best defender in the world and the man who cannot stop fouling everyone he comes within a yard of. Memphis fans are hoping he is able to find himself on the right side of that boundary more times this year than in the past.
44. I’m not sure how the Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns duo will work, but with the Timberwolves struggling defensively over the last few years, the addition of Gobert should do much to address this concern. It’s a strange combination, an unproven experiment, though one with the potential to be lethal. Minnesota may not be a true contender, but for a team desperate to get out of the first round for only the second time in franchise history, they don’t need to be.
45. The Warriors won the title without any on-court contributions from James Wiseman who missed the entirety of last season due to injury. When the Warriors drafted him second overall in 2020, they imagined that he would be the team’s future centerpiece. Now, he finds himself reacclimating himself to the league as a whole and a team who, in its present form, is clearly fine without him. Seeing how Wiseman, a player who often looked out of his depth in his rookie season, can adjust this season, as well as how the Warriors deploy him, will be an interesting subplot as Golden State tries to defend its title.
46. With Draymond punching Jordan Poole in a recent practice, the Warriors may be wondering if his presence is worth the trouble. Yes, he was a vital part of their title-winning squad last season, but as his athleticism wanes and the team’s young players develop, when will the risks outweigh the reward? For the Warriors, that moment does not appear to have yet arrived, but it is growing imminent.
48. Surely a few of these innumerable alternate uniforms are bound to be aesthetically pleasing, right?
49. James Harden looks more svelte than he has in a decade, which is both interesting and potentially auspicious for Sixers fans eager for the team to make their first Conference Finals in over two decades.
50. This season feels pretty wide open. There are several teams that could reasonably claim title aspirations yet what separates them from one another? What makes any one of these teams have a stronger claim than another? Who would have imagined the Warriors would win it all last year after missing the postseason the previous two seasons? Perhaps we’re collectively underrating the Warriors; perhaps we’re selling Kawhi and Paul George short in Los Angeles after two injury-plagued seasons; perhaps the Lakers’ Bubble Title was less of a fluke than it currently appears to be; perhaps James Harden and Joel Embiid will be an unstoppable duo; perhaps the Nets will finally set the drama aside; perhaps there is a young team ready to fill a power vacuum. The number of contenders will consolidate and dwindle as the season progresses, but for now, every team is 0-0 and the possibilities are endless.