There are a ton of reasons to start to get excited for the 2022-23 NBA season. Training camp is a little less than a month away (thank you God) which means I've reached the point of the summer where I begin to put together the annual Summer Preview Series. Be on the lookout for that initial poll to be tweeted out pretty soon, as a reminder you guys pick which team I talk about. It's a great way to start to get our minds back into basketball mode.
One thing I noticed as I started to put things together for that series is something that might be near the top of my own personal list of why I'm excited about this upcoming season. The returning talent we're about to get (specifically in the West) with guys who essentially missed the entire season or huge chunks of it is flat out ridiculous. Think of how competitive things were in that conference last season. The Wolves were 10 games over .500 and weren't even a top 6 seed. Well now think of what things might look like now that some of the best players in the entire NBA are going to be back in action. You could make the case that the entire competitive balance of the West is about to shift. Teams that may have struggled or found themselves in the play in are about to get their best players back. Other teams that were maybe on the brink of contention are getting their best players back. I'm not talking about a rotation guy, or some depth pieces. I'm talking about the #1 or #2 options that we unfortunately didn't get to see last year that are going to return to our television screens. Just look at this shit
Los Angeles Clippers
Kawhi Leonard: 0 games
Paul George: 31 games
The Clippers roster on paper is rather insane. I'd go so far to say it's the deepest collection of talent in either conference at the moment. As we know, with George only playing 31 games and Kawhi missing the entire season as he rehabbed his ACL, the Clippers still went 42-40 and snagged the 9 seed. If you're someone who loses your two best players, that usually means you're headed to the lottery. That just goes to show how talented this team is and why people talk about the 2022-23 version as a legit title contender. They are one of those teams where maybe you want to see it before you actually buy in, but I think people forget how insane the Kawhi/George duo can be simply because it feels like forever since we've seen it
The last time we saw these two share the court together, they averaged a combined 48 points. Kawhi had 51/39% splits and PG13 a decent 46/41%. They combined for 10.2 assists a night. In that condensed season, the Clippers went 47-25 (4th in the West). Then Kawhi got hurt in the playoffs that year and missed all of 2021-22, and PG13 played only 31 games before shutting things down. The Clippers were easily one of the biggest "what if" teams last year, and with each guy right in the middle of their prime this injection of talent into the 2022-23 Clippers is certainly no joke. You could tell me this Clippers team with Kawhi and George back will be the best team in the West and I don't think you'd sound crazy. That's not exactly what happens with a team that was a #9 seed last year, but that's how good these two are. I can't wait to see them back.
Jamal Murray: 0 games
Micheal Porter Jr: 9 games
Last season had to be pretty frustrating for Nuggets fans. Coming off a year where Jokic won the MVP but Jamal Murray got hurt right before the playoffs, they were swept in the 2nd round by the Suns. Then Jokic has another MVP season only this time the Nuggets were without their #2 and #3 guys. Despite all that, they still finished with a top 6 seed (and then lost in 5 to the eventual champs). The entire year was a "maybe he'll come back, maybe he won't!" ordeal with Murray. Given that he's their franchise cornerstone player next to Jokic, you can understand why they were suuuuuuper cautious with him coming back from his ACL tear. Don't let missing the entire season fool you, Jamal Murray is that dude
But MPJ is certainly no slouch either. Remember, in that same 2020-21 season he played 61 games and put up 19/7 on 54/44% splits. The three point shooting was surprising because he upped his volume from 2.7 3PA in 2019 to 6.3 in 2021 while also increasing his efficiency from 42% to 44.5%. Let me ask you this, do you think having legit shooting around Jokic is valuable?
Much like with the Clippers, imagine what this Nuggets team is going to look like adding an additional 40 points per game to the mix? That's what Murray/MPJ averaged in 2020-21. If both guys are truly healthy, we might be looking at the best offense in the NBA next year. That might sound crazy to you, but the Nuggets were 6th last year despite basically getting nothing from either guy. I'm excited to see how they look with this revamped Nuggets roster and I think they'll end up being a pretty popular pick for a team to win the West or at least be a top 4 seed. Last year it was basically if you can limit Jokic then the Nuggets didn't really stand a chance given their streaky shooting. Now you're adding two elite offensive players into the mix to play off Jokic which seems like a pretty decent place to be.
New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson: 0 games
Ah, Zion. Rember Zion? If you're maybe looking for a team that could make that jump into a top 6 seed after being on the outside looking in last year, look no further than the Pelicans. One of the most exciting teams last season from the trade deadline through the end of the year, this is a roster that is loaded with talent and that's before you even add this into the mix
You're going to sit there and tell me you're not excited to see a lineup of McCollum/Herb Jones/Brandon Ingram/Zion/Valanciunas? Stop lying. Chances are they are still doo doo butter on defense, but offensively? Hell yeah. I cannot wait to see it. The Pelicans had the 9th ranked offense from the trade deadline on last year, and now they are adding Zion into the mix. I see no reason why they won't be able to take another leap on that end as long as everyone stays healthy. I'm not really sure where their offensive weakness is with that healthy starting lineup. They can shoot, they can play in the post, they can play in transition, they can play P&R. I know people spend more time making jokes about Zion's weight than appreciating what he does on the basketball court, but make no mistake, when he's on the floor he's legitimately unguardable and that's the case despite him not reall having a consistent outside shot yet. If you surround him with the type of shooting that the Pelicans now have, how do you guard him? He's too strong to guard with no help, but if you send doubles at him he's a good enough passer to where now you're asking for trouble by leaving Ingram/CJ wide open.
Given what the Pelicans showed us to end their season, it's clear they are on the upwards trajectory, and now they get to add a talent like Zion. Not many teams can say that.
Ben Simmons: 0 games
Does Ben Simmons still play basketball? Who knows. Another guy that missed the entire year last season, he's easily one of the biggest questions I have entering next year. It's not like we got any sort of preview of how he could potentially fit next to Durant/Kyrie. Shit, we still don't know if those three will ever play a second together on the Nets next season.
The interesting part is what they do about a guy who can't really play off ball. Do they put him in the screener/dunker spot on offense? Maybe play him at the 5? Do they move Kyrie off ball and let Simmons initiate offense? There's no denying he's an elite passer who has ridiculous size for his position
but ever since that collapse against the Hawks, we've mostly been left with what the "idea" of Simmons could be in BKN. I'm excited to see it. It was pretty obvious in the Nets disaster postseason run that perimeter defense was a huge issue, and Simmons should in theory help there. What I find strange is we haven't gotten a single video of his summer. Offseason propaganda is built for someone like Simmons. If KD comes back and Simmons isn't a total disaster, that trio has some potential. At least the Nets are banking on that. You don't trade James Harden for someone who you don't think would be a good fit, but as of the writing of this blog we've never seen it even for a single possession. The fact that we might never see it is kind of crazy, but the future of the Nets sort of depends on Ben Simmons being an actual piece.
Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard: 29 games
If you watched the Olympics, you could tell something wasn't right with Dame. He couldn't score. Then he entered the 2021-22 season with one of the worst offensive shooting seasons of his career. He had his lowest FG% ever (40%) and his lowest 3P% ever (32%). It was so bizarre for a guy who was only in his age 31 season. Was it the new ball? Was he tired? Nope. He needed abdomen surgery. We should have known he was actually hurt if you remember how lethal this dude was in 2020-21
Without Dame, the Blazers dropped like a rock. They ended the season in the lottery, but since then have had a pretty decent summer in my opinion. They brought in Jerami Grant for nothing but money with the CJ McCollum TPE, they added a lottery pick, they added some perimeter defense in Gary Payton II which should help one of their biggest weaknesses, but most importantly they get to add a healthy Dame to the mix. They clearly still think there's a ton left in the tank after they gave him another massive extension, and when Dame has been in the mix this team has pretty much been a lock for a top 6 seed.
Can they make that same jump this season given all the other teams getting guys back that finished ahead of them (DEN/NO/LAC)? That's what I'm excited to see. A healthy Dame is a must watch player, that much we know. But now with what should be an improved roster, how much of a difference will that even make? For the Blazers, they better hope it's a legit difference or who knows, maybe Dame finally starts to get a little restless.
Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis: 40 games
Do I care about the Lakers? God no. I enjoy their demise as much as the next guy. If I had my choice, they would be in this position forever. But I'm also man enough to admit a lot of their struggles last year were mostly around the health status of both AD and LeBron. Given how their roster is built, if these guys aren't on the floor the Lakers are a lottery team. When AD played 62 games (his most since 2017) the Lakers won the title. Since then, he's played in only 36 and 40 games. AD's 2021-22 season was kind of weird in a sense that he put on all this muscle, and as a result his outside shooting PLUMMETED. Honestly, it's been pretty poor the last two seasons (26% and 18%). Despite the outside shooting issues, when AD was on the floor he still resembled the AD that can be a pretty terrifying player
If the Lakers are going to get out of the lottery and even in the play in conversation, they're going to need more than 40 games of AD. That's the risk of this entire Lakers run. When AD/LeBron are on the floor together, it doesn't really matter what their surrounding cast looks like. But history has shown us that you can't really rely on that being available consistently throughout the season. But in terms of talent, a healthy AD is still a First Team All NBA type player, and even though I despite the Lakers I can appreciate that level of talent.
Think of the names we just talked about. These are some of the best players in the entire NBA. Players whose return could legitimately shape how each conference shakes out next season. If you want to go that extra step and talk potential title implications, I won't stop you. Think of how exciting the 2021-22 season was without a majority of these guys playing a single second. Now we get them all back, so why wouldn't things be even better? You add that to the normal development and progression that we tend to see from one season to the next, and the 2022-23 NBA season is poised to be one of if not the best season we've ever experienced.
If that doesn't get you ready for training camp to open, I'm not sure what would.