It is August, which can only mean one thing. It’s time to recklessly predict what will happen in the 2022-2023 NBA season! This has become a yearly exercise and I have to say, I’m not that good at it. My best prediction so far was that I had the Golden State Warriors in the finals last season. Other than that? Way off! This time, I am taking a more analytical approach, and thus I will be getting 100% correct. Here are my all-accurate-take-them-to-the-bank predictions for the upcoming NBA season.
Here are the league MVPs since Y2K hit and their ages at the time:
2022 – Nikola Jokić (26)
2021 – Nikola Jokić (25)
2020 – Giannis Antetokounmpo (25)
2019 – Giannis Antetokounmpo (24)
2018 – James Harden (28)
2017 – Russell Westbrook (28)
2016 – Steph Curry (27)
2015 – Steph Curry (26)
2014 – Kevin Durant (25)
2013 – LeBron James (28)
2012 – LeBron James (27)
2011 – Derrick Rose (22)
2010 – LeBron James (25)
2009 – LeBron James (24)
2008 – Kobe Bryant (29)
2007 – Dirk Nowitzki (28)
2006 – Steve Nash (31)
2005 – Steve Nash (30)
2004 – Kevin Garnett (27)
2003 – Tim Duncan (26)
2002 – Tim Duncan (25)
2001 – Allen Iverson (25)
2000 – Shaquille O’Neal (27)
A few points really jump out. Joker, you will not be winning a third MVP even if you literally start shooting fireballs like you’re in NBA Jam. Also, other than Steve Nash’s geriatric ass, the MVP is a young man’s award. I looked at the list of established stars in their mid-twenties as well as recent MVP voting lists and there are some interesting options. Ja Morant is right on that cusp and the West will be a brutal conference once again, so check back with me in 2024. Luka has a real chance because even though he’s on the young end, he has been playing at an impressively high level for years. Devin Booker is right in the sweet spot, and yet I do not believe that the Suns will be successful enough to push him over the top.
Joel Embiid is the obvious choice. He has been the runner-up for the past 2 seasons. The issue may be team success. I have questions about how effective the 76ers will be. They will be good, but will they be good enough to warrant the vote? In the end, I’m not so sure. My hesitancy also stems from whether or not Embiid has another level to jump to. Giannis, Jokić, and the other perennial award contenders aren’t going anywhere and if Joel is at, or close to, his ceiling, it may be difficult to distinguish himself more. It’s a tough argument to hear that we’re all just used to his excellence, but that’s how it goes. I believe the best option does have another level to reach. So, the MVP will be…
Jayson Tatum. The Celtics are going to be a dominant regular-season team. Tatum will be motivated by coming up short in the last finals. His game was exposed as he appeared to run out of gas and I believe he will want to rectify that. I love that he is a two-way star that hasn’t reached his peak. I think he’ll spend this year filling in the glaring hole that caved in this past postseason: he couldn’t finish around the rim. His shot selection will improve with another year of experience. With those fixes, he jumps to 29 points per game on high efficiency. He was named First Team All-NBA in 2022 and he’s not done getting better. That improvement will sway voters. So lock it in.
Rookie of the Year
The last four Rookie of the Year winners have not been the number one pick. Five if you count Ben Simmons’ theft from the 2017 rookie class. That trend will end next year when Paolo Banchero takes home the award. He will score and facilitate enough to really jump-start what could be a fun Magic offense. They will finally be in the top 17 of offensive efficiency. Their win total will proportionately increase as well. Even if he doesn’t play defense, no one will really care. I like a lot of other rookies in this class, but I think the spotlight will be on Banchero and he will rise to the occasion.
Donovan Mitchell and Kevin Durant are the main two pieces that have not been moved as of this writing and are still expected to. Although, “expected” might not be the right term. I believe that both Utah and Brooklyn do not feel pressure to budge on their asking price in the immediate future. I would guess that both front offices watched how the Ben Simmons saga played out last season. The 76ers waited and waited and waited and finally, instead of bowing to inferior offices, got exactly what they had been hoping for. I can see these teams following that blueprint. As we get closer to the trade deadline, that may change. For Utah, the question will be whether they are losing enough games with Mitchell still on the roster. For Brooklyn, the question will be whether they are winning enough games–and their team of weirdos is getting along–with Durant still on the roster.
My prediction, therefore, is that Mitchell ends up in Miami at the deadline, but the shenanigans needed to make it work do not make the Heat a stronger playoff contender. Durant will finish out the season as a Net when the correct offer never materializes. He does get moved next offseason, but that is another article.
1. It’s time to fix the salary structure…again
In 2025-26, ten players will have a cap hits over $50 million dollars. Of those ten, only one will be under 30 years old (Devin Booker, 29). Curry will be making a whisker under $60 million and he’ll be 37 years old. Jimmy Butler will be a hard-lived 36. Kevin Durant will be on his seventh team and also be 37. And those are just the players that have deals in place by then. How do you build a team around that? Perhaps the salary cap will continue to rise and it will not feel like such a high percentage of a team’s pay. Or teams will be making so much money, they won’t care either way. The Rockets bought out $40 million of John Wall’s contract this offseason and nobody cried out “that’s insane!” The middle class of the NBA is getting squeezed as veterans with higher guaranteed minimums are shunned for cheaper young players to make up the difference. This prediction may just be a personal one, as I do not believe this is good for the league. I’m also watching the Lakers struggle to deal with Westbrook’s ball and chain of a contract and wondering how this will continue to play out for other players.
2. LeBron James vs Michael Jordan
This is one of the most interesting topics to debate right now and it will only get more so next season. No matter how the Lakers or LeBron’s seasons go, this will be a hot topic as LeBron’s end is now in sight unlike ever before. It is getting to the point where the discussion is comparing apples and oranges. LeBron’s longevity, his willingness to use his voice off the court, his input into which teammates the Lakers acquire, and his playing style are all so dramatically different from MJ at this point, that the GOAT argument simply comes down to who you want it to be, not evidence. Maybe that’s always the heart of debate? Anyway. The only thing we can really say is that LeBron’s Space Jam will not have the nostalgia factor in 20 years like Jordan’s did. Case closed.
3. The regular season doesn’t matter
With the in-season tournament seeming all but inevitable at this point, it is clear that the league is willing to shake things up. The success of the play-in games has also proven that. Players, teams, and referees already treat the regular season and the playoffs as entirely different games. Watching a player play 82 games is like seeing Bigfoot–only five players did so and none of them were superstars. 15 years ago, 36 players played every game. I get the logic/science behind rest, but it isn’t as good for the product. I can also imagine the owners aren’t too pleased. They’re paying more money (see above) and the players are playing fewer games. That’s like paying a contractor to remodel your house, offering him more money, and then saying, “yeah, and don’t worry about the bathrooms.” Fixing this issue will be a big topic next season.
- Boston Celtics
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Miami Heat
- Toronto Raptors
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- Brooklyn Nets
- Atlanta Hawks
- New York Knicks
- Orlando Magic
The Boston Celtics will have the MVP as I mentioned earlier. They improved their depth with their offseason additions of Malcolm Brogdon and Danillo Gallinari while keeping their top eight players. Ime Udoka has a system that works well in the regular season as we all witnessed from January onwards. The Bucks will continue to be a complete team. The combustibility of the Nets spills over into the regular season. The Magic make real strides behind Banchero.
- Denver Nuggets
- Golden State Warriors
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Phoenix Suns
- New Orleans Pelicans
- Dallas Mavericks
- Sacramento Kings
- Los Angeles Lakers
The West is going to be a fascinating race. There are almost too many good teams. The Clippers and the Nuggets are both looking to be back at full strength. I solidified my top seven non-play-in teams and then I realized I had forgotten to put in last year’s top seed, the Suns. I do think Phoenix looks to pace themselves after last year’s debacle. The T’Wolves will be looking to justify the horrendous Gobert trade so they will push themselves in the regular season. To clarify, the deal will help them during the year and I do not believe they will be as successful in the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference playoff race will be tough. The Bucks at full strength are a formidable opponent. Giannis is an unstoppable force. The Celtics’ depth comes in handy for a long playoff push. Cleveland’s youth and length make them frisky. In the end, the Bucks survive.
In the West, the Warriors are once again built for playoff success. Their new young core perfectly compliments their established stars. Still, it is not an easy road. The Clippers ride Kawhi and depth, but once he gets hurt, they can’t get over the hump. The Nuggets proved themselves in the regular season, but don’t have a good enough bench. The west has five game sevens before the Warriors are crowned.
In a Warriors vs Bucks final, Giannis is dominant. Unfortunately, he can’t guard everyone. The Splash Bros do their thing. Draymond is the glue that holds the mix of talent and raw ability together. Warriors in six.
Check back in with me next summer and I will crow from the rooftops how right I was. Or forget this ever happened and we will never speak of it again when the finals are the 76ers vs Timberwolves.