Hard as it is to believe, the 2022-23 NBA season is upon us. Didn't the Warriors just win the title a few weeks ago? Anyway, here we go again. Below are 50 Western Conference storylines to track as this season. Don't worry we didn't forget about the Eastern Conference storylines, but for now let's get into what's best in the West.
1. Steph seeks one for the thumb
Over an eight-year span, Stephen Curry has matched LeBron James' four championships, and Curry, as the respective rosters currently stand, clearly has a better shot at tallying No. 5. If Curry does eventually top LeBron's ring count, it will become a very interesting conversation as far as who's had the better career. Curry, who's far from done, will never match LeBron's total numbers, but in terms of peak powers, it'll at least be an honest debate.
2. LeBron set to pass Kareem
That's for the NBA's all-time scoring record, to be clear. LeBron needs just 1,326 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career mark of 38,387. For context, LeBron has eclipsed -- usually by an appreciable margin -- 1,326 points every season of his career except for 2020-21 when he played just 45 games. For some simple math, if LeBron averages, for him, a relatively modest 25 points per game, he'll need just 53 games to break the record.
3. Point guard Zion
In 2020-21, his only season of record to speak of, Williamson became the only player in history to average better than 25 points per game on at least 61-percent shooting. At times, Stan Van Gundy was utilizing Zion as New Orleans' point guard, bringing the ball up the floor and running pick-and-roll, where he was good for nearly one point per possession including passes, per Synergy. Expect to see plenty of this under Willie Green as well. Zion has playmaking instincts and a relatively tight handle. His spin move is filthy. He's crafty in gaps and almost a sure bet to get into the paint as a downhill attacker, which forces the help and subsequent rotations that every NBA offense is looking to create.
4. The Kawhi and PG show
The last time we saw Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the court together during the regular season, the Clippers were blistering opponents by just under 18 points per 100 possessions, per CTG. George is happy to be back as the No. 2 scoring option, and if you've forgotten how dominant Leonard was the last time we saw him play, check his 2021 pre-injury playoff numbers: 30.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 2.1 steals per game on 57/39/88 shooting splits, which equates to a gaudy .679 true shooting mark. That is best-player-in-the-world stuff.
5. Jokic eyes third straight MVP
Since the turn of the century, six players have won consecutive MVPs: Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, LeBron James (twice), Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. None managed to win the third straight. The last player to do that was Larry Bird (1984-86). Jokic will have his shot at the trifecta this season, and if he posts anywhere near his 66 percent true-shooting from last season, he'll definitely be right back in the running.
6. Chris Paul's ticking clock
Phoenix has been licking its wounds all summer long after the absolutely demoralizing 33-point beatdown the Mavericks gave them in Game 7 of last season's conference semis. And you have to wonder if Chris Paul has another All-NBA season in him at 37. Did Phoenix miss its window these past two years, beginning with blowing a 2-0 lead in the 2021 Finals against Milwaukee? Sure Paul is seeking to put a stamp his Hall of Fame career with a championship, but time is not on his side and Phoenix didn't do much to improve this offseason.
7. Draymond's last year with Warriors?
The backdrop to Draymond haymaking Jordan Poole is that Poole just got a $140 million extension and Andrew Wiggins got $109 million. All reporting has suggested the Warriors do not intend to pay all these guys. As it stands right now, Green, who will become a free agent next summer if he doesn't exercise his $27.6 million option, is the potential odd man out.
Green would balk at such an assertion, but this season feels like something of a tryout for a guy who is going to have to prove above and beyond that he's still worth the money it will cost Golden State to keep him long term. "Usually when Draymond has a lot on the line he performs," GM Bob Myers recently said, and perhaps that'll prove true. Perhaps Green and the Warriors will be so good this year that ownership will have no choice but to stretch its budget. Or, maybe Green will find a dryer market than he anticipates next summer and he'll be forced into either opting in to his 2023-24 option with Golden State or taking a big annual hit on a longer-term deal. Or, maybe this is the last season that we see Green in a Warriors uniform. It's all on the table.
8. Anthony Edwards' ascent
Edwards is on the cusp of stardom. He nuked the Grizzlies in the playoffs last year, banking 25 points a game on 46/40/82 shooting splits. The corner 3 he hit with under four seconds to play to tie Game 5 in a 2-2 series was the nexus of a Chris Finch play design and the ice water running through Edwards' veins. Reminder: he was 20 years old at the time. He just turned 21 last month. If you insist on quibbling over the man's skills, you could say that Edwards needs to dial in his interior touch. He has the footwork, force and athleticism to get into the paint and the craft to create angles for shots in cramped spaces, but ultimately he finished just 32 percent of his attempts in the 4-14 foot range last season, per CTG, which registered in just the 22nd percentile among wings.
9. Luka's uphill MVP climb
Yes, voters overwhelmingly awarded Nikola Jokic last season despite Denver barely finishing above the play-in line, but the guy was an advanced-stat god and the Nuggets, despite being without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., crushed opponents by nearly 20 points per 100 possessions when Jokic was on the floor. To me, that feels like too high a bar for even Doncic to clear to win an award that has, with few exceptions, required a top-two seed over the last three decades. To me, the Mavericks need to secure at least a top-four seed for Luka to win MVP. That could happen, but it's a tall order.
10. The Russell Westbrook dilemma
If Westbrook indeed comes off the bench to start the season, do the Lakers let him finish games? If he's not playing well at all, how long until they just start throwing him DNPs? Of course, L.A. hopes Westbrook just plays a lot better than he did last season. That would make this a lot easier. But that feels like the same wish-upon-a-former-star line of thinking that was responsible for their acquiring Westbrook in the first place. This is already sticky. And Westbrook hasn't even caromed a jumper off the side of the backboard yet. Which brings us to ...
11. Will Lakers concede, trade picks?
Rob Pelinka isn't wrong to want to keep the Lakers' 2027 and 2029 first-round picks, particularly if they have to go out unprotected. The Lakers could be really bad in the post-LeBron/Davis era, whenever that might be, and they don't have a single young player who looks anything like a bridge to the next chapter of contention. Those picks, both to the Lakers and all potential suitors, are extremely valuable. But are they more valuable than maximizing the last legs of LeBron's prime? That Pacers deal is presumably still sitting on the table. Who will blink first?
12. Dame Time
With the game on the line, few players are scarier than Damian Lillard. In 2020-21, Lillard, who took an effective sabbatical last year to get his body back to 100 percent, led the league with 162 clutch points on 51-percent shooting, leading the Blazers to a plus-100 point differential when games were within five points with fewer than five minutes to play. For Portland, it's a thin line between being a playoff team and a lottery team. Lillard tilting these 50-50 outcomes feels like a necessity.
13. Dangerous Denver
The Nuggets were elite last season with Jokic on the floor. They were a disaster when he wasn't (almost 20 net points worse per 100 possessions, per CTG). The return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. makes Denver an even bigger nightmare to defend when Jokic is orchestrating, but it's the way they stand to sustain offense during Jokic's rest stretches that gives Denver -- with Aaron Gordon back in a proper role and some quietly strong offseason additions in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown -- a legitimate shot to win it all.
14. All eyes on Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis says his goal is to play all 82 games. That's not going to happen. But he has to stay on the court consistently for the Lakers to have any shot to compete for a top-six seed. Davis has played just 76 combined games over the last two seasons. That's just not going to cut it. Nor is the 18 percent Davis shot from 3 last season, or the 71 percent he shot from the free-throw line, which was down from the 84.5 percent he shot (on almost 40 percent more per-game attempts) during his first season in Los Angeles.
15. SGA for ASG?
Last season, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was one of nine players who averaged at least 24 points, five assists and five rebounds. SGA is nearly impossible to keep out of the paint. His 23.9 drives per game, according to NBA.com tracking data, led the league last season. But what he needs to improve is his 30 percent conversion rate from 3. If that number rises north of 35 percent, even in a crowded Western Conference, he'll have an All-Star shot.
16. A Rose by one other name
Ja Morant is the closest thing we've seen to pre-injuries Derrick Rose: The herky-jerky explosion, changing direction on a dime with knee-buckling force, the breathtaking athleticism and finishing power. Like young D-Rose, the only thing standing between Morant and all-time offensive greatness is a consistent jumper. We've seen flashes of him finding a 3-point rhythm within games, particularly when defenses let him walk into the shot (34 percent last season is just fine given his penetrating ability), but getting that number upwards of 36 or 37 percent would take his game to an impossible-to-defend level.
17. Baby Warriors
James Wiseman. Jonathan Kuminga. Moses Moody. (I won't include Jordan Poole in this section as he's already an established core guy on a title team.) But the first three players are going to have big opportunities to contribute this season. Golden State has resisted trading any of these guys when a lot of people -- including myself -- were convinced they needed to do just that to have a shot at winning another title in the Curry era. Instead, they won another title and kept their future intact. Turns out, Warriors GM Bob Myers is smarter than I am. Crazy, right?
18. Steph Curry's shooting
Lost in Curry's dominant postseason run was the quiet fact that last season represented the worst shooting campaign of his career. He was awesome by anyone else's standards, but 38 percent from 3 and under 44 percent from the field are outright awful marks for the greatest shooter ever. Last season, Curry registered his lowest effective field-goal and true-shooting percentage since he became an All-Star in 2013-14. We'll assume these numbers will return to normal, but at some point, they won't. Curry will be 35 by the time the playoffs roll around. He can't be superhuman forever.
19. LeBron's 3-point emphasis
LeBron has become more reliant on his jumper than ever. In 2020-21, 31 percent of his shots were 3-pointers, per CTG, which was a career high until he upped that frequency to 34 percent last season. It's not a bad strategy when you can connect at a 36 percent clip as LeBron has the past two seasons, and it makes sense if the Lakers are going to run their offense through Anthony Davis to have at least one dependable shooter to space things out.
20. The old Klay Thompson
Thompson showed flashes of his old self in his first season back from a torn ACL and ruptured Achilles. It was streaky, and the shot selection was iffy early on as he tried to force his way back into rhythm, but the guy wound up averaging just under 21 points on 39 percent 3-point shooting before hitting five or more 3-pointers in seven different playoff games. The defense is the bigger question. Can he still laterally keep up with the elite guards and wings?
21. Luka Doncic/Christian Wood combo
Last season with the Rockets, Wood shot a smidge under 40 percent from 3, and he'll get plenty of those as a pop man as Doncic drags multiple defenders off high screens. All told, Wood posted a super solid 1.2 points per possession as a roll man last season, per Synergy, and an also-high-end 1.13 PPP on all catch-and-shoots. Doncic is going to enjoy that kind of shooting as an outlet.
22. Minnesota's BIG commitment
With Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves will start two 7-footers in an effort to bully opponents like the Lakers did en route to the 2020 bubble title. It makes sense, with Towns being the spacer and Gobert the roller in tandem with D'Angelo Russell. The Wolves should kill on the offensive glass. Last season, the Wolves rebounded 27.4 percent of their own misses, which ranked seventh league wide, per Cleaning the Glass. Now add Gobert, who led Utah to the fifth-best ORB percentage last season. Better tighten up those box outs.
23. Brandon Ingram's playmaking
Ingram, was one of just 11 players to average 22 points, five assists and five rebounds last season, has sharpened his facilitation instincts each of his three years with New Orleans, culminating in a 28.6 assist percentage (97th percentile among forwards) last season, per Cleaning the Glass. It doesn't surprise you anymore when Ingram, who can really see the floor at his height, makes an advanced read and delivers a top-shelf pass. He doesn't just create for others as a byproduct of his scoring; he looks for dimes now.
24. Jalen Green future scoring champ?
If his scoring run to close his rookie season was a sign of things to come, we'll all need to pay more attention to what's happening with the Houston Rockets. Over Green's final nine games, he averaged 28 points on 43-percent 3-point shooting, finishing the season with 41 points against Atlanta and joining Allen Iverson as the only two rookies over the last 40 years to score 30-plus points in five straight games. Post All-Star break, last season's second overall pick put up 22 points per night on 39-percent 3-point shooting. He has future scoring champion chops. That's not hyperbole.
25. Josh Giddey's risk-reward
If an Oklahoma City player made a bucket last season, 32.4 percent of the time it came courtesy of a Josh Giddey assist. That assist percentage put Giddey in the top percentile across all shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards, per Cleaning the Glass. All told, Giddey's assists created 16 points per game for OKC last season, a top-20 mark among guards league-wide. Giddey isn't just a functional assist man; his dimes tend to be of the highlight-reel variety. There's a rub, however, to these high-risk helpers, as reflected in Giddey's 17.2 percent turnover rate, the worst mark in the league among wings with better than a 20 percent usage rate, per CTG.
26. John Wall in space
Wall hasn't played in an NBA game since April 23, 2021, when as a member of the Rockets he posted 27 points and 13 assists against, strangely enough, the Clippers, who signed Wall to a two-year, $13 million deal this summer. We know Wall's shooting proves problematic when he plays in tight quarters, but the Clippers have some of the best spacing in the league and will often deploy small-ball lineups with threats all around the arc. With that much room to operate, Wall could really remind people how fantastic he used to be, and perhaps still can be.
27. Mikal Bridges DPOY
Don't look to traditional stats to capture Bridges' defensive impact: Last season, he tied for 46th in steals per game. Despite playing more minutes than any other player in the league, he barely ranked inside the top 20 in total deflections. Look at "stocks" -- steals plus blocks -- and you'll see that Bridges registered just 2.2 per 48 minutes, significantly fewer than Matisse Thybulle, Gary Payton, Herbert Jones, Lonzo Ball, Paul George, Alex Caruso, Dejounte Murray, Jimmy Butler and Marcus Smart.
Bridges is like a shut-down cornerback who doesn't tally the big interception numbers because quarterbacks don't throw his way. Offenses do whatever they can to get their scorers away from him, but Bridges won't relent; last season he traveled 1.28 miles per game on defense, the highest mark in the league. With Robert Williams III sidelined for up to three months to start the season, Bridges, who finished second to Smart in last year's DPOY race, becomes my DPOY favorite this year.
28. Seeding races
We're basically talking about two tiers here. First, the top four seeds, for which there are at least eight teams, not including the Lakers or Blazers, legitimately vying. Then there's the race to stay above the play-in line with a top-six seed, for which there are at least 10 teams in contention not including the Kings. That means four really good teams are going to have to play their way into a first-round series. In no particular order, I think the top six seeds will end up being the Clippers, Warriors, Nuggets, Suns, Grizzlies and Pelicans, pushing the Timberwolves, Mavericks, Blazers and Lakers into the play-in round(s). Sacramento falls short again.
29. Portland's identity shift
Getting Lillard back healthy is great, but that's not enough to compete in this Western Conference. Portland knew that, and new GM Joe Cronin made aggressive moves to bring in more defense in support of Lillard. Trading for Jerami Grant and signing Gary Payton II are major additions. Nassir Little. Josh Hart. Justise Winslow. Keon Johnson. The Blazers can deploy some pretty versatile defensive lineups in support of Lillard. Will it add up to more than what Portland was before all the moves, which was pretty good? We'll see.
30. Keegan Murray sleeper ROY
Taken No. 4 overall by Sacramento, Keegan Murray was Summer League MVP scoring over 23 per game on 40 percent from 3. He doesn't have elite foot speed but at 6-foot-8 he has a natural knack for creating space for his jumper. Murray has stated that Khris Middleton is his favorite player and there are a lot of similarities in their games; Murray's slight hesitation/gather pull-up is Middleton-esque, and he could be this year's Scottie Barnes in terms of a guy everyone said was drafted too high turning out to be a top ROY candidate.
31. Father Time is ...
LeBron James turns 38 in December, Chris Paul turns 38 in May, and Stephen Curry turns 35 just before the playoffs. All have fooled us into thinking everyone should be able to sustain a superstar level of play into their mid and even deep 30s. More likely, these guys are exceptions. And even for the likes of LeBron and CP3, the decline is going to happen; it's only a question of when, and how sudden and steep it will be. More likely, it will be gradual. Keep an eye out for at least a few small signs of aging in these seemingly ageless stars. After all, we all know that Father Time is undefeated.
32. The Herb Jones bandwagon is full
If you haven't already secured a ticket on the Herb Jones bandwagon, sorry. It's filled to capacity and the waiting list to hop on down in New Orleans stretches all the way into the French Quarter. Defenders don't get much better than Jones, who, per BBall Index, saved more points defensively than any other wing in the league last season and any rookie wing since 2009. Regardless of position, Jones ranked seventh in defensive points saved across the entire league.
Jones is going to be an All-NBA level defender for many years to come, but what makes him super intriguing is the development he showed on the offensive end. He can make plays with the ball in his hands, and his shooting curve is trending upward sharply. After shooting just 50 percent from the free-throw line his first two years in college, Jones hit 84 percent of his freebies as a rookie. Who knows if Jones will ever be a weaponized pull-up guy who can assume more creative responsibility, but you shouldn't rule it out.
33. Davion Mitchell's offense
They call this guy "Off Night" for a reason. He's an absolute on-ball defensive beast. But it's the offense in which I'm most interested. This guy is better than you think with the ball in his hands. As a rookie Mitchell averaged 15 points and five assists per 36 minutes. It is true, the efficiency won't impress you -- 31 percent from 3, 41 percent overall, 0.87 points per possession for a 20th percentile ranking per Synergy -- but he ranked in the 68th percentile as a pick-and-roll scorer and the 64th percentile including passes. That lines up with the eye test. Mitchell can make plays off the bounce, and he hits contested shots, posting 1.06 points per guarded catch and shoot, per Synergy.
34. Luka adding a hook shot?
Mark Cuban said that Luka Doncic was working on an "insane" new shot/move this offseason. He didn't specify what the shot or move was, but he said you would know it when you saw it. Cuban's interview published on Aug. 17, and just a few hours later, playing for the Slovenian national team, Doncic made this running hook over Nikola Jokic:
Six weeks earlier, Doncic hit this hook against Sweden:
You don't have to be a master case cracker to get the distinct impression that this skyhook is the shot Cuban was talking about, and indeed if Doncic masters this, he's going to become an even bigger nightmare to defend.
35. Poole party
The Warriors got Poole's four-year, $140 million extension done by the Oct. 17 deadline, and it was a no-brainer. decision, even with all the other salary demands on their plate. Poole is a budding star. At just 23 years old, he's something of a Stephen Curry lite with his flashy ability to create off the dribble, finish creatively and knock down 3s with endless range.
In what was, in essence, his first season of record, Poole averaged 18.5 points per game and was good for an elite 120.7 points per 100 shot attempts, per CTG, which ranked in the 91st percentile among combo guards -- just four tenths of a point/per 100 short of Trae Young's mark and notably equal to Tyrese Maxey, another budding star who could also be on his way to a big rookie extension next summer.
36. Lillard's new wingman
The Blazers emphasized defense with their summer acquisitions and with last season's trade of CJ McCollum, the latter of which they were able to do because they have a homegrown McCollum replacement in Anfernee Simons, who averaged better than 21 points per 36 minutes on 40 percent 3-point shooting last year. More specifically, the scorching 51.4-percent clip that Simons registered on catch-and-shoot jumpers, per Synergy, will make him a lethal sidekick with Lillard back to drawing multiple defenders.
37. Jaden McDaniels sleeper MIP
McDaniels is an awesome defender who will be empowered to extend pressure even more with Rudy Gobert behind him, but his offense is what has a chance to really separate him. McDaniels can do a little bit of everything. He can handle the ball at 6-foot-10 and create some shots for himself, especially against closeouts. That will become a significant weapon if his 3-point number, which dipped to 31 percent last season, moves back toward the 36 percent he shot during his rookie campaign.
That 3-point shooting curve trending back upward is a good bet to happen for two reasons. First, McDaniels actually shot above league average on midrange shots last season, 44 percent per Cleaning the Glass. Second, he raised his free-throw percentage 20 points from his rookie season, from 60 to 80. Those are good indications that the guy can legit shoot and the range should theoretically follow suit.
Last season, McDaniels averaged 12 points and six rebounds per 75 possessions. At worst, that should give us an idea of what his output should look like in bigger minutes. If the 3-point numbers improve, McDaniels could be a 15-point-a-night guy. In addition to his defense, that would, or at least should, make him a candidate for Most Improved Player.
38. Last embers of Jazz fire sale
Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O'Neal and Bojan Bogdanovic are already gone. Utah is clearly planning to lose its way into a better draft pick next summer. What's the use in keeping good veteran players if you can get a decent return for them? Where do Mike Conley, Malik Beasley and/or Jordan Clarkson end up? Are we even sure Jarred Vanderbilt will stay in Utah? (He'll be 24 in April and he'll be an unrestricted free agent in 2024.) By the time this article publishes one or all of these guys could be gone.
39. Tank time
The Spurs, who haven't properly tanked since they lucked into Tim Duncan in 1997, and Jazz made active moves to transition into the running for presumed 2023 No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama, who literally looks like one of the best prospects ever. The Chet Holmgren injury likely means the Thunder stay awful, especially if they decide to pull the plug on everybody late in the season, and Houston figures to be a bottom dweller again. Nobody will admit it, but this is going to turn into a four-team race to the bottom of the West.
40. Devin Booker from deep
One of the deadliest midrange scorers in the league, Booker made a big 3-point leap last season at 38 percent on seven attempts per game, both career highs. In the playoffs, he went to a whole other level, connecting on better than 43 percent of his triples. This makes him and the Suns far more difficult to defend. Was it a one-year aberration or is Booker the long-range sniper here to stay?
41. Lakers spacing
It's not good, to put it lightly. That's why every Lakers fan wants a Buddy Hield deal, but the Lakers just don't seem interested in an Indiana swap that's going to cost them those draft picks. As of right now, the Lakers have exactly two players who shot at least 35 percent from 3 last season: LeBron and Patrick Beverley. After that, the next-best shooters are Dennis Schroder (who will be out for the first 3-4 weeks of the season) at 34 percent, Lonnie Walker at 33 percent and Austin Reaves at 31 percent.
Add in Russell Westbrook, one of the worst positional shooters ever, and Anthony Davis, who connected on just 18 percent of his 3s last season, and the paint is going to get real cramped as defenses sag with impunity, converging on Davis in the post while cutting off the driving lanes on which Westbrook and LeBron, to a lesser degree, are so dependent.
42. Grizzlies' plan without JJJ
Jaren Jackson Jr. had foot surgery in late June and, worst case, might not be back until after Christmas. Memphis more than treaded water without Ja Morant last season, winning 11 of 12 games without its best player at one point. Can they do the same without JJJ, who was dominant defensively last season? Starting Brandon Clarke wouldn't be the worst solution. Last season the Grizzlies put up a plus-12.3 net rating with Clarke and Steven Adams sharing the front court.
43. Jaren Jackson's next step
When Jackson does come back, he needs to do two things to take the next step as a star next to Ja Morant. First, stay on the floor. Jackson's 3.5 fouls per game trailed only Karl-Anthony Towns and Jae'Sean Tate last season. Second, Jackson needs to shoot way more consistently. He has a reputation as a uniquely gifted shooting big, and it's true, very few bigs can shoot on the move like him, no matter how funky the form is. When he's hot, he can swing a game from deep. But the bottom line is Jackson shot just 32 percent from 3 last season and his 47.8 effective field goal percentage ranked among the bottom five percent of all bigs, per CTG.
44. Andrew Wiggins is home
Wiggins just signed a four-year, $109 million extension with the Warriors. Nobody's crying poverty for the man, but that is a relatively significant pay cut for a guy who has played the best basketball of his life the last two seasons. Why did he potentially short himself? Because he knows he's in a great situation. The Warriors don't need him to do any more than he's capable of and comfortable doing. Keep shooting near 40 percent from 3, playing top-end defense, creating secondary and late-clock one-on-one offense and winning the positional rebounding battle, and he will continue to thrive in the sweetest basketball situation in which he could ever hope to find himself.
45. Dallas betting on Dinwiddie
If they Mavericks aren't worried about accounting for Jalen Brunson's lost production, it's because they believe Spencer Dinwiddie is ready to fill the void. Dinwiddie was fantastic after the trade to Dallas last season. He was on par with DeMar DeRozan as an isolation scorer. He converted 43 percent of his 3-pointers over 23 regular season games and 18 playoff games. How much, it at all, will that number regress toward Dinwiddie's 32-percent career mark from 3? That's a big question for Dallas.
46. Healthy Paul George
George's shooting efficiency dipped in what was an injury-plagued 2021-22 season. He made just 35 percent of his 3s after making 41 percent in each of his first two seasons with the Clippers. Without Kawhi Leonard, George, in a limited sample, had to create far more offense for himself: 52 percent of his 3-point makes and 88 percent of his 2-point makes were unassisted, both the highest marks of his career.
Though George can certainly create his own looks, he thrives as a catch-snd-shoot guy (north of the 80th percentile in each of the last two seasons, per Synergy), but last year catch-and-shoots only accounted for 27 percent of his attempts, per CTG. If George can get that catch-and-shoot frequency back up to the high 30s, and my bet is George's 3-point percentage returns to 40 percent or better.
47. Sneaky Kings
Sacramento has an uphill climb to even make the West play-in, but this actually is an intriguing roster that Mike Brown has inherited. You aren't in a terrible spot when you start with a De'Aaron Fox-Domantas Sabonis tandem, but there's a lot to be worked out there as those two played just 13 games together after Sabonis was dealt to Sacramento last season.
In addition to the obvious pick-and-roll poison Fox and Sabonis can inject into defenses, Fox's speed and Sabonis' passing ability from the high post should pair well with the shooters Sacramento has put around the perimeter in Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray, the latter of whom the Kings took at No. 4 overall and could be this season's Scottie Barnes. Murray may not win rookie of the year like Barnes, but he has a chance to be the latest guy to shut up a lot of people who said he was picked too high.
48. Phoenix's clutch heroes
Devin Booker and Chris Paul were incredible in the clutch last season, both shooting north of 56 percent, including 40 percent from 3, in games within five points with five or fewer minutes to play. Phoenix was plus-97 in Booker's clutch minutes and plus-115 in Paul's. Is any of this replicable for another season? Those are some pretty gaudy numbers, even in the small samples that clutch minutes make up.
49. Jokic-to-Gordon connection
Nikola Jokic's 147 assists to Aaron Gordon last season was the third highest mark in the league among all two-man combos, per PBP stats. These two had great chemistry from the moment they were united. Gordon immediately found his groove as a cutter in Jokic's world of wizardry, then things go thrown out of whack when Jamal Murray, and then Michael Porter Jr., went down. Gordon qualifies as one of the best athletes in the world and Jokic is going to feast in finding him in the cracks of defenses that are going to be more concerned with Murray and Porter.
50. Ty Lue's delicate balance
It's a good problem to have, but Clipper coach Tyronn Lue is stocked with so many rotation-level players at his disposal -- 13 at a minimum with Brandon Boston Jr. included -- that all of them can't possibly play every night and certainly not as much as they'd like.
Since Kawhi Leonard's injury in the 2021 playoffs, the Clippers have added Norman Powell, Robert Covington and now John Wall to the mix. Reggie Jackson averaged 31 minutes per game last season, Marcus Morris 29, Terance Mann 29, Luke Kennard 27, Ivica Zubac 24, Nic Batum 24 and Amir Coffey 23. With Kawhi and Paul George cemented in the closing lineup, only three of the 11 guys mentioned above can finish games.
That gives Lue a bunch of options, and indeed the Clippers can play any style and dictate playing time on matchups. But it's a very delicate balance when players of this caliber start riding the bench for extended periods, especially come playoff time when DNPs start being handed out.