2022-23 Kia Season Preview

Offseason Power Rankings: Warriors, Suns lead wide-open Western Conference

See where all 15 teams in the Western Conference rank after major moves this offseason.

Relive all of the best moments from Golden State's run to win the 2022 NBA title.

Last season was the Western Conference’s worst in the last 13 years.

It still had a better record than the East for the 13th straight time (and the 22nd time in the last 23 seasons), but it was by the narrowest of margins. The West was 226-224 in interconference games.

Still, the West has the defending champs (Golden State), the team that won eight more regular-season games than any other last season (Phoenix), and the only team that has seen improvement, both in regard to winning percentage and point differential per 100 possessions, in each of the last four years (Memphis). And the list of title contenders doesn’t stop there.

The Denver Nuggets have the two-time reigning Kia MVP and are getting his two most talented teammates back from injury. The LA Clippers might be the deepest team in the league and will see the return of a two-time Finals MVP.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers probably aren’t title contenders, but they’re also getting their stars back. The Minnesota Timberwolves traded for a three-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year and the Los Angeles Lakers still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, having finished in the top six in MVP voting in his second, third and fourth seasons, is still just 23 years old.

The West is deep, and a good team (or two, or three) is probably going to miss the playoffs. Here’s a look at how the conference stands with seven weeks go go before training camps open.

For these offseason rankings, we’re looking at each conference separately, with an Eastern Conference rundown having come last week. All stats refer to the 2021-22 regular season unless otherwise noted.

Previous Power Rankings

  • April 4: Suns, Bucks hold top spots before final week
  • This time last year: Offseason Power Rankings: Suns, Lakers emerge in West — Multiple Western Conference stars were dealing with serious injuries. The Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook and added a bunch of over-30 free agents. Three former guards – Chauncey Billups, Willie Green and Jason Kidd – were hired by the Blazers, Pelicans and Mavs. The Grizzlies and Pelicans swapped starting centers, the Spurs parted ways with their vets, and Herb Jones went 35th in the Draft.

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league averaged 98.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 111.4 points scored per 100 possessions last season.

NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

Last Week:7

2021-22 record: 53-29

Pace: 98.7 (15), OffRtg: 112.1 (16), DefRtg: 106.6 (2), NetRtg: +5.5 (4)

Key addition(s): JaMychal Green, Donte DiVincenzo

Key departure(s): Otto Porter Jr., Gary Payton II

Three numbers to know…

  • Over the last eight years, the Warriors have won 93 playoff games, 38 more than any other team. The Cavs (55) and Celtics (52) are the only other teams that have won half as many.
  • The Warriors were the only team that ranked in the top three in both effective field goal percentage (55.2%, third) and opponent effective field goal percentage (50.9%, second). This was fifth time in the last eight years that they’ve ranked in the top three in both, with all other franchises (Milwaukee twice, San Antonio once) doing just three times over that stretch.
  • Over the last three games of the Finals, the Warriors held the Celtics to just 97.9 points per 100 possessions, Boston’s worst three-game stretch of offense all season. Games 5 and 6 were the only time the Boston offense was held under a point per possession in two straight games.

Key question: What can the young guys add?

The champs can hope for more than 46 games from Draymond Green, a full season of Klay Thompson shooting 40% or better from beyond the arc, and continued excellence from Stephen Curry. But even if they’re healthy, the four-title guys will need help from the 21-and-under core.

Jonathan Kuminga had a couple of nice moments in the playoffs, but he and fellow rookie Moses Moody ranked 10th and 12th on the team in total postseason minutes. With the two Greens and Kevon Looney all able to play the five, the Warriors can live without James Wiseman. But it would be something if they can get the former No. 1 pick, with his combination of size and athleticism, feeling comfortable on both ends of the floor after missing all of last season.

When the Warriors were healthy last season (before Green’s extended absence and then again in the playoffs), they were the best team in the league, with an offense that was near impossible to guard and a defense that absolutely shut down the Celtics to win the title. A significant step forward from one of the three young guys could make them even better.

Last Week:1

2021-22 record: 64-18

Pace: 100.3 (8), OffRtg: 114.2 (5), DefRtg: 106.8 (3), NetRtg: +7.5 (1)

Key addition(s): N/A

Key departure(s): JaVale McGee

Three numbers to know…

  • The Suns scored 131.6 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes. That was the best mark for clutch offense in the 26 seasons of clutch data, and they were more efficient in the clutch (152.4, 32 points on 21 possessions) in the playoffs.
  • The Suns saw the biggest jump in pace from 2020-21 (98.0 possessions per 48 minutes, 24th) to last season (100.3, eighth). They then saw the second biggest drop in pace from the regular season to the playoffs (94.1, 10th).
  • The Suns lost more games by 25 points or more in the last two games of the conference semifinals (2) than they prior to that (93 games). Their only loss by 25 or more prior to that was their third game of the regular season (at Portland).

Key question: Why can’t they be just as good?

Chris Paul is 37 and entering Year 18. Only 4% of the Suns’ ’21-22 minutes, the league’s lowest rate, came from rookies or second-year players last season. And the only rookies or second-year players on the current roster are Jock Landale (who turns 27 in October) and two undrafted guys – Ish Wainwright and Duane Washington Jr. – on two-way contracts. This team remains built to win now.

But Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson will be 24, 25, 26 and 26 on opening night. Assuming that everyone is pulling in the same direction, this team can be just as good (or maybe better) as the 2021-22 Suns, who were (in regard to wins and losses) the best team in the league by a wide margin. A bounce-back season from Cameron Payne would be big, both in regard to bench minutes and keeping Paul fresh. Payne missed 24 games last year and saw the biggest drop in effective field goal percentage (from 57.6% to 46.9%) among 196 players with at least 300 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons.

The end to last season was absolutely brutal. But does that outweigh what the Suns did through their first 93 games? Perhaps they can look to the 2013-14 Spurs – who were led by a 37-year-old from Wake Forest and suffered an even more painful ending the season prior – for inspiration.

Last Week:17

2021-22 record: 42-40

Pace: 98.5 (19), OffRtg: 109.5 (25), DefRtg: 109.5 (8), NetRtg: -0.0 (18)

Key addition(s): John Wall

Key departure(s): Isaiah Hartenstein

Three numbers to know…

  • The Clippers saw the league’s second biggest drop in 3-percentage, but still ranked third at 37.4% and were still one of three teams with two players – Luke Kennard (44.9%, first) and Norman Powell (41.9%, eighth) – in the top 10 among qualified individuals. As rosters currently stand, they’re the only team with eight of the 139 players who shot the league average or better on at least 100 3-point attempts last season.
  • The Clippers were outscored by 5.9 points per game in the restricted area. That was the league’s worst discrepancy by a healthy margin. In each of the last two seasons, they’ve ranked in the bottom five in both free throw rate and the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint.
  • The Clippers had five wins after trailing by at least 20 points and three after trailing by at least 25. Those are both the most such victories for any team in the 26 seasons of play-by-play data. In fact, the only other team over that span with multiple wins after trailing by 25 or more was the 2018-19 Clippers (2).

Key question: Do they have enough inside?

Kawhi Leonard’s return doesn’t necessarily resolve the Clippers’ interior issues. They ranked last in *road restricted-area points per game two seasons ago and in his two seasons with the Clippers, Leonard has taken only 20% of his road shots in the restricted area, down from 25% in his eight seasons prior. After recovering another knee injury, it’s fair to doubt that he’ll be getting to the rim more going forward. And the Clips’ interior defense has taken a hit with the departure of Hartenstein, who had the best rim protection mark (47.5%) among 57 players who defended at least 250 shots at the rim last season.

* Looking at just road games helps address the issue of shot-charting inconsistency from arena to arena.

But Leonard doesn’t need to get all the way to the basket to be one of five best players on the planet. And despite the lack of shots at the rim, the Clippers had a top-three offense in each of his two healthy seasons (even though he missed 35 total games over those two years). They’re adding a great shooter to the deepest group of shooters in the league, and they’re adding one of the best perimeter defenders of the last 20 years to a top-10 defense.

This might be the best team in the league. It’s certainly the deepest on the perimeter, with a ton of shooting surrounding multiple guys who can handle the ball and make plays.

Last Week:9

2021-22 record: 48-34

Pace: 98.4 (20), OffRtg: 113.8 (6), DefRtg: 111.5 (15), NetRtg: +2.3 (11)

Key addition(s): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown, Ish Smith

Key departure(s): Monte Morris, Will Barton, JaMychal Green

Three numbers to know…

  • The Nuggets led the league in effective field goal percentage (55.6%), shooting a league-best 61.3% in the paint. Nikola Jokic led the league with 896 shots in the paint and his 66.9% in the paint ranked 14th among 124 players with at least 300 paint attempts. Jeff Green (66.5%) and Aaron Gordon (65.8%) ranked 16th and 19th, respectively.
  • The Nuggets were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in both turnover rate (14.6 per 100 possessions, 26th) and opponent turnover rate (12.9 per 100, 26th).
  • The Nuggets were 16.3 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the floor (plus-8.4) than they were with him off the floor (minus-7.9). That was the biggest on-off differential (by a healthy margin) among 261 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.

Key question: Is the bench better?

DeAndre Jordan as the back-up center doesn’t seem like a good way to reduce Jokic’s on-off differential. Including playoffs, Jordan’s teams (the Lakers and Sixers) were outscored by 12.6 points per 100 possessions in his 653 minutes on the floor last season. Swapping Morris for Smith is a downgrade at back-up point guard, and Nuggets head coach Michael Malone hasn’t consistently staggered the minutes of Jokic and Jamal Murray when the latter has been healthy.

But the returns of Murray (39.1% on pull-up 3s two seasons ago) and Michael Porter Jr. (46.5% on catch-and-shoot 3s two seasons ago) obviously push other guys down the depth chart. Brown and Caldwell-Pope (though they’re not particularly lengthy) give the perimeter defense a boost, Jeff Green can play some center behind the MVP, and Bones Hyland should be better in his second season.

Jokic has been remarkably durable (no more than nine games missed) over his seven seasons in the league. And when he’s on the floor, this team will be ridiculously good. The Clippers and Nuggets are your early favorites to have the two best offenses in the league.

Last Week:3

2021-22 record: 56-26

Pace: 100.5 (4), OffRtg: 114.3 (4), DefRtg: 108.9 (6), NetRtg: +5.3 (5)

Key addition(s): Danny Green

Key departure(s): De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson

Three numbers to know…

  • The Grizzlies ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the first time in the franchise’s 27 seasons, finishing fourth on offense (the highest rank in franchise history) and sixth on defense (their 10th finish in the top 10).
  • For the third straight season, the Grizzlies led the league in the percentage of their shots (56% last season) that came in the paint. And for the second straight season, they ranked 25th in field goal percentage in the paint (54.1%).

Key question: How important was the depth they lost?

Ja Morant drives the bus in Memphis, and in the 57 games he played, the Grizzlies were much better (especially offensively) with him on the floor (plus-4.1 points per 100 possessions) than they were with him off the floor (minus-3.0). But they were also the 2 seed in the West because they were 20-5 in the games he didn’t play. Melton was the only guy who played in all 25 of those games, and he and Anderson ranked fourth and ninth on the team in total minutes last season.

Ziaire Williams (improved shooting and efficiency after the All-Star break) will surely see a larger role in his second season and his 3-point shooting should be a huge X factor all year. The Grizzlies were the first team in 26 seasons of play-by-play data to finish in the top five in offensive efficiency while ranking in the bottom 10 in effective field goal percentage. They lost one of their four guys who shot the league average or better on at least 100 3-point attempts (Melton) and the one they got back (Green) probably won’t be available all season. Jaren Jackson Jr. wasn’t one of those four guys and now he’ll be (missing games and) coming back from another serious injury.

But if Williams can make some catch-and-shoot looks, if Morant can shoot more like he did after the All-Star break (40.4% from beyond the arc), and if Jackson can find his shot when he returns, the Grizz can better complement all those points in the paint.

Last Week:6

2021-22 record: 52-30

Pace: 95.6 (30), OffRtg: 112.5 (14), DefRtg: 109.1 (7), NetRtg: +3.5 (7)

Key addition(s): Christian Wood, JaVale McGee

Key departure(s): Jalen Brunson

Three numbers to know…

  • The Mavs took only 43% of their shots, the league’s lowest rate, in the paint. And their effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (50.1%) was below the league average (50.2%).
  • Luka Doncic has accounted for two of the three highest postseason usage rates in the 26 years for which we have play-by-play data, 39.1% in 2021 and 38.9% in 2022. Those marks have only been topped by Russell Westbrook’s usage rate of 45.2% in 2017.

Key question: Can they find new sources of offense?

Wood and McGee will help up front. Wood shot 39.7% on catch-and-shoot 3s, being set up by lesser playmakers than Doncic, last season. And the McGee addition gives the Mavs two of the four players – Dwight Powell (1.42) and McGee (1.40) – who scored 1.4 points per possession or better on at least 100 roll-man possessions last season. Doncic pick-and-rolls will remain a pick-your-poison situation for opposing defenses.

But this team lost a lot of off-the-dribble juice with Brunson’s departure. Dallas ranked 29th in paint points and Brunson was second on the team with 600 total. And among 52 guards with at least 500 drives last season, only Chris Paul (58.2%) shot better than Brunson (56.7%) on those drives. The Mavs scored 115.1 points per 100 possessions in 1,691 total minutes (regular season plus playoffs) with Doncic and Brunson on the floor together, but just 109.3 in 1,162 minutes with Doncic on the floor without Brunson.

If you’re going to put your entire offense on the shoulders of one guy, Doncic is that guy. The Mavs will now have Spencer Dinwiddie (41% from 3-point range with Dallas) for a full season, and the defensive improvement they saw in Jason Kidd’s first season was critical. But they’re still lacking some secondary dynamism on the perimeter.

Last Week:11

2021-22 record: 46-36

Pace: 101.5 (1), OffRtg: 113.8 (7), DefRtg: 111.0 (13), NetRtg: +2.7 (10)

Key addition(s): Rudy Gobert, Kyle Anderson

Key departure(s): Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley

Three numbers to know…

  • According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Wolves defended 21% of opponent ball-screens, the league’s highest rate, with “blitz” or “show” coverage. Gobert’s Jazz had the league’s sixth lowest rate (6%).
  • Karl Anthony-Towns had a true shooting percentage of 64.0%, the second highest mark among 48 players with a usage rate of 24% or higher. He was the only player last season to shoot 55% or better on at least 400 2-point attempts and 40% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts.

Key question: How about the perimeter defense?

Gobert is a good defense by himself, but the Jazz struggled when they couldn’t contain the dribble and depended too much on his paint protection. The Wolves have a pair of good perimeter defenders – Anderson and Jaden McDaniels – with length, but could have offensive spacing issues when either or both of those guys (a combined 32% from 3-point range last season) share the floor with Gobert. D’Angelo Russell is a liability defensively and now they’re asking Towns to guard the four. So this team may have some of the same issues that the Jazz did.

Of course, the Wolves should want to be like the Jazz, who’ve had the Western Conference’s best regular-season record over the last six seasons (Minnesota has had its second worst record over that span). And there’s the possibility that Anthony Edwards continues to get better on both ends of the floor, complementing Towns with a dynamic offensive game while holding his own defensively. He certainly has the tools.

This is going to be one of the most interesting teams to watch early in the season, for both the functionality of the frontline and the development of a 21-year-old star in the making.

Last Week:19

2021-22 record: 36-46

Pace: 98.0 (21), OffRtg: 111.2 (19), DefRtg: 112.0 (18), NetRtg: -0.8 (21)

Key addition(s): Dyson Daniels

Key departure(s): N/A

Three numbers to know…

  • The Pelicans had the most improved offense in the playoffs, scoring 4.4 more points per 100 possessions (115.6, first) than they did in the regular season (111.2, 19th). Prior to that, they had the fourth most improved offense from before the All-Star break (108.8, 24th) to after it (117.3, 10th).
  • According to Synergy tracking, the Pelicans allowed just 17.1 points per game, second fewest, in transition. According to Second Spectrum tracking, they ranked fourth in the (lowest) percentage of their opponents’ shots that came in the first six seconds of the shot clock (12.8%) and seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage in the first six seconds (58.3%).
  • Brandon Ingram took 42% of his shots from mid-range, the second highest rate (trailing only DeMar DeRozan’s 48%) among 177 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts. The 190-for-408 (46.6%) he shot from mid-range ranked 23rd among 95 players with at least 100 mid-range attempts. Jonas Valanciunas (53-for-111, 47.7%) and CJ McCollum (128-for-270, 47.4%) ranked 15th and 16th.

Key question: How does the offense work?

This franchise has had a top-10 offense just twice in the 20 years since it moved to New Orleans, but it was there (ranking 10th) before Zion Williamson was shut down for the final six games of the ’20-21 season (when the Pels fell to 11th). And that team obviously didn’t have McCollum in the backcourt.

Willie Green can stagger playing time so that each of his three scorers gets some minutes as the primary option, but it will be fascinating to see how the Pels’ offense runs when Ingram, McCollum and Williamson are all on the floor together. Point Zion worked well two seasons ago, but if the other two can allow the big guy to catch the ball on the move, he’s going to be near impossible to stop (in part because defenders don’t want to step in front of him).

All three of those guys have had issues defensively, and the Pels’ end-of-season starting lineup (with Jaxson Hayes as Williamson’s placeholder) allowed 115.2 points per 100 possessions (not good) in 240 total minutes (regular season, Play-In and playoffs combined). But Herb Jones was an elite defender as a rookie, size matters, and the Pels will be big if they continue to start Ingram and Jones at the wings.

Last Week:23

2021-22 record: 33-49

Pace: 100.5 (7), OffRtg: 110.0 (22), DefRtg: 112.8 (21), NetRtg: -2.9 (22)

Key addition(s): Lonnie Walker IV, Thomas Bryant

Key departure(s): Malik Monk, most of the old guys

Coaching change: Frank Vogel out, Darvin Ham in.

Three numbers to know…

  • The Lakers’ defense allowed 6.0 more points per 100 possessions in 2021-22 (112.8, 21st) than it did in ’20-21 (106.8, first). That was the league’s biggest jump.
  • As rosters currently stand, the Lakers are the only team with only one of the 139 players who shot the league average or better on at least 100 3-point attempts last season. That one guy was LeBron James.
  • LeBron James had a true shooting percentage of 61.9%, the fifth best mark among 48 players with a usage rate of 24% or higher.

Key question: Can Anthony Davis be one of the best players in the league again?

The Lakers clearly realized that they needed to get younger. Even with Kent Bazemore agreeing to a deal with the Kings, there are eight guys (ages 31, 33, 34, 34, 36, 36, 37 and 38) who played at least 100 minutes for the Lakers last season and are currently without a team for 2022-23. That’s not too surprising, but it’s still rather amazing. Eight of ’em!

Walker (23) arrives with young legs and should fit in with the Lakers’ transition game. Bryant is the first big man they’ve had who can space the floor for Davis and James while allowing Davis to play the four defensively. And Kendrick Nunn should be back after missing all of last season.

But the Lakers still can’t compete with the best teams in the West … unless Davis is healthy and (at the age of 29) playing something close to the best basketball of his career. He certainly has the tools and we saw that potential in the 2020 playoffs, but he’s played 82 total games (and shot 31% from outside the paint) in the two years since then.

Last Week:30

2021-22 record: 27-55

Pace: 98.7 (15), OffRtg: 107.3 (27), DefRtg: 116.3 (29), NetRtg: -9.1 (30)

Key addition(s): Jerami Grant, Gary Payton II, Shaedon Sharpe

Key departure(s): N/A

Three numbers to know…

  • The Blazers have ranked in the bottom four in defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons, ranking 29th in each of the last two.
  • Anfernee Simons scored 1.04 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the second best mark among 55 players with at least 250 ball-handler possessions. Three seasons ago (2019-20), Damian Lillard had the highest mark (1.15) in 18 seasons of Synergy play tracking.

Key question: Is size still an issue?

A lack of size on the perimeter is one of the reasons the Blazers have been so bad defensively over the last few years. And though they’ve purposely brought in good defenders, they’re still lacking size on the perimeter. Their three top guards – Lillard, Simons and Payton – are 6-2, 6-3 and 6-3. Josh Hart, who could play most of his minutes at small forward, is 6-5. Given where the roster stands, it’s hard to see Grant getting many minutes at the three.

It will be good to see Lillard alongside the improved Simons, who’s, amazingly, still just 23 years old. Hart actually averaged 19.9 points after arriving in the McCollum trade, and before he was strategically shut down for the season, Nurkic averaged 21.5 points on 59% shooting over his last four games. Before last season, the Blazers had a top-three offense in three straight seasons.

At this point last year, there was a lot of chatter about Lillard, who turned 32 this summer. That chatter is gone, he just signed another contract extension, and he’s the only guy on the roster older than 29. So this doesn’t need to be a finished product. But Chauncey Billups is under the microscope in his second year as head coach and with a team better built to compete in the tough Western Conference.

Last Week:12

2021-22 record: 49-33

Pace: 97.5 (23), OffRtg: 116.2 (1), DefRtg: 110.0 (10), NetRtg: +6.2 (3)

Key addition(s): Jarred Vanderbilt, Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley

Key departure(s): Rudy Gobert, Royce O’Neale, Danuel House

Coaching change: Quin Snyder out, Will Hardy in.

Three numbers to know…

  • For the second straight season, the Jazz led the league in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range, with 46.8% of their field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc. But, according to Second Spectrum tracking, only 60% of their 3-point attempts were off the catch. That was the league’s lowest rate. Donovan Mitchell (413, 35.6%), Jordan Clarkson (283, 33.2%) and Mike Conley (279, 40.9%) ranked fourth, 11th and 12th in pull-up 3-point attempts.
  • The Jazz led 61 of their 82 games by double-digits. That was tied with Memphis for the league’s highest total. Their 45-16 (.738) record when leading by double-digits ranked 20th, with their 16 losses after leading by double-digits being tied for the second most, one fewer than the Cavs’ 17.

Key question: Is a Mitchell trade coming?

They’ve lost, like, all of their defense and gained a ton of draft picks. But in the wake of the Gobert trade (and the O’Neale deal), the Jazz still have a veteran roster, with a pretty solid top nine, including six rotation guys with more experience than Mitchell’s five years. As constituted, they can win some games.

Of course, they’re still depending heavily on Mitchell (seventh in usage rate last season) to drive the offense. If they send him away, the bottom probably falls out. But making a trade is easier said than done, and in a trade for Mitchell (who has three more non-option years on his current contract), wouldn’t the Jazz want (at least) as much as they got for Gobert?

Whether Mitchell remains in Utah or not, the offense could change a lot under a new coach. The Jazz had a well-defined system (the most ball screens and the most 3s in the league) under Snyder, they’ll miss Gobert’s roll-man gravity on that end of the floor, and Hardy could change the identity as much as the trades have.

Last Week:24

2021-22 record: 30-52

Pace: 100.1 (9), OffRtg: 109.6 (24), DefRtg: 114.8 (27), NetRtg: -5.2 (25)

Key addition(s): Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk

Key departure(s): Donte DiVincenzo, Justin Holiday

Coaching change: Alvin Gentry out, Mike Brown in.

Three numbers to know…

  • The Kings have been a worse-than-average defensive team in each of the last 16 seasons, a streak coinciding with the longest playoff drought in NBA history. They’ve ranked in the bottom five defensively in eight of those 16 years, including each of the last two. Brown’s teams have been better than average defensively in each of his six full seasons as head coach (five in Cleveland, one with the Lakers).
  • The Kings were one of three teams – the Pelicans and Wizards were the others – that ranked in the bottom 10 in both 3-point percentage (34.4%, 24th) and the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (37.7%, 21st).
  • Opponents scored just 0.77 points per chance on isolations when guarded by Davion Mitchell. That was the seventh best mark among 183 players who defended at least 100 isolations, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

Key question: Might there be a pretty good offense here?

The Kings had 26 games left in the season when they acquired Domantas Sabonis. De’Aaron Fox and Sabonis played together in only half of those 26 games, and the Kings ranked 27th offensively (110.6 points scored per 100 possessions) over that stretch. Overall, the post-trade Kings didn’t provide much promise for the future.

But Fox averaged 28.9 points on 50% shooting after the trade. The additions of Huerter (49.4% on pull-up 2s last season) and Monk are two more guys that can score and make plays off the dribble. And a healthier Richaun Holmes (he played just 45 games last season, but shot an amazing 66%) gives them another finisher inside. The Kings ranked 12th offensively two seasons ago (one of two times they’ve had a better-than-average offense in the last 16 years), and maybe they can get to that level (or better) with this group.

On the other end of the floor, this team will be a great test of the impact a coach can make. Good luck to Mike Brown in that regard.

Last Week:27

2021-22 record: 24-58

Pace: 99.4 (12), OffRtg: 103.8 (30), DefRtg: 111.7 (17), NetRtg: -8.0 (27)

Key addition(s): Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen and Jaylin Williams

Key departure(s): All that cap space

Three numbers to know…

  • The Thunder got 36.81% of their minutes from rookies last season. That was the second highest rate of the last 15 years, trailing only the 36.83% of the 2014-15 Philadelphia 76ers.
  • The Thunder were one of three teams – the Hornets and Pacers were the others – that ranked in the top five in both ball movement (350 passes per 24 minutes of possession, fifth) and player movement (11.6 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession, third). They led the league (by a healthy margin) with 17.4 “pass-ahead” passes per game.
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has led the league in drives per game in each of the last two seasons.

Key question: Can Gilgeous-Alexander recover from a bad shooting season?

Gilgeous-Alexander registered an effective field goal percentage of 49.6% last season, down from 57.1% in 2020-21. That was the fourth biggest drop among 112 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons. He didn’t get to the rim as much and he saw a huge drop in 3-point percentage (from 41.8% to 30.0%).

The Thunder have two other potential stars in Holmgren and Josh Giddey. This should be a fun young team to watch and, with three more Lottery picks on the roster, the development of the young talent is more important than it was the last couple of years. Holmgren is obviously going to need some time to put it together on both ends of the floor.

But Gilgeous-Alexander is now in Year 5, with a $179 million extension kicking in. And he’s still got something to prove if he’s going to remain the No. 1 guy. Having his team not rank last offensively (which the Thunder have done in each of the last two seasons) would be nice.

Last Week:29

2021-22 record: 20-62

Pace: 101.2 (2), OffRtg: 108.1 (26), DefRtg: 116.4 (30), NetRtg: -8.3 (29)

Key addition(s): Jabari Smith

Key departure(s): Christian Wood

Three numbers to know…

  • The Rockets allowed 25.0 points per game in transition. That was the highest opponent mark in 18 seasons of Synergy tracking.
  • After the All-Star break, Jalen Green had an effective field goal percentage of 56.5%, up from 46.4% before the break. That (+10.1%) was the fifth biggest jump among 99 players with at least 300 field goal attempts before the break and at least 200 after the break.

Key question: Can they play a little bit of defense?

With Green’s improvement, the Rockets were more competitive after the All-Star break, when they were outscored by 5.6 points per 100 possessions and when eight (42%) of their 19 losses were within five points in the last five minutes. Prior to the break, they were a minus-9.4 per 100 and only 10 (23%) of their 43 losses were within five in the last five. And that was with Wood ranking eighth on the team in total post-break minutes (425). For the season, the Rockets were a little better (minus-7.1 per 100, much better offensively, much worse defensively) in 244 minutes with Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate on the floor without Wood than they were in 780 minutes with Wood on the floor with the other three (minus-8.0 per 100).

Green and Smith are the presumed cornerstones, and their development matters most. But there will also be spotlights on Porter (eligible for a contract extension between now and the start of the season) and Alperen Sengun, who should have a larger role with the departure of Wood.

Development isn’t just about offense, and this was the worst defensive team in the league last season. Smith enters the league with the potential for being an elite defender, following two rookies – Herb Jones and Evan Mobley – who were able to make an immediate impact on that end of the floor. It would be nice if the other young guys can provide any kind of defensive resistance.

Last Week:22

2021-22 record: 34-48

Pace: 100.5 (6), OffRtg: 111.9 (17), DefRtg: 111.7 (16), NetRtg: +0.2 (17)

Key addition(s): Jeremy Sochan

Key departure(s): Dejounte Murray, Lonnie Walker IV

Three numbers to know…

  • The Spurs had a positive point differential last season, outscoring their opponents by a total of 10 points over 82 games. They had 10 wins (and only three losses) by 20 points or more, but had the league’s third worst record (15-24) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They tied the 1976-77 Phoenix Suns (plus-60) for the worst record in NBA history (34-48) for a team with a positive point differential.
  • The Spurs saw the league’s biggest jumps in both ball movement and player movement from 2020-21 (when they ranked 29th and 16th) to last season (seventh and first).
  • At 5.07, Tre Jones ranked second in assist/turnover ratio … behind his brother.

Key question: What do they have in Josh Primo?

With Dejounte Murray gone, the focus of the Spurs really turns to the young guys, who already stepped into bigger roles with the Derrick White trade in February. They probably have a decent idea of what they have in Devin Vassell, who shot 39.3% from 3-point range after the All-Star break and just might be their leading scorer this year. (Somebody has to do it!) He’s got a pretty smooth-looking stroke, but his effective field goal percentage on pull-jumpers (40.6%) ranked 84th among 96 players with at least 200 attempts last season, so that’s certainly an area for improvement.

Primo, the 12th pick in last year’s Draft and the youngest player in the league last season (he doesn’t turn 20 until late December), should have a more interesting next nine months. He saw a bigger jump in minutes (from 15.4 to 23.6) than Vassell after the White trade, also seeing slight upticks in both true shooting percentage (from 47.3% to 49.7%) and assist/turnover ratio (1.33 to 1.50). But what he does after a summer of work will be more telling.

Jones seems to be the only point guard on the roster right now, so maybe the plan is for Primo to run the offense some.