NBA training camps open with plenty of optimism about what might transpire for the 2022-23 season.
With that in mind, we’ll look at six of the new duos formed during the 2022 offseason that will be interesting to watch opening week on Oct. 19 — a day after the league’s opening-night double-header on TNT.
Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
This duo participated in a pair of summer workouts unaware they’d eventually become teammates. In those sessions, Garland pushed the future Cavalier, leading to optimism about the motivation these guards can provide one another once Cleveland starts playing real games.
“I consider myself a pretty good shooter, but he’s right there,” Mitchell said of his summer workouts with Garland. “I’m trying to keep up with him. He made me have to raise my level in a workout. If you can bring that on a night-to-night basis in a workout and practice, you get to a game, and now we’re on the same team, it’ll be special.”
Traded to Cleveland on Sept. 1, Mitchell teams up with Garland this season to form what should be a dynamic scoring backcourt. The duo’s expected effectiveness on defense (both are 6-foot-1) naturally comes into question, but Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff plans to protect the backcourt with athletic twin-towners Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
Athletic, dynamic, and flat-out humongous, Cunningham, 21, and Ivey, 20, could turn out to be Detroit’s backcourt starters for the next several years. At least that’s the plan right now for the No. 1 and No. 5 picks of the last two drafts. Both are rising stars dripping with perennial All-Star potential.
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Ivey brings speed, explosiveness, and downhill attacking ability, not to mention plenty of experience playing off the ball (despite being ball-dominant in college at Purdue), and those attributes should mesh well with Cunningham’s polish, poise, and playmaking skills. Another sneaky element of Ivey’s game? His defense. If he can defend at a high level as a rookie, perhaps that alleviates some pressure off Cunningham, who is already exerting plenty of energy as Detroit’s primary playmaker on offense.
Maybe we should be talking “trio” or perhaps more here because we haven’t even mentioned the 2022 No. 13 pick Jalen Duren, Isaiah Stewart (No. 16 in 2020), or Saddiq Bey (No. 19 in 2020). At some point, we might see a Pistons starting lineup featuring five former first-round picks.
Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr., Houston Rockets
Hopefully, what you saw in Summer League didn’t sour your perception of Smith, the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s Draft, because he’ll be a different player alongside Green this season. Smith shot 37.7% from the floor and 25.9% from deep in Las Vegas but showcased versatility on defense that seemed to go unnoticed. Smith’s numbers should improve from his summer campaign – with him snagging better touches in advantageous spots from Green – while playing alongside seasoned NBA talent.
It’s important to note that Green, the second overall pick in 2021, also struggled early last season before averaging nearly 30 points in the last nine games of the regular season to earn All-Rookie First-Team honors.
Green is already asking Rockets fans for patience as Houston trudges on with its current rebuild, and he can accelerate that effort next season by getting Smith shots in good positions. Until the shot starts falling, Smith will be able to consistently rely on his effort on defense.
Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, Atlanta Hawks
Time spent working in the San Antonio Spurs organization likely provided plenty of insight for Atlanta Hawks general manager Landry Fields on how Murray might fit alongside superstar guard Young. In what’s expected to be one of the more impactful transactions of the offseason, Atlanta traded Danilo Gallinari and a trio of first-round picks in June to land Murray, one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, who also continues to improve as a playmaking triple-double threat on offense.
Offensively, Murray provides a secondary creator to Young, which will also allow the latter to play off the ball more often. A deadly marksman, Young hit 48.1% last season on catch-and-shoot 3’s, and with Murray in the mix, expect him to fire up more than the 17 shots he took last season off screens.
Defensively, Murray instantly upgrades length on the perimeter, which should minimize breakdowns in rotations on the back end. John Schuhmann provides an excellent film breakdown on exactly what Murray brings to Atlanta.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, Minnesota Timberwolves
During Gobert’s introductory press conference, Minnesota coach Chris Finch called the center “the perfect fit at the perfect time for our organization.” Considering all the assets surrendered to land Gobert, he better be. The Timberwolves improved from 23 wins in 2020-21 to 46 last season, and believe Gobert could be the missing piece needed to reach the next level.
Offensively, the three-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year is a consistent lob threat and devastating screener that should free up Towns, the reigning 3-point contest champ, to fire more attempts from deep than the 4.1 per game he took in 2021-22. Defensively, Gobert will take on his usual role as an eraser on the back end.
“The [Rudy Gobert] trade happens,” Towns said after signing a $224 million extension. “There’s no more time. There are no more excuses. We’ve got to get it done now. It’s championship now or bust.”
Damian Lillard and Jerami Grant, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard played with Grant last year on Team USA that took Gold at the Tokyo Olympics and favored the now former Pistons’ wing that Portland had reportedly pursued for more than a year. Under new general manager Joe Cronin, the Blazers have overhauled the roster with a series of moves designed to build around Lillard, who in July signed a two-year max extension.
Lillard expressed optimism about the team’s trade for Grant, which was the first of Portland’s offseason moves.
“I think getting Jerami was huge,” he said. “On the wing, you have to be deep. You’ve got to have guys that are athletic, guys that are versatile. Jerami is a guy that was on winning teams in Denver, he was on a winning team in Oklahoma City, and going to Detroit and having a lot more responsibility [than] he had on any other team, I think that forced him to be a better player.”
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