Way-too-soon 2022-23 NBA Power Rankings: Who's the Favorite to Dethrone the Warriors?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVJune 17, 2022

Way-too-soon 2022-23 NBA Power Rankings: Who's the Favorite to Dethrone the Warriors?

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    We're less than 24 hours removed from the Golden State Warriors securing their fourth championship in eight years, but it's never too early to start thinking about next season.

    The draft, trades and free agency will surely change the outlooks for almost every team in the league, and hints for all of the above will guide the thinking for this power ranking.

    That and every team's 2021-22 results, of course.

    Will the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers rejoin the ranks of contenders? Will Ben Simmons take the Brooklyn Nets to the next level? Can the Warriors and Boston Celtics get back to the Finals?

    We'll try to find answers to those questions and more below.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Whether it's Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith or Paolo Banchero, the Oklahoma City Thunder should get a promising young talent with the No. 2 pick. Adding any of those players will give OKC one of the league's most intriguing cores.

    With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (6'6"), Josh Giddey (6'8") and Aleksej Pokusevski (7'0") on the roster, the Thunder have at least three players with plus passing potential and above-average size for their positions.

    Adding another blue-chipper to that group could make the Thunder a matchup nightmare, but they still feel like they're a few years away from pushing for a playoff berth.

29. Houston Rockets

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    The Houston Rockets surely wanted to pick first or second, but this isn't a bad year to have the No. 3 pick. And with most mock drafts sending Paolo Banchero to Houston, it's easy to get excited about the Rockets' future.

    Jalen Green showed No. 1 scorer upside when he averaged 22.1 points and 3.1 threes while shooting 38.7 percent from deep after the All-Star break. Kevin Porter Jr. averaged 23.5 points and 7.5 assists over his last 10 games. And Alperen Sengun looks like exactly the kind of passing big who can elevate ball-dominant guards (he averaged 4.4 assists per 75 possessions).

    Slotting Jae'Sean Tate's defense and Banchero's playmaking 4 upside in at the forward spots will almost certainly make Houston a League Pass darling. Youth and inexperience will probably lead to a lot of losses, but they'll be entertaining losses.

28. Detroit Pistons

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    Cade Cunningham's inefficiency as a scorer (41.6 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from three) probably deserved a little more attention, but his raw counting stats (17.4 points, 5.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 threes), size (6'6") and the pace with which he plays makes him an enticing playmaker.

    If the Detroit Pistons paired him with a big man like, say, Deandre Ayton, it would be pretty easy to see a path forward for them.

    "The Pistons are expected to do their due diligence and make a run at Ayton," John Hollinger and James L. Edwards III of The Athletic recently reported.

    If the Pistons land Ayton, they will instantly have one of the league's most promising young pick-and-roll combos.

27. Orlando Magic

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    Winning the draft lottery obviously improves their prospects, but the Orlando Magic's future was already bright.

    At various times throughout the season, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., Jalen Suggs and even Markelle Fultz showed plenty of upside.

    If this year's top pick lives up to his potential and at least one of the above joins him, Orlando could be competing for the playoffs as soon as 2023-24.

26. Indiana Pacers

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    Tyrese Haliburton averaged 15.8 points and 7.6 assists per 75 possessions over his first two seasons while shooting 41.2 percent from three-point range. Among those who attempted at least 100 threes over their first two seasons, Haliburton is one of 16 players who averaged at least 15 points and seven assists per 75 possessions, and he leads that group (by a significant margin) in three-point percentage.

    Having him alone gives the Indiana Pacers some semblance of direction, but this summer should offer more clues on that.

    Will the Pacers move Myles Turner for a pick or players closer to Haliburton's age? What about Buddy Hield? Could they go a different direction by including this year's No. 6 pick in a deal for a veteran?

    Haliburton has shown the ability to help a win-now team, but he's still only 22 years old. Indiana could go either way.

25. Sacramento Kings

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    In 759 possessions, the Sacramento Kings had a minus-2.7 net rating with Domantas Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox on the floor. Davion Mitchell played only 187 possessions with that duo, but the Kings had a plus-4.5 net rating with all three on the floor.

    Though Mitchell and Fox are undersized (6'2" and 6'3", respectively), Mitchell's tenacious on-ball defense may be the key to making the Fox-Sabonis combo work.

    Add some three-and-D forwards to the middle of those lineups (Harrison Barnes may still work) and Sacramento might have something.

24. Portland Trail Blazers

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    An offseason of change is coming for the Portland Trail Blazers.

    The Blazers had the worst net rating in the NBA (by far) after Damian Lillard left the rotation with an injury, but chalking up their 27-55 record entirely to that stretch lets them off the hook. They were minus-4.9 points per 100 possessions (26th in the NBA) before Lillard went down.

    Prior to the trade deadline, the Blazers shipped CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans midseason and sent Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers. In other words, Lillard's next supporting cast will look dramatically different than his last one.

    It seems like everyone on Portland's roster aside from Lillard could either leave in free agency or be available via trade, but the Blazers don't have the cap space or young talent necessary to swing a superstar acquisition this offseason (barring a blockbuster involving their No. 7 pick). With Lillard aging out of his prime, even a decent summer probably won't push the Blazers much higher than the play-in range.

23. New York Knicks

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    The 2020-21 New York Knicks rode an outlier campaign from Julius Randle to a surprise playoff berth. When his numbers dropped back to his career norms last season, the Knicks fell right along with him.

    Failing to make the playoffs last season isn't necessarily a harbinger of things to come, though. If head coach Tom Thibodeau becomes willing to play the young core together, New York has a path forward.

    In a 200-possession sample size, the Knicks had a net rating of plus-13.5 with RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, Obi Toppin and Mitchell Robinson on the floor.

    The rim protector for that group, Robinson, is an unrestricted free agent. There's no guarantee he'll be back—though New York should work to re-sign him—but the Knicks have some untapped potential either way.

22. San Antonio Spurs

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    The San Antonio Spurs are one of the few teams in the league set to have cap space this summer, but they aren't projected to have enough to hand out a max deal (barring some sign-and-trade wizardry).

    Adding another solid player or two will add to what's probably a blessing and a curse.

    The Spurs have a bunch of guys who would be great fourth or fifth options. The exceptions might be All-Star point guard Dejounte Murray or 22-year-old wing Keldon Johnson, but even those two aren't sure things to escape that tier.

    A roster full of such players make the Spurs competitive, but they don't strike any fear in the hearts of title contenders.

21. Washington Wizards

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    They didn't play a single game together, but it's easy to see how Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis might fit together.

    Beyond the raw numbers—Beal averaged 30.9 points between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, while KP put up 22.1 per game after his midseason trade to Washington—Porzingis' range should draw defenses away from the paint, creating wider driving lanes for Beal.

    Despite playing in only 51 games last season, Porzingis was tied for 17th in the league in makes from 28 feet and out. Only seven players matched or exceeded both his percentage (38.0) and total makes from that range.

    If Beal is healthy, Kuzma repeats or improves upo) what he did in 2021-22 and one or two of Washington's young forwards (Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija or Corey Kispert) pops, the Wizards should compete for a playoff spot.

20. Charlotte Hornets

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    The Charlotte Hornets have a few big questions to answer this offseason.

    Should they match whatever offer sheet Miles Bridges signs in restricted free agency (assuming he doesn't sign with them first)? The answer there almost has to be yes.

    The numbers may not reflect it, but Bridges has growing chemistry with All-Star playmaker LaMelo Ball, and both are under 25.

    That leads to the second question: How do you maximize that duo? If Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier aren't long-term answers, should the Hornets chase Rudy Gobert?

19. Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks were one of this season's more disappointing teams. After making a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, they fell five wins short of their preseason over-under and got crushed in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat.

    That may not warrant a drastic response, though. Trae Young, John Collins, De'Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter are all 24 or younger. Organic growth remains a real possibility.

    Pushing in chips for someone like Rudy Gobert would make sense, too. Despite never playing with a solid lob passer, Gobert has averaged 15.2 points while shooting 68.5 percent from the field over the last four seasons. He and Young, one of the best alley-oop creators in the league, would be a nasty pick-and-roll tandem.

18. Toronto Raptors

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    The Toronto Raptors are one of the teams reportedly interested in Rudy Gobert, according to SNY's Ian Begley, and it isn't hard to see why. His defense and rim running would raise Toronto's regular-season ceiling.

    But Chris Boucher entering free agency may open up a more interesting path forward.

    Last season, the Raptors had a slightly better point differential when Pascal Siakam was at the 5 than they did overall. They already have a few players who would fit well alongside him in largely positionless lineups.

    Fred VanVleet is undersized, but Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby and Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes could switch an awful lot. And Boston may be forcing teams around the league to more fully embrace that kind of roster construction.

17. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Few teams changed the outside perception of themselves as dramatically as the Cleveland Cavaliers did in 2021-22.

    Their preseason over-under was 26.5 wins (fourth-lowest in the league), which they smashed by going 44-38. Third-year guard Darius Garland made the All-Star team, flipped his box plus/minus from minus-2.1 to 2.6 and averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 assists. Jarrett Allen also made the All-Star team and looks like the league's next big rim runner and rim protector. And Evan Mobley was on track to win Rookie of the Year before a late surge from Scottie Barnes.

    With all three of them returning and being joined by Lauri Markkanen, a rejuvenated Kevin Love and Caris LeVert, Cleveland should continue its upward trajectory.

    The Cavs might also be able to add some talent at positions of need this offseason, notably a wing. Love's trade value is surely higher than it was 12 months ago. And after missing most of the season with a knee injury, restricted free agent Collin Sexton might be a sign-and-trade option for teams in need of a scoring guard.

16. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Los Angeles Lakers were a mess last season. They better hope that making Frank Vogel the fall guy works out.

    The salaries of LeBron James ($44.5 million), Anthony Davis ($38.0 million) and Russell Westbrook ($47.1 million) will make it tough for the Lakers to change much without a trade, and Russ' 2021-22 campaign likely demolished his trade value.

    "Teams have been demanding the inclusion of at least one first-round pick to take on Westbrook’s massive expiring contract," according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic. "Rival teams know how much of a public trainwreck last season was for the Lakers, and they’re not looking to do Los Angeles any favors by helping them off of Westbrook’s contract."

    If all three are in purple and gold again, L.A. will need more reliable shooters (it was 21st in threes per 100 possessions and 22nd in three-point percentage last season). But the Lakers don't have the cap space to go hunting for that in free agency.

    The best they can do is a $6.4 million taxpayer mid-level exception. That may be enough to lure someone to the bright lights of L.A., but it might not land the kind of difference-maker that the Lakers need.

15. Utah Jazz

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    It almost feels like the Utah Jazz's rank should just be a question mark. There's currently no way to know what this team will look like in 2022-23.

    Longtime head of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey moved to a consulting role prior to the 2021-22 season. Danny Ainge joined the Jazz as their new CEO last December. Head coach Quin Snyder recently stepped down. And now, there are reasonable arguments for any of these strategies:

    • Keep Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
    • Trade Gobert and keep Mitchell.
    • Keep Gobert and trade Mitchell.
    • Start over entirely and trade both.

    Right now, most reporting seems to point to the second option above. The Action Network's Matt Moore explained the situation:

    "As far as the idea of a Mitchell trade coming down the pike, league sources do feel that it’s a matter of 'when and not if' with Mitchell eventually asking to go to a 'glamour market' like New York or Miami. But in the short term, there’s skepticism it will happen. New Jazz owner Ryan Smith is said to be extremely dedicated to keeping and building around Mitchell. Which, of course, is going to mean moving Rudy Gobert as it’s become apparent that relationship is untenable on-court and off-court."

    That almost certainly makes Utah worse in the short term, and it carries the additional risk of being spurned by Mitchell in a year or two with no other star left behind.

    But if Ainge is hoping to build a roster in the image of the Boston Celtics team he engineered, this path makes sense. Down the road, putting Mitchell at the 1 and surrounding him with positionless wings and forwards could be scary.

14. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Zion Williamson's absence and the lack of information related to it was he biggest story of the New Orleans Pelicans' 2021-22 season, which is a shame.

    After a dreadful 1-12 start, the Zion-less Pelicans went above .500 the rest of the way, and they had three players who averaged more than 17 points (CJ McCollum at 24.3, Brandon Ingram at 22.4 and Jonas Valanciunas at 17.8).

    What the group really needed down the stretch was some dynamism from the 4 spot. There are few players in NBA history who lend as much of that as a healthy Zion.

    During his first two seasons, New Orleans was plus-2.5 points per 100 possessions with Williamson on the floor and minus-3.6 with him off. No one in league history matches or exceeds both of his career marks for points per game (25.7) and true shooting percentage (64.0).

13. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves already made what may be their biggest splash of the offseason by luring Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly up north with a five-year, $40 million deal that includes a "bonus based on franchise value," per NBA reporter Marc Stein.

    That's an awful lot for a team executive, but the NBA's salary cap doesn't extend to front offices. And the new ownership group's willingness to spend should be encouraging for fans that have seen only two playoff appearances since 2004.

    With one of the best offensive bigs of all time in Karl-Anthony Towns, a rising star in Anthony Edwards and deeper organizational commitment, the T-Wolves should be able to build on their 2022 postseason berth.

12. Chicago Bulls

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    The Chicago Bulls' offseason—and probably the next few seasons—hinges on Zach LaVine's upcoming foray into free agency.

    NBA reporter Marc Stein said that some teams "think he’s in play," but Bleacher Report's Jake Fischer recently wrote that LaVine is "expected to re-sign with the Chicago Bulls once the free-agency negotiation period opens June 30." That back-and-forth has persisted for months, but LaVine remaining a Bull is starting to feel like the safer bet.

    If he stays and Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball can stay healthy next season, Chicago should be tough. When those two shared the floor with LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls were plus-16.3 points per 100 possessions.

    This may not be a simple "run it back" offseason, though. There has been plenty of buzz about the Bulls pursuing three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. If they pull that off, a lineup of Caruso, Ball, LaVine, DeRozan and Gobert would be nightmarish.

11. Miami Heat

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    As long as Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra are around, the Miami Heat figure to be at least pretty good. Considering they were the No. 1 seed in the East this past season, even that may be underselling them a bit.

    But their prolonged stretches of offensive ineptitude in the Eastern Conference Finals suggests they need another high-level perimeter creator to take some pressure off Butler.

    Landing Donovan Mitchell would certainly help on that front, but Utah moving him feels far from imminent. And if the Jazz do make him available, a bidding war might drive the Heat out of the market.

    If the Heat more or less stand pat, they'll continue to be one of the league's most competitive teams. However, they'll still be a little tough to take seriously as a title contender.

10. Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Philadelphia 76ers are facing a franchise-defining question this offseason: What are they going to do about James Harden?

    “This is going to define Daryl,” a team executive told Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix. “The trade has not worked out the way he had hoped. If he messes this up and James leaves, where does that leave them? If he overpays him, how do they build a winner?"

    If Harden leaves, Philadelphia won't have the cap space or trade assets necessary to immediately fill that roster hole. If he stays on a monster deal and continues what appeared to be a rapid decline toward the end of the 2021-22 campaign, he'll be difficult to trade and a burden on the cap sheet for years to come.

    The best outcome might be talking him into picking up his $47.4 million player option and essentially kicking this can down the road for a year.

9. Phoenix Suns

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    The Phoenix Suns won 64 games in the regular season before imploding in the playoffs.

    Most of the attention was understandably directed at Games 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals, which Phoenix lost by 27 and 33, respectively. But dropping two games to the 36-46 New Orleans Pelicans in the first round (even if the addition of McCollum changed them quite a bit) should also be cause for some concern.

    And after they failed to sign center Deandre Ayton to an extension last summer, it's not "more likely than not" that he'll be playing for another team next season, according to James Edwards III and John Hollinger of The Athletic.

    If all of the drama and disappointment results in more resolve from Chris Paul and Devin Booker and one more positionless player in place of Ayton, the Suns could make another deep playoff run. But right now, all of the chaos makes Phoenix one of the harder teams in the league to peg.

8. Brooklyn Nets

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    Despite earlier rumblings that the Brooklyn Nets were "outright unwilling to give [Kyrie Irving] a long-term extension," the New York Post's Brian Lewis reported that "all indications strongly point toward a reunion between Brooklyn and its All-Star point guard."

    As is the case with most high-profile free agents (or potential free agents), we can probably expect a few more conflicting reports between now and a resolution. But for now, we'll assume the most recent prevails.

    That means Brooklyn will enter next season with a Big Three of Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons. Having the shooting of Seth Curry and Joe Harris should help, too.

    If those five make up the Nets' small-ball lineup, they'll be formidable, particularly on offense. Availability and how many points they give up on the other end will dictate how often they'll be able to use that lineup, though.

7. Dallas Mavericks

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    The New York Knicks recently hired Jalen Brunson's father as an assistant coach, but that might not be enough to lure him out of Dallas. Brunson and the Mavericks have "mutual interest" in staying together beyond this season, according to Tim Cato of The Athletic, and it isn't hard to see why.

    Over the last two seasons, Dallas is plus-4.3 points per 100 possessions with Brunson and Luka Doncic on the floor, plus-2.2 when Doncic plays without Brunson and plus-4.1 when Brunson plays without Doncic.

    Having someone who can carry the burden of the offense when Dallas' heliocentric superstar is off the floor is critical. Brunson has shown he can do that.

    And now, following the acquisition of Christian Wood from the Houston Rockets, those guards now have a big man who can play either pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with them.

    The Mavericks' offense should be scary next season.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

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    If the Los Angeles Clippers are healthy next season, they'll almost certainly compete for a championship.

    Even without any dramatic changes this offseason, L.A. figures to start 2022-23 with a starting lineup of Reggie Jackson, Norman Powell, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Ivica Zubac.

    If Nicolas Batum (player option) returns, they'd also have him, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris and Robert Covington coming off the bench. All four could probably start at various non-Kawhi, non-PG spots in that lineup, too.

    That looks like an awful lot like an older version of the Boston Celtics' postionless lineup that romped through the 2022 playoffs, minus a rim-runner like Robert Williams III.

5. Denver Nuggets

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    The Denver Nuggets' new front office, now led by Calvin Booth, may want to tinker around the edges of this roster. However, if Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will be healthy for the 2022-23 season, this team already has one of the best cores in basketball.

    Nikola Jokic is in his prime and already ranks among the top 30 in career MVP shares.

    Jamal Murray has scored 50 points in the playoffs twice and has a career postseason scoring average of 24.3 points (to go along with a 40.9 three-point percentage).

    Among players with at least 500 career three-point attempts, Michael Porter Jr. has the highest effective field-goal percentage in NBA history.

    And Aaron Gordon has the kind of defense-first, floor-raising, fill-in-the-gaps game that those three need. During his time in Denver, the Nuggets are plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions with Gordon on the floor and minus-1.5 with him off.

4. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Barring trades, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane, Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, De'Anthony Melton, Steven Adams, Ziaire Williams and John Konchar will all be back with the Memphis Grizzlies next season. The average age of that group is 24.

    It's reasonable to expect improvements from several of those players, particularly Morant, whose defense was a big part of why Memphis was so much better when he didn't play in 2021-22.

    If he can lock in on that end without giving up much on the other, the Grizzlies might join the bona fide contenders in 2022-23.

3. Boston Celtics

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    Squeaking by a Milwaukee Bucks team without Khris Middleton and losing three straight in the Finals to the Golden State Warriors may sour some on the 2022-23 Boston Celtics, but it'd be just as easy to look at this team as ahead of schedule.

    When Boston was 19-21 in early January, few could've imagined the run the Celtics would go on. Predicting them to make the Finals at that point would've sounded ludicrous.

    The fact that they played juggernaut-level defense over the back half of the season and should return four starters under 30 is obviously encouraging.

    And if the pain of loss inspires Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to find another level, Boston will be very much in the mix to return to the Finals.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

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    It was hard not to think about Khris Middleton missing the second round with an injury while watching the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors.

    The Celtics trailed the Milwaukee Bucks 3-2 and needed seven games to win that series. Had Middleton been available, Milwaukee would've had a better shot at defending its title.

    So, it shouldn't be all that difficult for the Bucks to justify running it back.

    Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton have player options, but if both remain in Milwaukee, the Bucks will have eight rotation players from 2021-22 set to return. That includes Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

1. Golden State Warriors

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    Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson secured their fourth title together on Thursday. And though much of the conversation surrounding this run was about this team being older and less talented than the last title team, this group has something the 2016-17 and 2017-18 squads didn't.

    In addition to the core being back, the Golden State Warriors will also return Andrew Wiggins (27 years old), Jordan Poole (22), James Wiseman (21), Moses Moody (20) and Jonathan Kuminga (19).

    Wiggins entering his prime, the youngsters getting some internal development and the legends having a few more years near their peaks mean Golden State will have a heck of a shot to defend its title.

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