Top 10 Storylines of the 2022-23 NBA Season

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVOctober 18, 2022

Top 10 Storylines of the 2022-23 NBA Season

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    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - OCTOBER 05: LeBron James #6 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers laugh on the sideline after Westbrook was called for a technical foul on the bench in the third quarter of their preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at T-Mobile Arena on October 05, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Suns defeated the Lakers 119-115. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    The NBA's talent pool is as deep as it's ever been, and that means the 2022-23 season should be packed with fun storylines.

    The ultimate one, of course, is the quest for a championship. With all the other drama that sometimes swirls in and around the league, it can be easy to lose sight of that, but everything leads to the Finals.

    Still, there are plenty of chapters worth exploring between now and then. Below, you'll find the 10 best.

Victor Wembanyama (and the Tankathon He'll Inspire)

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    LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 6: Victor Wembanyama #1 of Metropolitans 92 signs autographs after the game against the G League Ignite on October 6, 2022 at The Dollar Loan Center in Las Vegas, NV. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    Prior to a two-game slate against the G League Ignite in Las Vegas, much of the hype surrounding Victor Wembanyama felt theoretical.

    You probably knew that he was 7'4". You'd probably heard that he doesn't move like a player that size typically does. You may have even seen some low-quality game footage of him against what seemed like inferior competition and worried about how his body would hold up in the NBA.

    Any and all lingering doubts were, at the very least, addressed in those two games in Vegas.

    In his first exhibition game against the Ignite, a team that includes NBA veterans and fellow 2023 prospect Scoot Henderson, Wembanyama went for 37 points, seven threes and five blocks.

    Two days later, he delivered a more well-rounded game with 36 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. And this time, his Metropolitan 92s got the win.

    From there, the hot take industrial complex took over. And on this occasion, it was pretty difficult to argue against what was coming out.

    ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski called him "the singular greatest prospect in NBA draft history."

    He added that a general manager told him "we're going to see a race to the bottom like we've never seen before."

    Another executive told Marc Stein that Wembanyama is "the clear No. 1 pick in the draft by miles.”

    For what feels like at least a third of the league, the chance to land Wembanyama will hover over everything they do throughout the 2022-23 season.

    That race to the bottom that Wojnarowski mentioned could start much earlier than it usually does. Rebuilding teams that still have a few veterans, like the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers, might be more willing to let them go for next to nothing than they were before the Vegas games. At the end of the season, mysterious injuries and G League call-ups could be rampant.

    And the league's flattening of lottery odds (with the three worst records all getting a 14 percent shot at the top pick) might have the opposite effect of what was intended. A team on the brink of a play-in spot in February or March might do a little soul-searching and angle toward the bottom three, when in other years it might push for the postseason experience.

    Meanwhile, as teams around the NBA try to lose, highlights from overseas are sure to keep pouring in from Wembanyama. His season is just beginning, and he's not done shoveling coal into the hype train's engine.

The Nets' House of Cards

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 06: Ben Simmons #10 and Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets look on during the second half against the Miami Heat at Barclays Center on October 06, 2022 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    The best possible version of the Brooklyn Nets can win 60-plus regular-season games and a championship in June. This roster has that much talent.

    Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are still among the game's best offensive players. Both will probably average around 25 points and five assists. And Ben Simmons may be the perfectly tailored point forward to play with them. He won't demand a ton of shots, and his point-of-attack defense gives Brooklyn a dimension it never had in 2021-22.

    Surround those three with shooting from some combination of Seth Curry, Joe Harris, Patty Mills and Royce O'Neale, and it's easy to imagine the Nets annihilating opponents when they get hot.

    The foundation underneath all that, though, could very well crumble at a moment's notice.

    We're coming off a summer in which Kevin Durant requested a trade. When that didn't work, he issued the team an ultimatum (pick me or coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks).

    Early in the offseason, there were rumblings that Kyrie was so intent on leaving that he might play for the Los Angeles Lakers for the mid-level exception.

    Earlier still, Simmons made his own trade request, one that was eventually honored when the Philadelphia 76ers sent him to Brooklyn.

    On top of all that, all three have seemingly clashed with other big personalities from the various rosters they've been on. The idea that everything between them will instantly be copacetic feels like a stretch, especially if absences and losses start rolling in.

    Kyrie has averaged 55.5 appearances per season for his career (and 34.3 over the last three years). Kevin Durant is 34 years old and missed all of 2019-20 with a ruptured Achilles. In the two seasons since, he's played a total of 90 games. Simmons has back problems and missed all of 2021-22 dealing with those and other personal concerns.

    In terms of raw talent, this team is loaded, but so much of it feels combustible.

The MVP Race

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    BELGRADE, SERBIA - AUGUST 25: Nikola Jokic (L) of Serbia in action against Giannis  Antetokounmpo (R) of Greece during  the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 Qualifier game between Serbia and Greece at Stark Arena on August 25, 2022 in Belgrade, Serbia. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
    Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images

    Multiple MVP-caliber players competing in the same season suddenly feels like the norm in the NBA.

    In plenty of previous seasons, what Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid did in each of the last two campaigns would've earned the award. They just happened to be up against two of the greatest individual seasons in league history.

    In 2021-22, Nikola Jokić averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists while setting the single-season record for box plus/minus (a popular, easily searchable catch-all metric). The year before, he had what was then the third-best BPM ever.

    All three of those big men figure to be in the MVP race again, and none of them are even the betting favorite.

    On FanDuel, Luka Dončić has the shortest odds. And without last season's secondary playmaker (Jalen Brunson), it's not hard to imagine Luka nudging up his averages from the last three seasons (28.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists).

    All of the above are likely to be joined by one or two surprise entrants to the fray, and we the fans get the privilege of watching the battle play out all season.

The Russell Westbrook Trade (or Lack Thereof)

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 9: Russell Westbrook of the Los Angeles Lakers warms up before the game against the Golden State Warriors on October 9, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Lakers are one of the most recognizable sports franchises in the world. With LeBron James on the team, they're led by one of the most recognizable sports stars in the world. Even when they're bad, as they were last year, they get a ton of attention.

    And if the wonky fit between LeBron, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook remains in place through 2022-23, there's a good chance they'll be bad again.

    So it probably came as no surprise that Westbrook's name floated in and around the trade rumor mill all summer. And after a couple grimace-inducing videos from the preseason, it's hard to imagine it'll get out of there till he's traded.

    Nicole Ganglani @nicoleganglani

    Anyone thinks this is awkward as well? Russ doesn't join the pre-game team huddle and seems to be just by himself. <br><br>Clip from Michael Morales/Instagram <a href="https://t.co/kaPZacrqRb">https://t.co/kaPZacrqRb</a> <a href="https://t.co/kqNfGEBUGW">pic.twitter.com/kqNfGEBUGW</a>

    This could be LeBron's last chance for championship No. 5. After seeing the way things played out in 2021-22, he can't be ecstatic about betting that chance on the same dynamic.

    And as the race for Wembanyama heats up over the coming months, bad teams may get more desperate to unload their good players.

    Russell Westbrook's expiring contract and the two first-round picks that were analyzed to death this offseason (2027 and 2029) could end up fetching L.A. something that gives LeBron and AD a puncher's chance.

The Sophomore Class

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    HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 10: Cade Cunningham #2 of the Detroit Pistons defends against Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets on November 10, 2021 at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

    NBA front offices and the prospects they scout both seem to be significantly better than they were in previous eras. There are still big misses at the top of the draft, but that feels far less common than it once was. And the hit rate from 2021 looks like it could be mighty high.

    To varying degrees, all of the below have a chance to at least be high-end rotation players. Some look like they could be stars within the next couple years.

    • Cade Cunningham (picked No. 1): 17.4 points, 5.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 threes
    • Jalen Green (No. 2): 17.3 points and 2.3 threes (28.1 points, 4.6 threes and a 42.7 three-point percentage over his last nine games)
    • Evan Mobley (No. 3): 15.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.7 blocks and 0.8 steals
    • Scottie Barnes (No. 4 and Rookie of the Year): 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks
    • Josh Giddey (No. 6): 12.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists
    • Franz Wagner (No. 8): 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 threes and 0.9 steals

    It's also easy to get excited about the futures of Jonathan Kuminga, Alperen Şengün, Quentin Grimes, Bones Hyland and Herbert Jones, to name a few.

    In short, this class is stacked. And all of these players seem poised to solidify (or improve upon) their positions in the league throughout 2022-23.

    They'll make several teams that may have otherwise been tough watches #LeaguePassAlert worthy.

Warriors' Quest for a Fifth Ring

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 9: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors looks on during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers  on October 9, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Golden State Warriors have seemingly (and unsurprisingly) powered through their first big controversy of the 2021-22 campaign.

    When video of Draymond Green punching Jordan Poole in practice leaked to TMZ, reaction from around the internet suggested the sky had already fallen on the dynasty.

    Within a week, news broke that Green wouldn't even be suspended. The team fined him and will try to move on.

    Maybe the punch leaves a festering wound or a rift between Green and Poole (or others on the team), but this group has been through too much together to splinter now, especially when a fifth title is on the line.

    LeBron and Shaquille O'Neal have four. Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson and Warriors coach Steve Kerr have five as players.

    Another championship for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond would add a ton of spice to the legacy conversations for each.

The Return of Injured Stars

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    MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 12: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on during warm ups before the preseason game against the Miami Heat on October 12, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

    The star power on the list of players who missed all or most of 2021-22 is immense.

    And now, Kawhi Leonard, Zion Williamson, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Ben Simmons are all back. Hopefully, we'll get more games from Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, too.

    With all of the above suddenly back in rotations around the league, the quality of play should increase (Wembanyama sweepstakes notwithstanding), and choosing All-Stars is going to be a nightmare.

    And again, we all reap the rewards.

Stars in New Surroundings

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    CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 10: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on October 10, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by  Lauren Bacho/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Lauren Bacho/NBAE via Getty Images

    While some stars are returning from injuries, others will debut for new teams following trades or free agency. Or, in Simmons' case, both of those boxes are checked.

    He, of course, is now in Brooklyn. That trade happened last season, but he's yet to play a regular-season game there. His role as a distributor and defender should be in sharp focus early on.

    The Utah Jazz unloaded Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers, respectively. There are fun fit questions for both. Can Minnesota thrive with ultra-big lineups that include Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns? Can Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen make up for the potential defensive limitations of a Mitchell-Darius Garland backcourt?

    Trickier still might be the combination of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, two of the four highest-usage players in the NBA last season.

    Each team will surely have a learning curve, but the potential for success is high.

Last Chances

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    PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MARCH 27: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on March 27, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    As a rising generation that includes Jokić, Giannis and Luka, just to name a few, takes over the league, the old faces of the league may be approaching their last chances to win (or add) a title.

    Chris Paul is 37 years old. He doesn't have a championship. LeBron turns 38 in December. He needs one more to tie Kobe. At 34, KD is a little younger than those two, but he also has the Achilles injury in his history. He's yet to win a title without Curry. James Harden, who recently turned 33, has a long list of playoff meltdowns.

    They're all on teams with younger players who may keep their respective title windows open beyond this season, but that's far from guaranteed. And at some point in the not-too-distant future (possibly this season), the next wave is going to slam that window shut.

The (Potentially Halted) Rise of the Celtics

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 13: Ime Udoka coaches Jaylen Brown #7 and Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics during Game Five of the 2022 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on June 13, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    At the end of the 2022 postseason, the Boston Celtics and their fans were surely disappointed to watch the Warriors hoist the trophy, but the future couldn't have been much brighter.

    Jaylen Brown is 25. Jayson Tatum is 24. Both now have Finals experience. And the supporting cast around them helped to establish a juggernaut-level defense.

    Early in the offseason, the front office added Malcolm Brogdon in a trade that didn't cost the team many rotation minutes. Danilo Gallinari was signed after a buyout from the San Antonio Spurs.

    Everything was looking up.

    Then Gallo tore his ACL playing international basketball. It was revealed that coach Ime Udoka was embroiled in a scandal that got him suspended for all of 2022-23. And starting center Robert Williams III had to undergo a knee surgery that could cost him the first few months of the season.

    Like the Lakers, the Celtics are one of the game's most successful and recognizable franchises. Having them back at the top of the East almost felt fitting. Their ability to stay there feels like much less of a sure thing than it did three months ago.

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