Every NBA Team's Biggest Question After 1 Month
Now a month into the 2022-23 season, it's hard to make sense of a lot of what's going on in the NBA thus far.
The Utah Jazz are good? The Golden State Warriors stink? Do we have any idea what to make of the Brooklyn Nets? When are key players returning from injury? Is the Los Angeles Lakers' season already doomed?
It's time to take a spin around The Association and look at the biggest questions for all 30 teams.
Atlanta Hawks: When Will Bogdan Bogdanovic Be Back?
Atlanta is off to a 9-5 start this season, with the implementation of Dejounte Murray going smoothly. The team's defense has been far better overall with Murray, and the Hawks look like a real threat to get home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
This has all been done without Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Hawks' veteran wing and third-leading scorer from a season ago. The 30-year-old had offseason knee surgery and is still recovering while being mostly limited to shooting activities.
“I’m back to the court activities, and I feel good, just a little out of basketball shape,” Bogdanovic told Lauren Williams of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You know, I need a rhythm back, you know, change of direction, explosive moves. But now I’m focusing on that.”
While there's no official return date in mind, Atlanta has done just fine without him and will get a major boost to the bench with Bogdanovic's scoring and playmaking ability when he returns to 100 percent.
Boston Celtics: Should We Be Worried About the Defense?
Following a sluggish start to the season, Boston has now won seven straight to improve to 11-3 overall, the best record in the NBA.
This is despite the fact the Celtics have dropped to 19th overall in team defense (112.5 rating), down from first a season ago (106.2 rating).
A slight drop was expected with starting center Robert Williams III missing the beginning of the season with knee surgery, but this has been a monumental dip.
Given that Boston's defense allowed 4.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Williams on the floor last season (85th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass), there's probably no reason to panic just yet, however.
Brooklyn Nets: What's the Future of Kyrie Irving?
Kyrie Irving remains away from the Nets because of a team suspension while his future in Brooklyn is anyone's guess.
Be it a trade, sudden retirement, outright release or return to the team, would anyone really be shocked by any possible outcome at this point?
The Nets have actually played quite well without their All-Star point guard, as Brooklyn is now 4-3 without Irving compared to just 2-6 when he suits up.
Perhaps a trade would be best for everyone involved, as Irving almost certainly isn't going to re-sign with the Nets, and Brooklyn has played well without him serving as a distraction.
Charlotte Hornets: Is a One-Year Tank the Best Route?
LaMelo Ball's recent return from an ankle injury has sparked some life in these Hornets, but at 4-11 overall and in 14th place in the East, is the season already on life support?
The Hornets were already a play-in team at best this year and Ball's absence from the lineup dug this team into a hole that is only getting deeper by the day.
With their 2023 first-round pick owed to the San Antonio Spurs, yet protected for the top 16 selections, should Charlotte really be trying to win this season?
Selling off veterans like Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Mason Plumlee and others while prioritizing playing time for the younger roster members and trying to grab a top pick in the 2023 draft may be the best long-term decision for a franchise that's off to a rough start.
Chicago Bulls: How's Lonzo Ball's Knee?
At 6-8 overall this season, the Bulls definitely miss having Lonzo Ball in the starting lineup.
Between his playmaking, defense, three-point shooting and overall table-setting, Chicago improved by 4.6 points per 100 possessions with Ball on the floor last season.
Unfortunately, knee surgeries have kept him off the floor since January and recovery has been slow.
“Everything is very, very optimistic right now,” head coach Billy Donovan said via Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun Times. “I think there are things he’s able to do that he feels a lot freer [with], that he did prior to the surgery. The biggest part was allowing the incision inside his knee to heal, and then he started to do some things. He has done some running on a treadmill in the water, which is a positive sign. There are things he’s doing that he wasn’t able to do.”
This still feels like Ball is a long way away from playing in an NBA game. Hopefully we see him sometime in the 2023 portion of the schedule.
Cleveland Cavaliers: What Happened to Isaac Okoro?
After showing signs of life as a three-point shooter last season (51.6 percent over his final 18 games) to go along with his lockdown defense, Isaac Okoro looked like an important two-way player for the Cavs coming into the year.
But the 21-year-old has been a complete liability on offense and didn't connect on a three until his 13th game of the season. In 205 total minutes, Okoro has chipped in just 34 total points and five assists, shooting 33.3 percent overall and 7.1 percent (1-of-14) from three. Teams completely ignore him on the perimeter, leading to some clogged paints for Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland to try and drive into.
Keeping Okoro out of the trade for Mitchell looked like a win for Cleveland, especially if he could become a three-and-D starting small forward between the Cavs' premier backcourt and big men.
Instead, Okoro has been dreadful to start the season, and needs to start knocking down his outside shots once again to even deserve a rotation spot.
Dallas Mavericks: Is Another Playmaker Needed?
If it feels like Luka Dončić is being asked to do too much this season, it's because he is.
Not only is the 23-year-old leading the NBA in usage rate (39.1 percent), but also Dončić has a real chance at setting the league record this season. Only Russell Westbrook (in his first Kevin Durant-less year in 2016-17) and James Harden (coming off an MVP year in 2018-19) have posted higher usage rates in NBA history than what we're seeing from Dončić this season.
The Mavs have to use either him or Spencer Dinwiddie on the floor at all times, as this roster falls short on players who can actually dribble and pass.
Trading future first-round picks should try and be avoided (Dallas will be able to include four in a deal after the draft this summer), but exploring other ways to add another playmaker is probably needed.
Denver Nuggets: How Bad Is This Bench?
With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. looking better by the day in their return from injuries and Nikola Jokic still destroying worlds, the focus in Denver turns to a disappointing second unit.
The Nuggets rank No. 1 in the NBA in net rating among starters (plus-6.2), yet their bench falls to 27th overall (minus-4.8).
A group with Bruce Brown, Bones Hyland and Jeff Green shouldn't be this bad, even if DeAndre Jordan has become a traffic cone on defense.
Denver should explore ways to improve the bench before the trade deadline, especially in the frontcourt behind Jokic and Aaron Gordon.
Detroit Pistons: Should We be Concerned with Cade Cunningham's Efficiency?
The NBA's worst defense is the main reason for Detroit's 3-12 start to the season, although the development of the young core was always going to be more important than the overall record.
Cade Cunningham, the face of the Pistons and the No. 1 overall pick of 2021, hasn't made the leap most were hoping for thus far.
Both his two-point (46.6 percent) and three-point shot efficiency have dipped (27.9 percent) this season, leading to a true shooting mark of just 49.2 percent.
Cunningham is also taking more than twice the number of long twos this season (17.4 percent of his total shots, up from 7.2 percent last year) and has been less efficient in nearly every area of the court.
The sample size is still relatively small, but these aren't the numbers Pistons' fans wanted to see.
Golden State Warriors: Can the Young Talent Grow Up Fast Enough?
The Warriors' plan of blending eras has been a disaster this season, with Golden State off to a 6-8 start.
James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft, has now been sent to the G-League for an extended period while other top lottery selections like Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody have yet to make positive impacts as well.
Numbers show that the Warriors are still an elite team when they stick to their vets, however, as Golden State has a net rating of plus-12.2 (95th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass) when Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody are all out of the game.
This season should still be about chasing a title and maximizing an MVP-caliber season from Stephen Curry, something that may not happen unless the young talent grows up fast.
Houston Rockets: Should We Be Worried About Jabari Smith Jr.?
Think the Houston Rockets are mad that the Orlando Magic snatched Paolo Banchero off the board yet?
While Banchero is off to a sizzling start, Jabari Smith Jr. is struggling for the NBA-worst 2-12 Rockets this season.
No rookie has a lower true shooting mark (44.2 percent) than Smith, who's making just 33.9 percent of his twos and 29.7 percent of his threes for Houston thus far. The Rockets are also a whooping 17.2 points per 100 possessions worse with Smith in the game, a figure that ranks in just the 8th percentile among all NBA players.
It's important to remember that Smith is just 19 and only 13 games into his career. But with fellow rookies like Banchero, Benn Mathurin, Jaden Ivey, Keegan Murray and others off to far better starts, not seeing a better beginning to Smith's career is disappointing.
Indiana Pacers: What's Taking so Long for a Myles Turner Trade?
On the trade block now for what seems like years, Myles Turner is somehow still a member of the Pacers.
This isn't for a lack of interest, of course.
Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus writes that the Los Angeles Clippers have discussed targeting the 26-year-old center, and there's been reported interest by the Los Angeles Lakers in the past as well.
Now seems like a terrific time to swing a deal, as Turner has been awesome to begin the year (17.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 37.0 percent from three) and has avoided major injury to this point, something that's limited him to just 89 total games the past two seasons. His trade value should be fairly high.
The Pacers are also a little too good to land a top draft pick at 6-6, so moving Turner sooner rather than later would help land an elite prospect next summer.
Los Angeles Clippers: When Will We See a Healthy Kawhi Leonard?
Leonard has been limited to just two games this season while returning from knee surgery and hasn't taken the floor at all since Oct. 23.
Currently sidelined with stiffness in his knee, even Leonard's return to the court on a full-time basis is a mystery to head coach Tyronn Lue.
Leonard has been traveling with the Clippers as of late, so it could be a game-to-game basis to see when he feels good enough to play again. At 8-6 this season, Los Angeles doesn't technically need him now, with all the focus on making sure the two-time Finals MVP is as close to 100 percent as possible come playoff time.
There's no rush to get Leonard back to the floor for now, especially if the Clippers can hover around the playoff/play-in line without him.
Los Angeles Lakers: Is the Season Already over?
Things couldn't be going much worse for these Lakers.
After choosing to run things back with Russell Westbrook this season, Los Angeles is off to a 3-10 start, has the worst offense in the NBA and is currently missing LeBron James because of a left adductor strain.
There's no reason to tank, though. The New Orleans Pelicans own first-round swap rights with the Lakers' 2023 pick.
Los Angeles is currently four games out of the West playoffs and 2.5 games removed from the play-in tournament, although this gap looks like it will only grow given the roster around James and Anthony Davis.
Waiting until Dec. 15 will unlock the tradability of most of this summer's free-agent signings, if the Lakers can make it that long.
Using Westbrook's contract and the 2027 and 2029 first-round picks is still the best pathway for this team to improve, something L.A. can't afford to wait to do.
Memphis Grizzlies: Can Jaren Jackson Jr. Fix the Defense?
The biggest reason could have been the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis' starting power forward, who has just returned from offseason foot surgery. Jackson finished fifth in Defensive Player of the Year voting a season ago while leading the NBA in blocked shots (2.3 per game).
Jackson's ability to protect the rim, contest jumpers and break up passing lanes will make a huge difference for a Grizzlies frontcourt that's had to rely on rookies to pick up his minutes.
Knowing he's waiting behind them should allow Memphis' perimeter defenders to gamble a little more often, leading to an uptick in steals and fast-break opportunities.
Miami Heat: Should Tyler Herro Go Back to a Sixth-Man Role?
After winning Sixth Man of the Year last season, Tyler Herro earned his new job as the team's starting shooting guard.
Following a ho-hum 7-7 start to the season, however, should Erik Spoelstra consider moving Herro back to his old role?
Miami's starting lineup of Herro, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin and Bam Adebayo has been solid, posting a net rating of plus-8.5, good for the 61st percentile overall. However, when simply swapping Herro out for Max Strus, this rating jumps to plus-31.5, ranking in the 98th percentile.
Herro may not like the idea of a move back to the bench, but the Heat have simply been better with the 22-year-old as the sixth man.
Milwaukee Bucks: Does the Offense Have Enough Bite?
Milwaukee had one of the NBA's best scoring attacks last season, finishing third with a 114.3 rating. This year, despite posting a strong 10-3 record, the Bucks' offense has slipped to 23rd (109.3 rating).
Of course, a lot of this can be attributed to Khris Middleton's absence as the veteran recovers from offseason wrist surgery. As dominant as Giannis Antetokounmpo is, Middleton actually does most of the ball-handling on the team. Pat Connaughton is also out with a calf injury after averaging 9.9 points and shooting 39.5 percent from three last year.
The Bucks will also get veteran sharpshooter Joe Ingles back from a torn ACL at some point this year, giving the team another playmaker off the bench.
Hopefully returning to full strength is all this Milwaukee team will need to become an elite offense once again, although that's a big gap to try and make up.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Is It Too Early to Panic?
A 6-8 start to the season probably wasn't what president of basketball operations Tim Connelly envisioned when he gave up the farm for Rudy Gobert this summer, nor was a defensive rating that ranks six spots worse than it did a year ago (19th down from 13th).
Anthony Edwards' drive towards superstardom has stalled, as his per-minute scoring and assist numbers are actually down from last season while the 21-year-old's turnovers are up.
Now without a tradeable first-round pick, the Wolves have to rely on internal improvement to turn this season around.
Completely changing the frontcourt and overall team dynamic was always going to be an adjustment, but playing below-.500 basketball through the first month of the 2022-23 season should be somewhat alarming for a Minnesota team that finished 10 games over a year ago, even without Gobert.
New Orleans Pelicans: Is Zion Williamson's Bounce Back?
Zion Williamson's return to the court after missing all last season has been one of the best parts about the new NBA year, as the 22-year-old is one of the most exciting talents in the league.
Averages of 23.5 points and 6.4 rebounds are slightly lower than the last time we saw him, but Williamson is also surrounded by far more talent than he was two years ago.
While we've still seen a share of rim-rattling dunks, Williamson hasn't been getting to the basket quite as much thus far. His 15 total dunks in 11 games (1.36 per game) is noticeably lower than his career average (2.13), with the young phenom attempting far fewer shots in the restricted area as well (58.3 percent of his total shots, down from his career mark of 69.5 percent).
Currently day-to-day with a foot contusion, this isn't quite the same Williamson we saw two years ago, even if he's still been terrific.
New York Knicks: When Is RJ Barrett's "Leap" Coming?
The Knicks invested in RJ Barrett this past summer, handing him a four-year, $107 million extension that could reach $120 million if he hits certain incentives.
The 22-year-old has shown flashes of being a gifted scorer and lockdown defender, yet in Year 4, he has yet to mold all of that potential into kinetic energy.
Thus far, Barrett's production has actually dipped a bit from last season (18.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists), and he's shooting a career-low 28.6 percent from three despite taking a career-high percentage of looks from the outside (34.1 percent).
Perhaps this is what Barret will always be. A No. 3-ish option on a championship-level team who can help out in a number of areas but never truly be an All-Star or go-to scorer.
If the Knicks want to become a true playoff threat, the growth of Barrett is likely the most important factor to their success.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Should OKC Sell High on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
How good of a season is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander off to, exactly? He's currently only the third player in NBA history to average at least 30 points, five assists, two steals and a block per game, joining Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade.
Gilgeous-Alexander is doing it all while carrying the rebuilding Thunder to a near-.500 level and making a career-high 56.4 percent of his twos and 94.0 percent of his free throws. He's also canning 37.8 percent of his triples.
For a team that's prioritized collecting draft picks over wins the past few years, putting Gilgeous-Alexander on the trade block would bring back a monumental offer. Perhaps it would top what we saw from the Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert deals this summer, given his age (24) and contract (five years, $179 million with no options).
Teams like the New York Knicks, New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz (should they want to capitalize on a hot start this season) are loaded with picks and young talent to offer OKC. The Toronto Raptors own all of their future firsts and would be an intriguing destination as well for the Toronto native.
OKC could realistically compete for a play-in spot as early as next year with a core of Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, a healthy Chet Holmgren and a top 2023 draft pick, so keeping Gilgeous-Alexander out of trade talks is probably for the best.
Orlando Magic: Where's Jonathan Isaac?
It's been roughly 27 months since Jonathan Isaac last suited up for an NBA game, a streak that began in a Disney bubble and has now spilled into a fourth season.
The 25-year-old looked like he was on his way to becoming one of the league's best defensive players the last we saw him, but at this point, just getting him back on the court would be a win for the Magic.
According to Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel, Isaac is back to playing five-on-five, and his return to the court is "imminent."
For a supersized Magic roster, adding the 6'10" power forward would only bring more long, athletic size to the floor.
Given the incredible amount of rehab Isaac's had to go through, it will be a special moment to finally see him back in game action.
Philadelphia 76ers: Is James Harden's Durability Cause for Concern?
Currently sidelined and projected to miss a month of action due to a foot strain, should we be concerned about James Harden's durability now in the back nine of his career?
The 33-year-old used to be one of the most reliable players in the NBA, missing an average of just 5.1 games over his first eight seasons and has suited up at least 70 times or more in nine of his 13 career years.
However, a pesky hamstring injury bothered Harden last season, and now a foot injury nine games into the year has derailed his first full campaign with the 76ers.
There's a lot of mileage on those tires, as Harden had an average usage rate of 35.0 percent from 2014-20 while averaging 36.8 minutes over 535 regular and postseason games.
Maybe getting a month off will turn out to be a blessing in disguise in the long run for Harden, although given his age and massive usage throughout his career, any injury should be taken very seriously now.
Phoenix Suns: Is Father Time Finally Catching Up to Chris Paul?
While he's still among the league leaders in assists and turning the ball over just 1.5 times a game this season, Chris Paul's own scoring ability is in sharp decline.
The 37-year-old is shooting a career-low 44.2 percent on twos and 27.3 percent on threes in his first 10 games, culminating in a true shooting mark of just 52.2 percent.
A hefty 43.4 percent of his shots are coming from outside the arc, a number Paul has only previously reached as a member of the Houston Rockets and a big uptick from his 27.0 percent rate a year ago.
Paul could probably run an NBA offense until he's 50, but his dip in shooting efficiency is a bit concerning, especially considering his age.
Portland Trail Blazers: Did the Reset Actually Work?
The Blazers' decision to extend Damian Lillard and shuffle the roster around him seems to be working thus far, as Portland is off to a 10-4 start to lead the Western Conference.
Lillard looks far better than he did a season ago before undergoing abdominal surgery, and Jerami Grant has been the perfect power forward with his hot three-point shooting (49.3 percent) and defensive versatility.
Anfernee Simons has continued his strong play from last season, and No. 7 overall pick Shaedon Sharpe has performed well in a reserve role. We haven't even seen Gary Payton II yet this season as he recovers from a core injury.
However, a net rating of plus-2.3 only ranks 11th in the NBA, which is tied with the 7-7 Philadelphia 76ers. Portland is good, but it's too early to tell if this team truly belongs among the West's elite.
Sacramento Kings: Will Defense Be the Death of Team's Playoff Hopes?
With De'Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Keegan Murray, Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes, we knew the Kings were going to put up points this season.
After dropping 153(!!!) in a regulation win against the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento is now up to second in total offense (116.5 rating).
The problem, however, lies in trying to stop opponents from doing the same.
As good as this scoring attack is, Sacramento can't win 130-128 every night and must find a way to get some stops when needed.
San Antonio Spurs: When's the Best Time for a Firesale?
A 6-9 start to the season means there are currently five teams with better draft odds than the Spurs.
For a San Antonio team that was prioritizing a top pick in 2023 the moment they traded Dejounte Murray, this isn't good enough.
There are some intriguing veterans for contenders to want to pluck off this roster, including Jakob Poeltl, Josh Richardson and Doug McDermott. The three make between $9.4 million and $13.8 million, which should be fairly easy to match money with.
Waiting too long to strip things down completely could mean finishing with a better record than teams like the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers (with swap rights going to the New Orleans Pelicans), Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and Orlando Magic, giving them better odds at the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than the Spurs.
Waiting until closer to the deadline could uncover more desperate trade partners, however, ultimately netting San Antonio better assets in return.
Finding the sweet spot between the two will be key.
Toronto Raptors: Does the Starting Five Need a Shake Up?
Absences from Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam have led to just an 8-7 start to the season for Toronto, although even a healthy Raptors squad hasn't looked quite right.
The regular starting lineup of VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Siakam are struggling, posting a net rating of minus-7.0 in 148 total possessions together, ranking in the 24th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.
Choosing who to bench is nearly impossible, however.
VanVleet and Siakam are locked in as starters. Anunoby has been playing like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Barnes has the highest potential of anyone on the roster. This leaves Trent, although his outside shooting and scoring punch are nice to have around the rest of the trees in the starting five.
Moving Trent to the bench in favor of another big to make this lineup truly supersized may be worth trying.
Utah Jazz: Abandon the Tank?
Utah's 10-3 start had been the most surprising part of the young NBA season, as a team that traded two All-Stars and another key starter was somehow still at the top of the West.
Reality has begun to set it, however, as the Jazz have now lost three in a row to fall to 10-6.
Tanking was always going to be the plan, but no team (well, maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder) is prepared to make a mega offer for the next star that hits the market. A core of Mike Conley, Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Jordan Clarkson, Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk can be a sustainable offense as well.
In the end, it's probably best to stick to the original script and move more veterans to slide down the standings and up the draft board.
Washington Wizards: Time to Go All-In?
The Wizards are winners of four in a row and have jumped to fifth place in the East. What's more impressive is that all four victories have come without Bradley Beal, who's been in health and safety protocols.
This is a team that should at least qualify for the play-in tournament but could be capable of more should they make some major moves.
Washington has a fair amount of young talent and former lottery picks to offer in a trade, as well as future firsts and some salary-matching veterans. If any stars pop up on the trade market to add around Beal and Kristaps Porziņģis, the Wizards could be a sneaky destination after previously showing interest in Donovan Mitchell this past summer.
As good as this start has been, Washington likely won't stay in the top-six spots without some trade help.