If a dead time exists in the year-round NBA calendar, early August is it. As we all sit in a Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving-Donovan Mitchell holding pattern, all we can do right now is start to look ahead with the information currently available. So I’m going to list 10 players I’m most excited to watch in the 2022-23 season. They’re all for slightly different reasons, but they all have major intrigue. Let’s get to it.
After playing in just 85 games through his first three NBA seasons, Williamson was handed a five-year contract extension this summer that is guaranteed to pay him $193 million and could be worth up to $231 million. There is a weight clause in the deal. If Williamson’s body-fat percentage plus his weight exceeds 295 he could lose a portion of the guaranteed money, but that only triggers if the Pelicans waive him. If that happens, things will have gone completely off the rails.
For all intents and purposes, the Pelicans are on the hook to pay a guy who has struggled mightily to remain on the court a cap-crushing amount of coin over the next five years. They’re doing that because when Williamson has been on the court he’s been virtually unstoppable. His scoring efficiency has toggled between extraordinary and downright historic. His ability to get downhill going left, often getting started a beat before the catch, when everyone knows that’s where he wants to go, is uncanny. Second jumps don’t come much quicker or more explosive than his.
Anyway, we don’t need a Zion scouting report. He’s awesome. And the Pelicans could be as well if he plays 65-70 games. To me, he’s the most intriguing player in the league heading into this season.
File this under the “for obvious reasons” ledger. The anticipation for Simmons’ presumed return to the court couldn’t be higher after the drama of last season. First and foremost, is he mentally ready to play? The Nets teased that Simmons could return at the end of their playoff series against the Celtics, but then scrapped that when they went down 3-0. Was it really just a physical issue?
I’m not sure anyone, even within the Nets, has a firm grasp on what to expect from Simmons. If Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving remain in Brooklyn, it would appear to be a great situation for Simmons, who wouldn’t have to be a main creator/scorer and could focus on defense, transition, cutting/rolling and secondary creation. But does he have it in him to commit to such a peripheral offensive role? So many questions.
If Simmons is on the court, everyone will be watching closely in the early going, and for me, I’ll be rooting for him. That’s strange for me to say. I’ve never particularly liked Simmons’ game and I hated, like most everyone else, the way he handled his Philadelphia exit. Back when everyone couldn’t stop raving about how uniquely great he was, I couldn’t stand all the “I’m smarter than you” talk. Now that everyone thinks he might kind of stink, especially in a playoff setting, I’ve flipped. Now I’m rooting for him. It’s strange, but a No. 1 overall pick on a max contract has actually become kind of an underdog. I dig that.
If Murray suits up for Denver on opening night, it will have been almost 18 months since he last played in an NBA game after tearing his ACL in April of 2021. Personally, I can’t wait to watch him play again. Murray can be one of the league’s most electrifying players, and if he’s right — and especially if Michael Porter Jr. is also healthy — the Nuggets will be a top-tier title contender. But how long will Murray require to get back up to speed? One thing Denver doesn’t have to worry about is continuity. Murray and Nikola Jokic should pretty much pick up where they left off as a tandem.
There are a handful of super-interesting rookies we’re all going to be tracking closely, but for me, Holmgren is the most intriguing. If you watched him in Summer League you know that his size-skill combination is freaky. Will he hold up to the physicality? Are we making too much of his slender frame like we did with Kevin Durant? I can’t wait to see Holmgren spacing the floor for SGA’s drives and playing off Josh Giddey’s passing. If he’s the kind of rim protector experts say, he could be pretty special right away.
Edwards is on the cusp of stardom. There isn’t a more breathtaking athlete in the league and the charisma with which he scores is intoxicating. This guy legit believes he’s unstoppable, and he might be right. Let’s pump that 35 percent 3-point number up closer to the 40 percent he shot in the playoffs and we’ll be talking serious business. With the addition of Rudy Gobert, Minnesota is going for it. How great Edwards can be on a consistent basis, on both ends, will go a long way toward whatever “it” means.
Lillard basically took last season off. He says he’s healthy now. The Blazers retooled their roster, namely with Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II, to provide Lillard with hopefully adequate defensive support. Still, the only way the Blazers can be an even halfway relevant player in the West is if Lillard goes superhero. We’ve seen him do it before. I’m betting he will tap into his powers again. Lillard is the closest thing that exists to Stephen Curry. When he’s hot, you must drop whatever you’re doing and tune in. And he’s going to be on a mission to be as hot as possible, as often as possible, this season.
Same deal as Lillard and Murray. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Leonard, who took all of last season to recover from a torn ACL. There’s the excitement of simply watching him play again, and the question of whether he’ll still be a top-five player in the league. It stands to reason he will be, at least on given nights. Yes, there’s a cumulative injury history in play here, but he’s still only 31 years old. With Paul George back healthy and probably the deepest roster in the league, the Clippers are primed to vault perhaps to the very top of the contender hierarchy.
It’s year three for Wiseman. His rookie season left a lot to be desired. He sat out his second season. It’s time to see if all this hype the Warriors throw around regarding Wiseman’s supposedly unlimited potential is even halfway warranted. He won’t be Golden State’s starting center. That distinction goes to Kevon Looney. But he needs to be a real contributor, at the very least.
The Warriors have a massive tax bill and potential looming contract extensions for Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole. Do not rule out them making a trade to avoid one or even two of those long-term commitments, and Wiseman could certainly be included in such a transaction depending on the return. Either as a core piece moving forward or a central asset moving out in a trade, there are a lot of eyes on Wiseman this season.
The Lakers, as currently constructed, and assuming LeBron James can still play like one of the best players in the league, have one chance to compete for a top-four seed: Davis has to be a superstar. For starters, he has to stay on the court; he’s only played 76 games over the last two seasons. Limit his minutes at the five. That’s fine until playoff time. But he has to be great at the four.
Defensively, he has to cover for a lot. Offensively, it mostly comes down to his shooting. If he’s going to keep shooting 3s, it can’t be at the 19-percent clip he logged last season or even the 27 percent from 2020-21. Bubble Davis was an anomaly, but the guy began last season as literally the worst shooter in the league with over 150 attempts.
Davis ticked up his efficiency on paper by attacking in the post and at the rim more, but I believe there’s a preservation element in play here. Banging around the post all season is a lot to ask, especially in two-big lineups without much shooting around the stars. The midrange is Davis’ cushion. He can tend to settle for it too much and fade away unnecessarily, but he needs to live pretty often in that area for practical purposes. There’s not much room for error on this Lakers squad. Davis has to be consistently great. Frankly, that applies whether the Lakers end up getting Kyrie Irving or not, though obviously more if they don’t.
Nobody is quite ready to call Brown a superstar, but he’s not far off. He’s not so great that he can’t be included in trade discussions, but at the same time he feels too great, and too young, to actually trade. It’s a very fine line that Boston is walking by considering moving him at the possible expense of alienating a foundational star or giving up too soon on a Brown-Tatum tandem that could deliver a decade-plus of true contention. But if they could get Kevin Durant? Tough not to think about that.
To me, Brown could make another leap this season. Whether that simply makes him attractive enough for the Nets to lower their asking price on additional assets or makes Boston officially close the door on dealing him, who knows. But Brown has superstar game. There are plenty of nights when he’s Boston’s best player. I love watching him play, his (at times) butterfinger ball handling notwithstanding. To me, Brown is one of the hardest players in the league to rate. He’s right in between All-Star and All-NBA. This season presents another batch of evidence I’m anxious to consider.