The 2022-23 NBA season is quickly approaching. With preseason coming to an end and Opening Night scheduled for October 18th, we will see the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics square off at 7:30 PM (EST) while the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors go head-to-head at 10:00 PM (EST). The start of a new season comes with fresh storylines, new players to root for, and gives the hometown fan an additional reason to enjoy the grueling 82-game schedule. A new season also leaves us with questions: Who will win MVP? What future star will win Rookie of the Year? Who will take home the Larry O’Brien trophy and claim the throne as NBA champions?
2022-23 NBA Rookie of the Year
The 2022 rookie class comes into this season with some exciting expectations. While some are expected to fit in and follow their role, there are a select few who are tasked with carrying the franchise on their back. Last year, Toronto Raptors’ Scottie Barnes, the fourth overall pick, won the award following 15.3 points, 7.5 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game. Who will win the award this season?
Gary Sonneberger: Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
It’s difficult not to pick Orlando Magic forward and the top pick Paolo Banchero to win the Rookie of the Year award this season. His size, combined with his incredible footwork and skill has him primed to take the league by storm. He has the ability to develop as an elite one-on-one scorer in the league, he already finishes over both shoulders, and can even pass at a high enough level to keep defenses guessing. His development as a high-level passer late in Duke’s season was key to their tournament success and lends perfectly to the pace and space style of offense run in the NBA. Orlando was 29th overall in points per game last year, a figure that Banchero is sure to improve upon drastically.
Devon Withers: Jabari Smith, Houston Rockets
Excluding Ben Simmons’ unorthodox Rookie of the Year reign, the last player selected No. 1 in the NBA Draft to win Rookie of the Year was Karl-Anthony Towns in the 2015-16 season. We don’t have that type of prospect in this class. Jabari Smith averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting 42% from deep with Auburn. The Rockets leading scorer from the 2021-22 season was Christian Wood, who departed for the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason. It leaves a major void of volume for Houston, giving Smith promising expectations in his rookie season.
2022-23 NBA Defensive Player of the Year
Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart pulled away with his first Defensive Player of the Year award last season, but comes into this season with +1200 odds to repeat. Who will beat out Smart to take home this year’s award as the NBA’s best defender?
Gary Sonneberger: Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Before injuries sidelined him for a good portion of last year’s regular season, Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo was proving to teams why he was a force on all aspects of the defensive side of the floor. Not only is Adebayo one of the better rim protectors in the league at just 6’9″, his elite perimeter defense and switchability attribute to the Heat team’s stellar defense. Adebayo held opponents to 32.9% shooting with a 35.3% effective-field goal percentage; 13th and 10th in the league, respectively. The sky is the limit for Adebayo, who looks to bring Miami back to the top five defense they sported last season.
Devon Withers: Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns were among the elite defensive units last season, with Bridges playing a large role in that outcome. He secured a career-high 11.2 defensive shares and won 193 of a possible 198 points en route to being named to the NBA First Team All-Defense. He additionally averaged 1.2 steals and 0.4 blocks per game, starting in all 82 games for the Suns. According to NBA.com, Bridges defended the most shots from the paint and mid-range and was a lockdown defender all-around. With a repeat effort this season, Bridges will be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
2022-23 NBA MVP
With Nikola Jokic securing his second consecutive MVP award last year, it’s important to note that only three players have won the MVP title in three straight seasons: Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlin, and Bill Russell. Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic opens as the betting favorite (+450), but who will earn the MVP award this season?
Gary Sonneberger: Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
After an incredible NBA Finals run last season, the Boston Celtics have hit a bit of a rough patch this offseason. Still, that doesn’t dissuade me from picking their superstar forward Jayson Tatum as the MVP favorite for this season. Tatum, 24, has a lot of pressure on his back this year and can silence the doubters with a strong showing. While Tatum is the best scorer on his team, the case for Tatum’s MVP might surprise you. Yes, Marcus Smart might have won DPOY last year, but with the way Boston schemes its defense, Tatum has shown out as a top level defender. In my opinion, he is the best overall defensive player on Boston’s roster. I expect a Kawhi Leonard-type of season from Tatum that includes a jump in scoring, and finishing with a MVP in his trophy case.
Devon Withers: Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
After the rather eventful offseason for the Brooklyn Nets, they appear primed to move forward with the core of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons this season. Last season, Durant shot 51.8% from the field and 38.3% from beyond the arc. With the drama this offseason, if Durant can overcome the hurdles and carry the Nets to a respectable playoff position in the Eastern Conference, he will be due for an MVP award. He is arguably the best overall player across the league, so I love his chances at this award.
One Surprise Team: Eastern Conference
Gary Sonneberger: Detroit Pistons
With a loaded Eastern Conference this year, it’s easy to talk about the teams at the top. While I don’t think this team will run away with a playoff spot, the roster construction and upside of the Detroit Pistons is hard to ignore. The guard combo of Jaden Ivey and Cade Cunningham has unlimited potential. Along with that, veteran Bojan Bogdanovic, who was acquired in a trade this summer, has the right tools to get open looks from Cunningham and keep up with his 18 PPG average from last season. Along with Saddiq Bay, a flamethrower of offense on any given night, and the tough Isaiah Stewart, this Pistons team will test the haters who might call them “the worst in the league”. Are they winning a championship? No, but to say they are as bad as people are saying is underestimating this team heavily.
Devon Withers: Atlanta Hawks
After being eliminated in a mere five games last season, the front office went out and got some support for Trae Young by adding Dejounte Murray. It gives the team a formidable backcourt, especially with Kevin Huerter departing for Sacramento. John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu look to bounce-back following underwhelming postseason performances. Last season, I predicted the Chicago Bulls would be a team to watch in the East. This year, I have that same feeling about the Atlanta Hawks.
One Surprise Team: Western Conference
Gary Sonneberger: New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans have the perfect recipe to surprise us this season. The perfect backcourt pairing of CJ McCollum and Herb Jones can give teams the business on both ends. When McCollum was on the court last year, the Pelicans offense went from 110.2 OFFRTG to a rating of 188.1. Brandon Ingram showed out in the playoffs last season, averaging 27/6/6 against the top-seeded Phoenix Suns. I didn’t even mention Zion Williamson, who looks to be in fantastic physical shape after criticism from last season. This roster construction is impeccable and has exactly what it takes to make a deep playoff run to the Western Conference Finals this year.
Devon Withers: Los Angeles Lakers
The panic button has already been hit on the Los Angeles Lakers, are critics point towards clips of Russell Westbrook not joining the team huddles and blowout losses in the preseason. With LeBron James signing a new extension and the front office adding Patrick Beverley to the roster, I believe the Los Angeles Lakers will return to the playoffs this season. When James and Anthony Davis are both on the court, the Lakers have posted a 93-41 record (.694 winning percentage). Regardless of Westbrook’s status on the Lakers roster, this team goes as far as James/Davis carry them.
2022-23 NBA Finals Winner
Gary Sonneberger: Golden State Warriors
Even with the bad vibes surrounding the Golden State Warriors team this year, I still have them coming out on top in this year’s title race. It’s difficult to pick against Steph Curry, who is coming off a legendary Finals run, cementing his place as a top 10 all-time player. Klay Thompson looks to be back to his old self after missing two years with leg injuries and underperforming in last year’s regular season. The ascension of Jordan Poole has been evident, and the young foursome of him, Kuminga, Moody, and Wiseman look to bring great play to a somewhat-aging team. Draymond Green can still defend at an elite level, looking to add to his hardware before the end of his current contract. Will he stay past this season? A fifth ring with this Golden State squad would give the front office the confidence to bring him back on another big contract. Back-to-back championships are difficult, but this Warriors team has the recipe for a historic run.
Devon Withers: Philadelphia 76ers
Over the last five seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers are the only roster to be above the league-average in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Still, they have not reached the Eastern Conference Finals during that span, let alone the NBA Finals. A full offseason with James Harden should only benefit the 76ers, while additions such as P.J. Tucker, Montrezl Harrell, and Danuel House Jr. have directly addressed the team’s needs. I expect another efficient year for Tyrese Maxey, who jumped from 8 points to 17.5 points per game last season. The notion that James Harden can’t get the job done in the postseason has been looming, but in his age 33 season, he needs to become less passive to turn this prediction into an accurate one.
One Bold Prediction for the 2022-23 Season
Gary Sonneberger: Call me crazy, and I expect a few people to do so, but the Charlotte Hornets are going to severely underperform this season. With LaMelo Ball seen as one of the next great point guards in this league, it’s easy to overlook the dreadful offseason the team had. With the pending court case surrounding Miles Bridges, and some disappointing picks in the last few drafts, Charlotte is a recipe for disaster. We haven’t seen a healthy Gordon Hayward for what feels like years, and the front court pairing of PJ Washington and Mason Plumlee could possibly be the worst starting 4/5 duo in the NBA. If Ball doesn’t carry this team, the Hornets will have the worst record in the league. Maybe if they do this, they can finally solve their overlong center issue with the freakish alien that is Victor Wembanyama.
Devon Withers: The Memphis Grizzlies put together a Cinderella-type season last year, but I see them falling to the Play-In Tournament this season. After losing Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, the front office wasn’t proactive in improving their roster this offseason. The Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, and Sacramento Kings all expected to have improved seasons, it will be difficult for the Grizzlies to maintain momentum in the Western Conference.