It’s been a few months since the Denver Nuggets won their first-ever NBA Championship with Nikola Jokic solidifying his claim to be the best basketball player alive in the process. A lot has happened since then.
The Spurs drafted Victor Wembanyama, Damian Lillard was traded to the Bucks; Chris Paul has found himself a member of the team that foiled his championship aspirations so many times in the past; Bradley Beal is in Phoenix with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker; James Harden is discontent. News is not always new, I guess. And yet there is much that will be new, and many things to look forward to as the beginning of the 2023-24 season approaches.
I am excited for the months of basketball ahead of us and the dozens of games I will watch and the hundreds of little moments that will amuse me and leave me in awe. Here are 50 more specific things I am looking forward to.
50 reasons to be excited about the NBA season:
1. The two-man game between Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
2. Chet Holmgren making his belated NBA debut.
3. When Mikal Bridges joined Brooklyn last year in the Kevin Durant trade, he immediately went from looking like one of the best 3-and-D guys in the league to a budding star. In 27 games with the Nets, he averaged 26 points with a true shooting percentage of .607. If he can carry that momentum into the new season and continue to develop, then the Nets will find themselves transitioning out of the Kevin and Kyrie Era much more smoothly than it originally appeared.
4. I’m excited for the James Harden drama to end. I do not expect it to vanish for good when he almost certainly finds himself traded to a new team sometime in the next few months, but I just want a reprieve from it, however temporarily. That, I am looking forward to.
5. Walker Kessler giving Timberwolves fans new reasons to rue the Rudy Gobert trade on a nightly basis.
6. Stephen Curry taking 3-point shots, turning around and running back on defense all before the ball falls through the net.
7. Zion Williamson doing his best Charles Barkley impression, barrelling his way through overmatched defenders.
8. I’m not especially high on the Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic pairing but I am sure there will be several moments where they look like the most electrifying and inventive backcourt duo to ever play together. Those will be fun.
9. During the Warriors' 2023-24 title run, Jordan Poole was the team’s wild card, an electrifying gunner who raised their ceiling and helped them win it all. Last year, it was less electrifying and more confusing as his shot selection often hurt the team more than helped it and the team exiled him to Washington. Jordan Poole will not make Washington a good team, but he will make them an engaging one. I can’t wait to watch him put up a few meaningless 40-point games all while making some of the silliest shots ever taken.
10. The Second Annual Ben Simmons Redemption Tour. May this one be more successful than the first.
11. When Garrett Temple first plays for his new team, the Toronto Raptors, it will be the 12th team of his career. Will he be included in a trade or two this season that allows him to tie or surpass Ish Smith for the all-time record of 13? This will be the deadline subplot to watch.
12. Last year was Shai-Gilgeous Alexander’s breakout year. While League Pass nuts had been watching and loving him for years, he made his first All-Star team in 2023 while also being named to the All-NBA first team. What will he do to follow it up?
13. Another player who made their first All-Star team last season was Anthony Edwards. There may not be a young player in the league with more gumption and fire than him and I cannot wait to watch him grow even further in his fourth season.
14. Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, already seems almost forgotten in Detroit, especially after only playing in 12 games last season due to a shin injury. Though when he has played, he’s looked quite good. Can he stay on the court long enough to make a lasting impression this year and help transform a Detroit team that has been mired in mediocrity for nearly two decades?
15. I am not as high on James Wiseman as Joe Lacob was (though to be fair, I don’t think anyone was) but I am curious to see if he can capitalize more fully on his potential outside of Golden State, in a place where he will not be burdened by championship expectations.
16. Those games when Kawhi Leonard is healthy and looks like one of the best players alive and reminds you why the Clippers mortgaged their long-term future to sign him in 2019.
17. Jose Alvarado flying around the perimeter on defense, making life miserable for opposing guards.
18. Ditto Alex Caruso.
19. No more Mark Jackson on national broadcasts. Mama, that man has gone.
20. Al Horford wrecking defenses with a shooting form that he stole from a 55-year-old man at your local rec center.
21. Kevon Looney looking like the reincarnation of Moses Malone once the playoffs roll around.
22. The Portland Trail Blazers will be without Damian Lillard for the first time in over a decade and are sure to look less formidable this year, but getting to watch Anfernee Simons and Scoot Henderson lead the backcourt as they transition into a new era should be an electrifying — if not yet consistently effective — consolation prize.
23. Alperen Sengun staking his claim as the Next Great European Big Man.
24. At the risk of jinxing it, Jamal Murray finally making an All-Star team.
25. For all of Karl-Anthony Towns’ talent, he has never been able to transform a team into a winner the way one might hope or expect. Now, with the emergence of Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert leading the way defensively, he no longer needs to be the Timberwolves’ savior. Can he instead find a way to slot in between these two and be an overqualified sidekick that helps the Timberwolves get out of the first round for the first time since 2004? He may not be the Wolves’ best player this year, but he may be their most important.
26. Mitchell Robinson dunking on literally half of his field goal attempts.
27. As someone who drives past the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse just about every day, I know I am a bit biased, but man the Cavaliers had some great vibes last year. Despite a first round loss to the Knicks, the future remains bright for the Cavaliers and Jarrett Allen’s smile remains as infectious as ever. What’s not to love?
28. Tyler Herro’s bucket hats.
29. The Magic have been pretty uninspiring for the last decade, accumulating high draft picks but without a center of gravity to tie things together. They may finally have found one in Paolo Banchero. If he continues to develop into the star he looks sure to be, other young players like Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., and the Brothers Wagner may be able to blossom as supporting pieces that can finally help the Magic transition out of the post-Dwight malaise they’ve been in for so long that Dwight Howard is no longer even in the NBA.
30. Nick Nurse was never lacking in creative ideas during his tenure with the Raptors. They did not always work — hence why he’s with the Sixers now — but I am curious to see how he uses Embiid and what new ways he finds to make his life easier while also working to make the most of secondary weapons like Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey. Nurse is easily the most innovative coach Embiid has ever had and that may not be enough to lift the Sixers past the second round, but it should lead to some interesting basketball.
31. Trae Young trying to figure out how to be an actual franchise cornerstone and not just a guy who puts up stats that make you wonder why his team isn’t any better than it is.
32. Last year’s MVP Race was decided more by the fact that many felt “well, Embiid had been so good for so long that he deserved an MVP eventually and hey, Jokic already has two so why not?” than by the fact that Embiid was actually better than Jokic. Now that they got that out of their system and their Jokic Voter Fatigue should be exhausted, does that mean a third MVP for the reigning champion or will a new contender emerge? Is this Luka’s year? Does Giannis get a third? Can Tatum take that leap? Or will Nikola Jokic just again confirm that he’s the best player and be rewarded for that?
33. The Celtics already had the third best defense in the league last year. What can they be once Jrue Holiday is added to the mix?
34. Those rare moments that Tom Thibodeau smiles from the Knicks sideline
35. Entering the season, Milwaukee and Boston look like the indisputable top two teams in the East. I’m intrigued to watch how they integrate their new pieces but I’m perhaps more interested in seeing if any teams rise to meet them this year. Do the Knicks continue to punch above their weight? Does Heat Culture make up for a team that looks weaker than the team that overachieved last year? Can the Young Cavaliers take a leap into the top two? My assumption is that the answer to all those will end up being no, but I hope that they, or another Eastern Conference team, make me look foolish.
36. Kevin Harlan doing the most convincing In Game Ad Reads you’ve ever heard.
37. If you spend as much time hopping around League Pass as I do, you hear broadcasters go on some wild tangents. It’s a long season and they’ve got to fill the time somehow and it leads to occasional magic. I remember watching the Cavs one time when Brad Daugherty started going on and on about how much he loved the cinnamon raisin bagels from Cleveland Bagel Company (as for myself, I usually go for the No. 3 on an everything bagel whenever I drop by) and I cannot remember whether the Cavaliers won the game or not, but I do remember Daugherty’s spiel. It was a delight.
38. Nikola Jokic making passes that seem to defy the laws of space and time.
39. Chris Paul and Stephen Curry — two of the most intelligent players alive — learning how to coexist, while every atom of Paul’s subconscious fights such a partnership.
40. The way Tyrese Maxey smiles after making a good play.
41. With Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy III, C.J. McCollum, Herbert Jones, and Jose Alvarado, the Pelicans will be a fun and formidable team regardless of whether Zion Williamson is healthy. Though the word is that he is healthy and ready to go which will make them both more exciting and more scary. Here’s hoping he can stay on the court this year and be the superstar everyone expected him to be.
42. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2022, Scottie Barnes took a bit of a step back last year. While his being a jack of all trades made him so intriguing as a rookie, as a sophomore, it begged the question, “Okay, he’s good at everything, but where can he excel?” Year two did not provide a convincing answer to that question though it’s one the Raptors hope he can find an answer for soon. He already has plenty of value as is; now it’s time to figure out how to maximize it.
43. Jaren Jackson Jr. redefining and expanding the possibilities of what a big man can do defensively.
44. The Lakers are giving off real Island of Misfit Toys vibes to me. They have surrounded LeBron James and Anthony Davis with a bunch of players who washed out or disappointed elsewhere, but who they are hoping can succeed with a clearly defined (read: more limited) role. I cannot get a read on this team. Are they a bunch of players that are just going to end up wasting one of LeBron’s final seasons or will they find a way to follow his lead and help him get that fifth ring?
45. Speaking of LeBron, I know how sappy this sounds, but I am so grateful for every chance I get to watch him before he retires. And in the process, it’s been a treat to see how his game has evolved to mask his ever-reducing athleticism. He’s already established himself as one of the best basketball players to ever live; everything that comes after is a nice little bonus. And on a personal note, it’s always nice to see a fellow Akronian thrive.
46. Victor Wembanyama doing something absolutely absurd a few times each game, things that are not only impressive but seem to rewrite the possibilities of the sport altogether. And I know that sounds hyperbolic, but have you seen these preseason highlights?! He may not be the best player in the league right out of the proverbial gate, but he will immediately be the most unique and unprecedented.
47. After making the playoffs nine out of 10 years from 2011 to 2020, the Pacers have missed the postseason each of the last three seasons. I’m not sure they’ll break that streak this year, but they do have a legitimate star in Tyrese Haliburton, a player who may be the league’s most underappreciated. And in the offseason they signed recent champion Bruce Brown who has the potential to be a unifying figure for the team, providing an impact that goes far beyond his raw numbers.
48. The Sacramento Kings were perhaps the biggest, and most delightful, surprise of the 2022-23 season, making the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Though they lost in the first round, there’s no reason to think last year was a one-off. All-Stars Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox are 27 and 25, just on the cusp of their prime, and the only member of their core older than Sabonis is Harrison Barnes. I found myself watching the Kings on League Pass a ton last year and I cannot wait to see what they do for an encore.
49. Those moments when Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, and Devin Booker inevitably look like the best offensive trio ever. The question is how many of those moments they’ll be able to string together and how frequently they’ll all be healthy enough to be on the court at the same time.
50. The Denver Nuggets seem like the obvious choice to win the 2024 Championship, but difficult as it is to win one championship, it is much harder to win two – especially two in a row. A lot of teams made deals this offseason that will make it even more difficult. The Celtics, Suns, Warriors, and Bucks all remade themselves in ways that should make them much more daunting foes this season. And that’s to say nothing of other formidable teams that could play spoiler behind the play of a superstar like Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, or Jimmy Butler. Making any bold claim about who it might be in the end feels foolish and that is a good place to be entering a new season. It will be fun and it will leave a lot of currently hopeful fans very disappointed. May the interim provide enough joy to make whatever heartbreak awaits on the other side worthwhile. Let’s watch some basketball.