2023 NBA season preview
⚙️ The set-up
The NBA is evenly split into two conferences with 15 teams in the Eastern Conference (EC) and 15 in the Western Conference (WC). From there, three five-team divisions make up each conference. In the EC, it’s the Atlantic, Central, and Southeast, while the WC has the Northwest, Pacific, and Southwest.
- Each team plays 82 games (41 at home and 41 away) from October to April, with all 30 teams in action on April 14th, the final day of the regular season.
After the regular season comes the playoffs. The top six teams in each conference automatically qualify, while the seventh through 10th ranked teams will compete in a play-in tournament for the final two playoff spots in each conference. Here for the drama.
This season will also feature the inaugural NBA in-season tournament, aptly named the NBA Cup. Added to the schedule to engage fans and teams in the early portion of the regular season, the tourney begins November 3rd, starting with Group Play followed by sudden-death Knockout Rounds.
- All in-season tournament games count towards each team’s regular-season standings, except for December 9th’s Championship. And with a whopping $500K on the line for each player on the championship squad, there’s plenty to play for. Cha ching.
🏆 Reigning champs
The WC’s Denver Nuggets won their first franchise championship in dominant fashion last season, beating the EC’s Miami Heat in just five games. Even more impressive? The Nuggets are in prime position to do it all over again, anchored by the aforementioned Jokić, Murray, and Aaron Gordon.
- And though the Joker might prefer to be racing horses, the two-time regular-season MVP is flirting with becoming the first center in league history to average a triple-double, coming up a mere 0.2 assists short last season. He is him.
But parity is the name of the game as of late: A different squad has taken home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in each of the last five seasons. Fun fact: Six different champions over a six-season span has only happened once before and not since 1980.
💪 The contenders
🦌 Milwaukee Bucks: After snagging seven-time All-Star Damian “Dame Time” Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers this offseason, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YAH-niss ah-det-oh-KOON-boh) has never been this open, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of the Association. Fear the deer, indeed.
☀️ Phoenix Suns: Looking for firepower? Look no further than the Suns and their revamped roster (and ’fits). After picking up Kevin Durant last season, the squad traded for former Washington Wizards juggernaut Bradley Beal to round out their superstar trio alongside
Kendall Jenner’s ex Devin Booker.
🍀 Boston Celtics: While some things have changed — big man Kristaps Porziņģis now calls the Hub home — others remain the same, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (who signed the richest contract in NBA history this offseason) back for another round.
- Add in two-time All-Star Jrue Holiday and anything but a championship run will be a disappointment in Beantown. Pressure makes diamonds.
👀 Storylines to watch
Offseason moves: Drama is the NBA’s middle name, meaning the aforementioned Lillard, Holiday, and Porziņģis aren’t the only big names donning new threads this season.
- Former Boston Celtic Marcus Smart packed his bags for the Memphis Grizzlies, while the ring-chasing Chris Paul joined the Golden State Warriors, sending former Warrior Jordan Poole to the Washington Wizards in the process.
- But the biggest name still swirling the trade rumor mill is James Harden, whose summertime soap opera continues to cast a shadow on the Philadelphia 76ers’ upcoming campaign.
The future is now: The young guns are making their mark on the league with a record-tying three players aged 25 and under — Tatum, Dallas Maverick Luka Dončić, and OKC Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — being named to the All-NBA First Team last season. The kids are definitely alright.
- And then there’s French phenom Victor Wembanyama, who is entering his rookie season with the San Antonio Spurs. The 7’4” Wemby is must-watch TV, defying physics one euro step at a time. The hype is very much real.
Elder millennial magic: On the other end of the spectrum, LA Laker (and the NBA’s all-time scoring leader) LeBron James enters his 21st NBA season and will turn 39 in December, making him the NBA’s oldest active player. And not only is the King still hooping, he’s dominating, leading the purple and gold to the Western Conference Finals last season.
- The years keep coming for other NBA All-Stars, too. The perennial postseason powerhouse Golden State Warriors are fuelled by millennial magic from 35-year-old Steph Curry and 33-year-olds Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Age really is just a number.
🇨🇦 Toronto Raptors: Turn the Six upside down
The past: It’s no secret that the Dinos underachieved last season, finishing a disappointing ninth in the EC and losing to the Chicago Bulls (and DeMar DeRozan’s daughter) in the play-in tournament at home. Oof.
- And after losing beloved point guard Fred VanVleet to the Houston Rockets over the summer (still crying), the squad only boasts two core players from their 2019 championship-winning group, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby
The new faces: As expected, there’s been some big ch-ch-changes in the Six this offseason. Former head coach Nick Nurse took his talents to Philly and was replaced by former Memphis Grizzlies assistant, Darko Rajaković.
- On the court, FIBA World Cup MVP Dennis Schröder signed a two-year deal to replace FVV. The squad also picked up Gradey Dick with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, looking to add a knock-down shooter to the roster.
The future: The Raps’ success hinges largely on the play of 2022 Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. And no pressure, but it feels like a make-or-break year for the Six’s hoops squad. If all goes well, they could compete with some of the best teams in the conference, but if not, a complete rebuild might be on the horizon.
📺 How to watch
It all begins tonight with the defending champ Nuggets hosting the Lakers at 7:30 p.m. ET, followed by a battle in the Bay Area with the Suns visiting the Warriors at 10 p.m. ET. So ready for tip-off.