The NBA preseason finally comes to a close, with fans looking forward to the 2023-2024 season getting underway. During the offseason, we saw the league shake up as superstars were traded and generational rookies were drafted.
Eastern Conference Standings
- Boston Celtics
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Cleveland Cavaliers
- New York Knicks
- Miami Heat
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Indiana Pacers
- Atlanta Hawks
After this offseason, it is hard to imagine anyone representing the Eastern Conference in the finals other than the Boston Celtics or the Milwaukee Bucks. While the Bucks made the deal of the offseason in acquiring All-NBA superstar guard Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers, the Celtics’ acquisition of Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis narrowly gives the Celtics the edge in this preseason power ranking. Holiday brings a veteran presence who can facilitate the offense down the stretch of close games that the Celtics desperately missed last season. With Robert Williams III unable to stay healthy and Al Horford recently turning 37 over the summer, the addition of Kristaps Porzingis gives the Celtics a dominant rim protector who also shot an impressive 38.5% from three last season. Lillard’s ability to space the floor and pull up from 40 feet, paired with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s unrivaled strength and domination in the paint, gives the Bucks the best duo in the league. However, the Celtics starting lineup consisting of Holiday, White, Brown, Tatum, and Porzingis not only consists of four 19+ point per game scorers but also multiple all-defensive team players in Holiday and White. As for the Philadelphia 76ers, it seems safe to say the process was an utter failure. The Sixers underwent a tumultuous offseason after blowing a 3-2 lead to the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. James Harden publicly called out president of operations Daryl Morey, and head coach Doc Rivers was fired. But hey, at least they were able to sign Kelly Oubre.
Western Conference Standings
- Denver Nuggets
- Phoenix Suns
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Golden State Warriors
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Sacramento Kings
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Oklahoma City Thunder
Fresh off their first championship in franchise history, the Denver Nuggets are positioned to be just as dominant as last season. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are arguably the best duo in the league, and the supporting cast of Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have seemed to fit perfectly in the Jokic-centered offense. In Phoenix, the big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal should propel the Suns toward the top of the conference — although Kevin Durant has struggled to stay healthy, and Bradley Beal hasn’t played meaningful basketball since John Wall was a Wizard. Depth issues and a new roster could result in the Suns taking a while to get going early in the season. With the emergence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a superstar, and young supporting stars such as Chet Holmgren, Josh Giddey, and Jalen Williams, the Thunder should be one of the most exciting and intriguing teams in the West.
Most Valuable Player
Nikola Jokic: The two-time MVP narrowly missed out on his third MVP award after Joel Embiid led the league in scoring en route to winning the hardware for the first time. However, many argue that Jokic would have won the award had it not been for voter fatigue: Jokic averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds (second in the league), and 9.8 assists per game (third in the league) while finishing top ten in the league in field goal percentage (63.2%). He also led the Denver Nuggets to the #1 seed in the West and their first NBA championship in franchise history. During his impressive playoff run, the Serbian big man became the first player to ever lead the NBA playoffs in points, rebounds, and assists. At just 28 years old, Jokic already has a hall of fame resume and will look to add to it by bringing home his third MVP award in just four seasons.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: After a disappointing first-round exit to the eight-seeded Miami Heat, the Greek Freak will enter this season with vengeance. From 2019 to 2021, Antetokounmpo won back-to-back MVPs, a Defensive Player of the Year award, and an NBA championship. However, the recent rise of Nikola Jokic has caused many to forget just how dominant Antetokounmpo is. Last season, Antetokounmpo finished third in MVP voting while putting up monster numbers with 31.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game while being one of the best defenders in the entire league. The addition of Lillard will provide the Bucks offense with more spacing which will allow Antetokounmpo to face fewer double teams, have more space to operate while attacking the rim, and finally have a legitimate pick-and-roll partner.
Defensive Player of the Year
Evan Mobley: After finishing third in defensive player of the year last season in only his second year in the league, many expect the 22-year-old Mobley to be even better. Last season, Mobley led the NBA in Defensive win shares and defensive plus/minus on the highest-rated defense in the NBA last season. At just 22 years old, Mobley will continue to get stronger and more skilled, both defensively and on the offensive end.
Jaren Jackson Jr: The only concern about the reigning defensive player of the year winning the award again this season is the new minimum game requirement for individual awards. Through five seasons in the league, Jackson has only played more than 65 games one season in his career. Assuming he is able to stay on the court, Jackson should be one of the lead candidates for this award once again.
Rookie of the year
Scoot Henderson: Being in the shadow of French phenom Victor Wembenyama has caused many to forget just how special of a talent Scoot Henderson is. Henderson was able to finish high school a year early, which allowed him to play two years in the NBA G League. While Wembenyama may very likely have a better career than Henderson, the young point guard’s exposure to NBA-level talent and facilities give him the narrow edge for this award. As an 18 year old in his second season in the NBA G League, Henderson averaged an impressive 16.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game, all while going up against grown men who have been playing basketball for much longer. We have seen in the past generational talented bigs like Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis go number one in the draft and lose the award to talented point guards like Damian Lillard and Ja Morant, who adjusted to the NBA play style faster than their big counterparts.
Victor Wembenyama: We have seen in the past generational talented bigs like Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis go number one in the draft and lose the award to talented point guards like Damian Lillard and Ja Morant, who adjusted to the NBA play style faster than their big counterparts. The reigning number one overall pick currently sits as the betting favorite for this award. But rookie big men don’t have a great track record of staying healthy — Zion Williamson, Chet Holmgren, Joel Embiid— and the Spurs may limit his playing time as a result. Similar to last year’s second overall pick Chet Holmgren, Wembenyama enters the league very skinny for his size. Considering the Thunder were slow to bring on Holmgren after his injury last year, the Spurs may opt to follow a similar route if Wembenyama runs into any injuries.
Most Improved Player of the Year
Mikal Bridges: After being traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Brooklyn Nets in February, Mikal Bridges has been able to show off what he can do as the number one option. In 27 games last year with the Nets, Bridges averaged 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. Bridges increased his scoring numbers by a whopping nine points per game while shooting a higher percentage from the field and roughly the same percentage from deep.
Jordan Poole: A disappointing playoff run and drama with ex-Warriors teammate Draymond Green have led many to forget how fun Jordan Poole is to watch when he has the ball in his hands. Last season, Poole averaged 20.4 points and 4.5 assists per game while playing all 82 regular season games. More impressively, Poole averaged 26.1 points and five assists per game in the 26 games that Stephen Curry missed. As the number one option for the Wizards, expect plenty of Poole parties in the nation’s capital.
Sixth Man of the Year
Immanuel Quickley: After finishing runner-up to Malcolm Brogdon for the award last year, this year looks to be the year the young combo guard finally takes home the award. Last season Quickley averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and one steal per game for the Knicks. He was the focal point of the second unit and was vital both offensively and defensively for the Knicks. Quickley played a huge role in helping the Knicks finish 12 games above .500 last season and making it out of the first round for the first time since 2013.
Malik Monk: Despite his career getting off to a bumpy start in Charlotte, Malik Monk has solidified himself as one of the best high-volume scorers off the bench these past two seasons. In his first year with the Kings, Monk averaged an impressive 13.5 points and 3.9 assists per game on 35.9% from three and 88.9% from the line. Most impressively, Monk averaged 19 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in seven games in the 2023 playoffs. Monk erupted for 32 points in game one and 28 points in game six of the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Golden State Warriors. If the 2023 playoffs are any indication, Malik Monk is positioned to have a big scoring year off the bench for the surging Kings.
Coach of the Year
Mark Daigneault (Oklahoma City Thunder): When looking at the three most recent Coach of the Year winners, the award has gone to coaches who have been able to lead teams out of playoff droughts. Mike Brown of the Sacramento Kings won the award last season after leading the Kings to the third seed in the West, ending their 17-year postseason drought. Prior winner Monty Williams nabbed the award after leading the Suns to an NBA-best 64 wins after a long stretch of finishing at the bottom of the league. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a bonafide superstar in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and promising young stars in Josh Giddey, Chet Holmgren, and Jalen Williams. If these young players are able to develop quickly and the Thunder finish higher than many expect them to in the West, Daigneault could run away with the award.
Boston Celtics: Will this season finally be the year the Jayson Tatum-led Boston Celtics bring home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy? Since Jayson Tatum joined the Celtics seven seasons ago, The Celtics have made it to the Eastern Conference finals five times. In 2022, The young Celtics made it to the NBA finals but ultimately lost to the more experienced Golden State Warriors. With hopes of returning to the finals and winning the championship, the Celtics fell short of expectations by losing to the eight-seeded Miami Heat in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics did not hesitate to make big changes over the offseason as they were able to upgrade from Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogden, and Robert Williams into all-star point guard Jrue Holiday and 23 point per game scorer Kristaps Porzingis. The Celtics also shut down any rumors of all-star guard Jaylen Brown being unhappy in Boston by giving him a record-setting five-year, $303.7 million contract. With their recent upgrades, Jaylen Brown being locked in for the foreseeable future, head coach Joe Mazzulla having a full season under his belt, and a potential MVP season on the horizon for Tatum, this season looks to be the best chance Boston has at winning the NBA finals since the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce led Celtics.
Phoenix Suns: After an NBA finals trip in 2021 and a league best 64 wins in 2022, the Phoenix Suns are coming off of a disappointing second-round exit in the 2023 playoffs. Since acquiring future hall of famer Kevin Durant during the trade deadline last season, many expected the Suns to be the favorites to come out of the West. However, injuries and lack of depth derailed the team from ever reaching its full potential. The tension between head coach Monty Williams and starting center Deandre Ayton also contributed to a lack of cohesion necessary for a deep playoff run. The 2024 Suns look like a new team after bringing in all-star guard Bradley Beal and parting ways with Coach Williams and Ayton. The Suns added solid role players in Jusuf Nurkic, Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, and Grayson Allen. Although there is reasonable concern about the Suns bench, a big three of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal should be more than enough to get the Suns back to the NBA finals.
The NBA season kicks off October 24, as Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Denver Nuggets host LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.