Tyrese Haliburton is the real deal, and after adding Obi Toppin and Bruce Brown this team should be running up-and-down the court. Can Myles Turner anchor an above-average defense? And where does Buddy Hield end up? The Pacers seem too good to tank but lack that second star to pair with Haliburton; they’ll hope Bennedict Mathurin can become that guy.
The Chicago Bulls were healthy and lucky last season, and that translates to a drop in wins this year. There is potential for a greater drop if they come to their sense and break this inadequate core up, but if they don’t it will be more midrange jumpers and frenetic defense trying to keep them in the Play-In Tournament. DeMar DeRozan will have to drop off at some point; will someone like Coby White or Patrick Williams be ready to step up?
The Brooklyn Nets have a title-contending team if you add a top-15 player. Mikal Bridges took a step forward to fringe All-Star level as a shot-creator while remaining durable and elite on defense. Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale and Cam Johnson are all two-way forwards. Nic Claxton is an All-Defense candidate. Without their own draft picks for the next half-decade, there is no reason to tank, so they will win as much as they can with this group and almost certainly land in the Play-In Tournament.
Luka Doncic is a top-7 player in the world at worst, and Kyrie Irving is one of the most gifted offensive players in the league. After that, however, the talent level drops off quickly to fringe starters and upside youngsters. If Kyrie isn’t 100 percent reliable this season (shocking, of course) this could fall apart very quickly.
The Oklahoma City Thunder made a big leap up the standings last season, but a tougher Western Conference may keep them right around the same level as before (or they could win 50 games – it would be unsurprising). This is more of a nod to the plexiglass principle (teams that make a big leap one season tend to fall back to earth the next) than a lack of confidence in this core. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a legitimate star, Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams have mammoth upside and they have a super sharp coach. They probably host a playoff series in 2024-25.