The calendar has turned to 2023 and we are halfway through the NBA season. Soon it will be the trade deadline, All-Star weekend and then a mad dash to the playoffs.
Here are some mildly bold predictions for the rest of the 2023 season.
1. The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans will play in the Western Conference Finals
The future is now. The Grizzlies are the fifth-youngest team in the league and the Pelicans are the 13th-youngest.
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) January 6, 2023
The Pelicans and Grizzlies boast franchise-defining superstars who were selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the 2019 draft in Zion Williamson and Ja Morant.
The Grizzlies are a top three-defense and third in aNET rating. The Pelicans are fifth in aNET rating and boast a top-10 offense and defense.
We’re not even halfway into the season and this is already the second mixtape we’ve made using your highlights.
Calm down, please.
🎵 Lauryn Hillpic.twitter.com/cd2H8pZRDz
— Dunk Comp (@DUNKC0MP) December 31, 2022
The Pelicans are neophytes as it relates to playoff experience, so that is concerning. But the Grizzlies have some playoff battles under their belt and believe if Morant has been healthy last year they would’ve beaten the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
Between Dillon Brooks, Morant,and Jose Alvarado, this will certainly be a trash talking and chippy series. Sign us up.
2. The Brooklyn Nets will play in the Eastern Conference Finals
This might be a bit of recency bias due to the team’s win streak. But the Nets are clicking on both sides of the ball.
They are fourth in aNET rating, second in aORTG, and ninth in aDRTG. FiveThirtyEight predicts the Nets to finish second in the east at 52-30.
There is always the fear that something will implode or go wrong with this team, as the past couple years have proved. But any team with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, size and shooting can go on a run.
3. For the fifth consecutive year, the MVP will go to a non-American
We don’t subscribe to American exceptionalism here, so this doesn’t bother us. Basketball is a global game and the second-most popular sport worldwide behind soccer.
Of the top-10 players in EPM in the league, four are foreign-born. The top two players in EPM and by a decent margin are Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic.
Jokic is the reigning two-time MVP and you can easily make the case that he can win his third. He’s t five in all the relevant advanced metrics and essentially a triple-double in raw counting stats as a center, running the Nuggets offense.
Just finished to catch up with the Nuggets W vs Boston, broken basketball and all.
Nikola Jokic is unbelievable, playing at an mvp level once again, but this might be the best version of the Nuggets as a whole since Joker became a star. They’re contenders pic.twitter.com/wSzNbXTMP3
— Davide Chinellato (@dchinellato) January 2, 2023
Doncic is in the midst of one of the great heliocentric seasons we’ve ever seen. He can do everything on the court and bends the game to his will in a way very few can.
Don’t forget about Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
4. The San Antonio Spurs will get the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and select Victor Wembanyama
We would prefer Wembanyama in a bigger market so that the causal fan would see him more. But we really don’t trust many franchises to develop him properly and have the right environment to incubate him so he can reach his ceiling.
There are few players in the league who would’ve been great no matter where they were drafted. Everyone else, including multiple-time MVPs need to be in the right place.
Who better than the Spurs and Gregg Popovich to unleash the 7-foot-4 Wembenyama on the league?
5. The Atlanta Hawks will seriously consider trading Trae Young this summer
Two seasons ago when the Hawks made their run to the conference finals the future looked bright. They had a disappointing season last year and superstar Trae Young is reportedly bristling with another head coach.
Young is a brilliant offensive player but is a liability on defense. As a leader, he leaves something to be desired. In his five seasons he has yet to galvanize this team and generate the kind of enthusiasm from his teammates that star players usually do.
Doncic and Young both play a heliocentric offense, but you get the sense that the Mavericks players love his success and root for him to post video game numbers.
The Grizzlies play a more egalitarian offense, but Morant’s teammates know he’s THE guy and they are happy with him being their superstar.
You don’t get the sense that Young’s teammates are a part of his success and are happy playing with him and that’s a problem.
Shams Charania reported that head coach Nate McMillan is considering stepping down after the season, and Travis Schlenk stepped down as the team general manager.
Don’t be surprised if the new basketball operations man Landry Fields takes calls about Young and considers a reset.