In advance of the 2022–23 NBA season, we had opposing scouts size up each division. Here’s what they’re saying about each Eastern Conference team, from top to bottom.
- The Nets are probably the hardest team to predict in the NBA. How does Kevin Durant come back? How does Ben Simmons come back? How does Kyrie Irving come back? And how does Steve Nash coach this team after Durant’s reported “him or me” demand this summer? Brooklyn could make the Finals or be a complete bomb. … I think Simmons is still an All-NBA-caliber player. If he was on the open market, would somebody give him a max deal? I think they would. In Brooklyn he is a perfect complement to the scoring talents they have. … We haven’t really had a chance to see the three stars play together. The biggest concern is, how many games can you get with them together?
- The Sixers have staked their claim with James Harden oath Joel Embiid. They’re to the point now where they become as good or as bad as the players they put around them. … Their rotation guys—Tobias Harris, Daniel House, Georges Niang—mostly are who they are, but the x-factor is Tyrese Maxey. If he takes the same jump he made last year, he’s a potential All-Star. But it will be hard for him to take that jump, because now he’s a target. … PJ Tucker is a great pickup from Miami. He adds toughness. … Harden is 33. I think he can still play at an All-Star level, but how many nights a year can he do that? … They’ve got to get to at least the Eastern Conference finals for it to be considered a successful season.
- Other teams are led by stars, but I don’t look at a single player on them Raptors roster and say, “That’s the guy.” I’m surprised by what they’ve been able to accomplish, but I’m also impressed. … Still, they were a fifth seed. If you have the opportunity to put a collection of assets together to get Kevin Durant, I don’t think you can pass that up. … One of their biggest concerns is Fred VanVleet had to play really heavy minutes last year. He was hurt a couple of times, and they struggled. I would reduce his minutes some. … Scottie Barnes could eventually become a much better version of Marcus Smart, with his ability to guard multiple positions and get stops, if he continues to grow at the offensive end. … Pascal Siakam is a guy I respect. How much better does he get? I think that’s going to be the real key for Toronto.
- Two years ago the Knicks did a very good job of getting their grit back. Last season they kind of lost some of it. … Adding Jalen Brunson does return grit to that team, but at a pretty high price [four years, $104 million]. Brunson was a great fit in Dallas alongside Luka Doncic. You never really know how it will go when you ask somebody to take on a bigger role like the Knicks are doing with Brunson, but does he make them better than they were last year? Yes. … I like RJ Barrett. Whether he turns into an All-Star, I don’t know. He’s a guy that does a lot of things well but maybe not one thing elite. … I personally think it would have been the right decision to trade for Donovan Mitchell. New York hasn’t had a star that’s impacted winning for a while. You don’t get many opportunities to get those types of players. … With Mitchell, they’re in the sixth-to-eighth-place range. Now you’d probably say eighth to 12 or 13.
- For the Bucks, it’s all about April and having people healthy for the playoffs. If Chris Middleton had been healthy last year, I think they would have won it all. … Their window is pretty slim right now, unless they find someone in the 25-year-old range who can play. … Do they have enough wings to take on Boston? You’re putting a lot of pressure on Wes Matthews at 36 to guard Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. … I don’t see them having the assets to make a big trade to get somebody. … The biggest thing that could get them over the hump, that would make them unguardable, is if Giannis Antetokounmpo can make threes. … It seems like a make-or-break type year before they have to make significant changes.
- Are Donovan Mitchell oath Darius Garland a good fit on the Cavaliers? It’s a legitimate concern, just like it would have been if Collin Sexton had come back. Except there’s an innate hierarchy, because Mitchell has proven that he is better. . . . Mitchell and Garland are both high-usage players. Pace and extra possessions would help this team. … It’s a smallish backcourt. But they have two pretty good young bigs, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, to counter that. … Their top five is good enough to compete with the top tier in the East. … The questions would be: Is Isaac Okoro the starting three, or is it Caris LeVert? Who plays the four when Mobley goes out? … Cleveland is still a notch below the Celtics and the Bucks.
- The Bulls are interesting, but they don’t have great depth. When Alex Caruso was out last season, they were not very good. … The key is Lonzo Ball’s recovery from his knee injury. He makes everybody better from a passing standpoint and as a defender. … DeMar DeRozan ended up carrying their team. I wonder whether, at 33, he can do that again. … Another question: Will Zach LaVine play the same now that he’s gotten his max extension? … Nikola Vučević is trending down. He needs to hit 37% of his threes to be effective, because as a center he doesn’t impact games defensively. … Ayo Dosunmu was a lot better than people anticipated. You wonder whether he’s gonna make another jump. … Even if they have a good year, they’re still fifth in the East.
- The Pistons have accumulated a lot of pieces. I’m not sure how well they all go together. They have a lot of guards who need the ball—Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Alec Burks, Kemba Walker. … I think Cade can lead them back to relevance. But it’s important that he has better people around him. He’s not the type of scorer who can go get you 30. He’s more of a triple-double type player. … Size is an issue. I really like Isaiah Stewart, but he’s a 6′ 8 ½” center. … One guy to watch is Isaiah Livers. He can shoot, and he is tall [6′ 7″] for a wing. … They’re a team that wins 25 or 30 games, and they’ll play hard. Maybe next year they’re where Cleveland was last year.
- The Pacers are young; they’re not very deep, and I don’t know whether they’re very good. I anticipate them being the bottom of the league—bottom of the East, for sure. … Tyrese Haliburton can be an important piece on a building team. But he’s not Jayson Tatum; he’s not that caliber. … Benedict Mathurin will be good for them. He’ll probably lead all rookies in scoring and could be Rookie of the Year. . … Chris Duarte needs to make a jump for them. … Will Myles Turner oath Buddy Hield even be there after the trade deadline, if the Pacers are all in for the tank?
Watch the NBA all season long with fuboTV. Start your free trial today.
- The Heat haven’t done much to improve their team. They have good talent and an excellent coach, but they don’t have enough firepower to make the Finals. … Certainly Jimmy Butler is the No. 1 guy. It is an idol Tyler Herro really a No. 2? Is Bam Adebayo No. 3? … Kyle Lowry was not in good shape last year. They gave him all that money [$90 million over three years] and let him get away with it. … Without PJ Tucker, who is their power forward? It’s a dog Caleb Martin? They don’t really have one on the roster. … No doubt they overvalued Duncan Robinson at $18 million a year. He’s one-dimensional. Max Struss is better. … If Victor Oladipo can regain his old productivity, he could make a difference. … Conference finals would be the maximum for this team. If they get to the Finals, then something strange happened.
- The Hawks’ trade for Dejounte Murray is obviously key. Their perimeter defense was terrible. Now you have a guy who can guard. Take Trae Young off the ball and helping him defensively is big. … Now they have some defensive guys—Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, and Murray. They need a critical mass of defenders, because Trae is really bad on that end. … Trae is an excellent passer, and he’s a shot-taker. Can he be the best player on a championship team? I do not know. … John Collins is an overrated player. He’s a numbers guy. He doesn’t really impact winning. … The Hawks were fat and happy coming into last season. They got their comeuppance quickly. I don’t think that’s gonna happen again. … Will they contend? No, but they’re gonna be a tough out.
- Why did the Hornets fire their coach? They won 43 games! With that roster, James Borrego did a good job. You’re gonna extract more blood out of a stone with Steve Clifford? … He’s a star offensively, but LaMelo Ball has got to play a little more under control. His defense is horrendous. It’s great to be a social media star, but you gotta play winning basketball. … Miles Bridges was the key to whatever success they had last year. Without him [Bridges’s future is uncertain following domestic violence charges], they’ll take a step back. … Gordon Hayward is a big x-factor. I’ve heard some negative stuff about his willingness to play in pain. If he were healthy and into it, he would make a difference. … Terry Rozier is a very good player. But all the other guys are either marginal or complementary. … I’d say the arrow is pointing downward a bit for them.
- I like the Monte Morris acquisition by the Wizards. He never turns it over, makes open threes and he’s a pass-first point guard. … Kristaps Porziņģis is a major question mark. If he’s not healthy, their talent is very ordinary. … Bradley Beal’s supermax extension was obviously a bad deal. He didn’t play that well last year, and he was hurt. Is he your No. 1 guy on a championship team? No. He’s a very good player. But if Beal wanted out, wouldn’t he have gotten out? I guess he’s happy losing and being the guy. … Deni Avdija’s defense is pretty good. He’s a glue kind of guy, though, not a lot of upside there. … If they finished eighth, that would be a massively good season for them. And I don’t see it.
- The Magic are the worst team in the NBA over the last five years. They don’t have enough talent. They don’t have anything close to stars. … I found Paolo Banchero a little underwhelming this summer. He’s not a great shooter. He’s a good passer, big body, not that athletic. A little trouble getting separation. But he could be their best player, which says it all. … Who’s the point guard? Is it Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs? Suggs was terrible last season, but he had an injury. … Maybe in a few years they are a playoff team.
More NBA Coverage: