Tier 1: Future Title Contenders
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Shai Giligeous Alexander – PG/SG
- Josh Giddey – PG/SG
- Chet Holmgren – C
- Jalen Williams – SF/PF
- Projected number nine pick 2023 NBA Draft (Right to swap with LAC)
- OKC 2024 first round pick
- LAC 2024 first round pick
- HOU 2024 first round pick (Top-four protected) → Converts to 2024 and 2025 second-round picks if not conveyed
- UTA 2024 first round pick (Top-10 protected)
- OKC/LAC/HOU 2025 first round pick (right to swap with HOU (Top-10 protected) or LAC)
Analysis: Thunder GM Sam Presti has garnered a reputation as a man addicted to first round picks, and he has gone on a tear acquiring valuable hoards of draft capital since the Thunder moved on from the Westbrook-George experiment years ago.
I cannot say enough good things about the extremely young and talented team the Thunder have assembled. They have a 24-year-old mega star in SGA who is already one of the premiere scorers in the NBA, and he has done so with unreal efficiency. They have one of the best young passers in the league in Josh Giddey, who also happens to be an elite rebounder and defender. Giddey is precise, patient, and has far exceeded what scouts anticipated him to be as a scorer at the NBA level, making him a constant triple-double threat, and a legit future All-Star. Rookie forward Jalen Williams has emerged as one of the top candidates to finish behind Paolo Banchero in the Rookie of the Year race, as he is averaging 20.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in his last 11 games. As if that was not enough the Thunder have not even played a game with Chet Holmgren, the number two pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Holmgren could become the NBA’s next Unicorn if he can gain muscle and shed injury concerns, and he has serious upside as a shot blocker and ball handler at 7’1.” Put on your sunglasses Thunder fans, the future is dangerously bright, you might have to shield your eyes.
- Orlando Magic
- Paolo Banchero – PF/SF
- Franz Wagner – SG/SF/PF
- Wendell Carter Jr – C/PF
- Markelle Fultz – PG
- Projected ORL number five pick 2023 NBA Draft
- Projected CHI number seven pick 2023 NBA Draft CHI (Top-four protected) → own CHI 2024 first if 2023 first does not convey (Top-three protected)
- ORL 2024 first round pick
- DEN 2025 first round pick (if DEN conveys 2023 first to CHA)
Analysis: The Magic front office has been on fire since deciding to blow up their roster just two short years ago. The turnaround in Orlando has been swift and impressive, and Magic executives John Hammond and Jeff Weltman have garnered league wide respect for their savvy decision making in that time. In the Vucevic trade, the Magic yielded a massive return, adding an underrated young big man in Wendell Carter Jr., and a young All-Star in the making in Franz Wagner. Not to mention, the Magic are likely to own the Bulls’ first round pick, meaning they could have multiple top seven picks to work with in the 2023 Draft. Oh – and did I mention that number one pick Paolo Banchero is putting together the most impressive rookie year since LeBron James? With an All-Star caliber frontcourt duo, two top 10 picks in a loaded draft class, and plethora of alluring young pieces planted on the depth chart – this Magic team could be a perennial playoff team by next season if things continue to work in their favor. After a 5-20 start in 2022, the Magic have looked like an entirely different team, earning them an extra badge of respect over other young teams in the top five of lottery odds. The Magic do not need Wembenyama or Scoot to have an incredibly promising future, but if they do manage to jump the lottery odds and sneak in the top two – the Magic could become a serious powerhouse for years to come. The post-Dwight era of darkness is finally coming to a close in O-Town, and these fans deserve it.
Tier 2: Promising Young Stars, Big Roster Decisions Loom
- Indiana Pacers
- Tyrese Haliburton – PG
- Benedict Mathurin – SG/SF
- Andrew Nembhard – PG/SG
- Projected IND number six pick 2023 NBA Draft
- Projected CLE #26 pick 2023 NBA Draft
- Projected BOS #28 pick 2023 NBA Draft
- IND 2024 first round pick
Analysis: The Pacers have quietly accrued a nice collection of first round picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, although two of them belong to contending teams and do not project to fall within the top 25 of the draft. Still, with young talent at a premium in the NBA, it is a good sign that the Pacers have given themselves plenty of chances to hit in the 2023 NBA Draft.
It has been a wildly successful inaugural year of the Tyrese Haliburton era for Indiana. Haliburton, recently torched the Rockets for 29 points, 19 assist, and just one turnover in an OT victory for Indiana, a statline that could become commonplace for the young first-time All Star. Rookie Benedict Mathurin went down with a worrisome ankle injury in that game, which could result in him missing the remainder of the season, depending on the outcome. Even if his season is over, Mathurin had a stellar rookie year of his own coming off the bench for the Pacers, and figures to serve as an elite complementary piece to Haliburton for years to come.
The issue with Indiana however, is that they have yet to commit to a full-fledged rebuild, opting instead to remain in the mix for the play-in tournament by keeping valuable veterans that might not be with the team much longer. Myles Turner has been the subject of trade rumors for a few years now, even publicly lobbying for the Lakers to acquire him on a podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski. Sharpshooting veteran Buddy Hield is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA, but at 30 years old he does not necessarily coalesce with the development track of the rest of this young team.
Despite the jumbled mix of veterans and young talent, it is hard to feel worried with Tyrese Haliburton poised to become the next face of the franchise in Indiana. If the Pacers can continue to support him with talented complementary pieces, they will be absolutely fine.
- Utah Jazz
- Lauri Markkanen
- Walker Kessler
- Collin Sexton
- Projected UTA number eight pick 2023 Draft
- Projected MIN #17 pick 2023 Draft
- Projected PHI #27 pick 2023 Draft
- 2024 UTA first (if 1-10) → 2024 OKC first (if 11-30) (conveys to OKC in 2025 if not in 2024)
- CLE 2025 first round pick
- MIN 2025 first round pick
Analysis: The Jazz have been a pleasant surprise this year – maybe too surprising for their own good. After all, their front office opted to sell at the trade deadline in order to nudge the team further down the Western Conference standings and into lottery contention. Lauri Markkanen is the favorite to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award, as the first-time All Star seems to put someone on a poster virtually every night. Young big man Walker Kessler has been a steal, already one of the league’s best shot blockers in his rookie year.
Couple that with the haul of first-round picks that the Timberwolves gifted them in the Rudy Gobert trade, and you have got a recipe for a successful future. Utah’s front office has to be disappointed to not be near the top of the Wembenyama sweepstakes, but they should also be content with the young team they have assembled in such a short time. Veteran Mike Conley was moved at the trade deadline, along with solid pieces in Malik Beasely and Jared Vanderbilt, but a few veteran pieces remain in flux on this roster. Jordan Clarkson and Kelly Olynk remain involved as key starters, and could be candidates for trade this offseason.