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NBA predictions 2022-2023: Post-Draft, early-free agency division picks

By Emile Avanessian

Published: 12:14, 11 July 2022

With the 2022 draft and a wild opening near-fortnight of free agency in the books, and Summer League in full swing, the NBA’s silly season is well and truly upon us! There are shoes yet to drop, but we’re here with some too-early NBA predictions!

We’re less than a month into NBA offseason and, already, A LOT has already happened, including (but hardly limited to):

The Orlando Magic selected Duke’s Paolo Banchero #1 overall. Sam Presti began turning the Thunder’s preposterous stockpile of draft assets into actual players. The Knicks wheeled and dealt on draft night – constantly, to little immediate effect – before signing Jalen Brunson away from the Dallas Mavericks for nine figures. The Minnesota Timberwolves shipped a monstrous trove of picks and players to Utah, in exchange for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. The Eastern Conference champion Celtics acquired the excellent Malcolm Brogdon, as a backup point guard. The Atlanta Hawks acquired a second All Star point guard…

Despite all of that, there are still several situations, involving genuine difference makers, that require resolution. Will the Brooklyn Nets trade Kevin Durant? Kyrie Irving? Both? Neither? Can the Lakers turn Russell Westbrook (and his gigantic contract) into something worthy of a contender? Where will Suns star center DeAndre Ayton sign? With Gobert gone, is it only a matter of time before Donovan Mitchell casts his eyes toward greener pastures?

Nonetheless, we thought this would be an opportune moment to take stock of all that’s happened, and make a few ‘way too early’ NBA predictions for 2022-23!

NBA Predictions for 2022-23

We’ve analyzed the NBA markets – based on the state of affairs at the time of writing (11 July, 2022) – have landed on the teams we’re expecting to finish atop each of the league’s six divisions (division odds have not yet been posted at the time of writing, and will be updated once available; in the meantime, here are the odds to win the Eastern Conference; and the Western Conference) and square off in the NBA Finals, and the player who’ll capture the league’s Most Valuable Player award. All odds are with Sky Bet – and we have a special signup bonus offer for you too!

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

The situation in Brooklyn is an absolute mess. If the Nets somehow manage 11th-hour reconciliations with Durant and/or Kyrie, Ben Simmons, Joe Harris, Seth Curry and Nic Claxton is a decent supporting cast. HOWEVER… not only is reconciliation exceedingly unlikely, a lack of depth and roster continuity really caps how good this team can actually be.

Assuming a teardown in Brooklyn, the Knicks – with a rising star in RJ Barrett, a former All Star in Julius Randle looking for a bounce-back season, and a new, ultra-efficient point guard in Jalen Brunson – are fourth-best in this division. They’re not contenders, but should be competitive on a nightly basis.

Ultimately, this race comes down to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors, and the Celtics. The Sixers feature the best individual player of the three in Joel Embiid, but also have valid questions about his supporting cast – James Harden, Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris – that the Raptors’ and Celtics’ secondary stars simply do not.

Ultimately, the nod here goes to Boston, thanks to their duo of frontline stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who just powered a Finals run, head coach Ime Udoka, a genuinely elite defense, and the addition of the NBA’s best backup point guard in Brogdon, and more shooting off the bench in Danilo Gallinari.

Prediction: Boston Celtics to win the Atlantic Division

Central Division

The Central could be one of the more interesting divisions in the NBA in the coming years. For now, though?

The Indiana Pacers are in the midst of a rebuild. The Pistons, who are building something intriguing, are still at least a year or two away.

The Cleveland Cavaliers spent the first half of last season near the top of the East, before being undone by injuries. They’ve since recommitted to All Star point guard Darius Garland, who, along with Rookie of the Year runner up Evan Mobley, All Star big man Jarrett Allen, veteran Kevin Love and (assuming he’s not traded) backcourt scorer Collin Sexton (who missed almost all of last season), in the hope of reaching the next level.

Similarly, the Chicago Bulls just recommitted to their own young star, re-signing Zach LaVine to a five-year, $212 million deal. Like Cleveland, the Bulls started last season strong, before getting ravaged by injuries. Their wager is that LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vučević, healthy versions of Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball and third year man Patrick Williams, and second-year point guard Ayo Dosunmu are enough to fuel a deep playoff run.

Ultimately, though, until someone proves otherwise, this division belongs to the Milwaukee Bucks. In terms of continuity, experience, intelligence, championship mettle and, yes, employment of league’s best player in Giannis Antetokounmpo, this team has everything. Had Khris Middleton not gotten hurt last season, they’d have likely returned to Finals, with an excellent shot at a second straight title.

Prediction: It’s not very bold, but the Milwaukee Bucks to win the Central Division

Southeast Division

Though not devoid of storylines, the hierarchy in the Southeast is pretty clear.

The Magic remain mired in a decade-long rebuild – though way-too-early glimpses of top pick Paolo Banchero suggest progress is on the horizon.

The Charlotte Hornets continue to struggle to assemble a well-rounded roster – outside of star point guard LeMelo Ball – that’s capable of meaningfully competing. It’s tough to delve deeper into this team without speaking about the truly horrific domestic violence allegations against former (he’s a free agent) power forward Miles Bridges. It would be crass to break down basketball in light of that story, so let’s move on with a simple fact: this team won’t be awful, but there’s not a contender here.

The Washington Wizards enter this season with arguably their most coherent roster of the past five years. This, admittedly, is not the highest of bars to clear. Even with their new five-year, $251 million commitment to Bradley Beal, this group will not threaten the upper reaches of the conference.

In Atlanta, the Hawks are committing to contenting. After sending three first round picks to San Antonio in exchange for All Star point guard Dejounte Murray, they’ve added a seemingly ideal backcourt complement to the talismanic All Star point guard they already had, Trae Young. Between them, the pair offer a combination of shooting, passing, length, defensive prowess, rebounding and playmaking that will be a chore for any opposing defense. Were the organization not mid-standoff with power forward John Collins, this could profile as a team that makes a run at a division title before (probably) getting found out in the playoffs. However, given that impasse, they’ll have to settle for ‘better than those other three’.

Ultimately, like the Bucks in the Central, until they’re dethroned, the Miami Heat – the smart, talented, tough-as-nails, know-who-they-are, fantastically-coached, #1-seeded Heat – are kings of the Southeast.

Prediction: Miami Heat to win the Southeast Division

Western Conference

Northwest Division 

From top to bottom, no division has gotten more of a facelift than the Northwest.

The Denver Nuggets, of course, are still anchored by Nikola Jokić. However, after the now-two-time defending league MVP’s monumental efforts kept the team afloat, the Nuggets welcome back their second and third best players: point guard Jamal Murray and sharp-shooting forward Michael Porter Jr., and will feature a re-tooled supporting cast, most notably with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown on the wings.

In Minnesota, meanwhile, the Timberwolves shipped out a huge haul of players and picks in order to add the division rival Utah Jazz’s (arguably) best player, Rudy Gobert, to a talented core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. What they may lack in depth they’ll surely make up for in top-end talent, as Gobert should mesh beautifully, at both ends of the floor, with their existing stars.

Given that awesome stockpile of top-end talent (none of whom just missed an entire season  to injury), I’m giving the edge to Minny here.

Prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves to win the Northwest Division

Southwest Division 

The three-horse race in the Southwest should be a fascinating onee.

The defending division champion Memphis Grizzlies, led by superstar point guard Ja Morant and an excellent two-way duo in Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr., face an interesting challenge. The Grizz started last season as a fun, potentially frisky upstart. They wound up winning 56 regular season games (second most in the NBA), capturing the #2 seed in the West, and pushing the eventual champion Warriors to six games in the second round. Their challenge this season is to follow up last year’s ‘ahead of schedule’ showing with one befitting a perennial contender. Provided Morant can stay healthy (a reasonable ‘if’), they’ve got the personnel and personality to do it. It’s hardly a given, though.

Meanwhile, on the heels of 52 wins, the #4 seed and a trip to the conference finals, Dallas must deal with the departure of Jalen Brunson. For as great as Luka Dončić is, Brunson’s emergence last year helped by relieving some of the pressure on Luka to be the lone ball-handler and offensive creator. Any team featuring Prime Luka is almost certainly going to playoffs, but there’s seemingly not enough firepower elsewhere on the roster to top this division.

Which brings us to the New Orleans Pelicans. After a brutal start, in which they lost 11 of 12 and 16 of their first 19, the Pels, despite missing star big man Zion Williamson for the entirety of the season, acquired CJ McCollum from the Blazers, won 35 of their last 65, leapfrogged the Lakers and the Spurs into ninth place in the West, defeated the Spurs and the Clippers to secure the #8 seed, and then pushed the massively-favored Suns to six games.

The Pelicans roll into the 2022-23 season with a young, talented and deep roster – in addition to Williamson and McCollum, this team features Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas and standout perimeter defenders Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado – that’s awash in great vibes. Given all that these guys accomplished in Zion’s absence, anything resembling a full workload from him should make this team the class of the division.

Prediction: New Orleans Pelicans to win the Southwest Division

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Pacific Division

On paper, the Pacific should be the NBA’s deepest and best division. Last season, though, while the Suns were winning a league-high 64 regular season games and and the Golden State Warriors were lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy, injuries and underperformance were absolutely battering Los Angeles.

Where the balance of power could shift is, yes, in the City of Angels. The Lakers return a healthy and rested LeBron James-Anthony Davis combo, to which they may add Kyrie Irving (in a rumored Westbrook trade) and a series of intriguing under-the-radar free agents. Their crosstown rivals, the Clippers, meanwhile, having put together an hilariously deep and versatile supporting cast for their two superstars, Kawhi Leonard, who missed the entirety of last season, and Paul George, who, though great when he did play, missed 51 games himself.

The Suns, meanwhile, will remain dangerous, either returning the core from the past two excellent seasons (Chris Paul, Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, Mikal Bridges), or rolling out a trio of Paul, Booker and Kevin Durant. Neither of those scenarios is ‘bad’.

The defending champion Warriors will surely put forth another with a strong effort but, given the mileage logged over the years by their big three of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and major turnover among the supporting cast, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them both need a moment to find their groove and prioritize rest.

If we’re looking for the team and players most motivated to (and capable of) put forth a monstrous regular season to remind the NBA of their presence, the Clippers are a prime candidate.

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers to win the Pacific Division

Who will be the NBA’s MVP in 2022-23?

The leading candidates for NBA MVP in 2022-23 are a nice mix of newcomers and old guard. That being said, for a variety of reasons, our initial field of five frontrunners whittles down to two rather quickly.

Nikola Jokić (9/1) has won the award each of the past two years. However, barring a somehow even more Herculean effort, a certain numbness to his greatness – and the dreaded ‘voter fatigue’ – may set in, making a third straight award less likely, as evidenced by the fact that he is currently (with Durant) joint-fourth favorite.

Another two-time winner, reigning Finals MVP Steph Curry (12/1), is garnering any recognition and appreciation that had previously eluded him. His awesome performance in the Finals, combined with the boost of a fourth ring will make him a popular pick. However, in his fourteenth season, with the Warriors prioritizing more championships above all else, Curry will get more rest throughout the season, to gear up for another playoff run.

Then there’s joint-favorite (5/1) Luka Dončić, who falls into a version of the Lebron category. His brilliance is beyond question, as is his value to the Mavericks. However, barring a truly gargantuan effort, it’s unlikely to translate into a level of team success that trumps that of these other guys.

This leaves us with a top two of Giannis Antetokounmpo (7/1) and our other joint-favorite, Joel Embiid (5/1). A two-time winner himself, Giannis has continued to churn out MVP-worthy seasons but, thanks to Jokić’s incredible play, has missed out on a third win. The same is true of Embiid (who’s yet to win an MVP), of course, who’ll almost certainly dominate once again. The edge goes to Giannis here, who’ll continue to put up mammoth numbers, but on a better, more settled team, with any voter fatigue that might have worked against him having dissipated.

Prediction: Giannis Antetokounmpo to win the NBA MVP at 7/1 (Sky Bet)

Squawka top six NBA teams* heading into the 2022-23 season:

Boston Celtics

Miami Heat

Milwaukee Bucks

Golden State Warriors

Los Angeles Clippers

* By expected regular season record

Which teams will square off in the 2022-23 NBA Finals?

A common refrain in NBA conversations is that, despite the breadth and depth of talent across the league, there are really only three or four teams with a realistic chance of winning the championship in any given year. This has certainly been true in years past – in some cases, we’ve even strained to get to four.

However, despite returning a defending champion that just won its fourth title in eight seasons, the 2022-23 season promises to be one of the most wide open in recent NBA history.

The Eastern Conference race (again, here are the odds to win the Eastern Conference) – the more straightforward of the two – features four teams with a legitimate chances of reaching the Finals: the Celtics (5/2), the Bucks (10/3), the Heat (4/1) and the 76ers (8/1).

Meanwhile, it’s not an exaggeration to say that any one of nine teams could represent the Western Conference in the Finals. In the eyes of the bookmakers, this field includes seven ‘favorites’ (and, again, the (again, the odds to win the Western Conference):

  • Suns (3/1)
  • Warriors (10/3)
  • Clippers (10/3)
  • Nugget (8/1)
  • Lakers (8/1)
  • Mavericks (9/1)
  • Grizzlies (9/1)

 And a pair of longer shots, in the Timberwolves and the Pelicans, who, at a whopping 20/1, offer excellent value.

The favorites out West are, understandably, the defending champion Warriors and the Suns. Both will be excellent again, though their odds look at bit rich, given their respective ages and roster turnover in such a competitive field. The third-favorite Clippers, also potentially excellent and incredibly deep, are banking on fully healthy seasons from stars who’ve struggled to stay on the floor.

Every team named above boasts a roster capable of winning the West, while also facing serious questions. It’s early days and, as noted above, any such NBA predictions piece is a fraught exercise with so many issues still requiring resolution.

Thus, in the interest of making a too-early pick for the Finals… looking both at the rosters – top-end talent and depth – and the value represented by the odds, as we sit here now, a Milwaukee Bucks-Denver Nuggets matchup – teams with largely settled rosters, each led by a two-time MVP – in June 2023 is quite alluring.

How many games are in the 2022-23 NBA season?

The 2022-23 NBA regular season will consist of the normal slate of 82 games, played between late October and mid-April.

In late-April, following the conclusion of the regular season, the NBA playoffs begin. The playoff field consists of the top eight teams from each conference. These teams compete in three rounds of best-of-seven series, which whittle the field on each side of the bracket (Eastern and Western Conference) down to four, and then two teams, who battle in the conference finals series to determine the participants in the NBA Finals. Following these series, the Eastern and Western Conference champions square off in the best-of-seven NBA Finals, which decide the NBA champion.