The 2022-23 regular season is in its final week, providing an opportunity to reflect on the campaign that was – both good and bad.
Which team had the most discouraging campaign?
Injuries played a part, but it’s difficult to take many positives from another dire Washington Wizards season. They’ve already locked in a fifth straight losing campaign, an awful span during which they’ve made the playoffs just once (crashing out in five games to the Philadelphia 76ers in 2020-21). And yet, Washington has never drafted better than ninth. Such a lengthy stay in no man’s land is usually a front office’s worst-case scenario, but the Wizards seem to love being mediocre. Whether or not Bradley Beal remains the star to build around is one thing, but their reported intentions to pen new deals for Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma suggest the Wizards perplexingly believe better days are ahead. But even when its star trio was healthy, Washington went just 16-19. – Jonathan Soveta
Just when it seemed like Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks were ready to become perennial championship contenders after their run to the Western Conference finals last year, everything came crashing down. On Jan. 7, the Mavericks were 23-17 and the West’s No. 3 team. Now, Dallas sits at just 37-42 and is out of the play-in picture entirely. Say what you want about the team’s decision to trade for Kyrie Irving midway through the season, but the Mavericks’ issues clearly represent something much bigger. Doncic is having a career-best scoring campaign on easily his best efficiency from the field. And yet his defensive struggles and propensity for isolation basketball, along with the franchise’s inability to put the proper role players around him, have likely made this campaign an absolute failure. – Matthew Winick
No team has had a bleaker season than the Portland Trail Blazers. Amid arguably Damian Lillard’s best individual campaign, the Blazers failed to surround their star with an adequate supporting cast. They fell off drastically following a 17-13 start, going 15-27 in their next 42 games before essentially shutting down their starters. Portland’s woes can mostly be attributed to its defense, which is in the bottom five (by defensive rating) for the fourth straight season. This team will have tough decisions to make in the offseason, with Jerami Grant hitting free agency and a washed-up Jusuf Nurkic owed significant money for years to come. – Lior Kozai
Who’s been the most disappointing player this season?
The Mavericks have clearly soured on Christian Wood after a hot start. Wood was a popular preseason pick for Sixth Man of the Year, and he showed his offensive skill set for a brief stretch in December and January as a starter. But ever since Irving joined Dallas in February, the Mavs tried to prioritize defense in the frontcourt, turning to Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber (once Kleber returned from injury). Wood’s poor defense has drawn the ire of head coach Jason Kidd, resulting in the big man averaging just 20.6 minutes in February and March. Expect Wood, an impending free agent, to look for what’ll be his fourth team in five seasons as a full-time player. – Kozai
After a disappointing debut campaign in South Beach, the Heat were surely expecting Kyle Lowry to settle in and bounce back in the second season of the three-year, $85-million deal he signed in 2021. The 37-year-old has instead gone further in the opposite direction. Lowry’s numbers across the board are as low as they’ve been since his early days with the Houston Rockets, and his regression has been so pronounced that he’s lost his starting gig to Gabe Vincent. It’s worth mentioning that Lowry has dealt with personal issues as well as injuries this year, and it’s unclear how much those have affected his game, if at all. But the veteran guard has looked like a shell of himself in Miami after writing his name in Toronto Raptors franchise lore. – Soveta
Seemingly healthy and featured in a star-studded starting lineup, this season figured to be the resumption of what had previously been a solid start to Ben Simmons’ NBA career. Instead, things have turned into a full-blown disaster as the campaign comes to a close. The Brooklyn Nets have completely remade their roster with Irving and Kevin Durant getting shipped off, and yet Simmons still seems to be uninvolved in the franchise’s future plans despite the Nets owing him nearly $80 million over the next two seasons. Not only was Simmons averaging a measly 6.9 points per game, but his 5.6 field-goal attempts per contest properly sum up his total lack of interest in shooting the ball. Considering he hasn’t played in over a month with a knee issue, there are no immediate answers as to what Simmons’ NBA future looks like. – Winick
Which non-playoff team has the most reason for hope?
Don’t look now, but with the Blazers in full tank mode, the franchise has a real shot at winning the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. If the Blazers do land Wembanyama, he’ll be the 7-foot-4 cherry on top of an increasingly promising young core. Anfernee Simons is just 23 years old with three years of team control left on his deal, and he’s averaging 21.1 points per game on a pristine 37.7% shooting from deep with high volume. Cam Reddish, Kevin Knox, and Nassir Little are all former elite prospects who are 23 or younger and have a chance to pop eventually. And most notably, rookie Shaedon Sharpe has taken the league by storm, averaging an eye-popping 24.7 points per game over his last seven. If he turns out to be the hyper-athletic scorer he’s primed to become, the post-Lillard era in Portland has the chance to be special. – Winick
The Orlando Magic are primed to add another top-10 pick to a promising young core of Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr., and Jalen Suggs. That group has already expanded to include Markelle Fultz, who’s still just 24 years old and had a splendid comeback season, settling in as a steady floor general. Orlando managed to develop its young players while competing on a nightly basis, even earning impressive wins over contenders. Most importantly, Banchero looks like a future perennial All-Star, while Wagner has made strides and should be an ideal secondary option. Year 3 of the Magic’s rebuild has been a resounding success. – Kozai
Funny enough, the postseason outsider (as it stands right now) with one of the more promising futures has little chance at the top pick. The best odds the Indiana Pacers can mathematically finish with for the No. 1 pick are 10.5%. That’s if they drop below the Trail Blazers in the standings, but Indiana doesn’t need to. Tyrese Haliburton has been sensational since arriving from the Sacramento Kings, and he’s surrounded by an enticing young core that includes Bennedict Mathurin, Jalen Smith, and Chris Duarte. Even longtime center Myles Turner is still only 27. The Pacers have multiple upgrade avenues, too; they could trade 30-year-old Buddy Hield, who would garner significant interest after one of the best shooting seasons of his career. – Soveta
Which potential lottery winner best suits Wembanyama?
Imagine a starting lineup featuring Banchero and Wagner alongside Wembanyama. There’s probably something written in the newly crafted CBA that would force the Magic to play three-on-five if it were to happen. Jokes aside, Orlando is an ideal landing spot for the French phenom. It would allow him to acclimate to the Association at a comfortable pace away from the intense media spotlight of larger NBA markets while immediately giving Orlando one of the most fearsome frontcourts for the foreseeable future. And though Wembanyama is as unique as it comes, the Magic have proven they can develop star big men. – Soveta
The Pistons benched 2022 lottery pick Jalen Duren for James Wiseman, the Hornets inexplicably played Mason Plumlee big minutes while No. 15 pick Mark Williams spent months in the G League, and the Rockets have been the NBA’s most embarrassing team for three years. Sure, the San Antonio Spurs’ talent may not be as promising as what those three teams have, but San Antonio can be trusted to develop Wembanyama better than other franchises. Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in NBA history and should stick around for at least another year; he’ll also have a contingency plan in place for whenever he retires. Let’s just say it worked out well for Popovich the last time he landed a generational prospect in Tim Duncan. – Kozai
There’s a very simple pitch to be made for Wembanyama on the Charlotte Hornets: The guard-big duo of the towering Frenchman and superstar guard LaMelo Ball would be as elite a tag team in the Association. Don’t let his abbreviated 36-game campaign or the Hornets’ horrendous record take away from Ball’s production. He put up a career-best 23.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while nailing 37.6% of his 3-pointers, adding to an accolade-filled three-year stint in the NBA that includes a Rookie of the Year award and an All-Star Game appearance. Ball has the sixth-most assists of any player by the age of 21 and continues to find new ways to awe fans with creative dishes to teammates. With Ball running the show, Wembanyama would receive the ball in spots to succeed at all times, and the way that both players can shoot the ball from the perimeter would open up the floor for their teammates. – Winick
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