One Offseason Wish for Every NBA Team
Jul 11, 2023
From Jarrett Allen running lineman drills to Jaylen Brown doing, well, anything with his left hand, these are the workout videos, FIBA World Cup performances, and social media posts we’re looking for this summer
With the 2023 FIBA World Cup just around the corner, game-starved NBA zealots will have some help traversing the dog days of summer. There’s still plenty of time before media day kicks off the 2023-24 season in earnest, which means there’s still time for players to accomplish what they need to in the offseason, whether that’s adding a new element to their games or restoring themselves before yet another long campaign. These in-between moments matter. Here’s what we’d love to see from a player on each team until then.
There are fewer than a handful of players in the world who can manipulate the trajectory of a basketball with the level of touch that Trae Young has. His floater may one day be considered an all-time-great signature skill, and his fabled deep range from 3, dating back to high school, makes up the core of his heliocentric design. You ever wish those two great tastes were featured together more often?
Trae has been crushing the summer circuit, but nothing would make me more excited for Atlanta’s first full season with coach Quin Snyder than footage of Young casually drilling 3-point teardrops. The beauty of Trae’s floater is its multiplicity: It’s a gamut of possible outcomes disguised as a binary. The dilemma is not just in figuring out whether he’s passing or shooting, but also in discerning how far into Trae’s arcing motion his intention is set. Now imagine Young lofting the ball into the air from behind the 3-point line right out of a Spain pick-and-roll. He’s thrown one-legged, no-look lobs from that far out before:
Fine-tune the accuracy, and what’s stopping the best floater in the game from going even deeper?
I’d venture to guess there would be a not-insignificant number of people around the world who would watch a six-hour livestream of Jaylen Brown being forced to do everything—brushing his teeth, dribbling a basketball, making breakfast, dribbling a basketball, lacquering a raw-edge wood slab table, dribbling a basketball—with his left hand.
The offseason buzz for Ben Simmons is almost unanimously positive. His teammates, who all make, at the very least, $12 million less than he does, all seem optimistic about his return. We don’t need to repeat the whole song and dance about him shooting 3s in practice. I want to see the body control that made him so nightmarish in his first few seasons. I want to see him deliver a live-dribble pass with freight-train momentum. After what feels like a lifetime of his physical and mental setbacks, I just want any evidence that suggests there is still some Ben Simmons in his game. That said, Simmons’s burden of proof is unlike anyone else’s in the league. The offseason is a time when imaginations run wild—a player’s addition of a sidestep 3-pointer to their bag in a Rico Hines run is worth its weight in gold—but Simmons’s redemption exists beyond imagination’s reach. Nothing short of seeing him reconjure his former magic in an actual NBA game will suffice.
LaMelo Ball’s health and Brandon Miller’s development are the two biggest areas of focus for the Hornets, but Mark Williams’s ability to hold up through a full season as the team’s starting defensive anchor could determine whether Charlotte will be ready to reemerge in the playoff picture. Williams nearly averaged a double-double in the 17 games he started after the Hornets traded Mason Plumlee at the deadline, showing off his mobility at 7 feet tall and his unteachable 7-foot-7 wingspan. Williams averaged 26.9 minutes in those contests; given the barren state of the team’s center rotation, he may need to bump that up to 30 minutes per game—a threshold that only half of the league’s starting centers cleared last season.
Patrick Williams is a real eye-of-the-beholder all-star. In one sense, he clearly hasn’t delivered on the promise that made him a top-four pick in 2020; in another, he’s already one of the better defensive playmakers at the power wing position and a career 41.4 percent 3-point shooter. He’s been something of a pet project for DeMar DeRozan, who has not only tried to extract a more vocal side from the 21-year-old but also gone as far as to compare him to Kawhi Leonard. The Bulls may be going nowhere fast, but Williams presents a vision of something beyond the battered and aging core of DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic.
Summer workout footage has featured Williams working on his ballhandling, a swing skill that, for decades, has separated the wheat from the chaff. For the tenuous Kawhi comparisons to progress any further, we’ll need to see more assertiveness when he has the ball in his hands—and an ability to comfortably hit some 3s off the bounce wouldn’t hurt, either. (Frankly, is it even safe to buy into his long-range accuracy? Williams has attempted 444 3s in his NBA career, fewer than what J.J. Redick or a rookie Damian Lillard attempted in the 2012-13 season alone—practically a different era of basketball.)
Maybe a Tom Thibodeau–led team that had the third-best offensive rebounding rate and was hell-bent on winning the possession battle was just a bad matchup for Cleveland. But the way the Cavaliers ceded the glass to the Knicks in the first round of last season’s playoffs won’t be easily forgotten. Jarrett Allen, who has been a starting-caliber big man his entire NBA career, looked out of his depth—which is particularly discouraging when the entire premise of an Allen–Evan Mobley frontcourt banks on a higher baseline of big-man core competencies.
Now we know that Allen’s formerly listed height of 6-foot-11 was largely augmented by his hair, so he’ll have to work on his physicality if he wants a long-term future with the Cavaliers—because he’s the one who’ll be asked to absorb the brunt of the damage in the interior, not Mobley. Allen’s name has been in summer trade scuttlebutt, and while there is no rush to make any rash decisions (his contract runs through 2026), the Cavs have to maximize their opportunities with Donovan Mitchell and Mobley in tow—a bigger, badder Allen in 2023-24 would do a lot to help clarify the team’s future.
We’re in Season 2 of Luka’s beach-bod hustle. (Reminder: He looked trim last year, too.) There have been countless articles online over the past two years referencing intense workouts, body transformations, and diets—which the general NBA universe has monitored closely with the sort of unnerving energy of a controlling parent. Of course, whether Doncic will find his way back to Real Madrid shape in the summer isn’t the issue; it’s whether he’ll carry that into the NBA season, when a little extra padding might be nice for all the fouls he’ll draw. Still, it’s been a common refrain since Luka came into the league: But what if he were fit?
With all eyes on this month’s FIBA World Cup, NBA fans will get a better sense of the material differences (or lack thereof) a few pounds make for one of the most gifted players in the world—and for Dallas’s precarious championship window.
Nikola Jokic is really living his best life after winning a horse race in Serbia (via Burner_num2 / Reddit)pic.twitter.com/6oiujK6K9r
Eh, yeah, I’ve seen enough.
Cade Cunningham/Jalen Duren going crazy in the two man game from the Team USA scrimmage pic.twitter.com/mbNY7TfoQq
A healthy Cade Cunningham can make all the difference. Detroit will be a top-five League Pass team for me.
Steph Curry had an A24-backed legacy documentary air on Apple TV+ mere months after dropping an NBA-record 50 points in a Game 7. He crushed his Hot Ones interview. He played in a Curry Camp scrimmage with Cooper Flagg and AJ Dybantsa, prodigies from the 2024 and 2026 classes, respectively, which feels like spiritual plasma swapping. He’s adding to his library of delightful warm-ups. He belted out “Misery Business” onstage with Paramore at Chase Center. All that’s left to see is leaked footage of Steph and Chris Paul’s first practice together.
All I’m saying is there should be a dedicated hour during Houston Rockets media day for a slam dunk competition between Amen Thompson, Jalen Green, Cam Whitmore, and Tari Eason. There would be no greater promo for the season to come.
Mathurin wasted no time showing the league what he does best in his rookie season. There is an insistence in his game that, when combined with his power, downhill speed, and sharp Euro-steps, could turn him into one of the NBA’s great contact seekers in the lane. But that wrecking ball mentality has thus far left little room for assessing the periphery. Mathurin’s true test in becoming a foundational player for the Pacers (aside from shoring up his overall defensive awareness) is proving he can leverage his driving ability to make plays for his teammates. Genius can have a trickle-down effect; another year sharing the court with Tyrese Haliburton ought to embolden Mathurin to become a more conscientious passer. Mathurin has made his career aspirations well known; to get there, he’ll have to do more than just score.
For all the “Maybe he should just retire” concern trolling after Kawhi tore his meniscus in the first round of last season’s playoffs (never mind that he was still brutally efficient in Game 2 on said bad knee), coach Tyronn Lue suggested last week that Leonard will be ready for training camp and the start of the season.
But for now, I’m glad that the most substantive update on Kawhi is that he’s probably one of the funniest people in the league. Next up: the possible contract extension that he’s currently eligible for. When stacking the past four years of disappointment against the franchise’s cosmic levels of disappointment at large, it’s an enormous gamble that the Clippers can’t afford to take—or not take, for that matter.
The Lakers’ sole representative at the FIBA World Cup will be in a familiar role coming off the bench as a versatile offensive connector for Team USA. Reaves will be asked to do what he does best: serve as a catch-and-shoot release valve and a capable driver attacking closeouts. Reaves had one of the highest free throw attempt rates for a guard last season, nearly matching James Harden’s rate at the height of his foul-merchant era in Houston. It will be interesting to see whether Reaves’s feel for drawing contact will translate to a more physical FIBA culture and more lenient whistle. For how well the Rob Pelinka brain trust has identified and developed talent over the years, it hasn’t retained many of its success stories. Reaves is an exception, and how he ramps things up after his postseason glow-up and contract extension will speak volumes for the Lakers.
In the meantime, he has a huge opportunity in front of him. There is no glaring hierarchy within the USA roster, and Reaves’s shooting versatility and sound decision-making could earn him more playing time than one would expect from one of the more unheralded players on the squad.
The World Cup will be a fascinating proving ground for Jaren Jackson Jr., whom the FIBA rules will either aid, due to the increased physicality inherent in them, or punish, due to the fact that one of the most notorious foulers in the NBA will have one fewer foul to work with. With only two legitimate rim protectors on the roster (and since JJJ is the only frontcourt player who has star-level skills on both offense and defense), the U.S. will need Jackson on the floor as much as possible.
The 2023 frontcourt rotation reminds me of what Team USA trotted out at the 2010 World Championship, where Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler backed up Lamar Odom, who started at center. Odom had never been a full-time center at any stage in his career prior, but in an international context, his ability to hold his own defending the post, coupled with his penchant for pushing the ball up the floor, became essential to the team’s gold-medal run (only Kevin Durant, Chauncey Billups, and Derrick Rose averaged more minutes per game). Similarly, Jackson would not have been considered a center for much of basketball history—nor has he been a full-time center on his own team—but he is the perfect option for the moment. His all-world rim protection and perimeter shooting at the 5 give Team USA a talent profile that it began coveting in 2019, when Myles Turner and Brook Lopez were the team’s main anchors. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jaren Jackson won The Athletic’s straw poll for best player at training camp: There isn’t a more important role on the team than the one Jackson is occupying.
Please. Get us out of this purgatory. Tell ’em to bring out the whole roster!
Giannis Antetokounmpo has represented the Greece national team for nearly a decade now, dating back to 2014. It’s not a commitment he takes lightly, and the decision on whether he would play in the World Cup came down to the wire; Giannis pulled himself out of the tournament just two weeks before its start after visiting doctors to determine whether his knee was good enough for competition.
Of course, that’s one of the great joys and laments of rooting for Antetokounmpo: knowing that if he can play, he will. It’s that attitude—and the medical marvel of his near-superhuman ligaments, tendons, and sinews—that won him a ring in 2021, when he overcame what looked like a devastating knee injury in the Eastern Conference finals in just over a week to deliver an all-time Finals MVP–winning performance. But after another postseason injury (and another Herculean comeback from said injury), it might be time to relax a bit.
Have you heard the news? McDaniels has grown 2 inches since the end of the 2022-23 season, making him 6-foot-11, allegedly. McDaniels joins an illustrious list of young, ascending players who randomly “grew” 2 inches over the past decade: Paul George famously did in 2011; so did Giannis after being drafted in 2013; the same headline ran for Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, and, more recently, Alperen Sengun and Jarred Vanderbilt.
Whether it’s true is immaterial. It’s the perception that matters. McDaniels has established himself as Minnesota’s most versatile defender, if not its best defender outright, at only 22 years old. Equally adept at the point of attack and at denying attempts from the weak side, McDaniels’s omnipresence on the floor has effectively made him 6-foot-11 whether he is or not. Shoes add about 1 or 2 inches in height; so does uncommon talent harnessed young.
Trey Murphy thinks like a shooter, gave the ball up and immediately relocated, splash. pic.twitter.com/0ghfMvAiWR
This possession from a Team USA scrimmage will last me the rest of the summer. All eyes will be on Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram for as long as they’re on the team. And for as long as they’re on the team, New Orleans will need release valves. Murphy stepped up in his sophomore campaign, but a bigger breakout in Year 3 could be in store. The hard attack of the closeout and the presence of mind to not only kick the ball out after drawing three defenders, but also immediately relocate for an open 3—it’s high-level decision-making both with and without the ball in his hands. The Pelicans may not be riding the same wave of good vibes they were on to start last season, but there’s still reason for optimism in the team’s trajectory.
There is a glow that lingers for players who compete internationally with Team USA. Siloed from the NBA, where half the year is spent hammering routines with the same teammates and personnel, they are afforded a rare shift in perspective. Not only to envision themselves in a different role under a different context, but to actually have it play out in high-stakes, high-level basketball.
For Brunson, the shift might not be so drastic—he’s been a leader at just about every stage in his basketball-playing life. While he isn’t among the biggest names in the sport, his skill set and temperament have long been championed by Team USA’s coaching staff. We’ll soon see whether there is a gear beyond what he showed in his astonishing first season in New York. And for a Knicks team that is constantly on the hunt for stars, an inspired run as the captain of Team USA could be a more compelling selling point than we would’ve thought a year ago.
You know, just as a reminder that Wemby won’t be the only generational rim-protecting talent making his debut this season.
It’s hard to pick out a glaring flaw in Wagner’s game: He’s a 6-foot-9 event-creating defender who can dribble, pass, and shoot on the other end. Perhaps the only thing we’ve yet to see is for Wagner to consistently call his own number and dictate the flow of the game rather than simply exist within it. For Germany to escape the World Cup’s group of death, he might need to do just that. He is the team’s unquestioned best player, and it’ll be nice to see him act like it.
There is footage of Tyrese Maxey working with trainer Drew Hanlen on his left hand and initiating contact on drives—two key pieces to Maxey’s shot-creation puzzle as he continues his star ascent. I can’t wait to see what these honed skills open up.
In the past four seasons as a starting guard for Nick Nurse, Fred VanVleet averaged nearly nine 3-point attempts per game—a glimpse of what might be in store for Maxey’s age-23 season. Unlike VanVleet, who has spent years working on his craft just to become a passable finisher around the rim, Maxey has the burst and touch to be elite in that regard; the pressure he inherently puts on defenses, especially as he irons out his ballhandling and ability to handle contact, will open up far more opportunities to pull up from behind the arc, which he is already quite good at.
I’m actually convinced this will happen.
I’m sure it still stings in Sacramento, being victim to one of the most inopportune individual cold streaks in recent memory. Who could have predicted that a 40 percent 3-point shooter on the season (who was unconscionably hot in his first 20 games, shooting better than 45 percent from distance) would go 8-for-39 in his final seven games?
Since the Spurs officially brought Victor Wembanyama into their orbit, I haven’t been able to shake the idea of Vassell as the Khris Middleton to Wemby’s Giannis. Vassell is one of the great young midrange enthusiasts in the league, though he embraces the midrange without eschewing either efficiency or frequency from 3; he made a big leap in playmaking in his injury-plagued third season, making quick decisions and simple reads on drive and kicks and fully taking advantage of his shotmaking threat. Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to use Vassell’s 38 games in 2022-23 as a legitimate sample, but the statistical similarities between his Year 3 breakout (at age 22) and Middleton’s Year 4 breakout (at age 24) are uncanny.
Vassell posted an image of an offseason workout with Kevin Durant, who possesses the fully realized evolution of the skill sets Middleton has refined and Vassell is still tapping into. Under the slipstream of Wemby’s influence, this could be a huge Year 4.
Scottie Barnes is traipsing into a lead facilitator role for the first time in his professional career, and Pascal Siakam—one of the five best players in Raptors history—might be the casualty of a teamwide pivot (one of the most cursed words of the 21st century). Yet here I am, wondering whether this is the year when my beloved O.G. Anunoby will finally put it all together. (A scrimmage video of O.G. pulling off a self-created stepback 3-pointer that doesn’t barely hit the front of the rim would do wonders for my psyche.)
It would be enough for Anunoby to just be an archetypal 3-and-D wing, hitting 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and locking up across the defensive spectrum. Hell, he was a 50-40-90 guy in the 22 games he played after the All-Star break last season. But he’s always had loftier ambitions and, for the past few offseasons, has let it be known. Anunoby has always flashed glimpses of a graceful brutality in his game—long strides and the contact balance of your favorite running back—undercut by memeable Bambi moments when he seems besieged by vertigo. Since he’s firmly in the prime of his career at 26, with a player option coming next summer, this would be the year for him to fully harness those strength-based athletic tools.
Markkanen offered a preview of what would become his MIP-award-winning season with the Utah Jazz last summer at Eurobasket 2022, where he averaged 27.9 points per game for the Finnish national team, second in scoring only to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 29.3. Markkanen’s encore will have to come against the FIBA World Cup’s group of death, which features Australia, Germany, and Japan, each of which includes legitimate NBA talent. But if his clutch performance against Lithuania in a friendly World Cup exhibition game is any indication, he’s grown comfortable in his international stardom, routinely making plays and tough shots that shouldn’t come so naturally to a legitimate 7-footer.
Jordan Poole’s soulless Wizards introductory photo shoot was memed to death. I’m ready to move on from the Warriors drama. I want to see the joy again. I want to see him cross up a mob of toddlers on the hardwood.
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