17 October, 2023
Next week marks the start of the NBA season, and it is fairly simple to predict who will command attention. Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic are both potential MVPs. Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who recently joined the Milwaukee team. In an effort to further his legend as he approaches his 39th birthday, LeBron James. Victor Wembanyama, a rookie sensation, of course.
However, the league’s most intriguing players go far beyond that expected collection of stars. Here are a few more people to keep an eye on in 2023–2024:
BRADLEY BEAL, SUNS
Future: Beal was traded to a contender in the offseason after just one season with the Wizards under his hefty new contract. Beal shouldn’t have to carry that kind of weight with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix after 11 seasons in Washington where his scoring average twice reached the 30s, but he does need to demonstrate that he can succeed on a team with championship aspirations. And because he hasn’t played more than 60 games since 2018–19, he must be healthy when the Suns need him.
MIKAL BRIDGES, NETS Age: 27
Last Season: After being traded from Phoenix to the Nets in the deal that sent Durant to the Suns, averaged 26.1 points per game in 27 games with Brooklyn.
Outlook: Thanks in part to Bridges’ scoring prowess, Brooklyn didn’t exactly crumble after the departures of Durant and Kyrie Irving. Building around Durant and Irving didn’t work, so if the Nets perform above expectations for the entire season with Bridges, it will be a breath of fresh air for the organization.
CADE CUNNINGHAM, PISTONS Age: 22
In his second NBA season, he averaged 19.9 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 6.0 assists per game, but he only played in 12 games due to shin surgery.
Outlook: Cunningham, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, is a key component of Detroit’s rebuild, but his injury history leaves the Pistons unsure of whether he will develop into the superstar they have been waiting for. In the past two years, Detroit has also acquired top-15 picks like Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren, and Ausar Thompson; therefore, if Cunningham is in fact a rising star at point guard, the Pistons may finally be able to see some relief.
TYRESE MAXEY, 76ERS
During the previous season, he scored 20.3 points per game on average, giving James Harden and Embiid of Philadelphia another potent scoring threat. In the playoffs, Maxey also had a 40% 3-point shooting percentage.
Outlook: After Doc Rivers was fired, Nick Nurse will take over as coach. Harden wants to be traded. After losing to Boston in the second round of the postseason, Embiid has a lot to answer for. Maxey will work to continue the progress he’s already made in his three seasons with Philadelphia in the midst of all that drama.
JRUE HOLIDAY, CELTICS
For a Milwaukee team that had the best record in the NBA but lost in the first round of the playoffs, he averaged 19.3 points per game last season, which was his highest output in four seasons.
Outlook: First, Holiday was traded by the Bucks to Portland in exchange for Lillard, which may have made it much harder for the Celtics to advance through the Eastern Conference. Holiday was then transferred to Boston, where he will try to become the seasoned player the Celtics need to make a run and capture a championship. Marcus Smart, a fan favorite who was traded by Boston earlier in the offseason, must also be replaced, and that falls to Holiday. There’s no rush.
PASCAL SIAKAM, RAPTORS Age: 29
A career-high 24.2 points per game were averaged last season, but his team only managed a 41-41 record and was eliminated in the play-in round.
Outlook: The Raptors already lost guard Fred VanVleet to free agency, and next summer, guard Pascal Siakam may also leave the team. Therefore, there might be a lot of discussion about his future, especially if Toronto has a rough start.
CHRISTIAN WOOD, LAKERS
Averaged 16.6 points per game while serving as Dallas’ primary reserve last season.
Outlook: Last season, LeBron James and Anthony Davis received enough assistance from a midseason makeover to make it to the conference finals. Since then, several more players have been added to Los Angeles, including Wood, but his playing time has decreased since he averaged 21.0 points per game with Houston in 2020–2021. Wood and the Lakers reached a two-year agreement. If he performs well enough, he may exercise the player option on the second contract and pursue free agency once more.