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NBA 2023-24 season preview: Blockbuster trades, a generational talent and some in-form stars of old

Victor Wembanyama, LeBron James and Chet Holmgren
Victor Wembanyama (left), LeBron James and Chet Holmgren are all being tipped to impress in this season’s NBA

It’s hard to believe it has been just four months – or 134 days to be exact – since the Denver Nuggets clinched the NBA title.

Back in June as confetti littered the court and champagne soaked the players’ jerseys, those with expert knowledge of the sport suggested the Nuggets’ dominance could last for years.

The basketball gods, however, clearly had other plans.

A summer of blockbuster trades, a “generational talent” appearing to live up to the hype and virtuoso performances from stars of old during pre-season has blown the championship race wide open.

As the NBA enters a new season, BBC Sport looks at the star players and teams who will have a huge say in where the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy ends up.

Victor Wembanyama – San Antonio Spurs

Victor Wembanyama
Victor Wembanyama was the top pick in this season’s NBA draft

As a new player entering the NBA it is common to be compared to former stars – and, if you’re lucky, even one of the greats.

But that’s not the case for Victor Wembanyama. Quite simply, in the 78-year history of the NBA, there has never been a player like him.

The 19-year-old Frenchman, the number one overall pick in this season’s draft, has it all.

Wembanyama is listed at 7ft 3in, although some believe he’s taller than that. He is an elite shot blocker who also has the ball handling skills and quickness usually displayed by point guards.

“Halloween may be coming up, but if you’re an opposing player in the NBA, there’s nothing scarier than Wembanyama,” Mo Mooncey, NBA analyst and host of the Hoop Genius podcast, told BBC Sport.

“We’ve never seen a player at his height have such agility. You saw him in pre-season, the way he’s making plays, throwing no look passes – he’s doing everything.

“I don’t expect the Spurs to have a huge season but I expect this year to be great for his development.

“If pre-season was any indication of what he’s going to be like at 19 years old, the entire NBA needs to be worried.

“And you better win your championships now because when he gets to his prime, it’s over”.

Chet Holmgren – Oklahoma City Thunder

Before there was Wembanyama, there was Chet Holmgren.

The 21-year-old is also over seven foot tall and was the second overall pick in the 2021 draft. However, he had to watch from the sidelines last time out after suffering a season-ending foot injury.

Former NBA champion and ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson believes Holmgren will edge out Wembanyama for Rookie of the Year.

“I think there’s always a little bit of an advantage for a player that misses their rookie season,” Jefferson said.

“It gives a player a full year to work out with their team, a full year to learn the system, as well as their training and eating properly”.

LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers

How’s this for a fact – LeBron James played his first NBA game before Victor Wembanyama was even born.

Now aged 38, four-time champion James is entering his 21st season in the league where he is the all-time record points scorer.

While he may not be the attacking force he once was, there is a belief that if his team-mates – namely Anthony Davis – step up then the Lakers could be genuine contenders.

“He has been resting for the whole off season and he’s got fresh legs,” Mooncey said.

“Over the course of 82 games, you can get worn down, pick up little nagging injuries, pick up little knocks here and there.

“So it’s important that the Lakers have a balanced team to keep him fresh for the play-offs.”

Damian Lillard – Milwaukee Bucks

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard spent 11 years with the Portland Trailblazers before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks

A much debated topic in basketball loving circles is who is the best player never to win a championship?

More often than not Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing are mentioned.

So too is Damian Lillard, who had been with the Portland Trailblazers since 2012. The team often limped out of the post-season play-offs despite the best efforts of the 33-year-old, with many questioning if Lillard’s loyalty would keep him solely in the “best to never do it” debate.

But last month there was a change as he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. The new pairing of Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo is a mouth-watering prospect, especially when you consider Antetokounmpo almost single-handedly delivered the Bucks the 2021 title.

The general feeling is if the team can get the balance between offence and defence right, they’ll be very hard to beat.

So which teams are the favourites?

There are probably sections of the Nuggets fan base still celebrating the success achieved in mid-June – and rightly so.

Nikola Jokic was unstoppable as he led the franchise to their first NBA championship with victory over the Miami Heat.

But while the Serbian centre is widely considered the best player in the league, his team are not tipped to retain the trophy.

The Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns are the favourites to take the prize this season. The Celtics have boosted their squad, bringing in point guard Jrue Holiday, an All-Star pick last season, to play alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

The Suns have their own ‘Big Three’ in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, who will surely have the attacking threat to cause defenders headaches night after night.

And the ‘world champions’ debate?

The NBA season is a gruelling one. With 82 regular season games alone, it’s a long quest to be crowned world champions.

American track star Noah Lyles started a debate earlier this year after questioning if an NBA team should be branded world champions when they play in a domestic league.

“We are a north American league but we have the best players in the world,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum told BBC Sport.

“We have the best Cameroonian players, the best French player, the best Canadian player… I would put them up against any team in the world.

“I laughed at it. I think it’s a fun debate to have.”

And the best of the rest

Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry is a seven-time NBA All Star and won Olympic gold with the United States team in 2020

It seems somewhat disrespectful to be putting Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in this category, but it is testament to the strength of the league.

Curry is arguably the best shooter the game has even seen, a man who holds the record for the most three pointers ever scored.

But are the Warriors’ golden years behind them?

With their core of Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the team won championships in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022.

This time, many believe they may fall short because of their lack of ‘size’. They have failed to address that, having not drafted or traded for a traditional centre in the summer.

Meanwhile last season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) Joel Embiid will be asking questions of the Philadelphia 76ers management staff. It appears he’ll be starting the season without James Harden after the guard fell out with some of the boardroom staff. external-link

As for the Dallas Mavericks, they have threatened to deliver without ever really doing so. Falling short again would pose questions about the compatibility of Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.

Last but by no means least, the Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons is back on the court. The Australian, the top draft pick in 2016 – missed over half of last season with a mixture of injury and off court issues.

The 27-year-old is an elite defender and appears to have found his shooting stroke too just before the season begins.

If the games match the anticipation, then we are in for some season.

Let the games begin.

The NBA season takes place from 24 October-14 April.

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