There are countless reasons why an NBA team may have a bad record during the regular season. Good teams can be struck down by injuries or even a pandemic and have a down year. Some teams are fighting through various stages of a rebuild and just do not have the talent to compete. Some franchises are just bad across the board and can’t seem to get it together.
The 2021/22 season was no different. A dozen teams finished last season with a losing record. Half of those teams, including the rebuilding Rockets and Spurs, are destined to stay bad for at least another year. However, the other half is primed to show massive improvement in the coming season.
With that said, which NBA teams are most likely to see a huge jump in the win column during 2022/23 NBA season?
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans spent the 2021/22 season without their best player and franchise centerpiece Zion Williamson. Williamson was coming off a hugely productive sophomore campaign in which he averaged 27.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. Without his production, the team limped along to a mediocre 36-46 record but did remain competitive for most of the season.
The team even bolstered their lineup around Williamson, adding sharpshooter C.J. McCollum (who averaged 24.3 points per game on nearly 40% from three in 26 games with New Orleans last year) to a solid core that also features Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas.
Adding Zion Williamson back into the mix should allow coach Willie Green and the Pelicans to take a massive step in the right direction and help them win upwards of 20 more games in 2022/23 than they did last season.
The Detroit Pistons were bad last season and have been bad for a long time. They haven’t made the playoffs in four seasons and haven’t had a winning record in seven. Dwane Casey’s squad finished an abysmal 23-59 record in 2021/22.
However, through their struggles, they have amassed a stockpile of young talent through the draft and constructed an intriguing core of talented players. Second-year guard Cade Cunningham is a superstar in the making, after averaging 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.6 assists during his rookie season. He seems primed to take a huge leap forward in his second year. He will be joined in the backcourt by this year’s lottery pick, former Purdue star Jaden Ivey, who should be able to contribute immediately.
They are joined by a young but intimidating front court of Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey, and Marvin Bagley III, all 23 years old or younger. The rest of the roster is fleshed out with solid veterans like newcomers Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks, along with big man Kelly Olynyk and steady backup guard Cory Joseph.
While this team isn’t ready to challenge for Eastern Conference supremacy, if Cunningham gets closer to his ultimate superstar form and Jaden Ivey can match Cunningham’s rookie production from a season earlier, this team could have their first winning record of the 2020s and sneak into the playoffs. That would be a huge step for this franchise.
Portland Trail Blazers
This one is quite simple. Damian Lillard is one of the best players and scorers in the NBA. Lillard played in just 29 games last season, and the team was terrible in his absence, finishing the tumultuous season at just 27-55. With Lillard returning healthy in 2022/23, there is little doubt he will be able to put this team on his back and lead them back into the playoffs. Lillard, who averaged 28.8 points and 7.5 assists during a healthy 2020/21 season, can carry this team to 50 wins.
His supporting cast isn’t exactly awe-inspiring, but Anfernee Simons (who averaged 17.3 points per game last season), Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Nassir Little are all solid-enough players to ensure the Blazers climb back into playoff contention behind Lillard and head coach Chauncey Billups.
Expect Portland to win 47 to 50 games and return to the postseason.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers had a rough, rough season in 2020/21. It was pretty shocking to see a team led by three future Hall of Famers (along with several more coming off the bench) and one of the greatest players ever win just 33 games and miss the playoffs. However, it was a perfect storm of chaos for the Lakers.
Russell Westbrook turned out to be a disastrous fit next to Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Davis once again battled injuries and missed more than half the season. The veritable “Expendables” lineup of aging former All Stars on the bench just didn’t have enough left in the tank. Head coach Frank Vogel ultimately took the fall for the team’s struggles.
However, Lebron James showed that he can still play at an MVP level, averaging a dominant 30.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game. The Lakers wisely moved away from their geriatric depth chart and brought in some fresh blood, including Kendrick Nunn, who was a key part of Miami’s rotation before missing last season due to a knee injury. Talen Horton-Tucker will likely play a larger role, as will second-year shooter Austin Reaves.
Lebron James will not allow this team to miss the playoffs again. That seems like a safe bet. As long as Anthony Davis can get back to playing 60+ games and stay healthy for a playoff run, this team will win 48 to 50 games and be a dangerous team in the Western Conference once again.
If new head coach Darvin Ham can find a formula for bringing the best out of Russell Westbrook at this point in his career, this team could win 55 to 60 games and be a true contender. At the very least, Ham will have to find a way to keep Westbrook from getting in the way of the team’s success.
Either way, the safe money is on Lebron carrying this team back to relevance in 2022/23.
Los Angeles Clippers
This one is easy. Over the past three seasons, when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are healthy, the Clippers are one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA. Last season, the Clippers managed to win a respectable 42 games despite their best player, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time Finals MVP Leonard, missing the entire season due to an ACL injury.
Leonard will be back healthy this season to rejoin a deep team that features fellow superstar Paul George, newcomer and former All Star John Wall, and solid pieces like Nic Batum, Marcus Morris, Rodney Covington, Ivica Zubac, and Luke Kennard. Head coach Ty Lue and company will be a great team in 2022/23, pushing 60 wins, and potentially contending for a championship.