One Telling Stat for All 30 NBA Teams

What does the number 27 mean to the Lakers? How about 161 for the Knicks? Here's one compelling statistic for each team as the 2019-20 NBA season begins.
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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is a game of numbers and statistics, but can one number sum up a team's outlook for an entire season? The Crossover attempted to give you the most important number for all 30 teams as the 2019-20 NBA season begins. 

Chicago Bulls: 21

It’s unreasonable to expect young big men unaccustomed to the rigors of the NBA to never miss time, but last season Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. played only 21 games together. Any path to relevance for the young Bulls involves their 2017 and ’18 lottery picks joining forces on the court.

As a rookie Carter had the fourth-worst offensive rating (97.8) among players 6' 10" or taller. He barely took threes (32), didn’t make them when he did (six) and generally looked the 19-year-old kid he was. But he did have the second-best defensive rating on the team, was solid as a rebounder and, with a season of experience, is sure to improve. Markkanen, 22, lived up to his reputation as an offense-first, defense-optional player. He might never be able to switch onto smaller guards, but if he is anything close to the next Dirk, the Bulls won’t mind any defensive shortcomings, especially with Carter’s play on that end. —Joe Wilkinson

Cleveland Cavaliers: 3

Collin Sexton’s defensive rating last season was 118.1. The good news: There were two players who were worse. The bad news: They were both teammates (Cedi Osman and Tristan Thompson). Yes, the Cavaliers had the three worst defenders in the NBA, which goes a long way to explaining Cleveland’s team rating of 117.6, the worst in history.

In May the Cavs hired coach John Beilein, a 66-year-old with no pro experience. What he does have is a reputation, burnished at Michigan, for leading teams with stifling defenses. Last year’s Wolverines gave up 58.3 points per game, second best in the nation. Sexton had the misfortune of playing point guard, the league’s most star-stacked position. This year he’ll share that spot with another newcomer. For the Cavs to avoid the cellar, Beilein’s system will have to translate—and No. 5 pick Darius Garland will have to have a smoother transition to the NBA than Sexton. —Joe Wilkinson

Washington Wizards: 36.9

It’s the only intriguing question about the team: Will Bradley Beal finish the season in Washington? He clocked a league-high 36.9 minutes per game in 2018–19 while his backcourtmate, John Wall, played just 32 games due to multiple Achilles injuries. Despite Beal’s best efforts—he set career highs in points, rebounds and assists—the Wizards missed the playoffs two years after a 49-win season.

Beal, 26, is both the Wizards’ only hope at achieving respectability and their only means to reap valuable assets for a rebuild. Rookie GM Tommy Sheppard is in a tough spot. Wall will likely miss all of this season, and his massive contract (he’s owed $171 milion through 2023, when he will be 33) limits the team’s flexibility. Giving up on Beal, who is signed through 2020–21, wouldn’t be easy, but unless Sheppard can find a way to get out from under Wall’s deal, it could wind up being the only move he can make. —R.N.

Miami Heat: 6.4

As evidenced by the 6.4 points per fourth quarter he scored last season—even on a star-studded Sixers team—Jimmy Butler is a bona fide No. 1 option, a role that is neatly carved out for him on the less top-heavy Heat. Miami missed the playoffs last season in large part because it needed a closer: The Heat outscored their opponents by an average of 0.5 of a point in the first three quarters but had a deficit of 0.7 in the fourth. Butler’s fourth-quarter output was the 12th-best in the league; the Heat’s leader, the since-retired Dwyane Wade, was 45th (4.6 per game).

With Butler as the clear frontman, Erik Spoelstra won’t have to tinker with the rotation as much as he did last season. The 6' 8" veteran will also make life easier for his teammates, who won’t be asked to play above their station. Butler brings a lot to the Heat, but at the start of the season, simply balancing the roster could be his biggest contribution. —R.N.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics: 30.8

A large share of criticism surrounding Kyrie Irving last season was his ball dominance. Jayson Tatum’s and Jaylen Brown’s development slowed after a breakout postseason in 2017–18, when Irving was out injured. Boston’s secondary scorers spent much of the season isolated on the wing waiting for a catch-and-shoot opportunity. As Irving cooked, Boston watched.

Irving is now in Brooklyn, replaced by former Hornet Kemba Walker. Does that mean Boston will feature a more egalitarian offense in 2019–20 under Walker? Don’t assume so. Walker’s usage rate of 30.8 was actually higher than Irving’s 28.6. And it was especially pronounced late in games. His 126 shots in clutch situations (within five points in the final five minutes) led the league. Charlotte’s dreadful roster is at least partly responsible for Walker’s late-game volume, but don’t assume a marked change in Boston’s offense to close games without Irving. —M.S.

Portland Trail Blazers: 167

The most successful ride of the Damian Lillard era was marked by 53 wins, playoff theatrics (Oklahoma City would never be the same) and a trip to the conference finals. There’s little question that the backcourt tandem of Lillard and CJ McCollum has been the driving force behind the Blazers’ success. In turn, much of the defensive responsibilities had fallen to their workmanlike wings: Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless and Jake Layman, who combined to start 167 games last season. All three are gone, and their roles will be filled by the inconsistent Rodney Hood; 21-year-old Zach Collins, who’s better suited playing center than power forward; and bargain-bin additions of Mario Hezonja, and Anthony Tolliver. This suggests a defensive regression for a defense that was just in the middle of the pack. Is Portland still a playoff team? Probably. But in the West, there are few guarantees. —Jeremy Woo

Brooklyn Nets: 40.3

Kevin Durant hasn’t publicly explained his decision to join the Nets, but as general manager Sean Marks recalled, after Durant signed, he told the organization, “I love the system. I love how you guys play.” What’s to love? Perhaps it’s this: Brooklyn took a three-pointer on 40.3% of shot attempts last season, the fourth-highest mark in the league. The Nets’ three-point frequency in 2015–16 was 23.1%, the third-lowest.

Kenny Atkinson took over as coach one year later, and Brooklyn has now finished in the top five in three-point frequency for three consecutive seasons. Atkinson’s run-and-gun approach will also appeal to Kyrie Irving, who made the 13th-most pull-up jumpers last season. Irving’s quick (and accurate) trigger will elevate Brooklyn’s offense, and it will only get better in 2020–21, when Durant should be healthy following his Achilles injury. —M.S.

Los Angeles Lakers: 27

Through last Christmas the Lakers had the NBA’s ninth-best record, LeBron James was meshing well with his new teammates, and on Dec. 25, L.A. blew out the defending champion Warriors. During the game, though, James injured his groin, causing him to miss the largest chunk of time of his career and sending the Lakers into a tailspin.

All in all, James sat out 27 games. After giving up much of their depth to acquire Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously can’t afford many nicks and bruises this season. A more pressing concern, however, is the consistent availability of the 34-year-old James. The mileage on his body is absurd: Counting the playoffs, he has played 7,760 more minutes than 42-year-old Vince Carter. Logic would dictate that at some point LeBron will start to wear down. If that happens soon, then the pressure shifts to Davis, who never took New Orleans past the second round. —R.N.

New York Knicks: 161

There’s no greater misery in the NBA than Knicks fandom: six straight losing seasons, a 20-year Finals drought and an endless stream of p.r. disasters. Last summer brought a double whammy of pain, as New York missed out on both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. The franchise may be at its nadir.

Now, a dash of optimism. The Knicks drafted RJ Barrett of Duke with the No. 3 pick, then signed Julius Randle in July. Yet it may be a former -second-round center who will have the Garden buzzing. Last season 7' 1" Mitchell Robinson blocked 161 shots in 66 games (a league-high 5.6 per 100 possessions). Only Pau Gasol has swatted more as a rookie this century, and that was in twice as many minutes. Another miserable season awaits, but Robinson, who also showed signs of being a weapon around the basket, serves as a reminder that it’s not only big-name players who can make big impacts. —M.S.

Toronto Raptors: 104.1

Expectations are reset in Toronto after Kawhi Leonard’s departure to the Clippers, though the Raptors won’t need to undergo a full makeover to remain competitive. They weren’t just functional without Leonard—they went 17–5, a 63-win pace (albeit with a favorable schedule). Toronto’s superstar exodus won’t cause a collapse into tankdom.

Surprisingly, Toronto’s D shone brightest when missing one of the best stoppers in the game. Without Leonard, the Raptors had a defensive rating of 104.1, a mark that would have ranked first last season. Toronto should hover near the top five in defensive rating again. Pascal Siakam anchors a crop of long, switchable wings, including OG Anunoby, who didn’t play in the postseason. Marc Gasol is a former Defensive Player of the Year. And Kyle Lowry is perhaps the smartest point guard in the league not named Chris Paul. —M.S.

Milwaukee Bucks: 1

From Brook Lopez to Trevon Duval to Christian Wood, all 24 players who suited up for Milwaukee last season made at least one three-pointer. Mike Budenholzer won Coach of the Year partially because he turned the Bucks into the second-most fearsome long-range shooting team in the league (after the Rockets). Milwaukee hit 53.9% more treys than in 2017–18, which helped spread the floor and allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to terrorize opposing defenses.

Milwaukee’s proficiency from behind the arc lifted it to the top of the regular-season standings, but it’s no lock to earn that spot again. While the team’s three-point volume was impressive, its percentage was a pedestrian 14th in the NBA. Eric Bledsoe, Pat Connaughton
and George Hill can get buckets attacking close-outs, but with Malcolm Brogdon now in Indiana,
those shaky-shooting guards will be in the spotlight even more. —Joe Wilkinson

Indiana Pacers: 106.0

The Pacers were dismissed as a postseason contender on Jan. 23 when All-Star guard Victor Oladipo went down with a right-knee injury, but they battled to the fifth seed in the East. How’d they do it? Well, not with their 18th-ranked offense. It was with a defense that had a rating of 106.0, third best in the league. Indiana forced turnovers on 15.8% of possessions, the second-highest rate, yet allowed free throws at the sixth-lowest rate (.243). And all without Oladipo, the team’s best defender.

Oladipo will miss the first couple of months, but the Pacers could still improve defensively. Their two biggest departures were Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young, and the team’s defense was better when they were off the court. Indiana added Malcolm Brogdon, a workmanlike stopper at either guard spot. The Pacers may not be a lot of fun to watch, but their efficient and tenacious D should keep them in the playoff picture. —Joe Wilkinson

Oklahoma City Thunder: 15

During the most hectic NBA offseason ever, no team underwent a more profound sea change than the Thunder. Forced to trade All-NBA forward Paul George, then iconic point guard Russell Westbrook, they needed to squeeze out every possible drop of value. Enter GM Sam Presti, whose shrewd feel for negotiating and timing yielded not only veterans who will keep Oklahoma City relevant in the short term but also the best long-term assets imaginable. After sending George to the Clippers for Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul, the Thunder own the league’s richest treasure chest of draft choices: as many as 15 first-round picks in the next six drafts, plus a pair of swaps. With all those selections there’s no need to tank, and Paul, Gallinari and Steven Adams will keep things competitive. Presti has turned what looked like a no-win situation into something resembling a W. —Jeremy Woo

Detroit Pistons: 0

Detroit has zero playoff wins in the past decade. In that time, they’ve never drafted higher than seventh. This is why teams tank.

To be fair, some teams get lucky with mid-lottery picks. (Steph Curry was a No. 7 pick. Kawhi Leonard went at 15.) But the Pistons, well, since 2010 they’ve taken Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Andre Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard, all between seventh and 12th. They have combined for two All-Star appearances, both by Drummond. Once again, the Pistons are too talented to land high in the lottery with Blake Griffin, Drummond and Reggie Jackson still around in a typically weak East. But they’re nothing approaching a title contender—largely the same as last year’s squad, which was rewarded for making the playoffs by tying the second-worst point differential in a sweep in history. Another year in the middle ground awaits. —Joe Wilkinson

Charlotte Hornets: 9.2

Charlotte made arguably the most widely derided combination of moves this summer, declining to offer franchise icon Kemba Walker a supermax contract, letting him leave in free agency and then replacing him by signing Terry Rozier, a career backup, to a bloated, three-year, $58 million contract. The Hornets were 9.2 points per 100 possessions worse when Walker was off the floor last season. Playing like an MVP candidate for the first couple of months, he finished the season averaging 35.9 points, assists and rebounds combined in 34.9 minutes; Rozier averaged 15.8 in 22.7 for Boston.

Outside of the Rozier-for-Walker swap, this year’s roster remains remarkably similar. Barring huge leaps forward from unproven youngsters Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk and Miles Bridges (a potential breakout player), the Hornets are going to find out the hard way just how valuable Walker was. —R.N.

Utah Jazz: 45

Last season star Donovan Mitchell was the key to the Jazz’s fortunes: They ran up a remarkable 32–5 record in games in which Mitchell shot 45% or better. After hitting their stride in January they rolled to 50 wins, but in the postseason the Rockets exposed their offensive inconsistency, holding Utah under 100 points three times in five games. The 6' 3" Mitchell, who in his second season led the team with 23.8 points per game, averaged 21.4 on 32.1% shooting in the first-round loss. To help him develop his efficiency and shot selection, Utah added the best pure point guard on the market in Mike Conley, who was one of the league’s most underrated players in Memphis and, at age 32, still has plenty in the tank. The team also sprung for 6' 8" sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovi´c, who propped up the Pacers for a large chunk of 2018–19. Those pickups point to a lighter load for Mitchell—and potentially a big leap forward for the Jazz. —Jeremy Woo

Memphis Grizzlies: 50

Despite a trying season and the decisions to deal away franchise icons Marc Gasol (at the deadline) and Mike Conley (over the summer), the Grizzlies did discover a new cornerstone in No. 4 pick Jaren Jackson Jr. Playing the entire year at age 19, Jackson became the first rookie in league history to record 50 three-pointers, 50 steals and 50 blocks while also shooting 50% from the field.

It’s an arbitrary mark, sure, but one that neatly illustrates his skill set, which is ideal for where the NBA is headed. At 6' 11", Jackson poses a threat from all over the floor as a scorer while also being able to anchor the defense. After lucking out in the lottery, Memphis will be able to pair him with point guard Ja Morant, whose top-end speed and creative passing are a perfect match for Jackson’s burgeoning inside-out game. The duo makes the Grizzlies a compelling watch this year—and potentially a true threat in the West. —Jeremy Woo

Denver Nuggets: 24.9

As they comfortably rode Nikola Jokić (then 23) and Jamal Murray (21) to 54 wins and the conference semis, it was easy to forget that the Nuggets were the youngest team in the playoffs, with an average age of 24.9 and only one regular, Paul Millsap, over 30. In the offseason Denver added versatile forward Jerami Grant (a relatively ancient 25) and will most likely introduce 6' 10" redshirt rookie Michael Porter (21).

The scary part is that the Nuggets need not hurry; they’re impeccably positioned to have years of success. The 7-foot Jokić, who finished fourth in the MVP voting, is unquestionably the NBA’s best-passing center and may be its best playmaker, full stop. Murray is a burgeoning star, wholly unafraid of big moments. Both are signed to long-term deals. It will be expensive to keep the rest of the roster together, and the Nuggets might still be too young to win it all, but it’s intoxicating to consider how good they could become. —Jeremy Woo

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans: 2.75

No franchise has undergone a more drastic transformation over the past six months. New Orleans brought in David Griffin to run the front office; selected Zion Williamson, the most-hyped prospect since LeBron James, after beating long odds to win the draft lottery; then fulfilled the wishes of want-away superstar Anthony Davis, reaping a massive haul that included Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and draft capital from the Lakers.

In spite of all the change, the Pelicans have designs on competing now, which means leaning on the perennially underrated Jrue Holiday. Lost in the Davis drama was the point guard’s play: He set career highs in scoring and rebounding while running a league-best 2.75 miles per game. Having brought in a raft of young talent as well as high-quality veterans in JJ Redick and Derrick Favors, Griffin and coach Alvin Gentry have challenged Holiday to take the reins. If he can, no rebuilding stage will be necessary. —Jeremy Woo

Golden State Warriors: 15.2

It’s so easy to focus on what the Warriors lost—Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala were among the departures, and Klay Thompson will miss much of the season with a torn left ACL—that it can be tough to remember that they still have the enduring brilliance of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, who had a 15.2 net rating when sharing the floor last season.

Of course, that number was juiced by their high-powered teammates, but it speaks to how well they complement each other and the roles they play in the Dubs’ success. Their contributions—setting screens, commanding attention, unwavering intensity—haven’t always been neatly measurable. With Thompson out, this team, which will struggle on D, isn’t a contender. They’ll try to hang around the top half of the West until he returns to help the postseason push, and that depends on how far Steph and Dray can take them. People may be surprised how great that distance is. —R.N.

Dallas Mavericks: 29.6

Anyone paying attention knew that 6' 7" point guard Luka Doncic, entering the NBA at 19 with two dominant European seasons under his belt, was never going to be a normal rookie. In an up-and-down year the Mavericks didn’t treat him like one: Doncic’s 29.6% usage rate was the highest for a rookie in the 42 seasons the stat has been kept. And now, as the post-Dirk era begins, Dallas can pair him with a presumably healthy Kristaps Porzingis (and build on the team’s European flavor). The 7' 3" Porzingis—who hasn’t played since tearing his left ACL with the Knicks in February 2018—can ease some of the pressure on the Mavs’ lead ballhandler. (His usage two years ago before his injury was 31.0.) He also gives Doncic a high-efficiency scorer, something the Mavs lacked last season. There’s room for statistical improvement across the board as Doncic continues to acclimate to the NBA. Expect wins to follow. —Jeremy Woo

Atlanta Hawks: 114.8

After putting together a much better second half as a rookie (24.7 points per game on 44.2% shooting and 9.2 assists), point guard Trae Young seems to be a solid building block for Atlanta. But while his scoring ability and playmaking aren’t a concern, his defense is. The Hawks had a 114.8 defensive rating with Young on the floor, a mark equivalent to the second-worst defense in the league.

Not all the defensive struggles can be blamed on Young, of course, but where improvement comes from is unclear. At 6' 2" and 181 pounds Young needs support, and center Alex Len isn’t known for his rim protection. Atlanta’s best hope is 6' 7" De’Andre Hunter, the No. 4 pick, who was known for his lockdown D during Virginia’s national title run. Rookies need adjustment periods; Lloyd Pierce can only hope it’s a short one. The Hawks can’t afford to be one of the league’s worst defenses whenever their best player is on the floor. —R.N.

Minnesota Timberwolves: 280

When blue-chip talents earn their oft-lucrative second contracts, teams are often paying full price for what is still, in essence, potential. New president of operations Gersson Rosas inherits not one but two former No. 1 overall picks on max deals: Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are owed a combined $280 million over the next five seasons.

Towns, 23, is one of the league’s most-well-rounded offensive bigs, but he needs not only to improve defensively but also, as the team’s best player, to become an on-court leader. The upside for Wiggins, 24, is less clear: After five years, the sample size is large enough to classify him as an inefficient, possession-hogging scorer, a superior athlete but a poor decisionmaker. As Minnesota takes a season to reassess on the fly, their hefty paydays keep coming. Maximizing their value is the only way to end a 15-year stretch without a playoff series win. —Jeremy Woo

San Antonio Spurs: 22

The Spurs’ competitive longevity has begun to border on comical: Their three most recent first-round picks weren’t even born the last time the team missed the postseason. That adds up to 22 consecutive playoff appearances, with multiple artful reinventions along the way. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan return as mainstays, but the development of young guards Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray makes this group intriguing. With the instincts to play and defend either guard spot, the 6' 4" White was arguably San Antonio’s best player for much of the first-round, seven-game loss to the Nuggets. Brought along slowly as a rookie, Walker provides a downhill style of play that the team has lacked at the two. And Murray has innate creativity and big-time defensive potential at point guard. It’s hardly a transition year, but watching the Spurs evolve in real time promises once again to be a treat. —Jeremy Woo

Los Angeles Clippers: 33.8

Paul George looked like two different players during 2018–19. Before the All-Star break he was a bona fide MVP candidate, playing topflight defense and shooting like Steph Curry. Then he injured his right shoulder on Feb. 26. After shooting 40.3% behind the arc before then, George hit only 33.8% of his threes (and 39.7% of all field goals) through the end of the season. His struggles directly impacted the Thunder, who went 11–12 down the stretch before losing in five games to Portland in the first round.

PG underwent surgery this summer and is expected to be out until next month. While he will not have to carry as heavy a burden with the Clippers as he did in OKC—Kawhi Leonard is a much more efficient superstar teammate than Russell Westbrook—L.A. gave up a load of assets to acquire George. In a tightly packed West, the difference between a playoff exit and a title run could absolutely hinge on his health. —R.N.

Sacramento Kings: 103.9

Sacramento made the curious decision to let go of coach Dave Joerger in the offseason. The Kings appeared to be turning the corner last year, capitalizing on years in the lottery to produce an exciting team that briefly challenged for a playoff spot before finishing with the franchise’s best record since 2005–06. Joerger allowed speedy point guard De’Aaron Fox to push a pace of 103.9, third-fastest in the league, benefiting a youthful core that included Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Joerger’s replacement, Luke Walton, at least fits Sacramento’s style. His Lakers pushed the tempo, even after the arrival of a famously deliberate LeBron James. The last time Walton had a roster of up-and-comers—Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle—his team was the NBA’s third-fastest. A new coach is a big wrench to throw into what was an improved operation, but at least the Kings won’t have to adapt to a new style. —R.N.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers: 14

Ben Simmons’s three-phobia has long been a point of derision, with the 2016 No. 1 pick either unable or unwilling to stretch his game (0 for 17 from deep in his career). But it’s not just a three-point touch he’s lacking. Simmons made just three shots outside of 14 feet last season in 28 attempts. He wasn’t much better inside that mark, connecting on 18 of 71 attempts from 10 to 14 feet, the worst percentage (25.4) of the 84 players with at least 70 shots.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a useful comparison for Simmons. Both are physical marvels, often able to impose their will near the rim. Antetokounmpo’s rise from All-Star to MVP can be largely attributed to his improvement as a shooter. Simmons needs to be more willing to pull the trigger—but he also needs to be able. The Sixers lost JJ Redick, who made more than a quarter of the team’s threes, leaving their oversized offense dangerously short on perimeter threats. —Michael Shapiro

Phoenix Suns: 21.8

For four years, Devin Booker has been one of the most exciting, explosive scorers in the NBA. And yet, in those four years, the Suns have averaged a pathetic 21.8 wins per season, with a blistering high of 24 in 2017. Phoenix tumbled back down to 19 wins last season despite taking Deandre Ayton first overall.

The Suns are basically the bizarro Sixers. Phoenix hasn’t been trying to tank as blatantly as Process-era Philadelphia and yet has made lottery pick after lottery pick. The good news is that some stability is on the way. The highly respected Monty Williams becomes the fifth coach since 2016. Ricky Rubio is an actual NBA-level point guard who can help settle the backcourt. Dario ˇSari´c is a modern power forward with some stretchiness to his game. If nothing else, their presence will allow Booker and Ayton to grow in a nurturing environment—something that’s been missing in Phoenix for years. —R.N.

Houston Rockets: 42.5

The synergy between an organization obsessed with efficiency and the methodically dominant James Harden has allowed Houston to push basketball’s boundaries. The Rockets scored an absurd 42.5% of their points on threes in 2018–19. It was the third straight year they led the NBA in that category, upping their clip each year while averaging 57.7 wins in that span. The extreme approach works, but it also raises a question: At what point will Houston hit a stylistic breaking point? The addition of Russell Westbrook, a singular force in his own right, makes the question more pressing. Triple doubles and all, the hard-driving guard has never shot better than 35% from three. Westbrook and Harden will offer each other playmaking reprieves through staggered minutes, but when they share the floor and Harden has the ball, Westbrook will have to keep defenses honest as a shooter. —Jeremy Woo

Orlando Magic: 680

The Magic miraculously made the playoffs last season because the
East is practically a minor league compared to the West. The team made few moves and the same questions remain—the comically imbalanced frontcourt, first and foremost. Still, Orlando does have one semi-intriguing plotline this season: the potential rehabilitation of Markelle Fultz. The former No. 1 overall pick, who joined Orlando at midseason but didn’t appear in a game, has played only 680 minutes since being drafted in 2017.

The Sixers didn’t give up on Fultz as much as the win-now organization couldn’t afford to wait on him any longer. Orlando gives him the opportunity to play without the expectation of contributing to a contender. Considering its other options at point guard are veteran retreads, there’s no reason for Orlando not to give him minutes. A minibreakout could significantly impact the Magic’s future—and shake up a franchise in need of one. —R.N.