When the NBA season begins next week, it's pretty easy to anticipate who will take center stage. MVP candidates Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. Giannis Antetokounmpo and his new Milwaukee teammate Damian Lillard. LeBron James, trying to add to his legend as he approaches his 39th birthday. And of course, rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama.
A list of the league's most intriguing players, however, extends well beyond that predictable group of stars. Here are a few more names to watch in 2023-24:
BRADLEY BEAL, SUNS
Last Season: Averaged 23.2 ppg while shooting a career-best 50.6% from the field for Washington.
Outlook: Beal lasted one season on his massive new contract with the Wizards before being traded to a contender in the offseason. After 11 seasons in Washington in which his scoring average twice made it into the 30s, Beal shouldn't have to shoulder that kind of burden alongside Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix, but he does have to show he can thrive on a team with championship hopes. And he has to be healthy when the Suns need him — he hasn't played more than 60 games since 2018-19.
MIKAL BRIDGES, NETS
Last Season: Averaged 26.1 ppg in 27 games with Brooklyn after being traded from Phoenix to the Nets in the deal that sent Durant to the Suns.
Outlook: Brooklyn didn't exactly collapse after the exits of Durant and Kyrie Irving, in part because of Bridges' scoring ability. If the Nets exceed expectations for a full season with Bridges, it'll be a breath of fresh air for the franchise after building around Durant and Irving didn't work.
CADE CUNNINGHAM, PISTONS
Last Season: Averaged 19.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 6.0 apg in his second NBA season, but he played only 12 games because of shin surgery.
Outlook: The No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, Cunningham represents a centerpiece of Detroit's rebuild — and his injury problems mean the Pistons still can't be certain if he'll become the superstar they've been waiting for. Detroit has also added top-15 picks like Jaden Ivey, Jalen Duren and Ausar Thompson over the last two years, so if Cunningham is in fact a rising star at point guard, the Pistons might finally start to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
TYRESE MAXEY, 76ERS
Last Season: Averaged 20.3 ppg, giving Philadelphia another significant scoring threat along with Embiid and James Harden. Maxey also shot 40% from 3-point range in the playoffs.
Outlook: Nick Nurse is taking over as coach following Doc Rivers' firing. Harden has demanded a trade. Embiid has a lot to answer for after a second-round postseason exit against Boston. In the middle of all that drama, Maxey will try to build on the strides he's already made in his three seasons with Philadelphia.
JRUE HOLIDAY, CELTICS
Last Season: Averaged 19.3 ppg — his highest output in four seasons — for a Milwaukee team that had the NBA's best record but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Outlook: First, Holiday was traded from the Bucks to Portland in the deal that brought Lillard to Milwaukee — a trade that may have made the Celtics' path through the Eastern Conference a good deal harder. Then Holiday was sent to Boston, where he'll try to be the veteran the Celtics need to break through and win a championship. Holiday also has to replace fan favorite Marcus Smart, who was traded out of Boston earlier in the offseason. No pressure.
PASCAL SIAKAM, RAPTORS
Last Season: Averaged a career-high 24.2 ppg, but his team could only manage a 41-41 record and was eliminated in the play-in round.
Outlook: The Raptors already lost guard Fred VanVleet in free agency, and Siakam can become a free agent next summer. So there could be plenty of chatter about his future, especially if Toronto struggles early.
CHRISTIAN WOOD, LAKERS
Last Season: Averaged 16.6 ppg while primarily a reserve for Dallas.
Outlook: A midseason makeover gave LeBron James and Anthony Davis enough help to reach the conference finals last season. Wood is one of several more additions in Los Angeles since then, but his playing time has declined since he averaged 21.0 ppg with Houston in 2020-21. Wood agreed to a two-year deal with the Lakers. The second is a player option, so he could take another shot at free agency if he plays well enough.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA