We’re about one month into the 2022-23 NBA season, and for a lot of fan bases — together with that of the defending champions — optimism has slowly developed into uneasiness and confusion, and it may be arduous to pinpoint the the reason why.

That uncertainty expands to those that know the staff finest too. Among the preliminary responses The Athletic NBA employees jokingly (or possibly not-so-jokingly) submitted for this train: “Talent,” “Being better” and “Everything.”

Even for one of the best of groups, issues linger. Here is what our employees decided are the largest ones for every squad one month into the 2022-23 season:


What’s flawed with … Trae?: The excellent news for the Hawks is that their greatest concern is just not what often has been their greatest concern: protection. Entering Thursday, the staff was twelfth in defensive score at 111, which is a monumental leap from twenty sixth (113.7) final season. But equally gorgeous is that Trae Young has struggled together with his capturing. It’s not a serious concern at this level as a result of the Hawks are off to a very good begin and Young leads them in scoring at 27 factors per sport. But via 14 video games, he had career-low percentages in discipline targets (37.8 p.c, down from 46.0 final yr) and 3-pointers (30.9, down from 38.2). The Hawks as a staff rank solely twenty eighth in 3-point capturing, however that is an space they determine to enhance in, significantly after Bogdan Bogdanović returns from a knee damage. — Jeff Schultz

Robert Williams’ well being: Despite the jolt of Ime Udoka’s suspension and the impression of Robert Williams’ early-season absence, the Celtics are cruising alongside. Eventually, they’ll want Williams to return and play at a excessive stage. His absence has left holes of their protection and revealed an absence of frontcourt depth. They can get away with minutes for Luke Kornet, Blake Griffin and Noah Vonleh now, but when Williams’ knee points linger for the entire season, the Celtics will really feel the pressure. His damage historical past is troubling, however he’ll remodel them if he will get proper bodily. — Jay King

Brooklyn Nets

Where can we begin?: I can solely choose one? Ben Simmons seems like a shell of himself after present process again surgical procedure and never taking part in in 16 months, and he’s missed a number of video games resulting from knee soreness. Kyrie Irving is presently suspended, and his return is unknown. All of this places an additional burden on Kevin Durant to hold the staff, which was one in every of his causes for asking for a commerce over the summer season. The Nets are treading water proper underneath .500, however is that this sustainable? — Alex Schiffer

Injuries … once more: Through 16 video games underneath Steve Clifford, Charlotte’s defensive score in comparison with the remainder of the NBA was higher (twentieth) than it was at the moment final season (twenty sixth). The greatest concern has been accidents. LaMelo Ball was out till final weekend together with his ankle hassle, and, guess who, Gordon Hayward has missed most of November with shoulder hassle. As any Hornets fan can attest, Hayward’s incapability to remain wholesome and his large contract have wounded this staff deeply, and the pattern continues. Charlotte, which is 4-12 coming into Friday, stands to get a lot better offensively now that Ball is again, however will the protection undergo? — Joe Vardon

GO DEEPER

Hollinger’s Panic Meter: Rating Warriors, Lakers, Heat and other struggling hopefuls

Stuck within the center: The short-term concern has materialized into a tough fact: The Bulls are mediocre and maddeningly inconsistent. The long run and bigger concern is the Bulls have boxed themselves in as a middling franchise. This season isn’t off to a promising begin, and the long-term outlook isn’t interesting both. Major issues are brewing in Chicago. Problems are aplenty. Solutions are briefly provide. — Darnell Mayberry

Cleveland Cavaliers

Recent struggles on protection: As of Nov. 17, the Cavs have the sixth-best defensive score within the league at 109.5. But not too long ago issues have been a lot worse. The Cavs are within the midst of a five-game dropping streak, with losses to the LA Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks, they usually gave up 127 factors to the Kings and 129 factors to the Wolves. The Cavs have to search out their means again to being a robust defensive staff and taking part in to the usual they set final season. — Kelsey Russo

Dallas Mavericks

What’s up with ballhandling?: The means this roster is constructed, it should unavoidably lean on Luka Dončić and Spencer Dinwiddie above all else — for scoring, for shot creation, for offensive initiation, even merely for ball possession. Without Dončić, as seen in Wednesday’s loss to Houston, his teammates look flat and diminished. It works with him on the market at his finest, however it’s not a sustainable plan for the long run. It may not be fixable this season, however this flaw needs to be prioritized for this coming offseason. — Tim Cato

Denver Nuggets

The Jamal Murray expertise: Don’t look now, however Murray is trying an entire lot extra like himself these previous few weeks. The 25-year-old whose torn ACL value him all of final season and practically half of the one earlier than, and who seemed so understandably rusty within the early going of this marketing campaign, is scoring at the next clip and displaying indicators that his swagger is lastly on the mend too. These Nuggets will solely be a title contender if Murray seems like Murray on a constant foundation once more, and it’s nonetheless too quickly to inform if that would be the case. — Sam Amick

Can the Pistons develop amid accidents?: Detroit’s tough begin to the season wasn’t all that sudden. The Pistons are a younger group and had a reasonably troublesome schedule via their first 10 video games. The actual concern rests within the potential to progress towards the following stage of the rebuild, and discovering a approach to do it with so many accidents. Marvin Bagley III missed a month. As quickly as he returned, Isaiah Stewart went down with a toe damage. Cade Cunningham has sat out the final week with left shin soreness. It’s attainable he might be again subsequent week, subsequent month and even later this yr. Injuries occur within the NBA, however it seems like Detroit’s have actually been crippling. The Pistons must discover a approach to achieve momentum with so many pivotal younger items sidelined. — James L. Edwards III

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Can Jaden Ivey and the Pistons continue to grow via the accidents? (Wendell Cruz / USA Today)

Golden State Warriors

The state of the youth motion: James Wiseman is within the G League, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody are on the perimeter of the rotation, and each Patrick Baldwin Jr. and Ryan Rollins are by no means used. In the circumstances of Wiseman, Kuminga and Moody, that’s a hindrance on their improvement. It’s troublesome to get higher if you happen to barely play. They want numerous reps, they usually’re barely getting any on a win-now staff using Stephen Curry. Then there’s the flip facet. Those 5 plus the inactive Andre Iguodala and the vacant slot (for tax functions) are making a crater on the again half of the roster. Depth helped the Warriors win a title final season. They seem skinny proper now. — Anthony Slater

Houston Rockets

Inability to handle the ball: The Rockets’ 17.9 turnovers per sport is the worst within the league. Young gamers are inclined to make errors, and Houston is stocked to the brim with them, however its turnovers are inclined to have a snowball impact. There’s been an actual lack of offensive cohesion, which results in execution points, which in flip manifests itself within the kind of shows of frustration we’ve seen not too long ago. Growing pains is one factor; stagnation is an entire completely different story. — Kelly Iko

Can they tank?: This goes to sound barely loopy, however the Pacers greatest problem goes to be getting themselves again into the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes. Following the instance set by the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 7-6 Pacers are doing a depressing job of tanking, taking part in impressed, free-flowing, 3-point-crazy basketball whereas standing sixth within the Eastern Conference coming into Friday. That wasn’t the plan, however Bennedict Mathurin has been one of the best rookie not named Paolo Banchero, Myles Turner has produced career-high numbers throughout the board, Tyrese Haliburton has made Most Improved Player noise, and the record goes on. At some level, Pacers president Kevin Pritchard must commerce Turner (he’s a free agent at season’s finish) and/or Buddy Hield, who has performed very properly however has an onerous contract. Problem is, it’s arduous to see this staff going away. Tanks so much. — Bob Kravitz

LA Clippers

Kawhi Leonard’s availability: Pardon me for selecting at low-hanging fruit, however Leonard has solely been accessible for 3 video games, and one because the first weekend of the season. It’s not Leonard’s damage standing that’s the greatest concern, because the staff hasn’t been discouraged alongside his path to get again on the ground. It’s the truth that the staff has been so extraordinary with out Leonard, even with Paul George taking part in at a excessive stage and the schedule resembling the alternative of murderers row. — Law Murray

Los Angeles Lakers

Deficit within the standings: The Lakers’ gradual begin isn’t precisely a shock contemplating their roster building and power of schedule. They’ve basically solely performed playoff-caliber opponents. But few anticipated them to be *this* unhealthy. Just about all the pieces has gone flawed for them: accidents, traditionally poor 3-point capturing, collapses in crunchtime, two five-game dropping steaks. At 3-10, each sport seems like a must-win for Los Angeles, which is a variety of stress for a rookie head coach and a largely new group. — Jovan Buha

Bench play: The beginning backcourt goes gangbusters, however it’s already clear the Grizzlies bench isn’t going to hold the staff the way in which it did a yr in the past. De’Anthony Melton’s departure particularly looms massive now that Desmond Bane will probably be out for a number of weeks with a sprained large toe. Brandon Clarke stays a bolt of vitality at backup 5, and Tyus Jones is a stabilizer on the level. But minus Melton and Kyle Anderson, there are too many stretches the place the Grizzlies depend on not-quite-ready rookies or marginal gamers on the two via 4 spots. — John Hollinger

Miami Heat

The roster building: When they play via Jimmy Butler, the Heat seem like a staff able to getting inside one shot of constructing the NBA Finals. Otherwise, it’s a disjointed mess, during which the 3s should not falling like final season. The Heat haven’t had Victor Oladipo in any respect and Tyler Herro has missed time not too long ago with damage, which might assist, however even with these two, Miami nonetheless wants extra from Max Strus and Duncan Robinson. That’s one drawback. The different — the Heat aren’t defending proper now (18th in defensive score). They don’t have P.J. Tucker on the roster, and it’s been noticeable. Two obtrusive issues, however solely room on this drill for one large concern. Taking under consideration they aren’t taking part in to plain on both facet of the ball, I’ll say the largest concern is the roster. — Joe Vardon

Milwaukee Bucks

Can offense flip the change?: The Bucks haven’t been wholesome to date this season. Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton have but to play a sport, and Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo have every missed video games, so there are many causes to imagine their offense, presently a bottom-10 unit, will get a lot better. But, till it does, that would be the Bucks’ greatest concern. Their offense bogging down within the postseason has been an issue throughout the Mike Budenholzer period in Milwaukee. — Eric Nehm

Minnesota Timberwolves

Can Towns and Gobert play collectively?: Yes, there are questions on D’Angelo Russell on the level and why Anthony Edwards is just not but making The Leap in Year 3, however that is the existential query in Minnesota. Putting the 2 of them collectively, and paying a premium to do it, was a threat. So far, the match has been clunky, and the Wolves have been underwhelming. There are small indicators of issues beginning to easy out, however the early returns have been that Towns is having a tough time closing out to shooters on the perimeter as an influence ahead and Gobert is just not but synergizing with Russell and Edwards on offense the way in which the Wolves envisioned. It is means too early to make a name on the choice, however the truth that we’ve not but seen the 2 of them dominate like they should is an actual concern in Minnesota. — Jon Krawczynski

Consistent stops: The Pelicans have as a lot offensive expertise as virtually any staff within the West. Zion Williamson is a monster within the paint. Brandon Ingram is among the prime wing scorers within the league. CJ McCollum is discovering his means as a full-time level guard. Jonas Valančiūnas is even a potent weapon within the submit. But the Pels have to search out lineups they will belief on the finish of video games to get stops. Jose Alvarado and Larry Nance Jr. have made large contributions off the bench to assist on this space. Still, New Orleans gained’t attain its final targets till Williamson, Ingram and McCollum can maintain their very own defensively on a constant foundation. — William Guillory

Shooting — as all of us anticipated: The Knicks are twenty eighth in 3-point share. They have one participant — Obi Toppin — hitting higher than 34 p.c of his deep balls, and he was a supposed non-shooter as not too long ago as a month in the past. It’s not nearly New York discovering factors from past the arc both. Spacing within the first unit is troublesome to search out. Especially when Mitchell Robinson is wholesome, 4 of the Knicks’ starters are most snug in 2-point vary. Julius Randle needs to get to the paint or function from the nail. RJ Barrett is a slasher. Jalen Brunson wants time to get off these funky, low-post spin strikes and pivots. Robinson is a rim-diver and offensive rebounder. Even new beginning wing Cam Reddish likes to drive. The Knicks may use capturing; they might use area. They’re discovering different methods to attain, like upping the tempo of the offense. But as soon as they get into the half court docket, issues get cramped shortly. — Fred Katz

Oklahoma City Thunder

Can the younger guys shoot?: The fact about this Thunder staff is there may be really no stress on them. If they win? Well, they’re forward of schedule and it’s an indication of issues to come back. If they lose? Well, they had been speculated to. With the emergence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a top-tier participant, it’s change into clear that he wants extra capturing round him. As of Thursday, the Thunder are twentieth in offensive score and twentieth in 3-point share (34.4 p.c) 13 video games into the season. There’s some hope of inner improvement with gamers akin to Tre Mann, Jalen Williams and Ousmane Dieng. More than possible, the advance will come from future draft picks or trades. — Andrew Schlecht

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OKC’s capturing round Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a motive to fret. (Brian Fluharty / USA Today)

Orlando Magic

Where are the guards the staff can depend on long run?: That super-big entrance line is coming collectively properly in Orlando, however the guard play, properly, not a lot. Jalen Suggs continues to wrestle offensively. He has a 47.4 efficient discipline objective share, and he’s within the eleventh percentile in turnover charge, in keeping with Cleaning The Glass. Cole Anthony is within the seventeenth percentile for assist-to-turnover charge, and he’s capturing 41.5 p.c from the ground. Paolo Banchero has performed all of it for the Magic to date, partially as a result of they want him too. They’ll get Markelle Fultz again sooner or later, and possibly he may also help. But he’s removed from a certainty. — Mike Vorkunov

Philadelphia 76ers

Offense, significantly with out James Harden: Even if Joel Embiid doesn’t put collectively extra 59-11-8-7 strains, he seems to be again to MVP-level kind. That is sweet information. The drawback is all these numbers had been mandatory for Philadelphia to beat Utah not too long ago. Particularly worrisome is an offensive scheme that’s isolation-heavy. Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris have struggled capturing, and with out Harden, this has became a staff totally reliant on protection. Doc Rivers has to discover a approach to get extra function gamers concerned offensively whereas making life simpler on Embiid. — Rich Hofmann

Phoenix Suns

Devin Booker’s sturdiness: With Cameron Johnson (knee) out indefinitely and Chris Paul (heel) banged up, Booker is carrying a heavy load. He’s greater than succesful. Booker can distribute. When double-teamed, he’ll at all times make the best play. But he performed the complete second half in Monday’s loss at Miami. He’s averaging a career-high 36.8 minutes, which ranks among the many prime 10 within the league. (At 34.5, Booker tied for twenty first final season). He can deal with this within the quick time period. But if it turns into the norm, the one means Phoenix can win, it is going to damage his manufacturing. — Doug Haller

Portland Trail Blazers

Jusuf Nurkić: Whatever reply I’m going with seems like nitpicking, as a result of the Trail Blazers have been actually, actually good whereas amassing their 10-4 begin. I’m a bit of involved in regards to the staff’s well being (Damian Lillard has missed 5 video games, Anfernee Simons two and Nurkić 4), however the staff’s depth has crammed in admirably due to the likes of Drew Eubanks and Justise Winslow, so … for my greatest concern, I’m going to go along with Nurkić. The large man has been strong this season — he was averaging 12.6 factors, 10.6 rebounds and a couple of.4 assists and has even hit 6-of-11 3-pointers coming into Thursday’s sport in opposition to the Nets but when there was a shaky-at-times hyperlink to the free-flowing pleasure that has been the Blazers, it has been Nurkić’s sturdiness and consistency. Some video games he simply isn’t a very good matchup dictating the Blazers play small with Eubanks or Winslow and these days he has been battling an abductor damage that sidelined him for 4 consecutive video games. While it feels a bit of unfair to single him out, it seems like Nurkić has but to hitch the celebration in a season that has exceeded expectations. If his well being continues to be a problem, or if he by no means finds consistency, middle might be a priority, however historical past tells us the Blazers are often at their finest when Nurkić is accessible and contributing. — Jason Quick

Sacramento Kings

How to (lastly) defend: The Kings have been taking part in horrendous protection for the previous 16 years, and that has all the pieces to do with their playoff drought that’s the longest of any of the 4 main North American sports activities groups (starting in 2007). Yet whereas this present-day staff has seemed able to breaking that streak for the previous few promising weeks, the terrible protection stays. They’re twenty sixth in defensive score  a mark that should enhance drastically in the event that they’re going to be a playoff staff underneath first-year coach Mike Brown. As the Feb. 9 commerce deadline nears, one can safely assume they’ll be looking out for athletic bigs to assist on this entrance. — Sam Amick

San Antonio Spurs

The play of the veterans: By and huge, that is going as deliberate  the Spurs are taking their lumps whereas younger gamers develop. The drawback is that Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson have been two of their least efficient gamers; these had been the blokes who had been speculated to each regular the ship for the youngsters and provide a return as commerce bait come February. Both these premises really feel shaky in the intervening time. — John Hollinger

Scottie Barnes’ sophomore stoop: The Raptors have to get wholesome, and the half-court offence stays an enormous difficulty. However, from a big-picture perspective, Barnes’ so-so begin to the season is the factor to watch. Barnes’ playmaking expertise have flashed a number of occasions, however his capturing from all areas of the court docket has lagged, particularly since Pascal Siakam bought injured. This is a younger participant getting into a much bigger function, so some struggles ought to be anticipated. The return of Siakam ought to enable him to extra comfortably navigate what’s being requested of him. — Eric Koreen

Utah Jazz

Turnovers and transition protection: These mesh into one large difficulty for the Jazz. They have been terrible at each, and it has had an enormous hand in a three-game dropping streak after a 10-3 begin. Utah turned the ball over 21 occasions within the defeat to the Knicks on Tuesday evening. The Jazz rank within the backside three of the league in transition protection. Translation: When the Jazz commit a live-ball turnover offensively, the opposition will get layups on the different finish. “We’ve been terrible at getting back defensively,” Jazz coach Will Hardy mentioned. The irony is Utah is second within the league in half-court protection, so if the Jazz make groups truly execute in opposition to them, they’re fairly good. But … these turnovers. — Tony Jones

Washington Wizards

The inconsistent protection: The Wizards’ protection has been up and down. The five-game down stretch, from Oct. 28-Nov. 4, coincided with ace defender Delon Wright being unable to play due to an damage and two-way participant Jordan Goodwin not but part of the taking part in rotation. Wright remains to be a methods away from returning, and Bradley Beal simply got here again following time in health-and-safety protocols. For Washington to contend for the playoffs, it should proceed to play sturdy protection, significantly on the perimeter. — Josh Robbins

(Top photograph of Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga: Andrew Wevers / USA Today)



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