The 2022-23 NBA season is starting to take shape and the early stages of the campaign have thrown up a few surprises.
Golden State Warriors haven’t had the perfect start to their title defence, while Los Angeles Lakers already look in danger of missing out on the playoffs for a second year in a row in the Western Conference.
Boston Celtics have shrugged off their offseason dramas and lead the way in the Eastern Conference but the same cannot be said of Brooklyn Nets, who are 7-9 after their first 16 games.
Golden State Warriors returned to the top of the pile last season as they won their first championship since 2018, having missed out on the playoffs in each of the two previous campaigns.
The Dubs went into the new season among the favourites but they have made a stuttering start and have a 7-9 record after 16 games – leaving them in 11th spot in the Western Conference and outside the postseason places.
Golden State were involved in some offseason drama as a video of an altercation between long-serving forward Draymond Green and rising star Jordan Poole was leaked.
That doesn’t appear to have been a factor in their early struggles, however, and instead their road form has been the main issue.
The Dubs are 0-8 on the road and are one of just two teams yet to win away, alongside Detroit Pistons.
If the Warriors can rectify their road woes they should be able to force their way up the standings and they remain genuine championship contenders, with Golden State available at +750 to win the NBA Championship outright.
Golden State’s offseason dramas were incredibly overshadowed by the goings on at Boston, who were forced into a change of coach.
Ime Udoka led the Celtics to the Finals Series last term but he was sensationally suspended for the entirety of the season for violations of team policies.
Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla stepped up and the 34-year-old has managed to steady the ship, with Boston still looking like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics boast a league-best 13-3 overall record and TD Garden remains a fortress as they are 6-1 at home.
Milwaukee Bucks are potentially their biggest conference rival and Atlanta Hawks have also started strongly in the East, but Boston look well placed to go one better this season and they are +475 to win the NBA Championship outright.
The Western Conference is incredibly competitive and the likes of Phoenix Suns, Golden State, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and potentially the LA Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks were all rated as possible championship winners before the season began.
Aside from the Lakers, all of those teams are in the mix but the two early pacesetters are teams many expected to struggle this year – with Utah Jazz leading the way ahead of Portland Trail Blazers.
Long-serving coach Quinn Snyder left the Jazz over the summer to leave the team in need of a rebuild.
The likes of Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson and Malik Beasley have all stepped up and Utah are have a 12-6 record.
The Jazz were widely tipped to miss the postseason altogether but they now look top six contenders, at least, under first-year coach Will Hardy.
With Damian Lillard on the roster, Portland will always be a threat but they are also a team technically in the middle of a rebuild and as such were widely expected to miss out on the playoffs this year.
The Blazers have proved their critics wrong and they are 10-6 after their opening 16 games, with the likes of Anfernee Simons and Gary Payton II stepping up to ease the scoring pressure on Lillard.
Utah can now be backed at +130 to Make the Playoffs and Portland are -260.
The Lakers won the championship in 2020 but have struggled since.
There were hopes they would be able to get back to challenging at the top this term before the season began but they have made a woeful start to the season and sit in 14th place in the West with a 4-10 record.
LeBron James has been putting in some decent displays and is averaging 24.9 points-per-game, 8.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists and fellow star Anthony Davis has also produced some big games.
However, the long-term fitness of both remains a concern and the Lakers look a shadow of the team that took the title just a few years ago.
Brooklyn have parted company with Steve Nash and hired Jacque Vaughn to replace him as head coach since the season started.
The Nets are relying heavily on Kevin Durant as off-court issues have dogged Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons has struggled for form, and that has left the Nets outside the playoff places in the East.
Chicago Bulls ended a long playoff absence last season and were expected to kick on but they have made a slow start.
The Bulls have lost their last four games and now have a 6-10 overall record, and it remains to be seen as to whether this is just a dip in form or the start of a more concerning trend after an extensive rebuild over the last few seasons.