Trending Topics: Favorite moments, biggest surprises in 2023

What is your favorite NBA moment of 2023? 

Denver winning the 2023 Finals. This checked a few boxes. First, the Nuggets became the last of the four former ABA teams to reach the NBA Finals — and then won it. Coach Michael Malone won while his dad, former NBA coach Brendan Malone, was around to see it. And Nikola Jokic, like fellow two-time Kia MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, no longer must hear gripes about “what has he done in the postseason?” — Steve Aschburner

Sacramento ending its record playoff drought. The return of playoff basketball to my hometown is an easy choice. After 16 years of frustration and disappointment, this starving fanbase was rewarded with a team that was electrifying on the court and in the Sacramento skies. Each win brought “Light the Beam” chants and a purple laser shining like the Bat Signal, proclaiming the Kings are back. — Brian Martin

Sacramento ending its long and dreary playoff drought. You couldn’t help but feel a tug in the heart when the Kings finally kicked their hardship to the curb. Their string of non-playoff seasons came to an end when De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and coach Mike Brown combined to spring the biggest surprise in the NBA. Playoffs baby! — Shaun Powell

The assist of the year … that nobody saw. These days, we usually have several angles of the best plays. But when Nikola Jokic threw a baseball-pass alley-oop to Aaron Gordon from 70 feet away and without much time to think about it, neither team’s broadcast showed it. One of the greatest passes ever thrown, and the footage had to be uncovered as if it happened 50 years ago. — John Schuhmann

Enactment of policies to increase player participation. There was the new CBA, which requires players to play 65 regular-season games to be eligible for certain awards. Then, the league enacted a new player participation policy. Stars drive the NBA. But its fans catalyze its popularity. So, it’s nice to see folks rewarded through policy for spending their hard-earned money on tickets and concessions. – Michael C. Wright

What surprised you the most in 2023? 

Players and coaches embracing the In-Season Tournament. Look, the memo went out from NBA HQ that folks drawing paychecks around the league should be upbeat about the new early-season concept. But once Group Play began, competitive juices kicked in. There was something to win, and most played and talked accordingly. With some tweaks, the second edition should gain more traction toward tradition. — Steve Aschburner

The instant success of the In-Season Tournament. “Why are they doing this?” “How does it even work?” “Who cares?” There were many doubters when the In-Season Tournament was announced. The key is the final question: “Who cares?” The players did. The coaches did. And eventually, the fans did. Everyone bought in and delivered an entertaining and competitive first two months of the season. More of that, please. — Brian Martin

LeBron James’ age-defying play. Father Time on his heels in 2023, racing to give a chase-down block, LeBron made the shot anyway. And continues doing so. Here in his late 30s, we’re still waiting for a sign that the end is near. Instead, LeBron remained a top-10 player in 2023 and took the Lakers to the Western Conference Finals with superb play in the post-season. — Shaun Powell

The Miami Heat’s run to the 2023 NBA Finals. This was a very mediocre team in the regular season, going 44-38 and getting outscored by 26 points over its 82 games. Then it was a few minutes away from losing in the Eastern Conference Play-In … only to eventually beat the top-seeded Bucks and second-seeded Celtics en route to The Finals, becoming the first team in 64 years to reach the championship round after being outscored in the regular season. — John Schuhmann

San Antonio winning the draft lottery and selecting Victor Wembanyama. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once described being “the beneficiary of serendipity.” But twice? We won’t go back to 1987, when San Antonio won the lottery and selected David Robinson. But the Spurs have now drawn the lucky balls three times and selected generational big men, with Victor Wembanyama serving as the latest vessel of the club’s good fortune.  Michael C. Wright

Which player had the best 2023?

Joel Embiid. He was voted Kia Most Valuable Player last spring. He almost got the Sixers to the East Finals. And just when it looked as if things might be heading south for Philadelphia, he got freed of James Harden and that messy situation and has a fresher, more vibrant crew led by Tyrese Maxey playing like a renewed contender. Pretty good 12 months. — Steve Aschburner

Jamal Murray. Murray thought Denver would trade him after he tore his ACL and became “damaged goods.” The Nuggets didn’t waver in their belief in him. After countless hours of rehab, Murray returned to form and was rewarded with a championship run. — Brian Martin

Nikola Jokic. The Serbian center owned 2023, in a way that made him legendary. His run to the championship had consistently high-level performances, and he dominated the NBA Finals. Couldn’t ask for more from the Nuggets center who also started 2023-24 on an MVP-like tear. — Shaun Powell

Nikola Jokic. He’s the best player in the world and he got his (first) championship. He led the playoffs in total points, rebounds and assists, recording triple-doubles in half (10) of his team’s 20 games. He even stuck around for the parade before enjoying the (shorter) summer with his horses. — John Schuhmann

Nikola Jokic. First championship, and first NBA Finals MVP Award followed by 107 days to celebrate back home and bask in the glory of it all. The 28-year-old couldn’t have scripted it any better.  — Michael C. Wright

Which star player traded in 2023 will have the best 2024?

Jrue Holiday. His feelings took a hit when Milwaukee sent him out in their acquisition of Damian Lillard, but the league’s arguably best two-way guard could not have stuck his landing better if he’d been a summertime free agent. Holiday was a catalyst of the Bucks’ 2021 NBA title and now he’s on the heavily favored Celtics with a shot to get his second ring. — Steve Aschburner

Damian Lillard. This is Lillard’s best shot to get to the NBA Finals and compete for a title. He has eight playoff appearances, two series-clinching shots, but has yet to reach the game’s brightest stage. “Dame Time” is now. — Brian Martin

Kevin Durant. Most of the stars traded in 2023 began the inevitable descent on the other side of the hill. So the question is: which player has better brakes than the others? In that sense, I go with Durant. The guy is still at peak form as a shooter, and we assume his desire to win a title with his own team — not Steph Curry’s — remains strong. — Shaun Powell

Kristaps Porzingis. The Celtics look like the best team in the league, with apologies to the Nuggets, who don’t have a star who’s been traded. And Porzingis is a critical part of their success, providing both spacing and a post presence on offense while protecting the rim on the other end of the floor. Porzingis has had a fascinating (and somewhat disappointing) journey from New York to Dallas and Washington, but he’s clearly in the right place now. — John Schuhmann

Kyrie Irving. He’s ramping up to return from a heel injury. Once Irving rejoins the lineup, the guard will resume his role as co-star for a squad positioned for a nice playoff run. Rookie big man Dereck Lively II has been a revelation. — Michael C. Wright

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

A sixth different franchise winning the championship. Nothing against the Nuggets, Warriors, Bucks, Lakers or Raptors, but variety often is the spice of life. Dynasties have their place but so does spreading the wealth and the rings. If one of the other 25 teams celebrates with the Larry O’Brien Trophy this spring, the parity of champions will match the NBA’s 1975-80 run (Warriors, Celtics, Trail Blazers, Bullets, SuperSonics, Lakers). — Steve Aschburner

The 2024 NBA Playoffs. The In-Season Tournament whet my appetite for high-stakes hoops. We have the trade deadline, the playoff race and the Play-In Tournament before we get there, but April-June is the best time of year. — Brian Martin

Victor Wembanyama as I’m curious about the development of the Next Big Thing. He’ll finish his rookie season in San Antonio, then play for France in the Paris Olympics, then return for his second NBA season. Hopefully, he’ll get better every step of the way. — Shaun Powell

The Western Conference playoffs. There are just so many teams that I’m fascinated to see in the postseason. You have the defending champs, the top-seeded Wolves, the up-and-coming Thunder, the new-and-improved Clippers, the offense-first Kings and Mavs, the star-laden Suns and the Lakers with LeBron James trying to make one more run. And one or more of those teams might not make it. — John Schuhmann

The Ja Morant redemption tour. Named conference Player of the Week after returning from a 25-game league suspension, Morant faces the daunting task of keeping Memphis at a 50-win pace for a shot at the playoffs. — Michael C. Wright