2022-23 NBA Fearless Forecast

Kawhi Leonard
Can Kawhi Leonard return to being a defensive force and lead the LA Clippers to an NBA Championship? (Photo courtesy of NBA.com)

While NBA teams finalized their rosters and prepared for opening night, Hoops Prospects worked on our annual NBA Fearless Forecast. The forecast features predictions for the conference standings, the conference champions, the NBA champion, and the season-end awards. 

This year’s Fearless Forecast was based on a survey of current and past Hoops Prospects analysts plus a couple of knowledgeable friends of the HP Podcast.  The ten analysts who participated are listed below.

Cameron RiehlHoops Prospects Podcast Co-host
Connor YoungbergFormer HP Contributor and current contributor at Thunderous Intentions
Daniel SchulmanHoops Prospects Writer/Analyst
Drew BartonHoops Prospects Podcast Co-host
Eric KerrFormer HP Analyst and HPP Co-host; current Sports Reporter with WPTZ NBC 5 News
Keith BerzanskeManaging Partner at “Nothing But Net 44
Kevin BartonYouTube Content Creator
Lee BranscomeFormer HP Analyst
Maverick SwensonHoops Prospects Writer/Analyst and HPP Co-host
Rich HarrisHoops Prospects Managing Director

The following is a summary of the voting results, and you can listen to a more in-depth review of the 2022-23 NBA Fearless Forecast via the latest episode of HPP (“NBA Fearless Forecast with Law Murray — HPP S2-E04”).  

NOTE:  as the author, I was given the honor of breaking ties, which mainly came into play with the individual awards.  

Total Votes: East

Barton, D.435914711156210131812
Barton, K.931710515146281341112


  • 1st: Milwaukee Bucks (19 points)
  • 2nd: Boston Celtics (28 points)
  • 3rd: Philadelphia 76ers (30 points)
  • 4th: Brooklyn Nets (42 points)
  • 5th: Miami Heat (51 points)
  • 6th: Cleveland Cavs (56 points)
  • 7th: Atlanta Hawks (69 points)
  • 8th: Toronto Raptors (79 points)
  • 9th: Chicago Bulls (85 points)
  • 10th: New York Knicks (102 points)
  • 11th: Charlotte Hornets (117 points)
  • 12th: Washington Wizards (118 points)
  • 13th: Detroit Pistons (129 points)
  • 14th: Orlando Magic (132 points)
  • 15th: Indiana Pacers (142 points)


Many of our voters had the same top three teams in the East: the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics, and the Philadelphia 76ers. Arguably the most talented, stable, and experienced teams in the East, these powerhouses had a decent-sized margin between themselves and the fourth seed (Brooklyn Nets). One team voters could not seem to agree on was the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks had votes ranging from the second seed (myself) to the 12th seed (Eric Kerr). Regardless, our Eastern Conference results are agreeable when looking in totality. 

Total Votes: West

Barton, D.423141105871261191513
Barton, K.253121471061489131115


  • 1st: Los Angeles Clippers (25 points)
  • 2nd: Golden State Warriors (27 points)
  • 3rd: Denver Nuggets (34 points)
  • 4th: Memphis Grizzlies (49 points)
  • 5th: Dallas Mavericks (51 points)
  • 6th: New Orleans Pelicans (56 points)
  • 7th: Phoenix Suns (60 points)
  • 8th: Minnesota Timberwolves (68 points)
  • 9th: Los Angeles Lakers (82 points)
  • 10th: Portland Trail Blazers (102 points)
  • 11th: Sacramento Kings (109 points)
  • 12th: Houston Rockets (129 points)
  • 13th: San Antonio Spurs (133 points)
  • 14th: Oklahoma City Thunder (133 points)
  • 15th: Utah Jazz (142 points)


The voters were thinking along the same lines, and the final results were that the teams in the West fell into four distinct tiers. The first tier involved the Los Angeles Clippers, the Golden State Warriors, and the Denver Nuggets. These teams consistently ranked in the top three, and the race to the Fearless Forecast first seed in the conference was hot; the Clippers finished only two points ahead of the Warriors, while Golden State finished just seven points ahead of the Nuggets. The next tier featured teams the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves, the healthy Zion Williamson-led New Orleans Pelicans, the Phoenix Suns, and the Dallas Mavericks. Three of these with four teams were predicted to be a top-four seed in the West by 40 percent of the voters; the one exception was the Suns, predicted to finish seventh in the West, after having the best record in the NBA last season. The third tier included the infamous Los Angeles Lakers, who made plenty of offseason moves but not enough to impress our voters, as they slotted LeBron and company in ninth, 20 points ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers. The last tier should be labeled the “Victor Wembayama Tier,” as these teams will be losing games to get the best chance possible for the number-one selection in the 2023 NBA Draft. Teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Utah Jazz, and the San Antonio Spurs dominated this tier due to a lack of talent and experience.

Total Votes: Championships & Awards

Barton, D.MilwGSMilwJ. EmbiidB. AdebayoT. HaliburtonC. WoodP. BancheroT. Lue
Barton, K.BrkLACBrkK. DurantG. AntetokounmpoJ. SuggsSeth Curry P. BancheroS. Nash
BerzanskeMilwDenMilwG. AntetokounmpoE. MobleyA. EdwardsT. HerroP. BancheroM. Malone
BranscomeMilwGSGSL. DončićE. MobleyO. OkongwuB. BogdanovicB. WesleyJ. Kidd
HarrisPhiLACLACL. DončićM. BridgesJ. GiddeyN. PowellP. BancheroW. Green
KerrBosLACBosJ. MorantK. LeonardA. DosunmuH. JonesP. BancheroJ. Mazzulla
RiehlMilwDenDenL. DončićE. MobleyS. BarnesJ. PooleT. EasonM.  Malone
SchulmanMilwLACLACL. DončićG. AntetokounmpoRJ BarrettJ. PooleP. BancheroT. Lue
SwensonPhiDalDalL. DončićK. LeonardA. Dosomnu C. WoodP. BancheroM. Malone
YoungbergBrkLACBrkZ. WilliamsonB. SimmonsT. HaliburtonT. HerroJ. IveyW. Green

Eastern Conference Champion

  • 1st: Bucks (5 votes)
  • 2nd: 76ers (2 votes)
  • 3rd: Nets (2 votes)
  • 4th: Celtics (1 vote)


The Milwaukee Bucks were the clear favorites to win the East in our poll and for good reason; their championship core of Giannis Antetekoumpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday stayed intact over the offseason, and the entire organization is filled with proven winners.  The Bucks still have one of the best coaches in the NBA, Mike Budenzholer, leading their team, and the roster continuity has to be a plus. It is important to note that the voters are not too concerned about Middelton’s wrist injury that will sideline him for the start of the season.  The former All-Star should be back in action by December.

Western Conference Champion

  • 1st: Clippers (5 votes)
  • 2nd: Nuggets (2 votes) 
  • 3rd: Warriors (2 votes)
  • 4th: Mavericks (1 vote)


The Los Angeles Clippers ran away with the West in our poll. The Clippers’ stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are among the best tandems in the NBA. However, what surrounds the All-Star duo is what makes this team special.  The club is unbelievably versatile on both ends of the floor, much like the Toronto Raptors but with much better depth. With the acquisition of John Wall and players such as Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson, Robert Covington, and Marcus Morris Sr. returning, it is hard to imagine the Clippers not winning the West. 

In my opinion, one team to watch is the Dallas Mavericks.  The Mavs’ lack of size was one of the main reasons that they did not reach the finals last year, and they filled that hole this offseason with the additions of Christain Wood and JaVale McGee. Dallas’ versatility and coaching gives the club a chance to compete with the voter’s favorite, the Clippers. As noted above, I was given the honor of breaking ties, which is why the Mavs are listed fourth, ahead of more common favorites, such as the Warriors.

NBA Champion

  • 1st: Clippers (2 votes)
  • 2nd: Bucks (2 votes)
  • 3rd: Nets (2 votes)
  • 4th: Mavericks (1 vote)
  • 5th: Nuggets (1 vote)
  • 6th: Warriors (1 vote)
  • 7th: Celtics (1 vote)


When looking at the voting results of the predicted NBA Champions, there was a three-way tie for first: the Los Angeles Clippers, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets make a surprise appearance after being in a two-way tie for second place in the Eastern Conference Finals; Kevin Barton and Connor Youngberg, the two voters who have the Nets winning it all, seem to fully buy into this team despite the constant drama in Brooklyn. Of the three teams, the Clippers have the most depth, versatile potential, and star power. It is hard to argue with Rich Harris and Daniel Schulman, the two voters who voted for the Clippers to win it all. 

Most Valuable Player

  • 1st: Luka Dončić (5 votes)
  • 2nd: Giannis Antetokounmpo (1 vote)
  • 3rd: Joel Embiid (1 vote)
  • 4th: Kevin Durant (1 vote)
  • 5th: Ja Morant (1 vote)
  • 6th: Zion Williamson(1 vote)


The Most Valuable Player award was a runaway, with Luka Doncic receiving five out of ten votes. Doncic is one of the best offensive players in the NBA and will run the Dallas Mavericks’ offense on most possessions. The 23-year-old Solvenian is coming into the season following a fantastic Eurobasket tournament, and looking to be in great shape, the award seems to be his to lose. The most noticeable aspect of the results for this category is who is not on the list — the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. Voters are already suffering from voter fatigue after just two seasons of Joker dominance. 

Defensive Player of the Year

  • 1st: Evan Mobley (3 votes)
  • 2nd: Kawhi Leonard (2 votes)
  • 3rd: Giannis Antetokoumpo (2 votes)
  • 4th: Mikal Bridges (1 vote)
  • 5th: Ben Simmons (1 vote)
  • 6th: Bam Adebayo (1 vote)


The Defensive Player of the Year voting was much closer than anticipated. Evan Mobley, although entering only his second year, has earned the respect of enough of the voters to finish first in the polling. Mobley will need to be more active on the defensive end since the acquisition of Donovan Mitchell from Utah. Mitchell, combined with Darius Garland, leave the Cavaliers with serious defensive concerns on the perimeter.  Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokoumpo tied for second in the poll. Regardless of the offensive output expected from both of these superstars, it did not stop voters from considering them for one of the most specialty awards in the NBA. Leonard missed all of last season and has been deemed a declining defender in recent years, but with a number of complementary scorers in Los Angeles, it is not hard to imagine Leonard playing with more defensive focus this season.

Most Improved Player

  • 1st: Ayo Donsumuu (2 votes)
  • 2nd: Tyrese Haliburton (2 votes)
  • 3rd: Anthony Edwards (1 vote)
  • 4th: Scottie Barnes (1 vote)
  • 5th: Josh Giddey (1 vote)
  • 6th: RJ Barrett (1 vote)
  • 7th: Onyeka Onkongwu (1 vote)
  • 8th: Jalen Suggs (1 vote)


One of the most unpredictable awards, traditionally, the voters had numerous answers for who would take home the Most Improved Player. The winner was Ayo Donsumuu, presumably because he was recently named the starting point guard for the Chicago Bulls. Tyrese Haliburton tied Donsumuu with two votes, mainly because Haliburton will lead the Indiana Pacers as the full-time point guard. The former Iowa State star made noticeable statistical improvements after being traded to Indiana from Sacramento last season.  

An intriguing name on the list is Scottie Barnes, who was picked by Drew Barton. After Ja Morant controversially took home the Most Improved Player as a second-year player in 2022, Barnes is in a great situation with the Toronto Raptors to have a significant statistical increase in his second pro season and become the latest emerging All-Star to receive the award.

Sixth Man of the Year

  • 1st: Chrstian Wood (2 votes)
  • 2nd: Jordan Poole (2 votes)
  • 3rd: Tyler Herro (2 votes)
  • 4th: Norman Powell (1 vote)
  • 5th: Seth Curry (1 vote)
  • 6th: Bogdan Bogdonovic (1 vote)
  • 7th: Herb Jones (1 vote)


There was a three-way tie for the Sixth Man of the Year award featuring Christain Wood, Tyler Herro, and Jordan Poole. There should be no surprise these three names are Sixth Man of the Year candidates. Wood coming off the bench this season for the Dallas Mavericks will be only a technicality. A skilled big man, Wood brings his athletic finishing capabilities and three-point shooting to a Mavericks team led by one of the best passers in the NBA: Luka Doncic. Tyler Herro, reigning Sixth Man of the Year, recently signed a four-year, 130-million-dollar extension with the Heat. He has been pleading for a chance to start, and with that extension, it seems that time will come soon. Poole is deservingly a favorite to win the award, with him playing behind Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Cameron Riehl believes it is not close, saying “It is his award to lose,” during the Hoops Prospects Podcast.

Rookie of the Year

  • 1st: Paolo Banchero (7 votes)
  • 2nd: Tari Eason (1 vote)
  • 3rd: Jaden Ivey (1 vote)
  • 4th: Blake Wessley (1 vote)


By far, this category featured the greatest consensus among voters; Paolo Banchero is the clear favorite for the Rookie of the Year. Earning seven out of the ten possible votes, Banchero should be one of the Orlando Magic go-to scorers because of the variety of ways that he can create offense for himself and others. In what should be a surprise to everyone, Lee Branscome voted for San Antonio guard Blake Wesley. Although the Spurs have a big hole at point guard, it is difficult to imagine Wesley stepping up after a poor summer league and preseason.  On the other hand, Tari Eason, who ranked 11th overall on the 2022 HP Draft Board, has been red hot since coming to the Rockets and is an underrated rookie.  Also, though he failed to receive any votes, the Pacers’ Ben Mathurin was repeatedly mentioned as a darkhorse for this award on the podcast.  

Coach of the Year

  • 1st: Micheal Malone (3 votes)
  • 2nd: Tyron Lue (2 votes)
  • 3rd: Willie Green (2 votes)
  • 4th: Jason Kidd (1 vote)
  • 5th: Steve Nash (1 vote)
  • 6th: Joe Mazzulla (1 vote)


The Coach of the Year turned out to be a close race, with Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone finishing first. The Nuggets are finally healthy, and with a core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr., the team is built to have a great regular season, at a minimum. The Coach of the Year is often a controversial award and will usually go to the coach who wins the most regular-season games. Willie Green and Tyron Lue also have great opportunities to win the award, as both their teams are in a solid position to not only win games during the regular season but also lead their teams to significantly higher finishes in the standings, compared to 2021-22. 


  • Maverick Swenson

    Maverick is a contributing writer and analyst at Hoops Prospects. He is currently a senior at Texas A&M University, majoring in Sport Management. Maverick formerly has been with the Texas Legends and Austin Spurs and has produced different variations of basketball content since 2019.