If you ever need a little fuel to get through the dog days of the NBA summer, just allow yourself a healthy indulgence of offseason optimism.
During this time of clean slates and fresh starts, imaginations can run wild over what the near-future may hold. Since no team is running back the exact same roster, every fan base has at least one new addition to which they can attach unbridled excitement.
Who are these new sources of inspiration? Well, it's funny you should ask, since the reason we're here is to spotlight the best weapon each club added for the 2023-24 campaign.
Atlanta Hawks: Kobe Bufkin
This summer's 15th overall pick, Kobe Bufkin brings a boatload of offensive abilities to Atlanta. Now, they may not all surface this season, but his bag is deep enough that if even a few of them translate, he'll be a useful rotation player who occasionally blows up the box score.
The fact he can play either guard spot is key, since Trae Young and Dejounte Murray already account for a huge chunk of the available minutes in the Hawks' backcourt. On the ball, Bufkin is slithery with his dribble and confident—and capable—with his pull-up jumper. Off the ball, he is a rapid relocator who can cut behind the defense or free himself for catch-and-fire threes.
If he can defend well enough to slot alongside Young—Bufkin gives great energy on that end, but is a bit limited by his lack of size (6'4", 187 lbs)—Bufkin could get the floor time needed to push for a spot on one of the All-Rookie teams.
Boston Celtics: Kristaps Porziņģis
While the injury bug has played an uncomfortably prominent role in Kristaps Porziņģis' NBA story, last season was a great reminder of what can happen when it leaves him alone.
In 65 games, his most since 2016-17, he simultaneously terrorized opposing defenses and did what he can to hold the Washington Wizards' defense together. His final stat line impressed from all angles. He was a nightly supplier of 23.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.1 threes and 1.5 blocks, a stat line only previously posted once. By advanced metrics, he was a top-20 performer in player efficiency rating (23.1, 17th) and box plus/minus (4.3, 19th).
That the Celtics were willing to part with Marcus Smart—their emotional leader, defensive tone-setter and top playmaker—to land Porziņģis (and two first-round picks) is telling. They expect big things out of the big fella, and as long as he stays healthy, he has a real chance to meet or even exceed those expectations.
Brooklyn Nets: Lonnie Walker IV
Long-term, the most notable additions to the Nets were their two first-round picks, Noah Clowney and Dariq Whitehead. This season, though, their contributions could be limited, as both are candidates to log serious minutes in the G League.
That's why the spotlight instead falls on Lonnie Walker IV, who was en route to a career campaign this past season before injuries and the Los Angeles Lakers' midseason makeover slowed his ascension. Over his first 31 outings, he pumped in an efficient 15.1 points per game on 45.9/39.3/87.5 shooting.
The Nets need his scoring punch. Even with Mikal Bridges' emergence, Brooklyn wound up just 23rd in offensive efficiency after the trade deadline. Walker, an explosive slasher with an ignitable outside shot, can scratch that itch.
Charlotte Hornets: Brandon Miller
If Brandon Miller isn't the best new baller in Buzz City, then one of two things happened. Either this summer's No. 2 pick heard the "bust" label thrown around early and often, or Nick Smith Jr. erased all memories of his disappointing collegiate campaign and reminded folks why he was once regarded as one of the top prospects in his class.
Otherwise, Miller should be the best thing to happen to the Charlotte hoops scene since LaMelo Ball's arrival. Miller's ceiling might be a little unsettled with questions surrounding his creation and finishing, but everything clicks, he could be the league's next impact big wing.
The 6'9" swingman boasts an arsenal featuring movement shooting, live-dribble passing, defensive versatility and insatiable energy. The tools are in place for him to become the co-star Ball so badly needs.
Chicago Bulls: Jevon Carter
Ever since losing Lonzo Ball to a knee injury in January 2022, the Bulls have needed someone to fill his void as a two-way floor general.
Jevon Carter appears their best bet yet to assume that role. While his offensive output has often lacked volume, his efficiency suggests he could turn up the nob if needed. For his career, he has nearly triple the amount of assists (1.7 per game) as turnovers (0.6), plus a 39.7 percent splash rate from three. Defensively, he's as tenacious as anyone you'll find in this league.
Projecting his production is tricky, since he isn't guaranteed a starting spot (Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu will fight for it) and may not have a large offensive role even if he gets it, since Chicago runs so many possessions through Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević. But, as was often the case with Ball, Carter's impact could extend well beyond the stat sheet.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Max Strus
Because Cleveland has such a pressing need for shooting, it was tempting to go with Georges Niang and his career 40.3 percent stroke. But with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen eating up a huge chunk of the frontcourt minutes, Niang's nightly allotment will likely hover around 20.
Max Strus, meanwhile, has a chance to exceed the career-high 28.4 minutes he received with the Miami Heat last season. He'll need to control his sometimes erratic shooting—his last three seasons have produced three-point percentages of 33.8, 41 and 35—to make that happen, but his form and willingness to fire makes you want to believe.
If he's a plus-shooter from range, he could see the most floor time of anyone outside of Cleveland's core four (the aforementioned bigs, Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell). The Cavs spent all of last season trying and failing to find a two-way wing to complete their quintet. They just bet $63 million on Strus being that player, and if their hunch is right, it will be money well spent.
Dallas Mavericks: Grant Williams
Dallas became in need of a two-way frontcourt player the second it linked Luka Dončić with Kyrie Irving at the trade deadline. Grant Williams was a sneaky-good get.
He probably didn't have the 2022-23 season he wanted, as Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla dialed back his minutes and occasionally bumped Williams from the rotation entirely. But Boston's stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown urged Mazzulla to find floor time for Williams, which is a testament to the swingman's value.
He may not have the flashiest skill set, but he is a steady shooter (career 37.9 percent from three) and versatile stopper. The Mavs can count on his three-and-D game, and they might be able to squeeze some playmaking out of him, too.
Denver Nuggets: Jalen Pickett
The world champs had more notable subtractions (namely, Bruce Brown and Jeff Green) than additions this summer, so this spot was among the most tightly contested in this exercise. Justin Holiday, Julian Strawther and Hunter Tyson were all considered.
But since Holiday, Strawther and Tyson all suit up on the wings—where they'll fight for the minutes left behind Christian Braun and Peyton Watson—they could effectively cancel each other out. Jalen Pickett may not have a clear path to the rotation either, but he might have the best shot at differentiating himself since he could carve out a role as a backup point guard...and maybe a do-it-all replacement for Brown.
Granted, that's asking a lot of a rookie second-rounder, but Pickett's best-case scenario looks strikingly Brown-esque. Pickett plays bigger than his size (6'2", 200 lbs), embraces physicality at both ends, handles a variety of defensive assignments and impacts nearly the entire box score. Triple double-machine Nikola Jokić would be proud of the ground Pickett can cover on the stat sheet, as he averaged 17.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists this past season at Penn State.
Detroit Pistons: Ausar Thompson
Ausar Thompson doesn't necessarily need to find an outside shot to have a chance at stardom. That's how special the other elements of his game can be.
He is an impressive athlete even by NBA standards, and his defense could be equal parts dominant, disruptive and versatile. His burst can make it seem like he's moving at 1.5x speed, yet the game never seems too fast for him. He makes quick, decisive reads and acts on them right away.
Now, if he can harness that outside jumper—which could be a years-long process—that would make life easier on him and the Pistons as a whole. If he is at least a credible threat to shred nets from distance, that would make him a much easier fit with Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, two playmakers encountering shooting struggles of their own.
Golden State Warriors: Chris Paul
Chris Paul's offseason trade to Golden State was one of this summer's true stunners, but there's a chance this could work. While it's up to Warriors coach Steve Kerr to find the right role and style for Paul, who has played a more methodical game than this free-wheeling Golden State group, but there is a best-case scenario in which Paul solves the team's problem with its non-Stephen Curry minutes and fills various pieces of the puzzle along the way.
"It's one of those (moves) where it makes sense in the sense of understanding who he is as a player and what he can do for our team and our depth, our versatility and being able to have a couple different looks, especially offensively," Curry told NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole. "He connects a lot of rotations and lineups that we can have out there."
At this stage of his career, the 38-year-old Paul is objectively overpaid and arguably injury-prone. And yet, it's possible none of that matters. His contract is a concern for ownership only, and his injury woes won't be an issue unless they surface at the wrong time. If he stays healthy, his change-of-pace play could be good for this group, perhaps settling things down for the Dubs the way Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala once did.
Houston Rockets: Fred VanVleet
There probably weren't a lot of Bingo cards that had Fred VanVleet signing a three-year, $128.5 million deal in Space City this summer, but the idea of him serving as a culture-changer for the rebuilding Rockets is a sound one.
Houston was never going to take the next step in the maturation process without significantly improving its defense (28th in efficiency last season) and distribution (dead last in assist percentage). VanVleet will immediately impact both areas. He is a dogged defender—albeit one limited by a lack of size (6'1", 197 lbs)—and a shrew decision-maker who just put a canyon between his average assists (7.2) and turnovers (2.0).
His scoring efficiency can leave something to be desired, as his physical tools have always hurt his two-point shooting (career 43.4 percent). But the Rockets have players who can move the scoreboard inside the arc. And those players should be sharper than ever with a lead guard like VanVleet continually finding them in the right spots.
Indiana Pacers: Bruce Brown
The Pacers might be ready to rise in the Eastern Conference, and they just spent $22 million on the chance Bruce Brown can help fuel that climb. (While he technically signed a two-year, $45 million deal, the second season is a team option, so he may never see that money.)
It's an overpay based on talent, but perhaps not one based on circumstances. Indiana has spend big to bring anyone to the Circle City, so some of this is the cost of doing business as a non-destination franchise. The other part of it is the chance that Brown's value extends beyond dollars and cents.
Indiana has quietly assembled an impressive young core—headlined by Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin—but it needs at least one more piece to rise above the proverbial hump. Brown could give the Pacers that lift with a glue-guy game that features everything from defense and competitive fire to downhill attacking and a pinch of playmaking.
Los Angeles Clippers: Kenyon Martin Jr.
With nothing to show for their James Harden pursuit (so far, anyway), the Clippers have had one of the quieter offseasons. They plucked a pair of prospects out of the draft (30th pick Kobe Brown and 48th pick Jordan Miller), but neither is likely to land in the rotation given this group's championship-or-bust mentality.
So, Kenyon Martin Jr. basically lands here by default, though that isn't intended as a slight. He plays a loud style built around dunks and defense, and he checks a lot of boxes for the Clippers, who needed to add speed, athleticism and on-court energy.
His jumper is a question mark (career 34 percent from three), so spacing could tighten in a hurry if he's paired with Russell Westbrook and a non-shooting big. Having said that, though, Martin's dynamic ability as an off-ball cutter (74th percentile last season—on a bad-passing Rockets team) should at least force opposing defenses to pay attention to him.
Los Angeles Lakers: Gabe Vincent
Gabe Vincent may not be the most talented player the Lakers added this summer. That honor instead could go to No. 17 pick Jalen Hood-Schifino, who is effectively a big point guard who can create for himself and his teammates. In terms of raw tools, No. 40 pick Maxwell Lewis, an athletic wing who can free himself off the bounce, brings a lot more than Vincent, too.
But both rookies lack polish and experience, which will make it hard to find the floor for this championship-chasing club. Vincent, meanwhile, already has 44 playoff games under his belt and just played a pivotal (and starting) role in the Miami Heat's climb from the play-in tournament to the championship round with gritty defense, a ton of shot-making and secondary creation.
On paper, Vincent looks like a seamless fit with LeBron James, provided Vincent's outside shooting holds up (33.9 percent for his career, but 37.8 percent in this last playoff run). If it does, he could absolutely swipe the starting point guard gig away from D'Angelo Russell.
Memphis Grizzlies: Marcus Smart
Memphis newcomer Marcus Smart brings a ton to the table. While defense is his calling card—he was the 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year—his ability to run offense has long been underrated (and will be critical to cover for Ja Morant's 25-game suspension). Yet, all of Smart's on-court contributions might pale in comparison to his impact as a leader.
"That's who I am," Smart told Grind City Media's Chris Vernon. "That's who I was with Boston. That's one of the reasons why my name and my reputation proceeds me so much, because I am that guy. I'm also not the guy to just talk about it, I'm going to go out there and show you my actions as well."
The young Grizzlies have been picking up steam, but they're still awaiting their breakthrough as full-fledged elites. Smart, who was a part of five Eastern Conference finals and one NBA Finals during his nine-year tenure in Boston, could have the veteran know-how and leadership skills needed to help them make this final jump.
Miami Heat: Josh Richardson
If Josh Richardson's second stint in South Beach is anything like his first, the Heat can expect pesky on-ball defense, relatively consistent outside shooting and some secondary playmaking.
The 6'5" swingman, who spent his first four NBA seasons in Miami, will be an easy fit for the #culture and a helpful on-court connector. He doesn't have the tightest handle, but he knows it and will typically opt for the smart, simple play over the flashier one.
He may not elicit the excitement of, say, a Damian Lillard megadeal, but Richardson is a solid rotation player who can hold his own as a high-end reserve or a low-end starter.
Milwaukee Bucks: Malik Beasley
The Bucks' primary objective this offseason was talent retention, and they did what they needed to do in that department. They held onto key starters Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez and even re-signed Jae Crowder, who struggled to find a role after his deadline deal to Milwaukee but still seems like a good fit on paper.
They didn't venture outside of the organization often, so the options here are limited. Robin Lopez, Brook's twin brother, arrived in free agency, and the draft delivered Andre Jackson Jr. and Chris Livingston, but it's possible none of those players winds up in the regular rotation.
Malik Beasley isn't guaranteed to crack that either, but given Milwaukee's need to maximize spacing around Giannis Antetokounmpo, one would think Beasley's outside shot would be an asset. He doesn't have much to his game beyond that, but his three-ball, which has a 37.8 percent success rate for his career, has typically registered between good and great.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Shake Milton
This was not an automatic choice. Rookie Leonard Miller boasts a fascinating blend of size and skill, and if everything clicks quicker than expected, maybe he handles a much bigger role than anticipated. Troy Brown Jr. can be a two-way asset when his threes are falling, and they found their mark more often than ever this past season (107 triples, 38.1 percent).
Still, the word "weapon" seems most easily attached to Shake Milton, since he offers the most offensive creativity—and perhaps a bit of untapped potential. He is slippery off the dribble, changing directions on a dime and changing speeds to keep defenders off balance. If he gets into the teeth of the defense, he has a deep arsenal of finishing moves at the basket and the ability to find an open teammate.
Minnesota needed a quick-strike scorer to keep the offense moving when Anthony Edwards sits, and Milton can thrive in that role. What ups the intrigue, though, is the possibility he can grow his game now that he's out from behind the shadows of guards he backed up in Philadelphia. He might be able to do more than he's shown, including potentially orchestrating offense whenever 35-year-old Mike Conley is unavailable.
New Orleans Pelicans: Jordan Hawkins
On draft night, there were few better marriages of skill set and team need than when the Pelicans snatched up sharpshooter Jordan Hawkins with the No. 14 pick. New Orleans was in dire need of shooting (bottom-third in makes and attempts last season), and Hawkins offered plug-and-play potential as a net-shredder.
"We think he was the best shooter in the draft," Pelicans general manager Trajan Langdon told reporters. "We thought he was the best shooter in college basketball this year. ... The shooting component will be a huge addition to our team this year."
Hawkins pairs a lightning-quick release with the energy and drive to keep in constant motion off the basketball. He is someone defenses will have to account for every second he's on the court, which should help open attack lanes for Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum.
New York Knicks: Donte DiVincenzo
The Knicks didn't have many roster holes to fill this summer, but their midlevel exception gave them a chance to add one impact player. They (smartly) spent it on Donte DiVincenzo, who looks like a seamless fit for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact he was college teammates with Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart.
"Just how Josh was for the Knicks [last season], I think Donte is going to bring that same spark. I think he'll fit right into what the Knicks want," Phil Booth, a Villanova teammate of that trio, told Zach Braziller of the New York Post. "Bringing energy, playing defense, playing tough, he'll fit what the Knicks want to do."
DiVincenzo has the kind of wide-ranging skill set that will allow him to fill a number of holes. He can handle, create, score, defend—if the Knicks need something, he'll have a chance to provide it.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Vasilije Micić
It was tempting to slot Chet Holmgren here, since his rookie year was wiped out by a foot injury. But the fact he was already on the roster meant he didn't fit the spirit of the exercise. It was also difficult not to go with Cason Wallace, the No. 10 pick who could make his mark with lockdown defense, spot-up shooting and pinpoint passing.
Yet, the intrigue around Vasilije Micić, a 2014 second-round pick of the process-trusting Philadelphia 76ers who's finally coming stateside, was simply too great to overlook.
A former EuroLeague MVP and two-time EuroLeague Final Four MVP, the 29-year-old is a crafty creator with a three-level scoring punch. He'll face physical challenges—especially on defense—as a limited athlete, but his ability to overcome them speaks to his skill level. His creativity and polish should make him an early contributor and likely fan favorite.
Orlando Magic: Anthony Black
The Magic may have added a slew of young guards in recent years, but that didn't stop them from spending this summer's No. 6 pick on Anthony Black. If he maxes out his potential, he'll zip past all of them on the franchise hierarchy and perhaps one day fill out a Big Three with Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner.
The 6'6", 210-pound Black is a true floor general. He sees angles some can't even imagine, and he has the selflessness and arm talent to whip passes through a crowd. He doesn't have the most explosive burst, but his ability to change speeds keeps defenders off-balance all the same. He is decisive with his movements and discerning with his actions.
His shooting outlook is murky, but that's fine for now. He'll have the Magic humming as a two-way connector with or without a reliable jumper.
Philadelphia 76ers: Patrick Beverley
The 2023-24 76ers are light on notable newcomers, to the point that serious consideration was given to putting new skipper Nick Nurse in this spot. Ultimately, that didn't feel quite right, which essentially boiled the decision down to Patrick Beverley or Mo Bamba.
In other words, there wasn't much of a decision to be made. Bamba, while interesting in theory for his shot-blocking and shot-making blend, has only topped 16 minutes per night in one of his five NBA seasons. Beverley, on the other hand, hasn't logged fewer than 22 minutes per outing since his rookie campaign and saw 27.1 this past season.
Beverley's long-range shooting is trapped in a two-year rut (33.9 percent the past two seasons, 37.3 for his career), but he is a tireless defender who typically makes good decisions with the basketball. Hopefully, his three-ball comes back to life, but given Philly's lack of activity, he'd be an obvious choice here even if that doesn't happen.
Phoenix Suns: Bradley Beal
Until the Suns can trot out Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker together, they'll face the same there's-only-one-basketball skepticism that seems to surround every superteam. While it could take time to balance touches and figure out each other's sweet spots, it's also possible the combined IQ and ability of this trio speeds up the process to the point it can hit the ground running at full-speed.
All three can create for themselves and their teammates. All three can feast on catch-and-shoot chances. Even if the offense has a bit of a your-turn, my-turn rhythm at times, the collective shot-making could make this attack a monster regardless.
Beal should fit this team like a tailored suit, at least on the offensive end. His 2022-23 stats may not jump off the page by his standards, and he still wrapped the campaign with 23.2 points on 50.6/36.5/84.2 shooting and 5.4 assists against 2.9 turnovers. He could be this coming season's best third option by a wide margin.
Portland Trail Blazers: Scoot Henderson
Damian Lillard's trade request should have, in theory at least, sent Portland into a panic. When the greatest player in franchise history no longer wants to be a part of your franchise, that should have everyone sounding the alarms and preparing for the worst ahead.
Yet, none of that has happened with the Blazers. The arrival of Scoot Henderson is the biggest reason why.
The 6'2" guard appears the perfect player to take the baton from Lillard and lead this organization into the future. Henderson pairs elite competitiveness with explosive athleticism, all the while flashing the defensive manipulation and vision of a true lead guard. He can make plays off the bounce, finish at (or above) the rim, feed open teammates, shoot on the move and lead a defense. He is, by all appearances, a franchise talent.
Sacramento Kings: Chris Duarte
The Kings did most of their heavy lifting this summer in-house, re-signing Harrison Barnes and extending Domantas Sabonis. They didn't sign an external free agent and only added a pair of second-rounders in the draft (No. 34 pick Colby Jones and No. 54 pick Jalen Slawson).
So, Chris Duarte was almost running unopposed for this distinction, but that shouldn't undersell his potential impact.
While injuries and roster changes held back his sophomore season, his rookie campaign remains a huge source of hope. In 2021-22, he snagged an All-Rookie second team spot while averaging 13.1 points on 43.2/36.9/80.4 shooting and shining as a defensive playmaker. He could play his way into a larger role than people expect.
San Antonio Spurs: Victor Wembanyama
While there were several no-brainer calls made throughout this exercise, this was the no-brainiest of the bunch. Victor Wembanyama is a once-in-a-lifetime talent even in the eyes of other once-in-a-lifetime talents.
Standing 7'5" with an 8'0" wingspan and somehow still possessing a plethora of perimeter skills, he looks like he might break the game of basketball. Hoops lifers look at Wembanyama and can't even fathom what they're seeing. If he can avoid any injury woes—a constant threat to any hooper of this size—it's possible he plays his way not only into the Hall of Fame but firmly within the GOAT debate.
Now, that's a ton to drape across the shoulders of a 19-year-old, but he is absolutely worth the hype. The Spurs headed into this offseason without a clear direction going forward and exited it with perhaps the league's brightest future thanks in super-sized part to the No. 1 pick.
Toronto Raptors: Dennis Schröder
If Gradey Dick sinks a ton of shots this season and proves he's more than a shooter, he might make this selection seem silly. He has a real chance to grow with this franchise. Dennis Schröder simply can't claim the same as a soon-to-be 30-year-old on his fourth team in three seasons.
But the veteran does have a track record of solid—and sometimes better—production in this league. He's also set to walk into the starting gig vacated by Fred VanVleet and, given Toronto's lack of point guards, perhaps put his minutes average well into the 30s.
Schröder is most interesting when his perimeter shots are falling—he hit 38.5 percent from range while averaging 18.9 points in 2019-20—but he has found ways of contributing as a modern guard with a shaky outside shot. He takes care of the basketball, pressures opponents off the dribble and really digs in defensively.
Utah Jazz: Keyonte George
The Jazz are forcing us into semantics here, because either of John Collins or Taylor Hendricks could make a credible claim for this spot. Still, two things brought us back to Keyonte George.
First, he fits the "slippery scorer" archetype that perhaps first comes to mind when conjuring up an image of an NBA weapon. He can consistently create—and convert—his own shots in ways that Collins and Hendricks can't (and won't be asked to). George is always in control of his handles and has every shot-making maneuver in his bag.
Second, if his play in Las Vegas wasn't a mirage, he might already be leveling up. He ramped up his playmaking and flashed more explosion as a finisher. Tack on that on to his established traits as a live-dribble scorer, and he could be awfully hard to contain on the offensive end.
Washington Wizards: Tyus Jones
Admittedly, there are funner options to put in this spot. Bilal Coulibaly could have a fascinating future ahead of him. Jordan Poole could put bonkers numbers in the box score. Patrick Baldwin Jr. could prove a sneaky-smart addition as a jumbo shot-maker.
But Coulibaly is a long-term play who noticeably needs more polish. Poole's numbers could easily impress more in quantity than quality. Baldwin might not be a rotation member next season or any beyond that.
As for Tyus Jones, though, this is his chance to show he's more than the league's best backup point guard. He basically plays mistake-free basketball (5.2 assists against 0.9 turnovers last season) and seemingly always steps forward as a scorer (career-high 10.3 points per game) and three-point shooter (1.5 threes on 37.1 percent). Few players have a chance to up their stock more this season than Ja Morant's former understudy.