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Predicting the best NBA offenses ahead of the 2022-23 season

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    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    At no point in NBA history have offenses been more dynamic than they are today, with the past two seasons producing the highest ratings (112.0 or higher) since data collection was expanded in the 1973-74 season.

    Some of the best teams of the last year have only added to their scoring, either through trade, free hand, the draft or simply the return of a few key players from injury.

    While there will be no shortage of high-profile offense in 2022-23, these five teams should be the best the NBA has to offer.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

    Final Ranking 2021-22: No. 3, rating 114.3

    The Bucks haven’t shaken up the roster or added a dynamic goalscorer or playmaker this offseason, and they didn’t have to.

    This group is a well-oiled machine that has the chemistry, experience and talent to score points with ease, led by the NBA’s most unstoppable player.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 29.9 points per game was second overall last season as Milwaukee can use their superstar in pick-and-roll, pitching, switching or removing defenders from dribbling. Antetokounmpo is the league’s most dominant player when approaching the basket, posting an NBA-high 13.2 points per game in the restricted zone last season with 76.6 percent shooting.

    Khris Middleton has become the perfect second option, while Jrue Holiday, who usually stands out for his defensive efforts, averaged 18.3 points and 6.8 assists while posting a career-high 41.4 percent from three last season.

    There’s plenty of offensive support, from Brook Lopez and Grayson Allen’s ground clearance to Bobby Portis succeeding as this team’s sixth man. Pat Connaughton, rookie MarJon Beauchamp and free-agent add-on Joe Ingles (when returning from a cruciate ligament rupture) will all provide shooting from the bench as well.

    Milwaukee has finished in the top-five offense in both seasons since acquiring Holiday, with 2022-23 being their third straight year.

4. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Final Ranking 2021-22: 19th, 111.2 rating

    The Pelicans, the highest climbers on this list, are being greatly improved this season for obvious reasons.

    Before we get to Zion Williamson, it’s important to note how much of a difference CJ McCollum made after his transfer from the Portland Trail Blazers.

With McCollum serving as a full-time ballhandler for the first time in his career, the Pelicans went from being one of the worst-scoring units in the NBA to a top-10 team. In the 26 games he played with the Pelicans last season, McCollum averaged 24.3 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 49.3 percent overall and 39.4 percent from three.

With Williamson back and Brandon Ingram coming off a monster playoff streak against the Phoenix Suns (27.0 points, 6.2 assists, 40.7 percent from three), McCollum becomes the third-best offensive option in a now-strung Pelicans team.

Of course, as good as McCollum and Ingram are, a healthy Williamson is a different breed of monster.

The 22-year-old was the eighth-best scorer in the NBA last time we saw him (27.0 points per game), and of the top 63 scorers overall, he was the only one to shoot over 60.0 percent.

His 18.0 points per game in the restricted zone easily surpassed Giannis Antetokoumpo’s 14.6 to lead the NBA. It will also be the widest gap Williamson will now have to work with as he shares the floor alongside Jonas Valanciunas (36.1 percent of three in 158 total attempts last season) in place of Steven Adams.

Mix in some talented passers and scorers like Devonte’ Graham, Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III, Larry Nance Jr., Jaxson Hayes and rookie Dyson Daniels and this Pelicans squad will be leading teams out of the gym every night.

3.Atlanta Hawks

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    AP Photo/Darren Abate

    Final Ranking 2021-22: No. 2, rating 115.4

    The Utah Jazz were the only team to end last season with better offense than these Hawks. It’s probably safe to say that won’t happen again.

    Atlanta needed Dejounte Murray more for his defensive talents, despite the addition of an all-star guard who averaged 21.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.2 assists while handling the ball just 2.6 times per game turned around, should only strengthen this goal attack.

    Everything revolved around Trae Young last season, for better or for worse.

    The Hawks had a 119.3 offensive rating (93rd percentile) when Young was in the game last season, compared to a rating of just 109.4 (28th percentile) when he was sitting. The addition of Murray gives Atlanta a chance to stagger their two elite playmakers and ensure the offense never falters.

    While Murray has never been a great three-pointer (33.0 percent for his career), the Hawks overall should be good enough to cover for him as they finished 2nd in efficiency ( 37.4 percent) occupied. Young was also one of the NBA’s top catch-and-shoot three-pointers last year (48.1 percent) and should only get more opportunities if Murray serves primarily as a ball handler for stretches.

    With a versatile third goal option in John Collins, a pick-and-roll edge runner in Clint Capela, and De’Andre Hunter coming off a strong playoff streak against the Miami Heat (21.2 points, 61.4 percent on Twos, 46.2 percent on threes), this isn’t just a two-man show in Atlanta, either.

    If Bogdan Bogdanovic looks like a sixth man of the year contender and youngsters like Onyeka Okongwu, Jalen Johnson and AJ Griffin are all top scorers, this offense should be even better than the one that finished second overall a year ago.

2. Brooklyn Networks

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    AP Photo/Seth Little

    Final Ranking 2021-22: No. 10, rating 113.2

    Don’t let last season’s ranking fool you. With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the floor, Brooklyn’s offense could be the best in the NBA.

    The Nets had a 124.8 offensive rating in 1,096 total possessions with both star players on the court last year and ranked in the 98th percentile overall. Even that eye-catching number has room for growth, as Brooklyn has only got 14 games out of Joe Harris due to two ankle surgeries and has yet to integrate Ben Simmons’ playmaking skills.

    Simmons is one of the top shot creators for others in the NBA, an ideal third star alongside Durant and Irving. The 6’11” point guard averaged 18.6 points per game on assists alone in 2020/21, the 11th-highest mark in the league. With his size and athleticism, he’s also incredibly difficult on the open court at 61.6 percent stop his attempts at transition.

    Even outside of Durant and Irving, that roster is full of shooters that Simmons can put the ball wide.

    Seth Curry and Harris rank #3 and #4 on the NBA’s all-time efficiency leaderboard with 43.9 percent for their careers, while newcomers like Royce O’Neale and TJ Warren are also proven hitters. If sophomore security guard Cam Thomas continues his development, he could be another deadly bucket maker off the bench.

    Lineups with Simmons as the playmaker center surrounded by Durant, Irving and two shooters could set offensive records.

    Of course, there are some chemistry and availability issues with this group, but Brooklyn’s offense is absolutely unstoppable when everyone’s on the ground.

1. Denver Nuggets

5 out of 5

    Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

    Final Ranking 2021-22: No. 6, rating 113.8

    In a year where you could pull 100 different stats to tell as to why Nikola Jokic was the deserved MVP winner, the fact that he single-handedly defeated Denver with nine bad games by Michael Porter Jr. and without Jamal Murray in one Top 6 offensive wore to be the craziest of them all.

    Jokic is the NBA’s best offensive player as no one can match his combination of three-tiered scoring, passing and rebounding.

    Averaging 26.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists and shot marks of 62.9 percent from two, 36.3 percent from three and 83.9 percent from the free throw line over the past two seasons have made Jokic the perfect player around which to build an offensive.

    With Murray and Porter this season, no team will find it easier to hit the ball.

    With Jokic, Murray and Porter in 2020-21, Denver had a 126.6 offensive rating, putting it in the 99th percentile and even beating the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving lineups last year.

    The trade of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope adds a 42.0 percent catch-and-shooter to the backcourt, and newly-signed Bruce Brown can be a pick-and-roll weapon who set a career-high last season Scored 40.4 percent of his threes.

    Add in a potential jump from sophomore guard Bones Hyland, Aaron Gordon jack-of-all-trades and the advantages of first-round picks like Christian Braun and Peyton Watson, and Denver’s now-healthy offense is poised to jump all the way to court 1 of the ranking.

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