What’s Next For the Play-In Losers


Ari Shemesh, Reporter

The wait is finally over, and the NBA play-in is officially over. The first round of the playoffs is underway and basketball fans all over the world are excitedly waiting to see the results.

In the draft, the Thunder drafted Chet Holmgren with the second overall pick, but unfortunately, he injured his leg before he got the chance to play his professional debut. Due to this unfortunate injury, the Thunder were left with a very similar roster as their previous season. Fortunately, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took massive steps on improving his skill in the off-season, and proved that he was capable of leading the Thunder’s young roster. By the end of the season, he averaged 31.5 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game, and 1.6 steals per game. Additionally, there were other players on the team that made improvements and acted as great second scoring options throughout the season, including Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, and Luguentz Dort, who all scored 13+ points per game. The Thunder finished this season with a record of 40-42, which made them the 10 seed in the Western Conference. Going into this off-season, they have their first round pick, and two second round picks, with the twelfth overall pick. These picks will hopefully give the Thunder another player who can efficiently shoot the basketball or an all around forward, as these are two types of players that they needed the most this season. Additionally, the Thunder have five picks in the 2024 draft, and four of them are first round picks. These give Oklahoma City a lot of options, as they can either save them and fill out their roster within the next two years, or trade picks for experienced players, which will both make the Thunder playoff contenders. 

The other team that was beaten in the play-in out of the Western Conference was the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans started this season off incredibly strongly, with Zion Williamson finally back and other stars coming off of great seasons in 2021 and 2022. In the that he played, Zion played very well, averaging 26 points per game, 7 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game, and 1.1 steals per game. Additionally, Brandon Ingram averaged 24.7 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, and 5.8 assists per game and C.J. McCollum averaged 20.9 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, 5.7 assists per game, and 1 steal per game. Led by these three stars, the Pelicans were the 1 seed in the Western Conference for a portion of the season. Unfortunately, injuries held them back, as Ingram only played 45 games and Williamson only played 29. In the end, the Pelicans finished with a record of 42-39, which made them the 9 seed in the West. The Pelicans do not currently have any players with contracts that expire this year, which although is a good thing for the most part, it is very important that Williamson remains healthy for at least the majority of the coming seasons, as his contract ends at the end of the 2026-2027 season. The Pelicans also do not have as many picks in the coming seasons as the Thunder. They currently only have 1 first round pick for this year, which means that it is even more important for the roster to remain healthy next year, as it will not change much. The next year, however, they have 3 first round picks, which, once again, can be used on fresh, young players, or can be traded for players who have already proven their talents on the professional level. 

The Toronto Raptors were the first team to get eliminated out of the Eastern Conference. Not much changed for them over the previous off-season, but they did have players that took big steps in the right direction, specifically, Pascal Siakam, the all-star, who averaged 24.2 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game, and 5.8 steals per game. Siakam had a very nice supporting cast in Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., O.G. Anunoby, and last year’s Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, all players who averaged 15+ points per game. Unlike the Thunder and Pelicans, they did not suffer many injuries over the course of the season. The Raptors finished the season with a 41-41 record, which was good enough to make them the 9 seed in the Eastern Conference. One major issue that they need to address this off-season is signing a new head coach, as they recently fired Nick Nurse, who coached the team when it won its only championship in franchise history. Another problem that they need to address is the issue with their free agents, as both VanVleet and Trent have expiring contracts, although they have a player option and may decide to stay for another season. Unlike the Thunder and Pelicans, the Raptors do not have much in terms of picks over the coming seasons. For the upcoming draft, the Raptors only have one first round pick, and they do not have another until the 2025 draft.

Although the Chicago Bulls had a very successful start in the 2021-2022 season, everything went downhill when Lonzo Ball injured his knee, and that carried over into this season. Both Bulls All-Stars from last season played very well this season as well. Zach Lavine averaged 24.8 points per game, 4.5 rebounds per game, 4.2 assists per game, and 1 steal per game, while Demar DeRozan averaged 24.5 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game, 5.1 assists per game, and 1 steal per game. Players such as Coby White and Patrick Williams both made improvements over the previous off-season, and although the stats may not show it, they both made a major impact. Both players play excellent defense, and although they both score well, White was the player that made the most improvements on his skills over the off-season, as his ball-handling skills and three point shooting improved. The Bulls finished with a record of 40-42, which made them the 10 seed in the East. Over the course of this off-season, the Bulls need to make a lot of changes if they want to be contenders next year. First of all, they need to make sure that they do not resign Nikola Vucevic. Although he is a solid player, averaging 17.6 points per game and 11 rebounds per game, he is not what the Bulls need in the center position. His shooting efficiency is not what many fans expected from him when the Bulls traded for him, and his defense was almost non-existent. Additionally, although he averages 11 rebounds per game, he seems to never be under the rim, leaving all of the rebounds to the other team. Before the season started, the Bulls signed Andre Drummond, which was a very smart decision, as he fit the requirements of what they needed. Unfortunately, he was only given 13 minutes per game, while Vucevic was given 34 minutes per game. Additionally, they need to find another player with good court vision to replace Ball, at least for the next season, as he is having another surgery and will most likely miss the majority of the next year. Finally, they need to possibly look at other coaches. Their current head coach is Billy Donovan, and although he seems to have a solid offensive strategy, the Bulls tend to blow their leads in the second halves of games because he does not make enough adjustments. Unfortunately, the Bulls do not have any good picks for the coming draft, so they will need to pick up a new player with the money they will hopefully acquire by not resigning Vucevic.