The 2030-31 NBA season tips off tomorrow as the Dallas Mavericks look to defend their title. Here are the biggest questions and storylines we'll be following.
1. Will the Knicks finally break the curse?
We are now more than 60 years removed from the Knicks last title, a drought that puts them in implicitly cursed territory, where franchises like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Chiefs and Colorado Rockies dwelled for decades. It seems crazy to imagine a title for the Knicks this year, after three straight first-round exits (and that after a 16-year playoff drought) but there is legit buzz about the Knicks this year.
Chris Paul Jr. is obviously the beating heart of this team and the one who sets their ceiling. He is one of the most exciting players in the NBA embracing chaos and improvisation in a way that probably drives his control-freak father crazy. That tendency to go it alone -- chasing steals and breaking sets to attack a mismatch -- has proven to be a weakness in the postseason but the supporting cast around him is better than ever, removing the pressure for him to try and be everything on every possession.
Third-year big man Francis Chukwudebelu broke out at the end of last season, finally seeming to put it all together and turn his immense potential into production. Chukwudebelu averaged 18.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.3 blocks per game over the last 23 games of the season after entering the starting lineup. But a high ankle sprain kept him out of the playoffs. He's the connective tissue on defense who can help cover for some of Paul's risky defensive gambles and his versatile offensive game adds mismatch problems for opponents.
With Paul Jr. as a dark horse MVP candidate, Chukwudebelu ready to make an All-Star leap and Chris Livingston coming over as a free agent from the Cavaliers, the Knicks have more depth, defensive versatility and on-ball creation than they've had since the days of Patrick Ewing. They won't be the favorites in the Eastern Conference, thanks to the Celtics, but they're in the small group of teams with legit championship aspirations this year.
2. Can Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray do what Karl Malone and John Stockton couldn't?
Jokic and Murray are the Stockton and Malone of their generation -- two incredibly reliable and historically productive players who have leveraged their mind-meld chemistry to elevate their team. Over the past decade they've recorded over 2,000 assists to each other with their symbiotic skill sets. The Nuggets have been top-five in the league in offensive efficiency in every one of those seasons and they've never won fewer than games.
And they've never won a title. In fact, they've never even made an NBA Finals appearance.
For as great as the Murray, Jokic and the Nuggets have also been incredibly unlucky -- catching the tail end of LeBron and the peaking Lakers and rising a few years before Luka Doncic fully took over the league. Malone and Stockton lost to Michael Jordan in the Finals twice, but took considerable battle scars from teams like the Rockets and Sonics before they could even get there. Doncic would likely play the same role for the Nuggets but they often haven't even been able to work their way through Devin Booker's Suns or Bronny James' Lakers to get there.
The odds are long again this year and the window is only open a fraction -- Jokic is 35 and averaged fewer than 30 minutes per game last season, from the first time since 2017, and Murray has clearly lost a step. But the two-man game they run is still one of the league's most unguardable actions and perhaps Mookie Cook is ready to step up and be the reliable third-scorer the Nuggets have long lacked.
3. Who leads the league in assists -- Luka Doncic or Cade Cunningham?
Doncic and Cunningham are the most brilliant passers in the modern NBA, by far, and the numbers certainly back it up. Doncic has led the NBA in assists five times over the past decade, Cunningham has done it three times. In all, the last eight assist titles have gone to one or the other.
At this point in his career, Doncic's passing is more about power and control, using his incredible offensive gravity to bend the action on the floor and create space where he wants it. Cunningham, on the other hand, just turned 29 but still passes with the boundless joy and creativity of an AAU phenom. His endless alley-oop combinations with Kenyon Martin Jr. are the gift that keeps on giving in Orlando.
One of these two is almost certainly going to win the crown again and, frankly, watching the battle is going to be an absolute joy.
4. Who wins the 3-point battle between Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Markelle Fultz?
Remember when the NBA was consumed with the question of whether any of these three players would ever develop a 3-point shot. Fultz's jumper mysteriously disappeared amid injuries early in his career and Simmons and Antetokounmpo were both essentially starting from scratch. Years later, all three have become respectable, if unconventional, outside shooters and the friendly rivalry between the three of them has continued to escalate.
Although he's long been the most willing 3-point shooter of the bunch, Giannis continues to hold the bottom spot in career 3-point percentage -- 30.9 percent. However, by virtue of his head start he holds the lead in career-makes by a wide margin, closing in on 1200 career 3s made. Simmons' reluctance to take 3s was always weird and has only gotten weirder. Over the past decade, he's been a 49 percent 3-point shooter -- making exactly 49 of 100 attempts. For reasons he has consistently refused to elaborate on, he has attempted only and exactly 10 3-pointers in each of the last 10 seasons. The results have vacillated wildly -- 0-of-10 in 2027-28, 8-of-10 in 2024-25. Fultz, on the other hand, has taken the middle road. The 13-year vet enters this season as a career 34 percent 3-point shooter but his consistent career average of 1.4 attempts per game is an enormous outlier in the modern NBA.
For the last four years, they've had a playful contest, each chipping in at the beginning of the season with half of the pot going to the chosen charity of whichever of the three makes the most 3-pointers and the other half going to the chosen charity of whoever shoots the highest percentage. The stakes started low -- just $100 from each player. This year, they've announced an enormous upping of the ante -- $10,000 each. No longer just a friendly bet, the three-man 3-point shooting contest is going to have some serious stakes this year.
5. Is Jayson Tatum ready to hand the Celtics future to Marcus Johnson?
Marcus Johnson was a high-school senior and the top player in his class during the 2025-26 season when Jayson Tatum and the Celtics finally broke through and won their title, knocking off Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns. That campaign cemented Tatum's legacy as a Hall-of-Famer but also represented his peak season. He is still an All-NBA caliber player but he hasn't been able to hit that same gear in the playoffs and they've come up short every year since.
Johnson, now entering his third year with the Celtics, looks ready to help Tatum pick up the slack.
His first highlight reel dropped when he was just a fifth-grader and he's spent so long in the spotlight -- from Garfield High to Duke to the Celtics -- it's hard to remember that he's still just 22. Last season, his first as a full-time starter, Johnson averaged 17.4 points and 5.6 assists per game as a complementary ball-handler, shooting 42 percent on 3-pointers. He's dynamic in the open court but last year showed increasing precision and control in the halfcourt, particularly in pick-and-roll actions with veteran Xavier Tillman.
Tatum has always had versatile shooters around him in Boston but you'd have to go back to his first season with Kemba Walker to find a roster that boasts another dynamic shot creator on the level of Johnson. Brad Stevens, has already said that Johnson will have more offensive responsibility this year and it will be interesting to see how Tatum continues to adjust to less time on the ball. On paper it should be a perfect fit, the kind of wrinkle that will put the Celtics back in the mix in the Eastern Conference. But Tatum is a legend in Boston, one of the most beloved players in franchise history and everyone -- him, Stevens, Johnson and the fans -- knows where this path leads.
Tatum would like to add one more title to his legacy, one more for the city of Boston, and Johnson is the kind of player who can help him do it. But letting Johnson step into that lead role is also a sign that Tatum's days as leader of the Celtics are coming to an end.