The 2021-22 NBA season is upon us and it’s time to get out the crystal ball and look ahead to what the 75th Anniversary season will have in store.
10 of Sporting News’ NBA writers and editors weighed in with their season predictions.
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For individual awards, voters were asked to submit a top three for each award with five points awarded for a first-place vote, three points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote.
Let’s dive into the results:
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo (39 points)
Will Giannis Antetokounmpo ride the momentum from the NBA Finals to a third MVP award in four seasons? Our staff certainly thinks so. More than half of our voters picked the Greek Freak while no other player received more than a single first-place vote. Should he bring home the hardware, Antetokounmpo would become just the 10th player to win three MVPs. And to think, he doesn’t turn 27 until December. It’s also worth noting that none of our voters picked LeBron James to finish in the top three.
Also receiving votes (points): Stephen Curry (15), Kevin Durant (13), Nikola Jokic (12), Luka Doncic (8), James Harden (2), Joel Embiid (1)
Rookie of the Year: Jalen Green (36)
Typically, Rookie of the Year isn’t that hard to peg. Whoever puts up the biggest stats wins the award, regardless of team record or role. Our panel likes Jalen Green who will have the brightest green light of any rookie on a Rockets team firmly in full rebuild mode.
Also receiving votes: Cade Cunningham (28), Jalen Suggs (14), Scottie Barnes (7), Josh Giddey (4), Alperen Sengun (1)
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Sixth Man of the Year: Patty Mills (26)
The situation in Brooklyn is … tenuous! When Mills signed with the Nets, after a decade in San Antonio, most figured he would slot in as the perfect veteran third guard off the bench behind James Harden and Kyrie Irving. With Irving’s status in limbo, the stage is set for a potential career year for Mills, who suddenly looks like the single most important free-agent signing in the league.
Also receiving votes: Jordan Clarkson (14), Tyler Herro (10), Tyrese Haliburton (8), Kevin Huerter (7), Danilo Gallinari (5), Coby White (5), Bobby Portis (5), Jalen Brunson (4), Joe Ingles (3), Montrezl Harrell (3)
Coach of the Year: Steve Nash (27)
It takes a special even-keeled temperament to navigate Brooklyn’s locker room and just as Nash pulled the strings as a Hall of Fame point guard, coaching the Nets will require a similarly delicate touch. It’s championship or bust in Brooklyn, and yet Nash’s job requires far more than simply rolling out the ball to let Durant, Harden and Irving cook. Throw in the departures of lead assistants Mike D’Antoni and Ime Udoka and the second-year coach will have his hands full.
Also receiving votes: Eric Spoelstra (25), Michael Malone (15), Monty Williams (9), Steve Kerr (5), Ime Udoka (4), Tyronn Lue (4), Billy Donovan (1)
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NBA Playoff Predictions
Eastern Conference playoff teams
1. Brooklyn Nets
2. Milwaukee Bucks
3. Miami Heat
4. Boston Celtics
5. Philadelphia 76ers
6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Indiana Pacers*
8. New York Knicks*
9. Chicago Bulls*
10. Toronto Raptors*
— Sure, Kyrie Irving’s situation remains up in the air. But even without Irving, Brooklyn struts into every game with perhaps two of the five most devastating offensive playmakers of all-time witih Kevin Durant and James Harden. Brooklyn also has strong depth in the frontcourt with Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, James Johnson and Nic Claxton not to mention long-time Spurs bench ace Patty Mills.
— Will the Bucks take it easy in the regular season following last year’s run to the title? Will they go after the No. 1 seed in order to secure home court for a potential Game 7 showdown with the Nets? Even if Milwaukee takes its foot of the gas, it’s hard to imagine a scenario outside of injuries in which the Bucks finish any worse than third in the regular season.
— While its a sharp drop-off following the Brooklyn-Milwaukee duo, our staff is very high on Miami with seven of our 10 voters picking them to finish third in the conference. If you’re looking for a team to crash a potential Nets-Bucks ECF showdown, this is it. A major question looming large: which version of Tyler Herro shows up?
— The 76ers are perhaps the single-biggest wild card. Remember, it was the 76ers — not the Bucks or Nets — who finished with the East’s best record last season. Will Ben Simmons play? What will Philly get back if they trade him? Can Joel Embiid stay healthy? Lots of unknowns for the Sixers.
— Our staff is all over the place with the Hawks. Half see the Eastern Conference Finals run as a sign of things to come. The other half sees it as a mirage and chalks it up to an odd, somewhat fluky season. Case in point? We have them finishing sixth in the East yet they begin the year sixth in our overall league-wide power rankings. Insert giant shrug emoji.
Western Conference playoff teams
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Phoenix Suns
3. Utah Jazz
4. Denver Nuggets
5. LA Clippers
6. Dallas Mavericks
7. Golden State Warriors*
8. Portland Trail Blazers*
9. Memphis Grizzlies*
10. New Orleans Pelicans*
— The Lakers are prohibitive favorites to win the West. Does that mean they’ll finish with the best record? That 0-6 preseason record would suggest a resounding no. But LeBron James feels as motivated as ever to prove skeptics wrong entering his 19th season. And for all of his warts, Russell Westbrook should take some considerable pressure of James and Anthony Davis.
— Like the Hawks in the Eastern Conference, the Suns are recieving the most “was that real?” skepticism. Can Chris Paul stay healthy? Will Devin Booker leap from All-Star to All-NBA performer? Will the Suns pay Deandre Ayton? Can Mikal Bridges — who the Suns did pay — emerge as a more consistent high-level contributor? Will JaVale McGee fix the glaring frontcourt hole off the bench?
— There isn’t a team with a larger ceiling to floor gap than the Golden State Warriors. Could they miss the playoffs? Yes. Could they emerge as a legitimate contender to win the West? Absolutely. So much is riding on Klay Thompson who has not played in two full seasons. Not only is he recovering from a torn Achilles, but also a torn ACL dating back to the 2019 NBA Finals. What’s stopping teams from loading up on Stephen Curry and feeding him a consistent diet of double and triple teams?
— This feels like a significant season for the New Orleans Pelicans who are once again struggling to piece together a roster around a generational talent. The season hasn’t even started and yet the Pelicans season is already starting to slip given the surprise injury to Zion Williamson who will miss the start of the season as he continues to recover from foot surgery.
Eastern Conference champion: Brooklyn Nets
Nine members of our 10-person panel picked the Nets to come out of the East with a lone holdout riding with the defending champion Bucks. Regardless of last year’s title and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ascent to legendary status, the prevailing sentiment is that the Nets simply have too much talent.
But as the saying goes, the best ability is availability and the Nets are ultimately banking on their star trio seeing the floor together come playoff time. The Bucks team that hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy is a better and more seasoned team than the one that literally inched by a banged-up Brooklyn squad in last year’s playoffs.
Votes: Brooklyn 9, Milwaukee 1
Western Conference champion: Los Angeles Lakers
Welcome to the wild, wild West. The Suns may have emerged victorious from last year’s battle of attrition but injuries to Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray, Klay Thompson and Mike Conley Jr. cast doubt on Phoenix’s lasting claim to the conference throne.
Though more than half of our panel picked the Lakers to win the West, the prudent advice is to take a wait-and-see approach. What if Leonard comes back and the Clippers once again look like the class of the conference? What if Thompson’s return reignites Golden State? What if Murray bounces back from a torn ACL to give Denver the NBA’s most complete team? The Lakers may be favorites amid the uncertainty, but health, an aging roster and the integration of Russell Westbrook make them far from a lock.
Votes: Lakers 6, Suns 2, Nuggets 1, Clippers 1
NBA Champion: Brooklyn Nets
- Miami LeBron vs Oklahoma City KD in 2012.
- Cleveland LeBron vs Golden State KD in 2017 and 2018.
- L.A. LeBron vs Brooklyn KD in 2022?
A fourth installment of the game’s two iconic superstars playing in the league’s two biggest markets feels like the summer blockbuster event of the year in waiting. With apologies to the Bucks, that’s how we see this season playing out with the majority of our panel picking the Nets to win it all.
Should LeBron and KD face off a fourth time, there’s a legitimate case to be made that it becomes the NBA’s all-time greatest individual rivalry, supplanting the likes of Magic vs Bird or Russell vs Wilt. A Nets win over the Lakers would also give Durant a 3-1 edge over LeBron on the biggest stage, opening the door for countless hours of unanswerable and unhinged debate.
Votes: Nets 8, Lakers 1, Bucks 1
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Five bold predictions
Going chalk is nearly as fun as calling your shot with a bold prediction. However unlikely, here are five bold predictions to look out for this season.
1) The Trail Blazers’ league-leading playoff streak comes to an end.
Last season, the Blazers just slid by to earn the West’s sixth seed and avoid the Play-In Tournament. With the amount of teams in the West that got better, namely the Lakers and Warriors, I don’t know if Portland did enough this offseason to be a top-six seed. This is notable seeing how the Blazers haven’t missed the playoffs since 2013; but in 2022, I see them finishing between eighth and tenth and bowing out in the Play-In. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are great, but they won’t be enough this year.
— Gil McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
2) The Miami Heat will finish with the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference
While most of the noise in the East surrounds the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, the Miami Heat have quietly put together a roster capable of taking it to any team on any given night.
The additions of Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris, alongside Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro give the Heat one of the strongest seven-man rotations and a great shot at regular season success. Whether this will result in a deep playoff run is another thing, but the Heat are going to win a lot of games this season.
— Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane)
3) Zion Williamson will lead the NBA in scoring
Zion came close last season, finishing eighth in scoring with an average of 27.0 points on — wait for it — 17.0 shots per game. He’s already the most dominant paint scorer in the league and he says he worked on expanding his range this offseason, which should terrify the rest of the league. He obviously needs to stay healthy, but a slightly better version of the Zion we saw last season could be enough to take home the scoring title.
— Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
4) The Lakers will lead the NBA in technical fouls
Offseason additions Dwight Howard (16) and Russell Westbrook (14) were among the league leaders in technical fouls last season. LeBron James is never shy about voicing his complaints, and neither is Frank Vogel. Do you really think Rajon Rondo won’t get T’d up a few times? Yeah, fans sitting inside of the STAPLES Center will be hearing a lot of whistles.
— Jordan Greer (@jordangreer42)
5) Devin Booker will win 2021-22 NBA MVP
Let’s turn up the heat a little bit. Give me the 24-year-old Booker to win this year’s MVP award.
Coming off of a remarkable postseason debut, Booker will be hungry to try and return to the NBA Finals stage and all signs point to his continued improvement as one of the best young players in the league. If the Suns earn the best record in the Western Conference and Booker plays at the same level we saw in the 2021 playoffs, he’ll certainly receive consideration. The question would then become: can he convince voters he deserves the award more than his backcourt mate Chris Paul?
— Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Odds to win 2021-22 NBA championship
Courtesy of FanDuel
|Los Angeles Lakers||+400|
|Golden State Warriors||+1200|
|Portland Trail Blazers||+8000|
|New Orleans Pelicans||+10000|
|New York Knicks||+10000|
|San Antonio Spurs||+24000|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||+25000|