2021-22 NBA Preview

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We finally made it. The NBA is back for a full, normal 82-game schedule, fans will pack the stands, the Bubble is ancient history, and we beat Covid. Oh wait, Covid is raging once again across the United States…fuck it, we tried, pack the stadiums, vaccine schmaccine, and blame Joe Biden. While the NBA is on track for its first “normal” season in three years, the lead up to season 75 has been anything but normal. Executives got fired just before training camp, a lot of guys want to get traded but didn’t actually get traded, and the biggest issue at media day wasn’t how much pure muscle every player put on while vacationing in St. Barts, it was several star players’ chance to spread their increasingly uniformed reasons as to why they didn’t get the vaccine (spoiler alert, they did not do a lot of research). Covid is still with us and will play a huge factor in the upcoming season. As of this writing Kyrie Irving is kind of not really part of the Nets organization until he gets the tracker… I mean vaccine. But it’s time to plow past the protocols and into the future. I actually did my research and wanted to get my predictions for the 2021-22 NBA season out in writing so it can inevitably be used against me in the future.

Eastern Conference Standings

1.) Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn enters the 2021-22 season as the prohibitive favorites to win the NBA Championship. The same could have been said about the Nets last season but injuries wreaked havoc on the Golden trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Kyrie Irving is an idiot and is poised to miss home games because he refuses to get vaccinated (among other things). Most Nets fans were probably already penciling Irving in to miss at least 20 games anyways this season; he’s never played more than 72 games in an entire season in his career. You have tho think that a healthy Durant and Harden can shoulder the load left by Irving’s stupid, selfish decision. Brooklyn has enough talent on the edges to keep KD and Harden from wearing down, and should be able to sleepwalk to 55 wins, and if Irving wises up this is a 65+ win team.

2.) Milwaukee Bucks

You would think the reigning champs would be favorites to get back to the NBA Finals, but Giannis and company have their work cut out for them if they want to repeat. The Nets were a Durant big toe away from beating Milwaukee in the second round, and the Bucks will need Giannis to have a few 50 point, 17 rebound games in him in order to keep supremacy over a rejuvenated Eastern Conference. Giannis, Jrue Holiday, and Khris Middleton are about as good of a big three as any other outside of Brooklyn. Nets vs. Bucks could become the next great rivalry in the NBA, and Giannis vs. Durant might be the heavyweight fight for best player in the league. It feels stupid to say Giannis “finally” won a championship in year seven, but we now know is trajectory is to become one of the all time greats, and a second title would put him in the pantheon.

3.) Atlanta Hawks

After a wild season that saw Atlanta implode early in the season, seemingly not get along, and fire their head coach, the Hawks turned things around and made a surprise trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Trae Young is the new big bad in the East, and especially in Madison Square Garden. Atlanta might be the deepest team in the league and are primed to take the next step. Although it took a legendary meltdown from Ben Simmons for Atlanta to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, they have to juice to make it back and challenge the Bucks and Nets in the playoffs. It Young wants to become a true superstar, there’s no better way than to throw your team on your back and beat the best teams in the league. He almost did it last year, the league is officially on notice.

4.) Philadelphia 76ers

Usually when you say “it’s the summer of (insert person’s name)” it’s a good thing. The summer of George is every lazy person’s dream. However, the summer of Ben Simmons was a disaster for everyone involved. It all started when the 6’10” freak athlete passed up an easy game-clinching dunk against the Hawks in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semi Finals. The dunk would have propelled the 76ers into the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since Allen Iverson took them to the NBA Finals in 2001. Instead, Simmons passed, the Sixers lost, and Simmons and the franchise have been at odds ever since. Almost every other franchise has been linked to trade rumors for the former first overall pick, but 76ers executive Daryl Morey has been reluctant to trade the three-time All-Star for anything less than another All-Star caliber player. Even with reports that Simmons might return to the team, there’s no way he ends the season in Philadelphia. The relationship is broken and so is he. Both sides need a fresh start, the issue for the 76ers is that it doesn’t seem like anyone is willing to give up a star player for Simmons. With all the drama circling the City of Brotherly Love, Joel Embiid will likely vie for his first MVP award, but without Simmons Philadelphia becomes a second-tier team in the East.

5.) Miami Heat

Which season was the fluke: the 2020 Finals run in the Bubble, or last year’s first-round sweep at the hands of the Bucks? Most likely, the true Miami Heat identity lies somewhere in the middle. Jimmy Butler will always work hard and continue to be the man, and even through a slightly down season, Bam Adebayo looks to be on the brink of becoming the best two-way center in the league not named Joel Embiid. The addition of Kyle Lowry will bring some stability and take some pressure off of Butler on a nightly basis. To make a return trip to the NBA Finals the Miami Heat need to magic they saw from Tyler Herro in the Bubble. Herro averaged 16 points as a 20-year-old in the 2020 NBA Playoffs in Orlando, but his production and efficiency dipped in his second season. Now the third-year man out of Kentucky will need to get his juice back and become the star that many in NBA circles projected him as after the Bubble. If he does that then the Heat have a real chance to take the third spot in the East away from the Hawks.

6.) Boston Celtics

For whatever reason, the Boston Celtics were one of the hardest teams to rate this preseason. The organization is in a weird transition period after longtime GM Danny Ainge stepped down, and head coach Brad Stevens took over in the front office. Now first time head coach Ime Udoka his work cut out for him after a wildly disappointing season last year. However, the Celtics have two of the best young players in the game in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, one of the best perimeter defenders in Marcus Smart, and a man who has gained dominion over space and time in our universe in Robert Williams. Seems like they have a chance to keeps the on-court product above average. Twelve-time Tatum could be a sneaky MVP pick, but will need to play at an MVP level to give the Celtics any real chance to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals for the fourth time in six years after a first-round exit last season.

7.) Charlotte Hornets

Hum-diddly-dee this is a young, fun, high-flying team that might actually still be a year away from real competition. Last year’s Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball might somehow have a second breakout season in year two. If Ball and MIP candidate Miles Bridges build on their highlight reel relationship, this team might kill Charlotte’s play-by-play guy and yelling enthusiast Eric Collins. Gordon Hayward was kind of almost an All-Star last year and Scary Terry Rozier continues to steadily improve every year. If rookies James Bouknight and Kai Jones can have an early impact, the Hornets have a real chance to rise out of the play-in fray and secure a playoff spot outright. Charlotte might be the the dark horse League Pass team of the year candidate this season.

8.) New York Knicks

Are there any more insufferable fans in the NBA than Knicks fans? Laker fans are close and any fan from Boston is born an asshole, but at least their teams are good. Knicks fans feel good about themselves for the first time since Rudy Giuliani was a “good guy” and now all of a sudden the NBA is whole again? The Knicks’ fall from grace is inevitable after Tom Thibodeau barked his way to a 4th place finish in the East. Julius Randle came out of no where to earn the MIP trophy and an All-NBA Second Team nod, and it all amounted to a devastatingly delicious first round beatdown to new Reggie Miller tier supervillain Trae Young and the upstart Hawks. Good Things in the Garden seem unsustainable. Thibs will run his team into the ground resulting in a catastrophic injury to Randle who led the league in minutes per game last year. Kemba Walker isn’t as big of a point guard upgrade as you would have thought 18 months ago, and RJ Barrett needs to make a significant leap in year three to give New York another playmaker. Signs point to regression and after one season of joy, Knicks fans will be back where they belong, incessantly reminding us how great the Yankees are.

9.) Chicago Bulls

BANB (Bulls Are Not Back) If this was the Eastern Conference of the last 15 years, these Bulls would be a five seed and get crushed in the first round by one of the only four good teams in the first round. Thankfully (although not for Bulls fans) the East is back (EIB) and it will take a lot more than 37 wins to to get into the playoffs. Zach LaVine made his first All-Star team last season, Nikola Vucevic is an automatic 20 and 10, Lonzo Ball is one of the most improved shooters in the league and a good perimeter defender, DeMar DeRozan almost snuck into the All-Star Game last year, and Patrick Williams is one of the most intriguing young two-way players in the NBA. There’s a lot to like about a this revamped Bulls roster, but in the end the defense will be the reason this team only reaches the play-in tournament.

10.) Toronto Raptors

The only people that didn’t have a great time in Tampa last year were the family members of the person who custom makes the Lombardi Trophy, and the Toronto Raptors. The 2019 champs had to play their home games 1,300 miles away from home due to Canada’s Covid policies, and let’s just say the Tompa Bay magic did not rub off on the basketball court. The Raptors finished 27-45, missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and got the hell out of Florida faster than Ron DeSantis allowed Covid to spread. They traded the GROAT (Greatest Raptor Of All Time) Kyle Lowry to the Heat (I guess he didn’t mind Florida), and Pascal Siakam is set to miss the first few weeks of the season after offseason shoulder surgery. The good news is they’re back Toronto, which has to be at least a 10 game difference. Toronto also drafted NBA Twitter’s new favorite rookie Scottie Barnes with the fourth pick in the draft. It’s going to be tough to claw back into the play-in picture without a true center on the roster, but a core built around Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Siakam, and Barnes has potential and I have faith that Nick Nurse will get the most out of his team this year.

11.) Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are coming of a season from hell in 2020-21 in which they lost T.J. Warren for all but four games. They traded away Victor Oladipo as part of the giant James Harden deal and got Caris LeVert in return who averaged 20.7 points per game in 35 games for the Pacers, but missed his first 24 games with the club after undergoing surgery to remove one of his kidneys. They hired then fired JV coach Nate Bjorkgren for attending the Jim Boylen school of how to treat grown profession men like they’re 15 year old varsity wannabes. All of that is behind them, and former Coach of the Year and NBA Champion Rick Carlisle is patrolling the sideline, but I still can’t get all the way there with this team. A starting lineup of Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Warren, LeVert, and Malcolm Brogdon (or Ben Simmons!!!) should easily make the playoffs in the East, but I just don’t see it. Their bench is not very deep and I believe a few other teams in the East can make the leap this season, but for whatever reason I just don’t see it for the Pacers.

12.) Cleveland Cavaliers

Somehow the Cavs have wormed their way into becoming one of the most polarizing teams in the NBA. On one hand some believe that their accumulation of young talent including Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, Lauri Markkanen, and 2021 third overall pick Evan Mobley is enough to get Cleveland in playoff contention this season. I’d like to see it on the court before I pencil them into a play-in spot. The Cavs won 19, 19, and 22 games in the three seasons since LeBron bolted for Los Angeles. The Sexland backcourt has flashed brilliance, but both players have flaws that could keep them from impacting winning. Evan Mobley might be the second coming of Kevin Garnett, but most likely it will be 2023 before he can be the best player on a decent team. Cleveland still has to resolve the Kevin Love situation and lacks much depth behind their starting five. While they might show some promise this season, the Cavs are probably a year away from winning basketball games.

13.) Washington Wizards

Congratulations, you’re the Washington Wizards. Your best player is an anti-vaxxer who doesn’t actually seem to know how the vaccine works, although I’m sure he did his own research before asking reports why vaccinated people still get Covid. Well, it’s because of colossal stupidity shown by you, Bradley Beal, and your brethren in stupidity Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, and Jonathan Isaac. That’s why we are where we are. After that Washington, how are you feeling about the season? Oh, you just traded Russell Westbrook and picks for three role players? Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool, cool, no doubt, no doubt, no doubt. While Beal alone should lift them into play-in territory, the rest of the team doesn’t do much for me, and with the East in a semi-renaissance, the Wizards are a prime candidate to take a tumble down the standings.

14.) Detroit Pistons

#FadeforCade paid off and Detroit landed the number one pick for the first time since selecting Bob Lanier first overall in 1970. If Cade Cunningham flashes star potential early Detroit could have a nice little roster brewing. Isaiah Stewart, a.k.a Beef Stew, is the center of the future, Saddiq Bey was All-Rookie First Team last year, and Killian Hayes is the best prospect from the 2020 draft according to no one except Kevin O’Cantevaluatebasketballprospects. With a handful of promising young talent to fold around Jerami Grant, Detroit probably doesn’t have enough to reach the play-in this season, but another high lottery pick next year could help speed up the rebuilding process.

15.) Orlando Magic

Orlando is going to be back, like historically bad. This year’s fifth overall pick, Jalen Suggs, might as well already be Orlando’s best player. Their other candidate for best player, Jonathan Isaac, missed the last season and a half after tearing his ACL, oh year and he’s a very outspoken anti-vaxxer (even if he claims he’s not). After that it’s a guy more famous for a song named after him (Mo Bamba) than being good at basketball, and Markelle Fultz who shoots free throws like Charles Barkley swings a golf club. It’s time to #ChokeforChet or #HowlowcanyougoforPaolo. Personally, I think they have to draft Suggs’ high school teammate Chet Holmgren and become Minnehaha Academy south.

Western Conference Standings

1.) Los Angeles Lakers

Whoever thought LeBron James would be happy to try to win his 5th championship with Kyle Kuzma and Dennis Schröder as his wingmen haven’t paid attention to How the second greatest player of all-time operates, especially since he arrived in Los Angeles in 2018. He and Magic Johnson’s best friend Rob Pelinka figured out how to get him a third star, and make the 2021-22 Lakers the most top-heavy team in NBA history. Pelinka traded a package that included Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell to Washington for Russell Westbrook and a handful of future second-round picks. Now the Lakers have a three-headed monster to compete with the likes of Brooklyn and Milwaukee. The problem is, they don’t have much else. L.A. is likely to start their three future Hall of Famers alongside Wayne Ellington and Kent Bazemore. Even after signing former stars like DeAndre Jordan, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, and Carmelo Anthony the Lakers are paper thin around LeBron, Anthony Davis, and Westbrook. Those three should be enough to pace the crippled Western Conference, but any injury to one of them could see the Lakers free fall down the standings like they did last season when LeBron and Davis missed huge chunks of time with injuries.

2.) Phoenix Suns

The signs were there that the Suns were about to break out. They went 8-0 in the bubble, Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton were starting to look like real stars, and they traded for the Point God, Chris Paul. We should have known this team was going to dominate, but still we were skeptical. Well, we’re all paying attention now after finishing with the second best record in the West, making the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, and riding that wave all the way to the NBA Finals where they ran into Giannis’ ascent to the pantheon. All the key pieces are back for another shot at the title. Chris Paul is somehow still plugging along at 36, Devin Booker is a gold medalist and the newest member of the Kardashian syndicate, Ayton trying to get a max contact, and Mikal Bridges might be the best three-and D player in the league. Phoenix’s top-four might be the best in the NBA, but the big question is how they deal with a healthy Lakers team. Phoenix beat the Lakers in the first-round last season when Anthony Davis was hobbled all series long. Davis is healthy and Phoenix has depth issues at center behind foul-prone Ayton. The Suns will need everything from Ayton, Paul, Booker, and Bridges if they want to build off of last seasons’ finals appearance.

3.) Utah Jazz

The Jazz had no problems dominating the West in the regular season finishing in first place with a 52-20 record last season. Donovan Mitchell elevated to second-tier superstar while Rudy Gobert won his third DPOY trophy and Mike Conley made his first ever All-Star team. It’s a different story when the Jazz reach the playoffs, losing to the Clippers in six games in the second-round. The Clippers went small, forcing Gobert out of the paint and exploited him on the perimeter. It’s a pivotal year for the Mitchell-Gobert pairing to make it out of the second-round in year five. The Jazz will hammer teams once again in the regular season, but once again falter when they get to the postseason.

4.) Denver Nuggets

If Jamal Murray was healthy and ready to play the Nuggets might contend for the top seed in the West. Sadly, Murray is rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in April, likely keeping him out for most or all of the regular season. The Nuggets hardly missed a beat in Murray’s absence finishing the season 16-7. A lot of that is on the paunchy shoulders of league MVP Nikola Jokic. The Serbian master fully deserved the MVP even if some people think he’s the worst MVP in 50 years (while learning who Dave Cowens was and disrespecting him in the process). The Nuggets also made one of the biggest trades before the deadline dealing Gary Harris, R.J. Hampton, and a future first to Orlando for Aaron Gordon. Michael Porter Jr. broke out in a big way scoring 19 points per game on 44.5 percent from three, earning him a max contract extension this offseason. The Nuggets will be a top-tier team in the West this season, but will need Murray to return for the playoff run if they want to get out of the second round, something they couldn’t do last year.

5.) Dallas Mavericks

I’m not quite as high on the Mavericks as some other basketball sickos, but with Luka Doncic anything is possible. It’s possible that Doncic is the next Larry Bird and the next Magic Johnson at the same time, and will go down as one of the best players in NBA history. But even the greats needed help to get to the finals. Bird had McHale, DJ, Parish, and Tiny Archibald to help him win three championships; Magic had Kareem, Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes, and others to win his five titles; Jordan had Pippen and Rodman. Luka Doncic has… Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr., not exactly a championship roster. Luka proved last year that he can carry this team in the playoffs but they did get bounced in the first round and kinda blew it against the Clippers. To get to the Finals, Luka will need a running mate. Three years ago that could have been Porzingis but after a couple of injury plagued season’s the 7’3″ Latvian is a shell of his former self. A big trade is in order for the Mavs if they want to maximize the Doncic era and get a championship early in the career of their franchise player.

6.) Portland Trail Blazers

After Damian Lillard’s mini-summer of discontent in which he floated the idea that he might want out of Portland at some point, the Blazers are back with a new head coach in Chauncey Billups and roughly the same roster. They added Larry Nance Jr. to help improve the defense, and Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum are back and healthy. Lillard and McCollum alone give this team a playoff floor, and Nurkic, Nance, Norman Powell, and Robert Covington give the Blazers as solid a top six as you can find in the mid-tiers in either conference. The bench is not deep with Anfernee Simmons and Nassir Little set to see big minutes. We’ll see if Billups can get more out of this unit than former longtime head coach Terry Stotts, but the defense will probably be a problem once again. This team lives and dies with Damian Lillard’s 35-foot threes; if he goes full Super Saiyan they could surprise and make it back to the West Finals, but it he puts together his usual All-NBA Second Team season, it will be hard to imagine the Blazers cracking the top four ahead of the Nuggets, Suns, Jazz, or Lakers.

7.) Golden State Warriors

Thank god Andrew Wiggins finally got vaccinated, now the Warriors can focus on winning a championship. Seriously though, can the Warriors win the championship this season, I honestly don’t know. Steph Curry went nuts last year, Draymond Green was an All-NBA defender, and Wiggins at least looked like he was trying, and still the Warriors finished 8th in the West and crashed out of the play-in tournament. Klay Thompson should be back at some point this season after missing the last two with a ruptured Achilles and torn ACL. Last year’s number two overall pick James Wiseman is working back from a knee injury that cost him the second half of his rookie season. Rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody might be good, or they might be horrible, nobody knows anything with this team. If everything hits, Golden State has the raw talent to compete in the West, but if Thompson is rusty and the youngsters don’t come along then it could be another fight for a play-in spot and another year of Steph Curry’s prime wasted.

8.) Los Angeles Clippers

After the Warriors this might be the hardest team in the West to rank. Kawhi is probably not playing this season. Paul George is good enough to carry the Clippers to the playoffs, but who else will step up, Terance Mann? Reggie Jackson? Is it finally Amir Coffey time? They just don’t have to fire-power to compete with the top-tier teams, and if things start to go really wrong they might even start tanking to get PG and Kawhi a third star to make another run next season.

9.) Minnesota Timberwolves

And now e come to my beloved Timberwolves and I truly don’t know where to go with this team. My heart says KAT has a dark horse MVP season, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell play at a borderline All-Star level, Jaden McDaniels becomes the next Mikal Bridges, and Chris Finch is the second coming of Gregg Popovich leading the Wolves to the 5th seed and a first round upset of the Denver Nuggets. Unfortunately, my head and history say that KAT will put up empty stats, Edwards will regress, DLo will implode Finch will lose the locker room by Valentine’s Day, KAT will ask for a trade, and it will be time for yet another rebuild. The Wolves have the most talent since Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns were on speaking terms, they seem to actually like each other, and Patrick Beverly has given them a defensive identity. But they’re the ultimate “I’ll believe it when I actually see it” team, so I think ninth might be a little optimistic, I can’t help but be optimistic about this particular group of players. We Minnesota sports fans need a win wince the Lynx are four years removed from their last championship, and a Timberwolves tam that flirts with the playoffs might be the team to do it. I’m ready to get hurt again.

10.) Memphis Grizzlies

Out of all 30 teams I’m predicting I am the most confidant that I have completely underrating the Memphis Grizzlies. Ja Morant led the team into the play-in tournament, won both games and earned a playoff spot where they lost in five games in the first-round to the Utah Jazz. All of this happened with Jaren Jackson Jr. playing just 11 games due to injury, although he did play in the playoffs against Utah. JJJ is back and ready to go this season, so why have I downgraded them from their 9th place finish last season? Honestly it comes down to my blind faith that the Timberwolves will be as good as I hope they are for the first time since 2004, and my unwillingness to bet against Steph Curry and a team that made the Western Conference Finals last year in the Clippers. In the real world the Grizzlies should probably be 7th or 8th, but in my fantasy land they end up 10.

11.) New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have a mountain of a problem on their hands, and it just so happens he’s one of the best young players the NBA has ever seen. His name is Zion Williamson. How is a 21-year-old, baby Shaq, All-Star phenom a problem for the Pelicans? Well it was revealed that Williamson, listed at 6’7″, 284-pounds, fractured his foot in the offseason and required surgery. It’s alarming because the gigantic third-year player already has a troubling injury history for a man his size. On top of the injury, there are rumblings that the budding superstar is growing increasingly unhappy in the Big Easy and could bolt for a big market as soon as possible. None of this is good news for a Pelicans team that disappointed last year and made a few moves that didn’t really change their trajectory for the season. If Zion is healthy and they lean into the point-Zion game plan that worked in the second half of last season they have the top-line talent to compete for the 8th seed. If not, this season could spiral into a total disaster for first year hed coach Willie Green.

12.) Sacramento Kings

The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and I don’t think they break the streak this season. De’Aaron Fox is arguably the best player in the league who has yet to make an All-Star team; Tyrese Haliburton was a steal in last year’s draft; Richaun Holmes and Harrison Barnes had career years, and Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III are talented (relatively) young players. I just don’t think it’s enough top-line talent to compete with the likes of Golden State, Memphis, Minnesota, and the Clippers for a play-in spot. Things are beginning to look up for the Kangz, but they might have to wait for next year to end the playoff drought.

13.) San Antonio Spurs

Like this year’s New England Patriots team that has started the NFL season an uninspiring 2-3, the San Antonio Spurs are officially removed from their 15 year dynasty. For the first time in the Gregg Popovich era, this team might be really bad not on purpose. It’s tough to see a scenario where a core of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Olympian Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell gets anywhere near the playoffs. Some are indicating that this might be Pop’s last season in San Antonio, and if that happens this becomes a full on rebuild.

14.) Houston Rockets

Last season the Rockets were one of the saddest teams in the league. James Harden decided he was over it and they eventually traded him for a lot of future picks and almost nothing tangible in 2021. However, with one draft pick it seems like Houston is somehow one of the more interesting young teams in the league. Houston took Jalen Green with the second pick in the NBA Draft, and traded for the 16th pick and leading candidate for “rookie of the year or out of the league in two seasons” Alperen Sengün. Green might put up 25 a night in his rookie year, but the Rockets are thin as hell behind him. 2020-21 All-Rookie First Teamer Jae’Sean Tate is a nice piece. Christian Wood looks to build on a promising last few years, and Kevin Porter Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr. are people who are horrible at basketball. John Wall is looking for a trade, but doesn’t fit this team’s rebuilding timeline anyway. It’s a weird mix of youngsters that might not amount to anything, but if most hit Houston could be a fun team to keep your eye on in 2026.

15.) Oklahoma City Thunder

If not for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the Thunder would be far and away the worst team in the association, and they still might be with him. The team that was most obviously tanking at the end of last season got a bit unlucky in the draft lottery nabbing the sixth pick and drafting Josh Giddey. Outside of that you have Lu Dort, Poku, and a whole lot of guys that won’t be on the roster in six months. OKC is probably already tanking for the 2022 draft.

NBA Finals

Brooklyn Nets 4 Los Angeles Lakers 3

Finals MVP: Kevin Durant

Even if Kyrie Irving is dumb enough to sit out the entire season (and maybe retire) because he doesn’t understand science and wants to make a phony statement, I still think Durant and Harden are enough to drag the Nets to a championship. Durant went to-to-toe and probably outplayed Giannis in the second round slugfest last season, doing it mostly without Irving and Harden. The Lakers will prove a daunting challenge but ultimately I believe Kevin Durant is the best player in the league, Harden is probably like 6th and their depth with outplay the Lakers role players to give the Nets their first title and the first basketball championship in New York since 1973. Durant puts up an absurd line of something like 37 points, nine rebounds, and six assists per game on 55/45/95 shooting in a seven game classic to win Finals MVP.

Awards

Executive of the Year

Sean Marks, Brooklyn Nets

I reserve the right to amend this pick if and when Ben Simmons gets moved. In a season where we haven’t seen any franchise altering moves (Russell Westbrook to LA not withstanding) it’s tough to decide which executive has done the best job. If the Warriors trade for Simmons and they contend for a championship, Bob Myers will get a lot of consideration. Same goes for any other contender that makes a big league swing at a star player. For now I see Marks winning as a culmination of previous moves and a championship will cement this pick. If he gets Kyrie to get the vaccine just hand it to him the minute the tracker goes into Kyrie’s arm.

Coach of the Year

Nate McMillan, Atlanta Hawks

Is a play-in game appearance for the Minnesota Timberwolves enough to get Chris Finch in the conversation? Finch should win if he wins 35 games with the worst run franchise in sports, but realistically I’ll go with Atlanta’s Nate McMillan. Nate the great took a seemingly broken Hawks team and led them to a 27-11 record after he took over for Lloyd Pierce, and led them to the Eastern Conference Finals where Atlanta took Milwaukee to six games. If the Hawks can pick up where they left off, McMillan should be a shoe-in for the award.

Most Improved Player

Darius Garland

For the better part of the 21st century, the NBA’s MIP is usually given to a good young player who raises their game to borderline All-Star/All-Pro territory (and some guy named Bobby Simmons in 2004-05). This year that player is Cleveland Cavaliers third-year point guard Darius Garland.

6th Man of the Year

Jordan Poole

This all depends on how quickly Klay Thompson returns from his two-year injury odyssey as Poole will start at shooting guard in the five-time All-Star’s absence. He’s lighting it up in the preseason, and like Kenny Wu becoming an honorary Bash Brother in D2: The Mighty Ducks, Jordan Poole is the unofficial third Splash Brother this season.

Rookie of the Year

Cade Cunningham

This could be the most exciting crop of rookies as a whole since LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in 2003. All of the top-five picks have a chance to win Rookie of the Year and become potential star players in the NBA. Jalen Green might score 25 points per game in Houston, Jalen Suggs might be the best player on the Magic already, Scottie Barnes looks like a two-way point-forward menace in Toronto, and Evan Mobley might be the next Kevin Garnett. However, the consensus number one overall pick, Cade Cunningham, is my pick for Rookie of the Year. Cade has a chance to become one of the most exciting you players in recent memory in Detroit. He can play point, play on the wing, he’s a good defender, and can shoot lights out on or off the ball. He might not score as much as Green, or make as many highlight plays as Barnes and Mobley, but Cunningham is the best all-around rookie and with some talent around him could make some noise in Detroit. His stats will probably look something like LaMelo Ball’s rookie season last year, something like 17 points, five rebounds, and five assists should get it done.

Defensive Player of the Year

Joel Embiid

With or without Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid is one of the best post defenders in the NBA. He’s going to have to do even more if and when Simmons gets traded, and the narrative is ripe for him to pick up some major hardware if he keeps Philadelphia in the hunt in the East with a top-five defense, he should garner plenty of consideration for both DPOY and MVP. He just has to stay healthy and play at least 65 games for the firs time in his career.

MVP

Kevin Durant

Like I mentioned before, I believe Durant is the best overall player in the NBA. He was the leader for the award last season until he got injured, then came back and was one shoe size away from sending the eventual champion Bucks packing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semis. Kyrie Irving isn’t playing because all of the news he consumes begins with “BANNED ON FACEBOOK!!!” so Durant will have to shoulder even more of the load. His biggest competition is Luka Doncic who might struggle to win 50 games, Joel Embiid who is missing his partner in crime, and Giannis who beat Durant in the playoffs, won the championship and Finals MVP with a dominant performance. Durant wins his second MVP, third championship, and third Finals MVP to cement his place as a top-10 player ever.

All-NBA First Team

Guard: Luka Doncic

Guard: Trae Young

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Forward: Kevin Durant

Center: Joel Embiid

The big surprise here is Trae Young in the second guard spot ahed of more conventional selections like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, or James Harden. The 2018 draft night trade that sent the third pick to Dallas and the fifth pick to Atlanta finally fully takes over the league four years later. Trae Young’s ascent to All-NBA First-Team will finally shut up incessant criticism of the Hawks for Giving up Doncic at three to draft Trae Young with the fifth pick. At this point Luka, Durant, and Giannis all seem like first team mainstays with Embiid taking the first team spot away from last year’s MVP Nikola Jokic.

All-NBA Second Team

Guard: Steph Curry

Guard: James Harden

Forward: LeBron James

Forward: Anthony Davis

Center: Nikola Jokic

No surprises on the second team. LeBron James keeps plugging along in year 19. Anthony Davis returns rom an injury plagued season to help carry the load alongside James to lead the Lakers to the number one seed in the West. James Harden picks up the slack with Kyrie Irving set to miss Brooklyn’s home games this season. Jokic, last year’s MVP, slides down to the second team and will miss Jamal Murray for most or all of the regular season. I’m not necessarily predicting Steph to have a down season, I mostly just think Trae Young is going to erupt and usurp Steph for the second spot on the first team.

All-NBA Third Team

Guard: Damian Lillard

Guard: Donovan Mitchell

Forward: Jayson Tatum

Forward: Jimmy Butler

Center: Karl-Anthony Towns

I can hear Leigh Ellis now yelling Hoooooooooomer!!!! How do you have KAT on the third team, he’s so disappointing? Fair, Bam, Gobert, and Ayton all have a better chance to be the third-team center, but I believe KAT will have a resurgent season and the Wolves will surprise people with an appearance in the play-in tournament. The other surprise here is Donovan Mitchell over other guards like Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and a dozen other guards. Mitchell is the leader of a Jazz team that could easily repeat as the top seed out West. The fifth-year guard would have made All-NBA last year if not for a late season injury. The rest of the entries make sense from a narrative and talent standpoint. Tatum, Butler, and Lillard are all amongst the best 15 players in the league and barring injury should show up on an All-NBA team for the next few years. Biggest snubs include: Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Bradley Beal, Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Russell Westbrook, Jaylen Brown, Ben Simmons, Bam, and of course Anthony Edwards.

All-Defensive First Team

Guard: Jrue Holliday

Guard: Matisse Thybulle

Forward: Giannis Antetokoumpo

Forward: Anthony Davis

Center: Joel Embiid

I left Ben Simmons off the first team because I don’t know where he’s going to play this season. It’s hard to see him in Sacramento anchoring a good defense. Holiday and Thybulle are two of the best perimeter defenders in the league, with Giannis, Davis, and Embiid the class of the big men. I left Gobert off the first team because I feel like the Jazz take a small step back and people begin to have Stiffle Tower fatigue.

All-Defensive Second Team

Guard: Lu Dort

Guard: Ben Simmons

Forward: OG Anunoby

Forward: Draymond Green

Center: Bam Adebayo

Don’t worry too much, I’m not dumb enough to think Ben Simmons is going to fall past the second team. Lu Dort is a fan favorite, OG is an MIP candidate, and Draymond and Bam are arguably the two most versatile defensive forwards in the game.

All-Rookie First Team

Guard: Jalen Green

Guard: Jalen Suggs

Guard: Cade Cunningham

Forward: Scottie Barnes

Center: Evan Mobley

The first team is pretty cut and try as the top five picks are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the draft class. Cade, Scottie, Evan, and the Jalens should all either start or play big minutes off the bench for their teams right away. Green might score 25 points per game right out of the gate. Cunningham and Suggs should establish themselves as reliable team leaders immediately, and Barnes and Mobley have great two-way upside.

All-Rookie Second Team

Guard: Davion Mitchell

Forward: Alperen Sengun

Forward: Corey Kispert

Forward: Franz Wagner

Forward: Luka Garza

The second team is way more interesting to parse than the first team. After the top five this class kind of falls off a cliff. A lot of people that aren’t me love Sengün and think he can contribute right away, Davion Mitchell is a lockdown defender already, Kispert is the best shooter in the draft class, and I’ll just take a chance on Wagner and Garza getting enough playing time to shine on their shitty teams.

Again, when these predictions are all wrong, who gives a shit, I’m just some guy on the internet. If you really want to get mad go yell at John Hollinger.

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