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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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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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|