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2021-22 NBA Season Predictions and Expectations: Playoff Projections, Award Winners, Dark Horses

The NBA season is finally upon us; and for the first time since 2019, we are expected to get the full 82 game experience. This 75th anniversary season looks to be one of the best in a long time, with elite talent and exciting players spread across all 30 rosters, and some phenomenal competition.

Of course with any NBA season it's impossible to predict exact outcomes, as too many factors play into it. There's no way of knowing who gets injured, which players start to regress, or who takes that next leap, but I can say with confidence that I considered all angles and possibilities when making these projections.

NBA Seeding Predictions

Eastern Conference

1. Brooklyn Nets

2. Milwaukee Bucks

3. Atlanta Hawks

4. Philadelphia 76ers

5. Miami Heat

6. Boston Celtics

7. Chicago Bulls*

8. New York Knicks*

9. Indiana Pacers*

10. Toronto Raptors*

11. Washington Wizards

12. Charlotte Hornets

13. Cleveland Cavaliers

14. Detroit Pistons

15. Orlando Magic

*play-in tournament

- Even with Kyrie Irving potentially not playing the entire season, I still believe the Nets are the best team in the East. James Harden returning to more of an offensive floor raiser role for the regular season with one of the best off-ball superstars in league history in Kevin Durant playing off him is certainly a recipe for an all-time great offense. They added some more depth on both ends of the floor to really round out their roster, and if they stay healthy there's no doubt in my mind they secure the top seed.

- The Atlanta Hawks played at a 58-24 pace after hiring Nate McMillan as the coach, and followed that up with a near NBA Finals appearance. With a full offseason to really figure out which system works best on both ends of the floor, and potential leaps by their young stars, I feel very confident in saying there's a scenario where the Hawks secure the #1 seed.

- The 76ers are always hard to project, but now more than ever with the whole Ben Simmons situation. Who knows if he gets traded, or what that trade would even look like, but he's still a very valuable player, especially on the defensive end. The real determining factor in where they land come playoff time is how many games Joel Embiid ends up playing, and I'm saying it's enough to earn them home court advantage.

- The Bulls are easily one of the most exciting teams going into next season. With amazing preseason performances across the board, expectations for this team are pretty high. Although I love the way their offense is constructed, I just can't wrap my head around that defense, even with Caruso and Ball on the point of attack.

Western Conference

1. Utah Jazz

2. Phoenix Suns

3. Golden State Warriors

4. Denver Nuggets

5. Los Angeles Lakers

6. Portland Trail Blazers

7. Dallas Mavericks*

8. Los Angeles Clippers*

9. Memphis Grizzlies*

10. Minnesota Timberwolves*

11. New Orleans Pelicans

12. San Antonio Spurs

13. Sacramento Kings

14. Houston Rockets

15. Oklahoma City Thunder

*play-in tournament

- I feel like people understate how prone to explosion this Golden State team is. In games that Steph Curry played in last season the Warriors played at a 48-34 pace; with a strong offseason, the return of Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole seemingly taking a leap, what's preventing them from winning upwards of 54 games?

- The Nuggets are more than capable of securing that #1 seed behind the anomaly that is Nikola Jokic. Even after Murray went out with injury they remained one of the best offensive teams in the NBA, and if MPJ takes that next step the league is in trouble. I went with a safer pick at #4, but I don't see them dropping below home court advantage.

- Come postseason time I expect the Lakers to have figured it out, but to start I feel like they are going to have some problems adjusting. The Russell Westbrook experiment is prone to its lowlights, and they will definitely be load managing their stars, which I do think is enough to hold them just outside the top 4.

- I would argue that Portland had the most underrated offseason in the NBA, dumping off their 2 worst defenders and adding a great one in Larry Nance Jr. Nance and Covington on the court together is pretty terrifying, and should be enough to prevent them from another disaster of a season on that end. It'll be interesting to see what Billups opens up for Lillard offensively, potentially exploring more off-ball action to make that fit with McCollum work a bit better.

- Minnesota has the potential to explode this year, and not a lot of people are talking about it. A fully healthy trio of Russell, Edwards, and Towns is a matchup nightmare, and with 2 athletic defensive forwards in Vanderbilt and McDaniels along with the addition of Beverley, this team could very well sneak into the playoffs.

NBA Season Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry

If the Warriors do end up with a top 3 seed like I predict, this truly is Steph Curry's award to lose. His offensive dominance never fails to amaze anyone, capable of exploding for yet another scoring title and 3 point record all while maintaining otherworldly levels of efficiency. If he does win he would join a group of just 9 other players to win 3 MVPs, further cementing his legacy as an all-time great.

Other Names to Watch: Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Trae Young

Defensive Player of the Year: Rudy Gobert

Despite what the media might tell you about Gobert, he truly is the most impactful defender in basketball. His ability to protect the rim at such a high level allows Utah to run lineups with very weak guard and wing defenders and still produce a top 5 defense. Their entire system is built on running 3 point shooters off the line, and because of how good Gobert is down low opponents are forced to live in the mid range, which just isn't good offensive output. The Jazz last season had both the #1 3 point and paint defense in the NBA in minutes with Gobert on the floor, and there's no reason to believe any of that changes this season.

Other Names to Watch: Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo

Most Improved Player: Jordan Poole

The most improved player award is definitely the hardest to predict, as nobody really knows who's capable of taking that leap. In my opinion though, the flashes we saw from Jordan Poole look like that of a future superstar. His self-creation looks phenomenal and his confidence is through the roof, which means that if he does get the minutes he will have the production to go along with it. As long as Klay Thompson is out, he looks like the clear offensive #2 for a Golden State team looking to get back in the mix, and might just be the piece they needed.

Other Names to Watch: OG Anunoby, Dejounte Murray, Michael Porter Jr.

Sixth Man of the Year: Tyler Herro

The addition of Kyle Lowry leaves Tyler Herro with a large chunk of the offensive load leading the 2nd unit, which I believe will show his best results yet. He's shown flashes of strong pick and roll ball-handling skills that will come with a larger sample this year, and it looked like he took some major leaps during the preseason. His pull-up 3 point shot continues to develop, adding a layer to his game that could help him become the league's best bench scorer.

Other Names to Watch: Malik Beasley, Derrick Rose, Jalen Brunson, Patty Mills

Rookie of the Year: Jalen Green

The Rookie of the Year award usually comes down to the rookie with the most eye-popping box score, and where better than Houston for Green to ramp up those scoring totals? I did originally go with Cade Cunningham as my pick, but with the injury concern at the moment and no real date for his return, I felt more confident going with Green who we all know will at least attempt to get his.

Other Names to Watch: Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, Josh Giddey

Coach of the Year: Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr's system works. If the Warriors do end up with a top seed, he deserves credit for bringing the best out of the squad and helping develop the young guys.

Other Names to Watch: Michael Malone, Nate McMillan, Erik Spoelstra

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Cameron Ryan
Cameron Ryan
Oct 20, 2021

Great article, I got a feeling Jokic is going back to back this year tho 😤

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