Every NBA season is worth being excited about. Here are 50 reasons to celebrate the start of the upcoming season.
The last two seasons have not gone the way anyone would have expected or hoped. With the coronavirus pandemic shifting and shortening the league schedule, the rhythms of the season have been interrupted, each wrapping up in October and then July instead. It’s been necessary, but odd.
However, this year, the season is again beginning in October before concluding with a June Finals. While the pandemic has not ended in any conclusive sense, the vast majority of the players have been vaccinated and the NBA can proceed as normal for the first time since the 2018-19 season. That is one reason to be excited about basketball’s imminent return.
Here are 50 more reasons to be excited for the 2021-22 NBA season
1. A second season of seeing LaMelo Ball making logic-defying passes on a nightly basis.
2. Tyrese Maxey smiling, showcasing both innocence and insouciance, after driving past his defender, making him look silly in the process.
3. The Nuggets drafted a player who goes by Bones. I think that’s cool.
4. Noted Disney Adult Robin Lopez has fulfilled his destiny by joining the Orlando Magic, right next door to Disney World and while I can’t claim to really understand his love for the conglomerate, I’m happy for him.
5. Watching Cade Cunningham try to breathe life into the Pistons, a franchise that has spent the last decade oscillating between being moribund and mediocre.
6. The return of a healthy Markelle Fultz. I still believe.
8. Seeing what silly outbursts Kevin Love has in store this year as he continues to try to force Cleveland to trade him without actually asking them to.
9. After being traded to Indiana in the James Harden deal, Caris LeVert was sidelined for over a month after a mass was found on one of his kidneys. He returned in March, though this will be his first full year as a Pacer and it will be fun to see what he does alongside Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis on the ever-steady Pacers.
10. Getting to see what books LeBron James is currently reading the first five pages of.
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11. In the playoffs, Terance Mann showed himself to be an impressive and exciting young player, peaking at the right time as it’s hard to imagine the Clippers making the Conference Finals without him. However, Mann’s playoff high apart from his 39 point outburst was 13 and he averaged just 7 points per game in the regular season. Mann was a lot of fun at his best, but can he expand his role and provide the Clippers with a much-needed scoring punch with Kawhi Leonard likely to miss the entire regular season?
12. The Knicks may not be all the way back, but they were the best they have been in almost a decade last year, even if their first-round playoff loss put a bit of a damper on things. They did add Kemba Walker to the mix this summer, pairing him with Julius Randle to create one of the better inside-outside duos of the East. Can they build on their first postseason appearance in eight years or will they regress to the middling squad they’ve so often been lately?
13. The Hawks, the team that beat those Knicks, made a surprise trip to the Conference Finals. Was it a fluke from a young squad or will they be able to build on their unexpected success, proving to be the East’s team of the future?
14. Victor Oladipo re-signed a one-year minimum deal with the Heat, failing to find a market for his services following three straight injury-plagued years. If he can stay healthy, and approximate his All-Star form, then his presence would raise the Heat’s ceiling and place them among the East’s best teams. There’s little reason to expect that, but the Heat bought low on something that could theoretically yield a very high return.
15. Once again having the chance Zion Williamson invert the basketball court, dominating in the paint as no one has since Shaquille O’Neal two decades ago. Well, assuming his foot heals.
16. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony being teammates after being friends and rivals for almost two decades. I’m very happy for them.
17. In his last year with the Thunder, Paul George had the best season of his career, finishing third in MVP voting while averaging a career-high 28 points per game and making first-team All-Defense. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, the Clippers will rely on George more than ever. And in light of how awkward the fit between George and Leonard has often been, this may be George’s chance to again look like one of the NBA’s best players.
19. The NBA changed its rules so that defensive contact initiated by offensive players will no longer be considered fouls. How will the players who have most frequently taken advantage of this adjust? What rules will players now try to manipulate moving forward?
20. The Orlando Magic traded Nikola Vucevic to the Bulls last season, clearing the way for Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba in the frontcourt. Neither player has quite lived up to their pre-draft billing but they also have not been in optimal situations. I’m not sure this is an optimal situation either, but at least they will both be given ample playing time to see if they can be the players they initially looked like they might be. I’m pulling for both of them.
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21. Gregg Popovich enters this season 25 games behind Don Nelson for the all-time record for career coaching wins. He will almost certainly pass Nelson this year, further cementing his place as perhaps the greatest NBA coach ever. There’s also the open question of whether he can sculpt a worthy final act to his career. What can he do with the Spurs’ intriguing, if not overwhelming cast of young players and veteran standbys?
22. Something just feels right about Steven Adams being in Memphis.
24. Watching the Kings is often a bleak affair, but if you do tune in, you get to watch De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Halliburton who combine to form one of the most exciting and thrilling backcourt duos in the NBA. If only the team could fill out the rest of the roster with similarly promising players.
25. After a year and a half in Cleveland, Kevin Porter Jr. wore out his welcome and the team traded him to Houston. In his 26 games as a Rocket, Porter had the greenest of lights and proved himself to be a natural scorer. So he wasn’t exactly efficient, but on a team desperate for something to be excited about, Porter fit the bill. In a late-season game against the Bucks, he became the youngest player to ever have 50 points and 10 assists in a game. It may have been fool’s gold, but with the Rockets not likely to contend for anything but a high lottery pick this season, he will have plenty of chances to prove it was more than one lucky night.
26. This summer, five men became head coaches for the first time, all of them Black. This represents a good shift for a league that has often failed to hire Black men as head coaches despite Black men making up over 70 percent of NBA players. These hirings are not enough on their own, but they do signify positive change.
27. On a similar note, Kate Scott and Lisa Byington will become the first women to be play-by-play announcers this season when they take control of the microphone for Sixers and Bucks this season. Considering the androcentrism that defines so much of the NBA media landscape, this is a step towards inclusion worth celebrating.
28. Watching how the two-man game between James Harden and Kevin Durant grows and evolves as they spend more time together.
29. Joel Embiid jab-stepping only to lean backward, slightly jump and nail a mid-range shot.
30. Dennis Schroder gave up tens of millions of dollars when he turned down a multi-year offer from the Lakers, only for the market to dry up, forcing him to sign a one-year, six-million deal with the Celtics. Watching him try to make up for that lost money and prove that he deserves a similar offer next summer will likely be messy but engaging.
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31. Seeing Steph Curry run around six different screens and only finding a sliver of space that is still somehow enough for him to launch an off-balance shot from a few feet behind the three-point line that no one else in history could reliably make except him.
32. In his rookie season, Aleksej Pokusevski was more often intriguing than good, but to be fair he was very intriguing. Playing for the tanking Thunder, the 7-foot point guard played with supreme confidence, alternating between brilliance and recklessness from possession to possession. I can’t wait to see what he does for an encore.
33. Jaylen Brown was named an All-Star for the first time last season, blossoming as a player and forming a great duo with Jayson Tatum. However, despite their abilities, the Celtics underwhelmed last year. What can they do to make the team a true contender? Are they good enough to overcome the questionable construction of much of the remaining roster?
34. I’m skeptical that Evan Mobley is going to dribble behind his back while leading the fastbreak very often, as he did in a preseason game against the Bulls, but he does look to be a multidimensional big man full of potential. At least if the Cavaliers don’t give all his minutes to Lauri Markannen.
35. Speaking of Markannen, he might be getting big minutes at the 3 this year and I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily excited about that, but I am intrigued in a perverse sort of way so I’m counting it.
36. Watching T.J. McConnell, Matisse Thybulle, and Jimmy Butler (among others) pick a player’s pocket as their opponent looks around helplessly while they are already on their way towards an open lay-up.
37. Jordan Poole was not a very good NBA player in his first year in the league. He shot 33 percent from the field and struggled to find his place on a Warriors team that was missing Curry and Thompson. Last year, he improved in every way and it would not be surprising to see him break out, even more, this year. Even when the Warriors dominated the league during their five straight Finals runs, they never had a reliable scorer off the bench. Poole looks set to fill that need, and potentially much more as Golden State attempts to contend now and develop young players for the future at the same time.
39. Nikola Jokic convincing skeptics that his MVP season was for real and making a bunch of beautiful cross-court skip passes in the process.
40. The Suns did admittedly get a bit lucky on their way to the Finals, getting to play three injury-depleted teams in a row, but I’m still eager to see what they do for an encore. If Chris Paul can continue to play like someone a decade younger and Deandre Ayton and Miles Bridges keep improving (or just hold steady and play like they did in the postseason) then a Finals run, and potential Finals win, remains a real possibility.
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41. This offseason the Bulls remembered that they are a big-market team with money to spend and acquired DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball. Alongside first-time All-Star Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic, who Chicago traded for at last year’s deadline, this looks to be the best Bulls team since the Thibodeau era. They likely won’t be great, but after making the playoffs once in the last six seasons, solid and entertaining will come as a relief to most fans.
42. With Kyle Lowry in Miami, the Raptors are embarking on a new era and while I would not be surprised for this to be a bit of a strange interim year for the franchise, they still have Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, and OG Anunoby which is a pretty amazing trio to be able to build around. Also, Scottie Barnes seems delightful. And even if they’re not very good, at least they’re not in Tampa anymore.
43. Finding out how the Utah Jazz disappoint in the postseason after another impressive regular season that briefly causes many to wonder if this could actually be the year for them.
44. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander driving to the hoop 20 times per game.
45. Watching Ja Morant fearlessly attempt to throw down awe-inspiring dunks on opponents with no regard for his own safety or the dignity of his defenders. (Ditto Anthony Edwards)
46. The return of Klay Thompson, sublime shooter and chill dude.
47. LeBron James is still one of the best players in the NBA. Yet as he enters his 19th season, that will (presumably) not be the case for much longer. Can he make the most of his extended prime and win his fifth championship or will nagging injuries and the tens of thousands of minutes he has played over the course of his NBA career finally catch up with him?
48. Giannis Antetokounmpo solidified his place among the league’s elite — not just currently, but all-time — throughout his phenomenal postseason run last summer. What will he do for an encore?
49. The Ben Simmons situation has to resolve itself eventually, right?
50. Even with Kyrie Irving on track to miss the season, almost everyone still seems to expect a Lakers/Nets match-up in the Finals. And yes, if forced to choose what teams I think will make it out of each Conference, those are the two I would pick. But as ever, I am ready to be proven wrong, to see all the strange joys that this season takes, big and small — from upsets in the postseason to seeing Steph Curry and Draymond Green run a textbook pick-and-roll. I’m going to do all I can to savor it.