The 2021 season is wrapped up, and we have an NBA champion in the Milwaukee Bucks. We witnessed a season filled with injuries, blockbuster trades, and a ton of health and safety violations. With Covid playing a massive role in yet another NBA season, things were not ordinary from start to finish.
But we also witnessed a season with some very interesting storylines that kept us entertained from game 1 of the regular season until Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Looking back, the 2021 NBA season is certainly one to remember for eternity. With the offseason well underway, here are the 10 best stories of the 2021 NBA season.
10. LaMelo Ball And Anthony Edwards Have Sensational Rookie Seasons
LaMelo Ball was the most hyped rookie going into the season, and he did not disappoint. The younger Ball brother averaged 15.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 6.1 APG while constantly making headlines for his pinpoint passing and spectacular dribbling moves. Ball ended up winning Rookie of the Year, and almost guided the Hornets to the NBA playoffs in a very successful rookie campaign.
But Ball had competition all season long from Timberwolves shooting guard Anthony Edwards. The No. 1 pick in the draft averaged 19.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 2.9 APG while playing all 72 games of the season. Edwards is showing glimpses of what is to be an All-Star career and was one of the brightest spots for a Timberwolves franchise with a 23-49 record. The rookie displays of Ball and Edwards were certainly a great story of the season.
9. The Rise Of Trae Young And The Hawks
Trae Young became an All-Star last season and followed it up with another strong regular-season performance. He averaged 25.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, and 9.4 APG while leading the Hawks to the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks, as a franchise, made big moves to bring in Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and even Lou Williams on board before they made their playoff run.
In the postseason, Atlanta were very dominant. They made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in only Young’s third NBA season, with their star player averaging 28.8 PPG and 9.5 APG throughout the playoffs. With a fantastic supporting cast of John Collins, Clint Capela, and DeAndre Hunter; the Hawks will be a playoff contender for years to come and this season was officially the rise of Trae Young as a superstar.
8. Utah Jazz Finish Season With Best Record In NBA
There were many teams expected to be fighting for the best record in the NBA to start the season, from the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks to the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. But the team that played the best basketball from start to finish was the Utah Jazz. Utah finished with a 52-20 record, 1.0 game ahead of the Phoenix Suns for the best record in basketball. They were ranked 4th in PPG, 1st in RPG, and 3rd in OPPG. They were spectacular on both ends of the floor, led by their leaders in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.
Gobert won his 3rd Defensive Player of the Year Award averaging 14.3 PPG, 13.5 RPG, and 2.7 BPG. With Gobert manning the middle, Utah were incredibly difficult to score against. On offense, it was all about Donovan Mitchell. The “Spider” averaged 26.4 PPG during the season and overcame a ton of criticism heading his way by playing superstar-level basketball. Donovan Mitchell took his game to another level this season and in due time, he might be mentioned among the best players in the league.
7. Paul George Almost Carries Clippers To The Finals
The Los Angeles Clippers were under a microscope from the start of the season. They flopped a year before by losing in the second round of the playoffs and were expected to be title contenders in the postseason. The Clippers finished 4th in the West and entered the postseason in a showdown with the Mavericks. The first round started off horrifically, with the Clippers finding themselves down 0-2 to Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. The Clippers fought back and won the series in 7 games, setting themselves up with a matchup with the #1 seeded Utah Jazz.
The Clippers once again found themselves down 0-2 to start the series, but Paul George and Kawhi Leonard led yet another comeback. Unfortunately, Kawhi got hurt in Game 4 and would miss the rest of the playoffs. With Paul George, rookie Terrance Mann, and forgotten point guard Reggie Jackson playing out their minds; the Clippers overcame the Jazz and booked their place in the Western Conference Finals. With Paul George left to fend for himself without Kawhi, he almost did the impossible by guiding the Clippers to 2 games away from the NBA Finals.
After an entire season of scrutiny and criticism, Paul George reminded everyone he can be a superstar two-way player and averaged 26.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, and 5.4 APG during the postseason. If Kawhi Leonard re-signs with the Clippers, it might not be long before we see the franchise hoist an NBA Finals trophy.
6. New York Knicks Make The Playoffs For First Time Since 2013
Entering the season, nobody thought of the Knicks as a factor in the East. As a matter of fact, the Knicks were expected to be a laughing stock yet again. Instead, New York played inspired basketball under new head coach Tim Thibodeau. The Knicks were a force on defense, ranking 1st in OPPG. Led by their superstar Julius Randle, New York finished with the 4th seed in the East.
For the first time in 8 years, the famed New York Knicks were in the playoffs again. Julius Randle had a spectacular season by making his first All-Star Team and averaged 24.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 6.0 APG. The former Lakers big man also won Most Improved Player and made the All-NBA Team. Randle is prospering in New York and by leading the Knicks to the postseason again, fans can rejoice because the future is bright for their very forgotten franchise.
5. Nikola Jokic Wins MVP And Joins Hakeem, Dirk, Nash, Giannis
Arguably the unlikeliest of MVPs, Nikola Jokic was the most impactful superstar during the regular season. The Serbian center averaged 26.4 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 8.3 APG and solidified himself as the best passing big man in NBA history. Led by Jokic, the Nuggets finished with the #3 seed in a crowded Western Conference.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, Jamal Murray had a season-ending injury in April and would leave the NBA’s MVP fending for himself in the postseason. Even if the Nuggets could not return to the Western Conference Finals again, Jokic was the standout player all year. Most importantly, he became only the 5th foreign player in NBA history to win the MVP joining 4 current and future Hall of Famers in Hakeem Olajuwon, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
4. Chris Paul Makes His First NBA Finals With The Suns
When Chris Paul was traded to the Suns, everyone knew he would make the team instantly better. The group was young but talented, as Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton were ready to take their games to another level. Chris Paul not only made the Suns better, but he made them the best team in the West.
Phoenix finished 1.0 game behind the Jazz for the #1 seed, as both Paul and Booker made the All-Star Team. In the postseason, Phoenix were tremendous. They defeated the reigning NBA champion Lakers in 6 games, swept the Denver Nuggets, and ended the Clippers’ postseason run in 6 games. For the first time in his Hall of Fame career, 36-year old Chris Paul was in the NBA Finals. Everyone from fans to pundits were ecstatic that Paul had a chance to win his first ring, and there was no doubt he deserved this chance. Even if the Suns couldn’t win the title, seeing Paul take a young team to the Finals was one of the most heartwarming stories of the year.
3. Brooklyn Nets Form The Most Talented Big Three Ever
Brooklyn were expected to be a title contender with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the squad, but they broke all headlines when they acquired former MVP and 9-time All-Star James Harden. Harden completed arguably the most talented Big Three in NBA history, and there was simply no match for their offensive talent.
Even with Durant, Harden, and Irving in and out of the lineup throughout the season; the Nets were good enough to finish with a 48-24 record which was good for 2nd in the East. When the trio was on the floor together, they looked unbeatable.
But injuries played a massive role in Brooklyn’s season in the playoffs. Kyrie Irving missed games and so did James Harden, the most critical point occurring in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Kevin Durant was forced to lead the Nets to battle against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, and he was a toe on the line away from doing it. The Bucks snuck past the Nets in 7 games and ended what could have been a title-winning season for the Nets.
2. Milwaukee Bucks Win The NBA Championship After A 50-Year Drought
The Bucks finished with the best record in the NBA over the past two seasons and had a 2-time MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. This year, the team made massive roster moves by acquiring former All-Star and 3-time All-NBA Defensive player Jrue Holiday. The Bucks went all in this offseason by trading away 2 first-round picks, 2 pick swaps, the No. 24 pick in the draft, and starting point guard Eric Bledsoe for Holiday. They even struck a deal for Bogdan Bogdanovic but that fell through due to tampering accusations.
But the deal for Holiday would pay dividends, as Milwaukee were once again title contenders and finished with the #3 seed in the East. The Bucks entered the postseason with the confidence of their Big Three and swept the Miami Heat in the first round. They endured a rampant Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets and clawed their way into the Eastern Conference Finals after 7 games. As good as Atlanta was, they were no match for the Bucks who were bigger and more talented on both ends of the floor.
In the Finals, their Big Three showed up. New acquisition Jrue Holiday paid Milwaukee back by playing spectacular defense, Khris Middleton became the team’s most important closer, and Giannis Antetokounmpo showed the world that the NBA is his for the taking. For the first time since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won Finals MVP 50 years ago, the Bucks were NBA champions and they were the second-biggest story of the year.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo Delivers His Promise, Becomes Best Player In The World
While basketball is a team game, one cannot help but praise The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo. He had help in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, but there is no doubt Giannis was the main reason the Bucks are NBA champions. He was showing glimpses of becoming a 3-time MVP in the regular season, but his true value came in the playoffs.
Giannis upped his game in the postseason, averaging 30.2 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 5.1 APG, and 1.2 BPG. He faced criticism for his putrid free-throw shooting (58.7%) and three-point accuracy (18.6%), but he kept his head down and went to work. Giannis dominated the Heat, went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, and ended Trae Young’s fantastic season. In the Finals, we saw the best Greek Freak that we have ever seen. Antetokounmpo averaged 35.2 PPG, 13.2 RPG, and 5.0 APG en route to a Finals MVP performance.
Even though Giannis struggled from the free-throw line all season long, he went an extraordinary 17-19 in a closeout Game 6. He also dropped 50 points, becoming the 7th player ever to do that in the Finals joining Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Giannis also solidified himself as the best player in the game, and at 26 years old, the future of the NBA is in his hands. Giannis had some historic moments in the playoffs including one of the greatest blocks in Finals history, and his success as a champion was the best story of the year.