The 2021-22 NBA season is less than a month away, and we cannot help but wonder how the 2022 Finals will turn out. Teams have already stacked their rosters in anticipation of what will be an intense season.
It was a rollercoaster 2020-21 season as injuries and COVID-19 protocols hurt several teams' chances. Although injuries are always a part of the game, the rate players were dropping was alarming. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers lost their chance of competing for their second consecutive title following their 2020 championship run in the Orlando bubble. For the first time in LBJ's career, he got knocked out of the playoffs in Round 1 in 15 postseason appearances.
Eleven teams in the NBA have not won an NBA championship in their history; six of them have never reached the NBA Finals. Even so, the chances of ten of the eleven teams aforementioned heading into the 2021-22 season are considerably slim. Of the thirty franchises in the league, only three are championship contenders as things stand.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks are the defending champions following their impressive 4-2 series victory over the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 NBA Finals. While their squad might not be as formidable as some others in the association, they have the league's best two-way player on their roster.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued on an upward trajectory since he won the 2017 NBA Most Improved Player award, and he does not look like he will be slowing down anytime soon. His 2021 NBA Finals performance was nothing short of extraordinary and will be in the minds of many for years to come.
Outside of the brilliance of the Greek Freak, not much would become of the Milwaukee Bucks, which is why he is a crucial piece in their championship race. However, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton deserve the utmost respect as they proved themselves to be elite basketball players. Holiday's work on arguably the best point guard in the NBA right now, Chris Paul, was exemplary. His full-court pressure and overall defensive prowess played a significant role in slowing down The Point God.
Milwaukee Bucks' Strengths And Weaknesses
Not much movement was expected from the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2021 NBA offseason as it is unwise to disband a winning unit. More importantly, they had little wiggle room as regards cash to go after high-profile free agents. Letting go of either of Giannis, Middleton, or Holiday in a trade deal would have also been a thoughtless decision (to put it mildly). Still, the Bucks have managed to bring in more offensive firepower, and at the same time, almost maintaining the same level of defense.
While the Bucks have strengthened their roster offensively, they could easily be picked apart on defense. It is unclear why PJ Tucker was not re-signed, considering how pivotal he was in their 2021 NBA championship run. The addition of George Hill and Grayson Allen will do a decent job maintaining the defensive levels of the team. But they are nowhere as effective as Tucker. Playing against a team that has several scoring options might pose a problem for the Bucks, especially when Holiday and/or Giannis are not on the floor.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The LA Lakers' 2020-21 season ended on a disappointing note, following their first-round NBA playoffs exit at the hands of the Phoenix Suns after six games. Despite a promising start to the season, things went sideways fast after they lost Anthony Davis on Valentine's day and LeBron James shortly after.
Determined to get back in championship contention, Rob Pelinka had what many would call a daring offseason. Although they added a whopping ten players, they managed to stay on budget. While they made some questionable transactions, it was an overall good season.
LA Lakers' Strengths And Weaknesses
One could argue that the Lakers have the most complete roster and they'd be right. On both ends of the court, they have arguably the best squad.
One major point of note was the purple and gold front office especially targeting good scorers. The Lakers had the most difficult time without James and AD. Although they maintained their defensive dominance, scoring was a huge problem. Kyle Kuzma and Dennis Schroder showed bursts of brilliance on occasion but couldn't stay consistent. The addition of Carmelo Anthony was in clear response to that flaw. They needed elite scorers, and they went after one of two active players in the top ten of the NBA all-time points leaders.
While the offense is as formidable as one can imagine, a significant area of concern is their ability to compete at the current pace of the NBA due to the age of their roster. The LA Lakers have the oldest team in the NBA, with eight of their fully guaranteed 13 players over 30 years old.
Regardless, the LA Lakers are title favorites as the NBA community is wholeheartedly looking forward to the Lakers-Nets Finals matchup. On paper, that is a realistic expectation but some factors will play a role in the outcome, with the most dreaded being injuries.
1. Brooklyn Nets
As with many other franchises, the Brooklyn Nets were hard done during the 2021 NBA playoffs as they lost two of their Big 3 to injuries in the conference semifinals. However, Kevin Durant put up monster numbers despite being hassled all night by PJ Tucker. He played every minute of Game 5 against the Bucks and put together a 49-point triple-double to give the Nets a 3-2 lead in the series. Unfortunately, Giannis led a comeback to secure victory for the Deer district in the last two games.
The Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving trio can cause every team problems no matter how good the defense is. Apart from the fact that they are unguardable, they all can take over the game and cause serious damage. Unfortunately, they are not your go-to players when opting to play defense. While outscoring your opponent is the goal of the game, it is not sustainable, considering everyone has off nights.
Brooklyn Nets' Strengths and Weaknesses
The Brooklyn Nets lacked depth during their 2020-21 campaign, among other things. Fortunately, they took advantage of the offseason and pursued some of the best sixth men available in the league. Patty Mills is an incredibly great addition in this regard as he is also an offensive threat. His display in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was extraordinary, putting 42 points past Luka Doncic and Team Slovenia to secure a bronze medal.
Another area of concern for the Nets was their utterly absent defense. The Nets couldn't make a stop to save their lives as they focused more on offensive firepower. To remedy that, they acquired Paul Millsap in free agency, an astute defender. His size and versatility give him an edge as he can defend wing players and also inhibit drives to the basket. DeAndre' Bembry, James Johnson, and Jevon Carter are also decent defenders brought in during the offseason.
Meanwhile, outside of Mills, the Nets will not have so much production from the bench. While all acquisitions are great defenders, they are not high-level scorers that can be relied upon when it comes to it.
Either of the three aforementioned teams could win the 2022 NBA title. In the same vein, we could get the shocker of our lives when an "underdog" decides to shake things up. It was a busy offseason, and most franchises have shown that they will be gunning for the championship. The Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns, and the Golden State Warriors could stir things up and make it difficult for the early favorites.
In under two weeks, we will get a feel of what a matchup between the Lakers and Nets would feel like as they face off in the first preseason match of the 2021-22 NBA season.