The 2021-2022 season is just around the corner. The draft is over, some trades have taken place, and most of the available free agents have been signed. It is time to see where your team stands, heading into the season. Below, we will predict the conference standings. Some teams are locks for the playoffs, some teams will battle for that 8th seed, and some teams are simply building for the future, with no realistic chance to make the postseason.
Predicting 2021-2022 Conference Standings, Playoff Chances
Tier 1 – Locks for the Playoffs
1. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn has the best big three in basketball. Kevin Durant is arguably the best player in the NBA right now. James Harden can make a great argument for a top 5 player. He sacrificed more than anyone else, and ended up with nearly 11 assists per game. Kyrie Irving is easily a top 15 player, and can get to the lane and score at will. Add Joe Harris, and that could be the scariest top four in the league. Other key players: Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap, and rookie Cam Thomas (27 PPG, Summer League Co-MVP). This team should win over 60 games.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
The defending champs return most of their roster. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the reigning Finals MVP. Some think he is the game’s best player, and he is no worse than a top-three player in the league. Their version of a big three remains intact, as Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are returning. The roster also returns Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, and Bobby Portis. The loss of P.J Tucker could hurt, especially in the playoffs. But, we are talking regular season right now.
3. Miami Heat
Miami has assembled a very impressive roster. The core three of the Heat are Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kyle Lowry. That is a TOUGH core. But, the Heat also boast possibly the most impressive group of role players in the league. Sharpshooters Duncan Robinson (40.8 3P%) and Tyler Herro (36.0 3P%) can space the floor. Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker bring toughness. Let’s not forget Victor Oladipo, who averaged 20 PPG with Indiana and Houston last season, before coming to Miami. If Oladipo can return to form, this roster is really dangerous. This team is experienced and physical, and is built for the playoffs.
4. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have established themselves as a top-four team in the East. They will likely challenge Miami for the Southeast Division title. Trae Young is a 23-year-old SUPERSTAR. Also returning, John Collins, rebound champ Clint Capela (14.3 RPG), Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’andre Hunter, and Danilo Gallinari. Other key players include Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish, and Lou Williams. This team is deep and loaded. They have a great floor general, rebounding, depth, and shooting. They are a lock for the playoffs.
5. Boston Celtics
I think this team quietly improved this offseason, and has surpassed Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division. With Kawhi Leonard out in LAC, the Celtics have the best duo of wings in the NBA – Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. And, even with Leonard healthy, I still could argue that these two Celtics are better. Losing Kemba Walker is a little bit of addition by subtraction, as this makes Tatum and Brown the clear go-to players on the team. I love Marcus Smart’s game. He is a terror on defense, and a great teammate. Getting Dennis Schroder was a steal. The Celtics have a three-headed monster at center with Al Horford, Robert Williams III, and Enes Kanter. This is a team to watch in the East.
Tier 2 – Have a Chance for the Playoffs, but not a Lock
6. Philadelphia 76ers
Picking Philly this low will raise some eyebrows. But, there appears to be a lot of uncertainties with the Sixers. The anchor is still there – Joel Embiid. Embiid is coming off an MVP caliber season. Tobias Harris is an underrated guy on this team. But, beyond these two, there are many question marks. Ben Simmons wants out. He had a down year, and his shooting hasn’t improved, so how will this play out for Philly? Will he play for Philly? Can they get a fair trade to replace Simmons? They have good shooters with Seth Curry and Danny Green. However, they are not deep. And without Simmons, do they have a point guard? I am not convinced this team is a lock for the playoffs. There are still too many question marks.
7. New York Knicks
The Knicks had a great run last year, and they have improved in the offseason. Kemba Walker is a popular pick-up for the Knicks. He was a Big East legend, and Knick fans will rally behind him. Julius Randle is coming off a career year. RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson should continue to improve. Evan Fournier should start, and will only help the offense. Other key players include Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, and Nerlens Noel. This team should make the playoffs, but, they are certainly not a lock this season.
8. Chicago Bulls
This brings us to my pick for the 8th and final playoff team in the East. The Bulls have their own version of a big three, with Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and DeMar DeRozan. These three can score a ton of points. Also joining the Bulls is an improving Lonzo Ball. I expect Ball to be among the league leaders in assists this season, with these weapons around him. I am also a big fan of Coby White. White can put points up in a hurry. In addition, other key players are Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso. This is a much-improved Bulls team, and SHOULD make the postseason, but not a lock.
9. Charlotte Hornets
I like what the Hornets did this offseason. Instead of overpaying for backup PG, Devonte’ Graham, they let Graham go to the Pelicans. Terry Rozier and Gordan Hayward are NOT all-stars, but, both are CLOSE. Rookie of the Year, Lamelo Ball should continue to improve and dazzle fans. Mason Plumlee is a slight improvement at center. P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges continue to improve and look to be solid role players for years to come. I like the addition of Kelly Oubre. The Hornets also drafted two great prospects in James Bouknight and Kai Jones. This team is loaded with athleticism, and should be one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA. The Hornets were knocking on the playoff door last season, and may be knocking a little louder this year, but definitely not a lock.
10. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have a nice starting five, but I am not sold on their bench. They have returning all-star Domantas Sabonis leading the way. Sabonis is only 25, and has quickly established himself as one of the best big men in the league. PG Malcolm Brogdon continues to get better and better. Caris Levert gives the Pacers another solid scoring threat. T.J. Warren can score points in a hurry. The starting five is rounded out by center Myles Turner. Turner’s stats have been consistent the past couple of seasons, but he hasn’t made a ton of strides. Hopefully, this will be a breakout year, as he is only 25. This is a solid starting unit, but the bench needs help. This team can battle for a playoff spot, but will likely be on the outside looking in.
Tier 3 – No Chance of Making Playoffs This Season
11. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are starting a new era, with Kyle Lowry moving to the Miami Heat. The core three of this team is nice – Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, and OG Anunoby. Goran Dragic will bring a veteran presence, and will help with the ball-handling and facilitating, but does he really want to be there? Gary Trent Jr. will provide some scoring. Scottie Barnes seems to be a great draft pick. This is a fun team to watch, but not a playoff team.
12. Washington Wizards
The Wizards made some big changes, starting with trading Russell Westbrook. Bradley Beal had an All-NBA season. He is constantly in the trade rumor mill, but actually seems happy in Washington. Kyle Kuzma should be able to score more points with the Wizards. Montrezl Harrell brings high energy. Davis Bertans shoots well and can space the floor. Hopefully, Spencer Dinwiddie can return to the 2019-2020 form, when he averaged 20.6 PPG, and 6.8 APG. This team has some nice pieces, but I cannot see this team making the playoffs this season, in a loaded Eastern Conference.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs have three PG’s, two PF’s, and 2 C’s. Where are the wings? Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Ricky Rubio, comprise the PG stable. None are big enough to guard NBA wings. Kevin Love returns as one PF, and they added Lauri Markkanen. They re-signed Jarrett Allen, then drafted 7’0” Evan Mobley. I think this team needs some roster tweaks. Too many players play the same positions, which means some players will be forced to play out of position. And most positionless players aren’t 6’1” or 7’0”. The Cavs need some wings, and will not be making the playoffs with this roster.
14. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are clearly a team building for the future. Cade Cunningham should start immediately, and be a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Jerami Grant is a borderline all-star. He has good size, and can defend and score. The starting five looks to be Cunningham, Grant, Killian Hayes, Saddiq Bey, and Kelly Olynyk. This team has no chance for the postseason.
15. Orlando Magic
Orlando is another team that needs some roster tweaks. They have four PG’s, with Jalen Suggs, Marlkelle Fultz, Cole Anthony, and Michael Carter-Williams. I like their draft picks (Suggs and Franz Wagner). Terrence Ross and Wendell Carter Jr. should get plenty of minutes. But, this team needs help. Expect the Magic to be a candidate for the top pick in the 2022 draft.
Tier 1 – Locks for the Playoffs
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have a big three that is rivaled only by the Brooklyn Nets. LeBron James remains a top-three player and still can make an argument for the game’s best player. His durability has been amazing. Anthony Davis is a top 10 player, and needs to stay healthy. The Lakers have brought Mr. Triple Double, Russell Westbrook, home to Cali. He plays with more energy than any player in the league. How long can he keep that up? The Lakers also brought in Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is 37, but he still knows how to play. Other key players are Dwight Howard, Wayne Ellington, Malik Monk, and Rajon Rondo. This is a star-laden team, with at least 5 future Hall of Famers (James, Westbrook, Davis, Anthony, Howard – and maybe 6, with Rondo). This team is built for the playoffs, with tough, physical veterans. And, I also think they win the West regular season.
2. Utah Jazz
Utah returns their core, and is poised for another big regular season. Donovan Mitchell is a top 20 player in the league. And center Rudy Gobert is right behind him. Bojan Bogdanovic is a third scorer with great range. Jordan Clarkson is a great weapon, whether starting or as a 6-man. Mike Conley returns to run the show. Other key players include Joe Ingles, Rudy Gay, Hassan Whiteside, and Royce O’Neale. This team should win over 50 games again.
3. Phoenix Suns
The Suns could challenge the Jazz for the second-best record in the West. Coming off a surprise finals appearance, the Suns return all five starters, led by superstar Devin Booker. Chris Paul continues to make his case as a top 5 PG of all time. Deandre Ayton has developed into a force down low. Other key Suns include Mikal Bridges, Cameron Payne, and Cam Johnson. An underrated piece that returns is Jae Crowder (10.1 PPG, 38.9 3P%). The Miami Heat were not the same team last season without Crowder. He goes to the Suns, and they make the Finals. It’s not a coincidence. Crowder is a winner, and a great glue guy to have on your team. This team should win 50 games.
4. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors should be back into the top four in the West, once Klay Thompson makes his return. Few players in the league offer his competitiveness, and shooting ability. Steph Curry is the reigning scoring champ. He is already an all-time player, and appears to still be in his prime. Draymond Green continues to be the ultimate jack of all trades. Andrew Wiggins catches grief, but why? He’s a consistent scorer. Expect James Wiseman to make a big jump this year. This team also has Otto Porter, Jordan Poole, Andre Iguodala, and Kevon Looney, plus rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody. This is a deep, and intriguing team. This team can win 50 plus games, and will be a team to reckon with.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
This is sort of a toss-up between Portland and Denver, but I like Portland to finish 5th. Dame Lillard is still on top of his game. He is easily a top 10 player, close to the top 5. CJ McCollum had maybe his best season. Lillard and McCollum are the best backcourt in the league. They have a solid big in Jusuf Nurkic. Norman Powell provides a great 3rd scoring option. Robert Covington, Larry Nance Jr., and Cody Zeller should fit in nicely. This is a top 5 team in the West, and a lock for the postseason.
6. Denver Nuggets
Everything starts with Nikola Jokic, the reigning league MVP. He can single handily keep the Nuggets in games. And, 23-year-old Michael Porter Jr. (19.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 44.5 3P%) is becoming a star. Once Jamal Murray returns, the Nuggets will have their own version of a big three. Aaron Gordon brings athleticism and scoring. Other key players are Will Barton, Monte Morris, and Austin Rivers. The Nuggets are a legit contender, with Murray in the lineup. Not having Murray will cost them some regular-season wins, but they are still a lock for the playoffs.
Tier 2 – Have a Chance to Make the Playoffs, but not a Lock
7. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks aren’t particularly deep, but they have a top 5 player in Luka Doncic. Doncic can do it all, and is an MVP candidate. They need Kristaps Porzingis to stay healthy, and accept his role. That is a formidable duo if clicking. Tim Hardaway Jr. provides a third scorer. Reggie Bullock provides shooting and depth. Beyond that, I am not sold on the remaining role players – Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, and Dwight Powell. This should definitely be a playoff team, but Doncic and Porzingis need some help to get out of the first round.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
This may raise a few eyebrows, with the Grizzlies getting in over the LA Clippers. But, I simply think they are better than the Clippers, who will be without Kawhi Leonard for at least most of the season. Ja Morant looks great off the dribble. Once his shot improves, he will be really dangerous. I like their starting five, with Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., and veteran Steven Adams. I don’t see a lot of depth, but that starting five is solid, and should be able to make it in as the 8 seed – but definitely not a lock.
9. Los Angeles Clippers
Paul George re-established himself as a top 15 player, after laying an egg in the bubble. But, after George, does anyone on this team scare anyone? Marcus Morris Sr. is their next best player. Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, and Ivica Zubac are nice players, but I am not convinced the Clippers can make the postseason, without Kawhi Leonard. They have a chance, and should battle Memphis for the 8 seed. But, I have them on the outside looking in this season.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are probably starting to feel the pressure from the hype train. Stan Van lasted one year. Players are getting traded. GM David Griffin might feel more pressure than any GM in the league. Zion Williamson is great, but he was hyped like a LeBron James. Brandon Ingram has been an all-star. Jonas Valanciunas is a major upgrade at center. Devonte’ Graham (14.8 PPG, 5.4 APG) comes in from Charlotte. Graham will be a solid PG, and shoots fairly well. Nickeil Alexander-Walker should start on the wing. Jaxson Hayes is a solid backup. Beyond that, I am not seeing much depth. This is an exciting young team, and has a CHANCE to make the playoffs, but I have them on the outside looking in.
Tier 3 – No Chance of Making Playoffs This Season
11. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves are an exciting team. They have one of the best centers in basketball in Karl-Anthony Towns. They have a high-scoring backcourt with D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley. Anthony Edwards (19.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG) looks like he can be a scoring machine. Patrick Beverly brings toughness and grit off the bench. I really like Taurean Prince. He is a poor man’s Jae Crowder. He brings toughness, rebounding, and he can knock down open threes. This team has a nice top 6, but still needs help. They have a slim chance to make the postseason, but I think they are still a year away.
12. Sacramento Kings
The Kings have some nice pieces, but will likely be on the outside looking in when it comes playoff time. The backcourt is good, but a little crowded. De’Aaron Fox is a star in the making. Buddy Hield is a lights-out shooter. Tyrese Haliburton looks like a future star. The Kings also drafted 6’0” PG Davion Mitchell, who had a great summer league. That is three PGs. That is a little crowded, as all three probably deserve minutes. Harrison Barnes remains a steady contributor. Richaun Holmes is a solid center. I still think there is time for Marvin Bagley to develop into a really good pro. He is only 22 years old. Tristan Thompson can still defend and rebound. It just seems to me that this team is made up of pieces, that if some of these pieces were on contending teams, these pieces could push a contender over the top. Players like Hield, Barnes, Bagley, and Haliburton. They aren’t stars that can lead a team to the playoffs, but they are multiple pieces that could help a contender. Maybe a roster tweak would help.
13. San Antonio Spurs
It seems strange to put the Spurs this low, but they are definitely rebuilding. The backcourt is solid, with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White. Doug McDermott is a nice shooter. Jakob Peoltl and Keldon Johnson should start as bigs. This roster is one of the worst in the NBA. I want to pick them lower, but I think having Gregg Popovich should be good for a few wins in the 50-50 games. The Spurs will be back, but how long will it take?
14. Houston Rockets
I think the Rockets may be slightly better than the Thunder, at this point. I like Christian Wood and rookie Jalen Green. Kevin Porter Jr. and Daniel Theis are solid. John Wall is their best player, and the Rockets are planning to hold him out, while they explore trades. Eric Gordon doesn’t fit the timeline, either. I look for him to be traded. This is a team that is starting over, thanks to James Harden last season. They appear to have made a good pick with Jalen Green. Look for the Rockets to be drafting toward the top again next year.
15. Oklahoma City Thunder
I am not trying to be disrespectful, but there are players that will start for the Thunder that the average basketball fan has never heard of. However, everyone knows Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He had a breakout season last year. He is the face of the team. Beyond SGA, the Thunder have a bunch of young up and comers, that play hard. The Thunder have great fans, and I believe the fans are patient and see that the future is BRIGHT. OKC is loaded with draft picks for the future. And, expect to see OKC picking at or near the top for the near future.
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