14 impeccable predictions for the 2021-22 NBA season

What could go wrong?

You may recall that my record on last season’s NBA predictions was … not great. Never mind that: there is content to create. So here goes nothing: 14 impeccable predictions for the 2021-22 NBA season.

Self-Portrait With Palette, Edouard Manet, 1879

1. We will not have a first-time MVP. I predicted a first-timer last season and we got Jokic. This season my money is on Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kevin Durant. Or maybe even Jokic again. Luka Doncic is obviously a serious first-time contender, and I think Joel Embiid could take another run at it. But I think Giannis’ playoff performance makes him newly reasonable as an every-year MVP candidate, and Curry and Durant are really darn good. James Harden is another serious candidate here as well.

2. The Orlando Magic will be the worst team in the NBA. And that will be absolutely fine with everyone involved with or interested in the Orlando Magic except the players.

3. Ben Simmons will get traded before Christmas. Yes, this is easy picking. But I’m scarred by my pathetic predictions record last season and need some easy wins. I do think that while it seems like Simmons in one a path to play for the Sixers again, some team will get desperate — maybe even the Sixers — and make the move.

4. We will see a 70-point individual performance this season. This didn’t happen last year — Steph was the high man of the season with 62 — but I’m confident someone will pull it out in an 82-game season. Top contenders are Steph, Steph, Steph, Dame, Steph and Steph.

5. One of these teams will end up a top-6 seed in the West: Memphis, Sacramento, New Orleans, San Antonio or Minnesota. One thing that we all get wrong about the NBA this time of year is focusing in on what we think we know when it turns out there is much to surprise us. There were multiple surprise teams in both playoff brackets last season. I think one of these lower tier teams will break through and be really competitive. In fairness to the Grizzlies, who are better than the others already, it seems they are once again being left for dead, so I’m counting a top-6 seed as a surprise here.

6. One of these players will make the All-Star team: Ja Morant, De’Aaron Fox, C.J. McCollum, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Dejounte Murray. We need some more new blood in the West All-Star group, and those guards have either broken out already and need a push, or are poised for a breakout. I’m particularly stoked for Murray’s season as Option 1 for the Spurs.

7. The Knicks will be a top-6 seed. Alright. Okay. The Knicks are not universally accepted as a good team, even after being the No. 4 seed last season. I am no exception: earlier this preseason, I slipped them into the B Tier in the East with the Celtics, Raptors and Bulls. But I’m going back to something I said there: they aren’t playing the Hawks every night. And the Hawks beat the Sixers and challenged the Bucks, too! New York plays hard, they have more offensive-minded guard talent this season, R.J. Barrett is a riser (potential All-Star???), Julius Randle can still do it and this all makes sense. I’m a little nervous about the new guards’ defense and about the health of the two-headed center monster, but this team is good, y’all. I think.

8. LeBron will play less than 70 games. I don’t think this is due to injury, by the way. I think this is the year that LeBron finally takes the advice of sports scientists regarding rest and takes some planned games off during the season, perhaps even for home crowds since he (rightfully) claims to not want to deny road fans the chance to see him. I feel like unless L.A. is really struggling for a top-4 seed, LeBron should average less than 30 minutes per game this season: let Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook do the heavy lifting, stretch this peak as long as it will go. I want to see a Lakers team primed and pumped for the postseason, not a team desperate for every win during the regular season. (Note: I read this story after writing this blurb but before publishing. CUT ME A BREAK, LEBRON. You don’t need to play against the Wizards.)

9. Trae Young will not be left off of the All-Star team again. Like I said, I need some easy wins here. I also want to remind everyone that we collectively gave up on Trae to some degree as the injury-ridden Hawks struggled early last season. AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED, HUH?

10. Cade Cunningham will win Rookie of the Year. Out of the top rookies, only Cade, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs are going to get the run and usage to be in contention here. I think Houston is going to be interesting but Kevin Porter Jr. is going to have high usage himself and there will be those who question whether Green or Alperen Sengun is Houston’s best prospect. The Magic are going to be incredibly dreadful, I fear. I think Detroit can be a bit competitive with Jerami Grant, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, so let’s go Cade, who should have the ball in his hands most of the time.

11. The Jazz will have a good, drama-free regular season. And it doesn’t matter because one more early playoff implosion and something is getting remixed there, whether it be a Rudy Gobert trade or a new coach. Utah isn’t quite where the Bucks were last season simply because the Jazz have not achieved what Milwaukee had achieved before last season, and because Donovan Mitchell isn’t Giannis. But the similarities are there, and the Jazz need to win a series against a high-quality team to survive this.

12. Karl-Anthony Towns will have an All-NBA season. Now if I’m wrong I’m going to be doubly sad. This is tough too because Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic are penciled in as All-NBA centers if healthy, and Anthony Davis might qualify here instead of at forward.

13. OG Anunoby: NBA All-Star. I’ve never been so irrationally confident about something in my life.

14. The Brooklyn Nets will win the NBA championship. And I do not assume Kyrie Irving will end up on the court this season. Durant and Harden are two of the best players in the league, the rotation around them makes total sense, Steve Nash has some level of coaching chops and at minimum knows what help he needs and the management is willing to spend money. I’m a bit flummoxed that Durant was caught off-guard by Kyrie’s decision and I’m a little nervous that Harden hasn’t signed an extension. But this is still the most talented, high-potential team in the NBA, and when in doubt, that’s what you go back to.


We have real, live NBA basketball games that count! All times Eastern.

Nets at Bucks, 7:30, TNT — ring ceremony time!
Warriors at Lakers, 10, TNT — ahhh the late night Warriors are back


The Suns and Deandre Ayton broke off talks before the extension deadline as Phoenix wouldn’t hand over a five-year max. There go all those good vibes, huh? More tomorrow.

Kevin Pelton writes that both Ayton and the Suns are taking major risks for ESPN Insider. ($)

Some players did get rookie extensions: Jaren Jackson Jr. with the Grizzlies, Landry Shamet with the Suns, Daniel Gafford with the Wizards, Grayson Allen with the Bucks, Kevin Huerter with the Hawks.

Malcolm Brogdon picked up a late extension, too. Brogdon now can’t be traded this season, so there goes my sleeper Ben Simmons trade idea.

Katie Heindl on the Mercury not speaking to reporters after losing Game 4, double standards and the social contract of care. Well worth a read.

Zach Lowe picks his five most intriguing players of the NBA season on ESPN Insider. ($)

Sights and sounds from the Sky’s championship celebration.

The Ringer NBA team’s 2021-22 entrance survey.

Big contract extension at South Carolina for Dawn Staley.

Logan Murdock talks to Draymond Green. Draymond Green can talk, y’all.

Cool story on a cool program in the Greenwood District of Tulsa sponsored by the Thunder to provide data and analytics education for young people.

David Thorpe predicts every team’s win total.

Love this piece in The Athletic from Alex Schiffer on the bond that James Harden and Steve Nash are building. ($)

Scott Hines on how to indoctrinate a sports fan.

Be excellent to each other.