2021 NBA Season: Preview
2021 NBA Season Preview
By: Wyatt Bose
For the first time ever, an NBA regular season will begin just over two months after the previous season ended. Typically, players have around 5 months of off-season to rest up for the upcoming season (excluding playoffs), however this year is unlike any other. Heading into the 2021 season, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are the favorite to win it all, followed by the Clippers, Bucks, Nets, and Celtics.
Moreover, several dark horse teams to look out for include the new-look Phoenix Suns in the West, who recently added Chris Paul to their back-court to pair with Devin Booker, as well as the Philadelphia 76ers who added Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Dwight Howard to go along with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris. Ultimately, while recognizing the powerhouses as well as the dark horse contenders, below is a reasonable power ranking to go by ahead of the upcoming 2021 NBA season.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers were the favorite to win it all last season, however due to many issues in the bubble down in Orlando, the Clippers were knocked off much earlier than expected. Despite losing Montrezl Harrell to their rival Lakers, the Clippers added Serge Ibaka who happens to be one of Kawhi Leanord’s favorite teammates from the Toronto Raptors championship team. Assuming Kawhi Leanord and Paul George live up to expectations, do not be surprised if the Clippers are in the same spot the Lakers were just a couple months ago, as they seemed to be the better team last year before the pandemic hit.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
After a dominant playoff run that was capped off with a championship, the Lakers are the clear favorite heading into the 2021 season, however have seemed to have lost a little too much of their championship roster. Despite adding reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Montrezl Harrell, as well as Dennis Schroder, the Lakers lost both their big men in Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee as well as one of their best players in that playoff run who goes by the nickname of Playoff Rondo (Rajon Rondo). So, despite being the favorite to go back-to-back, the Lakers appear to be a little worse than they were a year ago.
3. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks at third? Above Denver? This may surprise many people, as the Mavs were knocked off in the first round by the Clippers, the team the Nuggets beat, however Luka Doncic has turned into a rising superstar and if Kristaps Porzingis had not been out for the majority of that playoff series against the Clippers, it seemed as if the Mavericks had control of that series. This is obviously a very bold ranking for an unproven team, but look for the Mavericks to make a deep run in these 2021 playoffs.
4. Denver Nuggets
This was very difficult to rank the Nuggets below the Mavericks, because as they develop both Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol to go with Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets may become NBA Finals contenders right before our eyes. Ultimately, ranking the Nuggets below the Mavericks right now is based on pure feeling, however if the Nuggets begin to take off this season do not be surprised at all.
5. Phoenix Suns
With the addition of Chris Paul to their back-court to go along with stars Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, the Suns look like a very solid playoff contender. Moreover, after seeing what Paul did with a young, inexperienced Thunder team last year, there are high expectations for the Suns this upcoming year.
6. Utah Jazz
After a tough first round exit in last year’s bubble playoffs, both Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are just entering their primes. Mitchell will be a star in this league for years to come and Gobert will continue to be a defensive force in the paint. Unfortunately for these two stars, the Jazz seem to be the same team as they were last year. Their only real addition came in the draft, as they took Center Udoka Azubuike with the 27th pick out of Kansas. Although he has a bright future coming off of the bench to back-up Rudy Gobert, without major additions this off-season the Jazz appear to be a mediocre playoff team that will likely see another early exit, as they stand no chance when matched up against the other power-houses in the west.
7. Houston Rockets
Despite all the issues revolving around the James Harden controversies this season, based on the pure talent of James Harden while assuming John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins stay healthy, ranking the Rockets at the 7th seed is a very low bar. If Harden decides to devote his time to this team, they will most likely be the 4th or 5th seed but because of the uncertainty of James Harden's devoutness to the team, they will be ranked in the 7th slot for now.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Lastly, assuming Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram remain healthy throughout the entirety of the season, this young Pelicans team will look much different this year led by new head coach Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy is an old school, defensive-minded head coach and it appears his young roster has already bought into his ways, as they held a talented Raptors team to 99 points in their opening night win.
1. Brooklyn Nets
For the first time in a very long time, the Brooklyn Nets appear to be a favorite to win the East. Superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have everything to do with that, as they have the ability to not only take a game or series over, but both have that unique clutch gene that is rarely seen in many players. Moreover, the Nets may also have the most depth in the league with Joe Harris, Deandre Jordan, Caris Levert, Jeff Green, Landry Shamet, and Jarrett Allen.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Despite resigning Giannis to a new deal, the Bucks will continue to be the same team that dominates the regular season just to be sent home early before the NBA Finals come playoff time. As I predicted last year, whatever the media wants to call him (superstar or not), Giannis needs a fellow superstar to get him over the hump. The Bucks have a great team that is capable of controlling the regular season, but Giannis does not have it in him to lead this team to an NBA Finals especially if they have to go through Durant and Irving’s Nets.
3. Boston Celtics
Although Kemba Walker is injured to begin the season, Jayson Taytom and Jaylen Brown look very sharp this year. The Celtics will most likely make it past the first round and depending on who they face from there will determine their likelihood of winning a title. This league is superstar dependent, which means that if you do not have a superstar you will not win an NBA Finals. Looking back at last year, I predicted the Heat vs. Lakers match-up, but also predicted a Lakers blowout in the Finals because of one difference in the teams: one team had two superstars (LeBron and AD), while the other had none. That is why despite being a great team, the Celtics will not make the NBA Finals this season.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
With the additions of Dwight Howard, Danny Green, and Seth Curry to complement stars Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris, the 76ers pose a real threat this year in the Eastern Conference. Look for the 76ers to take a huge leap this year led by new head coach Doc Rivers who will teach Embiid and Simmons not only how to win but train and practice the way star players around the league do. Bold Prediction: If they happen to face the Bucks in the postseason, the 76ers will win that series.
5. Miami Heat
After an impressive playoff run last year, the Miami Heat have become a highly respected team in the Eastern Conference led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro. They will be somewhere around the 5th seed, as their only real off-season move was acquiring Avery Bradley. The Heat will be a solid playoff team that will most likely face an early playoff exit.
6. Toronto Raptors
This may surprise many people that the Raptors are all the way down here at the 6th seed when they were a dominant 2nd seed last season, however when compared to the other duos in the East, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam will not pose much of a threat to many teams. When looking at it, they are not better than any of the duos on the Nets, Celtics, Bucks, 76ers, or Heat. Moreover, to make matters worse for the Raptors, due to Covid-19 complications they will be practicing and playing their home games in Florida this season rather than Toronto, Canada.
7. Indiana Pacers
Led by stars Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers will most likely be a low seed playoff team that will have to face a tough opponent like the Celtics in the first round. The Pacers continue to improve every year, however they do not have enough firepower to make a realistic playoff run this season.
8. Atlanta Hawks
Despite missing the playoffs with a horrendous (20-47) record last season, with the additions of Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Rajon Rondo to complement a young all-star in Trae Young, the Hawks look better than the Magic do heading into this season. Despite the Magic’s improvements, the Hawks will have to battle it out with them for the 8th spot in the East and if Trae Young can step up big for them all season it seems as if they could do so.