NBA

2021-22 NBA Season Guide: Team-by-team previews and award predictions

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NBA 75 (Getty Images)

The 2021-22 NBA season is almost here!

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, the NBA will open its 75th anniversary season with a star-studded doubleheader that will see the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks host the Brooklyn Nets and a rematch of last season's thrilling Play-In Game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers.

That's just the start of what is shaping up to be an exciting Opening Week where some of the league's best teams and biggest stars will go head-to-head.

Before the action gets underway, catch up with where all 30 teams in the league stand following another busy offseason that saw many player and coaching changes.

Additionally, find out which players our NBA.com Staff believes will take home each end-of-season award and which teams they believe will make it to the NBA Finals.

Team-by-team previews

In preparation for the upcoming season, we dedicated one day to each team in the league for our "30 Teams in 30 Days" series.

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

Award predictions

Our NBA.com Staff share their end-of-season award predictions, from Most Valuable Player to Coach of the Year.

Scott Rafferty Gilbert McGregor Kyle Irving Carlan Gay Benyam Kidane
Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks Kevin Durant, Nets Stephen Curry, Warriors Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Rookie of the Year Jalen Green, Rockets Cade Cunningham, Pistons Jalen Green, Rockets Cade Cunningham, Pistons Jalen Green, Rockets
Defensive Player of the Year Anthony Davis, Lakers Anthony Davis, Lakers Bam Adebayo, Heat Draymond Green, Warriors Rudy Gobert, Jazz
Sixth Man of the Year Patty Mills, Nets Coby White, Bulls Tyler Herro, Heat Tyrese Haliburton, Kings Patty Mills, Nets
Most Improved Player Kevin Porter Jr., Rockets Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Pelicans Michael Porter Jr., Nuggets OG Anunoby, Raptors Jaren Jackson Jr., Grizzlies
Coach of the Year Steve Nash, Nets Erik Spoelstra, Heat Steve Nash, Nets Erik Spoelstra, Heat Erik Spoelstra, Heat

Why Giannis Antetokounmpo will be MVP...

I find myself siding with Antetokounmpo the closer we get to the season.

One, we know Antetokounmpo is going to post numbers worthy of MVP consideration. Two, we know the Bucks are going to be good in the regular season. Maybe not best-record-in-the-Eastern-Conference good, but there's no reason why they shouldn't finish the regular season with one of the four best records in the Eastern Conference. Three, he's the only real MVP candidate on his team, which can't be said for Durant, who I also gave strong consideration to. Four, I think there was some voter fatigue after he went back-to-back. After leading the Bucks to their first championship in 50 years, I'm guessing that'll be a thing of the past.

Finally, we saw some real growth from Antetokounmpo in the playoffs. It seemed like he figured out some of the stuff that has held him back in the past.

Assuming it carries over into this season, a third MVP award is certainly within reach for Antetokounmpo.

- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)

Why Cade Cunningham will be ROY...

I'm a little surprised to be the first to say it, but give me Cunningham.

Everything that was said about Cunningham ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft has held true, evidenced by his impressive showing at the Summer League in Las Vegas. While Green is in a position to put up numbers and Suggs can be the guy right away, I think Cunningham has an opportunity to elevate his Pistons team to another level with his play.

Led by Cunningham, Detroit has one of the more intriguing young cores in the NBA with Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes, Frank Jackson, Josh Jackson, Saben Lee and Isiah Stewart. They range in age, but they're young enough to be comfortable with Cunningham running the show.

Then, there's an established veteran in Jerami Grant, who will remain as the Pistons' No. 1 option, taking some of that pressure off of Cunningham.

I can see Cunningham having an impact similar to that of LaMelo Ball last season, which, as we know, resulted in Rookie of the Year hardware. If things shake favourably for the Pistons, they can be a Play-In Tournament team, and Cunningham has a good chance to lead all rookies in assists while putting up impressive scoring and rebounding numbers.

That's Rookie of the Year-calibre.

- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)

Why Draymond Green will be DPOY...

Does it feel weird that Green only has one DPOY to his name? Because it does to me.

He's my pick for Defensive Player of the Year this season.

Aside from the fact that it feels weird that one of the greatest defensive minds of his generation only has one Defensive Player of the Year award, Green is going to be surrounded once again by capable defenders who will have another year under their belt in Steve Kerr's system. Add in the fact that at some point he'll have Klay Thompson in front of him and James Wiseman to help protect the rim, and it might free Green up to play even more free safety which he's great at.

The Warriors finished fifth in defensive efficiency last season which may surprise some people given the fact that they had so much youth on the team. But Green was the glue that kept them together on that end of the floor. He was recognized for his efforts with a third-place finish in DPOY voting.

With Gobert likely being a victim of voter fatigue and Ben Simmons dealing with his drama, Green could be the default voting favourite.

Green is going to be in the Hall of Fame one day. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green will have a nice ring to it when he does.

- Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)

Why Coby White will be 6MOY...

All of the variables capable of shaping someone's role throughout the course of a season make this extremely hard, but I'm going to go in a much different direction and say White.

This is admittedly a bit of a dicey pick, as the Bulls are targeting a mid-November return for White, who underwent offseason surgery to repair his shoulder, but I think there is still plenty working in his favour.

It's no secret that White is a bucket, as the 21-year-old averaged 15.1 points over 69 games last season while making 54 starts. With the Bulls signing Lonzo Ball to be their starting point guard, White will likely return to the second unit.

White going back to a reserve role isn't so much a demotion as it is an opportunity for him to thrive at doing what he does best, which is scoring in bunches.

Chicago's very real aspirations to compete in the Eastern Conference mean that it will be relying on White's production, and in Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, the team has a number of playmakers capable of creating for White when they do share the court in various potential lineup combinations.

The Bulls have one of the more talented starting units in the league, but White's contributions from the second unit could be what allows them to reach a higher level. That he will miss the early parts of the 2021-22 season means there will be a clear level of impact made by his presence alone.

- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)

Why Michael Porter Jr. will be MIP...

He finished third for the award last year, but I think this year Porter Jr. will take home Most Improved Player of the Year.

While being a finalist for the award last season certainly makes things tougher on him this season, Porter Jr. is in a unique spot where the Nuggets will need him to step up and fill the No. 2 role while Jamal Murray recovers from injury if they're going to remain among the top teams in the West. That means he'll have the opportunity to build upon his impressive stat line from last season, in which he averaged 19.0 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting a blistering 54.2 percent from the field and 44.5 percent from 3-point range.

I expect Porter to have that scoring average up above 20.0 points per game and while that may cause a slight decrease in efficiency, those open looks on the 3-point line off of Nikola Jokic dimes aren't going anywhere any time soon.

If he fills Murray's void until he returns, and the Nuggets remain in a playoff spot because of it, MPJ will be hard to ignore for the award this year.

- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)

NBA Finals predictions

Which teams will meet in the 2022 NBA Finals? Our NBA.com Staff share their picks.

Scott Rafferty Gilbert McGregor Kyle Irving Carlan Gay Benyam Kidane
Eastern Conference champion Nets Nets Nets Bucks Nets
Western Conference champion Lakers Lakers Suns Clippers Lakers
NBA champion Nets Nets Nets Bucks Lakers
Finals MVP Kevin Durant Kevin Durant Kevin Durant Giannis Antetokounmpo LeBron James

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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