With the 2021-22 NBA season slated to start here soon, the usual suspects such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are being bandied about as top-end title contenders.
While these five squads mentioned below likely won’t compete for a championship, they have to be seen as sleeper teams.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a growing and talented core group. Out west, the Sacramento Kings have joined the modern NBA with a plethora of perimeter options. These are among the teams we expect to surprise people in 2021-22.
It’s now looking more and more like Collin Sexton will be a member of the Cavaliers this season. The talented young guard was the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason, but nothing has come to fruition on this end. Whether Sexton is moved ahead of the NBA trade deadline depends heavily on if Cleveland is in playoff contention. We expect that to be the case.
In addition to Sexton’s 24.3 point per game average last season, fellow young guard Darius Garland looks every bit the part. He averaged 17.4 points and 6.1 assists on 40% shooting from distance in 2020-21. In terms of the Cavs’ frontcourt, the likes of Jarrett Allen and rookie No. 3 pick Evan Mobley form a dynamic duo. The same thing can potentially be said about Isaac Okoro and the recently-acquired Lauri Markkanen out on the wing. Head coach J. B. Bickerstaff has a lot to work with here.
After earning a surprise playoff appearance last season, Memphis’ ability to ascend the hierarchy in the Western Conference will depend heavily on the health of young stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. The two played single-digit games together a season ago.
With that said, this is an uber-talented young duo. We also like what wing Dillon Brooks brings to the table after he averaged 17.2 points and played tremendous defense last season. Add in the acquisition of Steven Adams inside, and there’s a whole heck of a lot to like about Memphis in 2021-22.
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The shocking firing of front office head Gersson Rosas notwithstanding, these Wolves appear to be on an upward trajectory. A lot of that has to do with 2020-21 NBA Rookie of the Year snub Anthony Edwards, who was absolutely dynamic down the stretch last season. Edwards, 20, averaged 23.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 45% shooting over the final 34 games of the campaign.
Obviously, the health of Karl Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell will be the biggest factors in Minnesota as this team looks to end its playoff drought. Should these three players play a vast majority of the season together, the Wolves are going to be a force in the Western Conference. Take that to the bank!
An argument can be made that Washington improved leaps and bounds simply by moving off Russell Westbrook in a multi-team trade with the Los Angeles Lakers. While Russ still puts up the stats, he’s a major shooting liability and struggles on defense. Bradley Beal now has a lot more to work with when it comes to a supporting cast.
We’re talking about a team that goes about 11 deep. Adding the likes of Aaron Holiday, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell in the Westbrook trade was a coup. We’re also expecting wing Deni Avdija to take that next step as a sophomore. Meanwhile, rookie lottery pick Corey Kispert might be among the most pro-ready players from the 2021 NBA Draft. New Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has inherited himself a tremendous team.
Boasting the longest playoff drought in the NBA (2005-06), Sacramento has been irrelevant on the broader league-wide stage for eons. Could that change despite the presence of an overrated head coach in Luke Walton? We’re here to predict that will happen in 2021-22.
Sacramento might have the most-talented backcourt west of Phoenix in that of De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and rookie lottery pick Davion Mitchell. It also boasts one of the most underrated wings in that of veteran Harrison Barnes. If the Kings can get anything from the low-post in 2021-22, there’s a darn good chance that this team will snap its playoff drought.