Sports

NBA season preview: The top 50 storylines to watch in 2021-22 (Part 1)

Incredibly, the NBA season starts in just 50 days.

If it feels like a historically short offseason, that’s because it is. While not quite as short as last year’s 72-day break in the action, this year’s 91-day span between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of the season on October 19 is the second-shortest in league history.

Not only did the draft and free agency fly by in a blur, the hoops never really stopped with 50 active NBA players participating in the Tokyo Olympics.

If you’re starving for basketball as the calendar flips from August into September and just can’t get enough, we’ve got your back. These aren’t bold predictions or burning questions as much as they are the 50 most exciting yet unresolved stories to watch that will define the upcoming season.

Today is Part 1. Check back in on Tuesday for Part 2.


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1. I’m excited to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo reimagine the possibilities and soar to new heights following his “Billy Madison learned how to putt” moment in the 2021 NBA Finals.

2. I’m excited to watch LeBron James – well rested and motivated more than ever – send a resounding message that he’s still The King even in his 19th NBA season.

3. I’m excited to watch Kevin Durant fulfill his seemingly never-ending quest for peace by delivering his masterpiece on the heels of an astonishing display in the postseason and Olympics.

MORE: Five burning questions at the core of KD’s signature season

4. I’m excited to watch the Philadelphia 76ers wrap up the NBA’s longest ongoing soap opera and afford Ben Simmons the chance for a fresh start in a new city

5. I’m excited to watch #NBATwitter, podcasters, the blogosphere, and TV talking heads collectively lose their minds over the unveiling of the 75 Greatest Players. The 24/7 NBA content machine as we know it today did not exist when the NBA released the 50 Greatest Players back in 1996. I’m sure everyone will keep a level head.

6. I’m excited to watch 36-year-old Chris Paul, well past the point where 6’0” guards typically produce at All-Star levels, attempt to dip into the fountain of youth and deliver a third straight top-10 MVP finish.

7. I’m excited to watch Klay Thompson – sharpshooting extraordinaire, beloved teammate and genuine national treasure – fly off screens with zero space and cash in 27-footers with two hands in his face.

8. I’m excited to watch Detroit basketball fans rally behind Cade Cunningham with a sense of prideful, long-term hope that feels far more real and sustainable than any false sense of hope generated during the Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond years.

MORE: Who will win Rookie of the Year?

9. I’m excited to watch Zion Williamson level up yet again on the heels of a season in which he simultaneously played point guard and developed into the most devastating paint scorer since Shaq.

10. Speaking of Shaq… I’m excited to watch Joel Embiid stay on the floor and deliver his version of the 1999-00 Shaq season in which he stayed healthy and bludgeoned all who stood in his way en route to winning the MVP. (Aside: Embiid was the MVP front-runner last year before injuries piled up and is now the same age that Shaq was entering the 1999-00 season).

NBA season preview: The top 50 storylines to watch in 2021-22 (Part 1)
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11. I’m excited to watch the Sacramento Kings make a run at ending the NBA’s longest postseason drought, 15 years and counting.

12. I’m excited to watch Billy Donovan and the Bulls surge up the NBA League Pass rankings and light up the scoreboard with Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan joining the Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic combo.

13. I’m excited to watch LaMelo Ball inject the entire city of Charlotte with a showstopping sense of flair and buzz that’s been missing since Michael Jordan took over.

14. I’m excited to watch the Jalen Suggs Revenge Tour. The Orlando Magic might be a strong bet to finish with the NBA’s worst record but Suggs is already hinting at payback for the four teams who passed on him in this year’s draft.

15. I’m excited to watch Luka Doncic continue to follow in LeBron’s footsteps. Entering his fourth season, Doncic is at the same point of his career as James when he famously dragged the 2007 Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. 

16. I’m excited to watch Ja Morant build off a wildly successful “hello, world!” moment in his postseason debut and graduate into the inner circle of the Curry-Lillard-Paul-Kyrie conversation.

17. I’m excited to watch Masai Ujiri spin his next masterpiece in Toronto after agreeing to a long-term extension that keeps the NBA’s premier front office executive north of the border for the foreseeable future.

18. I’m excited to watch the Knicks embrace the long game and actually practice patience on the road back to respectability.

19. I’m excited to watch Trae Young continue embracing his inner Reggie Miller while morphing into the greatest Knicks villain since the 1990s.

NBA season preview: The top 50 storylines to watch in 2021-22 (Part 1)
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20. I’m excited to watch Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown blossom into legitimate superstars. A real question worth pondering: Given Brown’s immense strides every single year, are we 100% sure that Tatum – and not Brown – is ultimately THE GUY in Boston?

MORE: Winners and losers from free agency

21. I’m excited to watch Kyle Lowry introduce his all-world scrappiness and win-at-all-costs mentality to an uber-competitive Heat team tailor-made for a player like Lowry. 

22. I’m excited to watch an immensely talented group of first-year coaches finally get their shot: Willie Green (Pelicans), Wes Unseld Jr. (Wizards), Jamahl Mosley (Magic), Ime Udoka (Celtics), and Chauncey Billups (Trail Blazers)

23. I’m excited to watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s understated brilliance even if the rebuilding Thunder appear far more interested in acquiring future draft picks than actually winning games. 

24. I’m excited to watch the curious case of Collin Sexton play out in Cleveland. He’s one of just 10 guards ever to average over 24 points per game at the age of 22 or younger, and yet his name keeps getting floated in potential rumors ahead of a potentially big pay day next summer. 

25. I’m excited to watch Nikola Jokic’s push for back-to-back MVPs. I find it incredibly bizarre that the reigning MVP ranks just 8th in preseason MVP odds. Yes, Jamal Murray is out indefinitely as he recovers from a torn ACL. But Jokic led Denver to a 13-5 record after Murray went out, which over the course of an 82-game season equates to 59 wins. If Jokic drags the Nuggets to anywhere even remotely close to 59 wins, he’ll be leading the conversation. Put some R-E-S-P-E-C-T on Jokic’s MVP odds.

Check back in on Tuesday for Part 2 as we continue to explore the top 50 storylines that will define the NBA season.


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