The 2020-21 NBA season is officially a wrap. A hearty congratulations to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, who overcame a 2-0 deficit in the 2021 NBA Finals and defeated the Phoenix Suns to win their first NBA title in 50 years. But this is the league that never sleeps, which means it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2021-22 season and taking a stab at next year’s batch of title contenders.
With that said, let’s take a look at which teams are currently leading the pack to take home the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2022.
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NBA Champion 2021-2022 Odds
- Brooklyn Nets (+225)
- Milwaukee Bucks (+800)
- Phoenix Suns (+1400)
- Philadelphia 76ers (+1600)
- Los Angeles Clippers (+1800)
- Denver Nuggets (+2000)
- Dallas Mavericks (+3000)
- Atlanta Hawks & Miami Heat (+3500)
- Boston Celtics & Portland Trail Blazers (+4000)
- New York Knicks (+8000)
- Indiana Pacers & Toronto Raptors (+10000)
- Chicago Bulls & New Orleans Pelicans (+12500)
- Memphis Grizzlies & Washington Wizards (+15000)
- Charlotte Hornets (+20000)
- Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, & San Antonio Spurs (+25000)
NBA Champion 2021-2022: Forecasting 2021 NBA Draft & Free Agency
The 2021 NBA Draft is up next on the agenda, taking place on Thursday, July 29. The Pistons have the No. 1 overall pick, which they’ll likely use to select Oklahoma State product Cade Cunningham. The 19-year-old phenom has the makings of a generational talent with his massive 6-foot-8 frame and stellar playmaking ability.
Outside of Cunningham, other top prospects to watch include Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, and Jonathan Kuminga, all of whom will make an immediate impact for their respective teams. This year’s draft class looks especially deep, meaning there will still be some talented players on the board near the end of the first round.
The 2021 free-agent class is full of high-level players as well, including Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, and John Collins. While Leonard, Paul, and Conley are all expected to re-sign with their respective teams, the same can’t necessarily be said of Lowry and Collins. The Knicks and Heat are among those expected to be big players in free agency, so look for them to be aggressive in their pursuit of some of the bigger targets on the market.
The list of notable free agents doesn’t end there, though. Victor Oladipo, Jarrett Allen, DeMar DeRozan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Norman Powell, and Tim Hardaway Jr. could all end up with new teams this offseason, and each has the potential to raise a team’s ceiling. The same goes for Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen, and Devonte’ Graham, who would benefit from a change of scenery.
In addition to the Knicks and Heat, expect the Spurs, Thunder, Mavericks, and Raptors to be among the top spenders this offseason.
NBA Champion 2021-2022: Sleeper Teams
Los Angeles Clippers (+1800)
With Leonard expected to miss most of next season as he recovers from knee surgery, the Clippers will be relying on a talented group led by Paul George, who averaged 29.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game following Leonard’s injury in the postseason. Los Angeles also has to hope it can retain unrestricted free agents Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson, who both played major roles for them in the playoffs.
Ultimately though, this pick depends on Leonard’s health. The Clippers finished off the Jazz and took two games from the Suns without him, but if he misses a majority of the regular season their playoff seeding will suffer. If he returns sooner rather than later, however, Los Angeles will be firmly in the mix for the title.
Denver Nuggets (+2000)
Had it not been for a late-season ACL injury that kept Jamal Murray sidelined for the postseason, Denver would have been legitimate title contenders this year. Led by 2020-21 MVP Nikola Jokić, the Nuggets sat near the top of the Western Conference standings all season long and appeared bound for a second consecutive Western Conference Finals appearance. Injuries to Murray and key rotation piece Will Barton ultimately kept them from achieving that goal, however.
Barton will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason after declining his player option, and JaMychal Green, Paul Millsap, JaVale McGee, and Austin Rivers could all depart as well. However, Denver’s core of Jokić, Murray, Aaron Gordon, and rising star Michael Porter Jr. are all locked down for the immediate future, giving the front office an excellent nucleus to build around.
Atlanta Hawks (+3500)
Atlanta turned a lot of heads this postseason by upsetting both the Knicks and 76ers on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. While they were unable to get past the Bucks, the Hawks proved they have a solid foundation to build on heading into 2022.
Everything starts and ends with Trae Young, a 22-year-old phenom who averaged 28.8 points and 9.5 assists per game in his first postseason run. Beyond Young, Atlanta’s relatively youthful core consists of Bogdan Boganović, Clint Capela, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter, and Cam Reddish, not to mention a savvy group of veterans headlined by Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams.
Even if 2022 isn’t the year for the Hawks, bank on them contending for years to come, especially if they re-sign Collins to a long-term contract this summer. Atlanta proved a lot of people wrong this postseason, so underestimate them at your own peril.
NBA Champion 2021-2022: Prediction
Brooklyn Nets (+225)
The Nets were inches away from knocking off the eventual NBA champions in the second round. Had Kevin Durant squared up even a smidge farther from the basket in the final seconds of Game 7, his game-tying jumper would have been a series-clincher. But alas, Durant sent the game to overtime, where Milwaukee prevailed.
Of course, Brooklyn might have avoided that situation altogether had James Harden and Kyrie Irving been fully healthy during the postseason. At full strength, the Nets’ talent is unmatched. They’re heavy favorites for a reason, as they remain well-positioned to win a title in 2022.
Of course, the front office will have some decisions to make this offseason. Dinwiddie, Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, and Blake Griffin are all slated to become unrestricted free agents, and Brooklyn doesn’t have the spending power to bring them all back. When you’re starting with Durant, Harden, and Irving, though, your roster is already in pretty good shape.