As we turn the page on the year 2021, a basketball year filled with injuries, illnesses, and outages, we thought it might make sense to go back and list who and what made the year more joyous and what made us clench our teeth. times.
Before the clock strikes midnight, here’s our roundup of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: NBA Edition.
Best Promising Team: Memphis Grizzlies
No one would flinch if the choice here were the Cavaliers, who boast the best net rating and point differential in the Eastern Conference despite ranking fifth. Evan Mobley clearly has the next, and between him, Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland, the Cavs finally have something relevant without LeBron having to be involved.
But picking the Cavaliers here would be too focused on just this season. Plus, the team most deserving of this honor, Memphis, has a better record yet, and that’s in addition to beating Stephen Curry and the Warriors in an entry game, on the road no less, to reach the 2021 playoffs. .
People will understandably point out the stardom of Ja Morant and how he influences the team’s game, which is obvious. But then they’ll scratch their heads too when you point to the Grizzlies’ recent 10-2 streak with Morant injured and out of the lineup.
Credit to coach Taylor Jenkins is long overdue; not just to keep the team afloat, or thrive, with a trio of ball handlers, while Morant lost a lot of time.
Desmond Bane is quietly one of the league’s most improved players, expanding his workload as a winger a ton from last season without losing much in terms of efficiency. There is still room for coherence; especially from 22-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr., who could take the team to the next level.
But potentially not just making the postseason at 22, but making it home-field advantage? Besides what the Grizzlies did last season? It’s hard to be more encouraged by the fifth-youngest team in the league. The future looks very bright.
Best Player: Nikola Jokic
Between Giannis Antetokounmpo after his back-to-back MVP seasons with his first NBA title, Stephen Curry and his team were back near the top of world basketball again, and Kevin Durant perhaps taking the crown as the world’s most dominant player, it might seem like an odd choice to claim Jokić here.
If so, think again.
Jokic more than deserved his MVP award last season. Really, he should have gotten it unanimously after leading a greatly diminished Denver club to a top-four seed with the best year of his career by far, and without missing any action in a season in which the other contenders for him honor were lost. fair share of the time. This season, Jokić has somehow been even more dominant.
The Nuggets are even more exhausted this season than they were last, with Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and PJ Dozier all on the mend and serious injuries for months. The result has been Jokić’s usage rate climbing even further, to almost 33%, with his efficiency metrics on par with last season’s. His PER this season is currently the best of all time.; again, even more impressive than 2020-21, when he posted the 11th best PER in NBA history.
The man is shooting nearly 63% on two-point shots, even though a not insignificant portion of those looks come from the midfield. His defense has been legitimately good. He remains the elite passer he has always been, even with fewer threats to move the ball to.
It would not be surprising that he does not repeat as MVP. It will appear to be an uphill battle to sway voters, particularly if Curry and the Warriors stay on track, and the Nuggets finish near .500 while Jokić keeps them afloat. But Jokić has made a pretty solid case that he may be the best player in the world, although it is not an argument often heard from the most prominent voices.
Most Annoying Plot: Ben Simmons and the Sixers; Kyrie Irving and the Nets
Few things make less sense in life than fighting a high-profile showdown over something that will inevitably happen anyway.
In the case of Kyrie and the Nets, the back and forth over whether the team would allow him to play turned out to be relatively silly, as Brooklyn recently announced that it would allow him to serve as a part-time player, an investment the club said was necessary after a COVID-19 outbreak that ticked more than half the list. (Then on bringing him back into the fold, Irving reportedly tested positive as well.)
At least Irving’s situation has its roots in the broader and more polarizing national conversation around the virus., public health and mandates. After a while, the Simmons situation just wasn’t that interesting anymore, it just featured two sides playing a game of chicken.
The Sixers, in the race for the playoffs but without a couple of playmakers, apparently could have traded it for something decent by now. Simmons might have gotten off to a fresh start somewhere, but now he believes he will face even greater scrutiny wherever he ends due to the nature of this hurdle. The scenario has not helped either party, although both would have benefited by being a bit more reasonable.
Best Team: Milwaukee Bucks
The slight nod goes to the reigning NBA champions, who are still up for the No. 1 seed in the East at ’21 -22, despite taking a conservative approach by simply resting key players to start the season. .
And make no mistake: they’ll be in the running to hold onto their crown, and there’s nothing they’d like more than to show that last year wasn’t something they simply stumbled upon because of Brooklyn’s health, or anything else. . The team is 16-2 this season when its top three players – Giannis, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – are each tied for it, and now they have the confidence of a champion to carry on their continuity. (Although a healthy Brook Lopez in the lineup would surely be nice.)
Right behind the Bucks, the Phoenix Suns deserve an honorable mention here. They were just two wins away from winning it all, yet they’ve been pretty much tied for the league’s best record this season for weeks at the moment. All of that despite lingering angst, questions about workplace culture raised at the property level, and a handful of injuries could have taken the team off the ground.
The Suns are legitimate. But that has been true of them for more than a calendar year. in this point.
Best Play: Giannis’s Blockade of Ayton
It’s hard to go back to something other than Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ridiculous block on Deandre Ayton in the final moments of Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Finals.
Aside from the sheer athleticism and IQ displayed in that sequence, the background to the situation is worth considering. Ayton’s dunk would have tied the score at 101 in a series in which the Suns led 2-1. If Phoenix gets that win and goes 3-1, the Suns would have come home with a chance to clinch the series there.
Instead, Giannis did what he does, the Bucks won that game, and then the next two games, to win the championship.
Ironically, one of the other plays of 2021. came in a balloon for Ayton, one that the Clippers surrendered on an entry pass with less than a second remaining that helped tip the balance a round before the Finals.
Most disappointing club: Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers
The Lakers may be the obvious choice for most people, but they are fighting for reasons that many analysts, myself included, thought they could. 1) They’re old and frail, as evidenced by the latest injury to Anthony Davis and LeBron James, 37, in and out of the lineup early on. And 2) Russell Westbrook’s fit never seemed perfect.
It was puzzling that someone had the Lakers on the list of favorites, in terms of stakes or in theory, after watching them exhaust their depth to add Westbrook to the list. And on some level, it feels strange to call them the most disappointing club, at least solely, when so many people see these kinds of problems on the horizon.
Even if they make the playoffs, nothing on this team screams “contenders.”
To some extent, the same could be said for the Blazers, who essentially did it with the same main cast, but a different coach, in first-time head coach Chauncey Billups. The result so far has been a 13-21 start, the worst defense of any team trying to make the playoffs this season, a general manager fired (Neil Olshey) after an investigation into workplace culture and worst shooting season by far. Damian Lillard’s eventual Hall of Fame career.
It’s disappointing but given the Blazers waited so long to make real changes to a core that seemed to be going nowhere fast, maybe that’s what we should have expected by now.
More NBA coverage:
• Kyrie Irving’s awkward return to the court
• LeBron in the Center? The Lakers could be onto something
• The warriors’ quest to achieve what other dynasties could not
• How LaMelo Ball made a difference in Charlotte
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.