Monday marked 50 days until the start of the 2021-22 NBA regular season.
Whether you’re a #BallIsLife fanatic who can can’t enough hoops or someone who simply needs to take a break from fantasy football prep, The Sporting News has you covered with 50 can’t-miss storylines that will define the 2021-22 season.
If you missed Part 1 — which included primers on LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, among others — you can check it out right here.
Let’s get after it.
26. I’m excited to watch the NBA’s Game of Thrones, as it feels like we’re caught transitioning between two eras. By my count, as many as seven different players legitimately vie for the unofficial title of NBA’s best player: James, Durant, Antetokounmpo, Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid and Stephen Curry. This is different from the MVP race for the simple fact that the NBA’s best player doesn’t always win MVP. No, this is about staking a claim as the NBA’s one true king. Going year by year, you’d be hard pressed to find any season with this many players jockeying for pole position.
MORE: 10 insiders voted on the NBA’s best player. None picked LeBron.
27. I’m excited to watch the Lakers in Game No. 83 and beyond. Although Russell Westbrook’s fit (and, to a lesser extent, Carmelo Anthony) in Los Angeles will fuel hours of airtime and social media debates from Day 1, we won’t learn much until the stakes are raised against playoff-caliber defenses.
28. I’m excited to watch the rule changes, which will dramatically improve the game and viewing experience. The NBA announced that it will limit attempts to draw fouls on non-basketball moves, which means cracking down on the James Hardens and Trae Youngs of the world launching into defenders, kicking legs out at odd angles, and any other movements that don’t happen naturally.
29. I’m excited to watch Davion Mitchell make life absolutely miserable for opposing guards. He won’t be the best defensive guard in the league from Day 1, but he might be the most uncomfortable to play against.
Davion Mitchell forces the turnover on NBA TV! #NBASummer pic.twitter.com/6A7KBFg7Fm
— NBA (@NBA) August 9, 2021
30. I’m excited to watch Jalen Green drop 40. Fun fact: Allen Iverson is the last rookie to put up three 40-point games. Green will have the ultimate green light to fire away in Houston and could put up rookie numbers reminiscent of AI.
31. I’m excited to watch Michael Porter Jr. seize an opportunity to fast-track his ascent to stardom. Although the 6-10 walking bucket underwhelmed in the postseason, he did rattle off a 15-game stretch immediately following Jamal Murray’s injury in which he poured in 25 points per game on 58/51/85 shooting splits. Playing off perhaps the league’s most unselfish star in Jokic, Porter Jr. is a major breakout candidate on a team that can still win a ton of games.
32. I’m excited to watch more stories about Kyrie Irving’s off-the-court impact bubble to the surface. While there’s certainly a discussion to be had about mercurial nature and on-court availability, there is little denying all that he’s done to use his mic for good. Like bringing clean water to one of Pakistan’s poorest villages. Or donating 200,000 meals to a food bank during the pandemic. Or providing truckloads of masks and food to assist the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
33. I’m excited to watch the Jazz attempt to follow Milwaukee’s blueprint. After years of underwhelming postseason performances, the Bucks finally broke through and exorcised the demons. The Bucks are proof that the Jazz shouldn’t be counted out.
34. I’m excited to watch the star power on Christmas. Eight active players have made at least eight All-Star teams and all of them are scheduled to play on Christmas Day. There are a whopping 157 combined All-Star appearances by players slated to play on Dec. 25.
35. I’m excited to watch “Inside The NBA,” which enters its 22nd straight season with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith. The past three months served up a reminder of just how hard it is to produce a consistent NBA show. Don’t take “Inside The NBA” for granted.
36. I’m excited to watch Golden State attempt to thread the needle by winning now and playing for the future. If one of James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga or Moses Moody pops, the Warriors will be right there knocking on the doorstep of championship contention.
37. I’m excited to watch Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton’s next act after their Finals run. Booker seems poised to graduate from All-Star to All-NBA while Ayton could threaten to crack the All-NBA stranglehold that Jokic, Embiid and Gobert maintain over the rest of the league’s centers.
38. I’m excited to watch Portland (hopefully) avoid the definition of insanity. At some point, Portland’s brass must realize that trotting out Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum without any discernible third star is a recipe for faux contention. I hope the Blazers do something to significantly change their fortunes.
MORE: 76ers have their eyes set on Lillard
39. I’m excited to watch the next wave of first-time All-Stars. We had four of them last season — Julius Randle, Jaylen Brown, Zion Williamson and Zach LaVine — and this year’s list could come from a group that includes Porter Jr., McCollum, Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball, De’Aaron Fox, Deandre Ayton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Fred VanVleet.
40. I’m excited to watch Karl-Anthony Towns reassert his overwhelming potential. Towns has persevered through overwhelming personal tragedy since the start of the pandemic that renders anything basketball-related ultimately inconsequential. Nevertheless, Towns finding solace on the hardwood and enjoying some modicum of success with the Timberwolves would be a feel-good story that any fan can root for.
41. I’m excited to watch the true birth of a new era in San Antonio. With Patty Mills joining the Brooklyn Nets in free agency, no players remain from the vaunted 2014 title team. Regardless of how long Gregg Popovich mans the sidelines, the Spurs have officially closed the on-court book on the NBA’s longest sustained run. Dejounte Murray, at 24 years old, now takes over as the longest-tenured Spur and will shepherd in the new era.
42. I’m excited to watch James Harden make a run at a legacy-altering ring. If the Nets stay healthy, they’re the odds-on favorite and while other players such as Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul would change narratives with a championship, nobody would benefit historically quite like Harden.
43. I’m excited to watch noted X’s and O’s coaching wizard Rick Carlisle work his magic with the Pacers after spending the past 13 seasons with the Mavericks. Armed with a talented roster featuring Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert and T.J. Warren, Indiana could be a deep sleeper to watch in the East.
44. I’m excited to watch Paul George, Ty Lue and the rest of the Clippers fight off the lame-duck, long-season status that comes with Kawhi Leonard’s partially torn ACL. George is a former third-place MVP finisher, Lue is perhaps the best adjustment maker among all coaches, and oddsmakers still peg the Clippers to finish over .500 and make the playoffs.
45. I’m excited to watch the Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie backcourt light the league on fire. Sure, most of the attention will be on monitoring Beal’s happiness as teams try to pry him free. But good on Beal for giving it a shot with Dinwiddie, who when healthy and given an opportunity to hunt for his own, can fill it up. As a starter two years ago, Dinwiddie pumped in 21.3 points per game. If Beal tops 30 once again, this could be the highest-scoring backcourt.
46. I’m excited to watch the next long-form docuseries. After the rousing success of “The Last Dance” and the subsequent chatter, next up on the docket is Hulu’s nine-part documentary on the Lakers, covering the Showtime ’80s, the Kobe-Shaq three-peat and the arrival of LeBron James. Add in HBO’s star-studded series on the same topic and we’ve got tons of Lakers hitting the small screen in 2022.
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47. I’m excited to watch event broadcasts innovate. The NFL gave us guts-exploding cannons on Nickelodeon. MLB dreamed up a “Field of Dreams” game that resonated unlike any regular-season baseball game in decades. Last season the NBA put on a Marvel-inspired broadcast that connected with young audiences. Whatever comes next, it will surely dominate the conversation.
48. I’m excited to watch the NBA’s biggest X-factor: Patrick Williams. Chicago could finish third in the East or 12th and I’m not sure anyone would be surprised. But for all the attention paid to Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic, it’s Williams who could ultimately determine where the Bulls finish. He was this year’s annual “that guy is way too good to be in Summer League” and if his offense comes close to matching his ability on the other end — early signs are promising — the Bulls could make some serious noise. Watch out.
49. I’m excited to watch the return of the Play-in Tournament. Not every year will result in a LeBron buzzer-beater to snuff out a herculean effort by Steph Curry, but there’s no doubt that the NBA’s latest innovation to inject late-season drama resulted in a better product. More games, more moments, less tanking? Bring it all on.
50. I’m excited to watch it all unfold. If last year taught us anything, it’s to assume nothing. Who at the start of the year picked a Bucks-Suns NBA Final? Or a Conference Finals run by the Hawks? Or Steph Curry throwing up 2016 unanimous MVP vibes? Expect the unexpected and celebrate the unlikely stories that emerge out of nowhere and challenge preconceived notions.