With 2022 fast approaching, it’s time to take stock of the year that has passed and, more importantly, look ahead to the future.
2021 was a special year for the Milwaukee Bucks, who won their franchise’s first NBA title since 1971. It was also one to cherish for first-time MVP winner Nikola Jokic and the newly crowned all-time leader in regular season three pointers made, Stephen Curry.
This coming year promises to be yet another memorable one and we’ve decided to highlight 22 things to look out for in 2022 as if you needed even more reason to be excited for what’s to come.
1 – Klay Thompson’s Return
The last time that Klay Thompson played in an NBA game was on June 13, 2019 which was Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals. That means that it’s been two and a half years since one of the greatest three-point marksmen in NBA history has graced the world with his sublime shooting.
His return is inching closer by the day and the latest reports indicate that he may finally suit up come the second week of January. This has been a long time coming and everyone, including those who don’t even consider themselves Golden State Warriors fans, are eagerly awaiting the next great Thompson moment.
2 – A Tightly Contested Postseason
What made the 2021 NBA Playoffs even more exciting was the uncertainty surrounding the chase for the title following several years of Golden State’s dominance. While a couple of years have already passed since the Warriors’ last title, the inevitable nature of their dominant runs left a seemingly traumatic memory for most of the league’s fans.
The past two postseasons have been refreshing in the sense that there has been chaos and unpredictability in the build-up to the NBA Finals, with this year looking to offer more of the same with no clear-cut favorite emerging so far.
3 – The Next Round of “Who’s That Replacement Player?”
The seemingly never-ending spate of COVID-19 cases that have sidelined around a quarter of the league has brought about an interesting wrinkle in what is usually a quiet part of the regular season.
Teams have resorted to signing players out of retirement just to be able to field a team which has brought about a wave of nostalgia among fans. 40-year-old Joe Johnson reunited with the team that drafted him 20 years ago, the Boston Celtics, while Isaiah Thomas found his way to two different teams through separate 10-day contracts. Mario Chalmers was brought back by the Miami Heat, with whom he won two NBA titles almost a decade ago, and there’s no telling who’s going to reemerge on the NBA scene next.
4 – Free Agency
James Harden, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine highlight the list of players eligible to hit free agency this coming offseason.
These three players are some of the premier perimeter scorers in the NBA today and it will be interesting to monitor whether they decide to stick with their current situations or seek greener pastures. Out of the three, it seems most likely that Beal will be on the move or at least seriously engage with other suitors given how tumultuous the past few years have been for him and the Washington Wizards.
5 – The Continued Rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo
The 2021 NBA Finals MVP is still only 27 years old, and it will be exciting to see what the next level for him is. He is renowned for his work ethic and humility which further fuels the optimism around the league that the best is yet to come for the five-time NBA All-Star.
6 – The Rookie of the Year Race
Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes have set themselves apart from the rest of the field, but it is reasonable to expect a late push from the top two picks, Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, as they further acclimate themselves to the NBA.
Mobley and Barnes have played well-above even the most bullish of expectations for them coming into their rookie year and accelerated their respective teams’ rebuilding programs.
7 – Another Year of LeBron James
The four-time NBA MVP, four-time NBA Finals MVP, and 17-time NBA All-Star recently turned 37 years old yet remains one of the best players in the game. He is averaging 28 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists on the season and does not look like he has plans of slowing down anytime soon.
James recently made his first career start as a center and there’s no telling what other surprises he has up his sleeve in his 19th season. He recently topped 36,000 career points and with Karl Malone’s second-place 36,928 tally looming on the horizon, there is no reason for the four-time champion to take his foot off the accelerator.
8 – The NBA Draft
Paolo Banchero of Duke University is projected to go first overall in the upcoming NBA Draft and he boasts of the potential to be a game-changing scorer for whichever franchise drafts him.
The Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, and New Orleans Pelicans are currently leading the way in the race to the bottom of the standings and all five of them could benefit from adding a player of Banchero’s caliber.
9 – More Threes from Stephen Curry
A couple of weeks ago, Curry became the league’s all-time leader in three-pointers made with his 2,974th conversion. This past week, he eclipsed the 3,000 mark and continues to pad his record number of threes. It will be exciting to see how much more he can make this coming year and for the rest of his career, with each triple furthering record that will forever be tied to his legacy.
10 – The Lakers’ Drama
Russell Westbrook has only been playing for the Los Angeles Lakers for a couple of months, but his name has already emerged in trade rumors. His playing style clearly does not fit this roster, although the Lakers have several other problems outside of Brodie’s form.
The 2017 NBA MVP’s value is at an all-time low and it will be interesting to monitor the Lakers’ next move since a mistake could waste another one of the last years of James’ career.
11 – The Eventual Return of Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray, and company
Kawhi Leonard and Jamal Murray are expected to return by next season following catastrophic injuries suffered in 2021. Aside from these two stars, a couple of other talented players are expected to return in 2022 following major injuries.
Murray’s teammate, Michael Porter Jr., barely saw action this year before having to undergo back surgery. Meanwhile, Collin Sexton has missed out on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ resurgence (although some believe that his absence is the reason for it) with a torn meniscus.
The league is a much better place with them on the court and the hope is that they can return to full strength this coming year.
12 – An End to the Ben Simmons Saga
The situation between Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers is as frustrating as they come. He is perfectly healthy and still only 25 years old. Every game that he misses is a wasted day of his prime athletic years and it would serve both sides best to finally come to a resolution.
This all stems from Simmons’ wounded ego following a disastrous playoff performance earlier in 2021 and if he can come back with much better free throw shooting, then his hiatus may be worth it after all.
13 – Kyrie Irving: Part-time NBA Player
Kyrie Irving has sat out the first half of the NBA season due to his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but the recent spike in cases that has led to a shortage of players has left the Brooklyn Nets with no choice but to activate their controversial star.
Ironically, Irving tested positive following the announcement of his return, which delayed his season debut by a week. He is expected to suit up for the Nets in the coming days, although he will only be allowed to play in road games since New York’s state rules prohibit him from suiting up in Brooklyn due to his vaccination status.
14 – Ja Morant and Donovan Mitchell Taking “The Leap”
These two guards are among the most exciting players in the league, and it will be thrilling to watch them continue to take their game to the next level. Their respective teams’ fortunes weigh heavily on their development and the next few months will provide them with a prime opportunity to further establish themselves among the NBA’s elite.
15 – Manu Ginobili’s Induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame
The four-time NBA champion will be rightfully inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2022, the first year that he is eligible for enshrinement. The left-handed Argentinian is regarded as one of, if not the greatest, sixth man of all-time after playing the role to perfection with the dominant San Antonio Spurs teams that ruled the league over most of the first two decades of this millennium.
Ginobili will be joined by Tom Chambers, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Shawn Marion, Tim Hardaway, Muggsy Bogues, and Mark Jackson as the other former players in the upcoming class of nominees.
16 – The Next Step for the 2020 Draft Class
Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball have had strong sophomore seasons, confirming what the world saw from them in their rookie campaigns. The second half of this season will be crucial in their ascent to stardom and may influence their team’s actions moving forward as they determine whether they are truly foundational franchise pieces or just another piece to the puzzle.
Tyrese Haliburton, Tyrese Maxey, and Cole Anthony have also shown promise and look like they have the potential to lead their teams into the rest of this decade as their primary point guard.
17 – A Healthy Zion Williamson
The first pick of the 2019 NBA Draft has yet to play this season due to a foot injury that only surfaced a month before this current campaign began. There have been concerns about his weight gain during his rehabilitation and the sentiment around him has soured to the point that he is already being considered a bust by some pundits.
When Williamson has played, he has averaged 25.7 points and seven rebounds in 85 career appearances, and his return to health is something that everyone is counting on in 2022. Currently, his timetable is pegged at 3-4 weeks which means that he could finally make an appearance for the floundering Pelicans by the end of January.
18 – Damian Lillard Getting Help
Much has been said about Lillard’s situation with the Portland Trail Blazers, especially over the second half of 2021. It is obvious that the current iteration of the Blazers is not enough to contend for a title, so it will be interesting to monitor which direction their front office decides on going.
It does not matter whether they trade Lillard to another team or deal his current running mates for another superstar. The most important thing here is that they make a move since what they have going on now is only going to lead them to the lottery instead of deep into the playoffs.
19 – The NBA In-Season Tournament
The possibility of an in-season tournament has been floated around over the past few years and seems to be gaining significant traction per reports that emerged a couple of days ago.
This would add a new wrinkle to the tedious regular season and give fans more opportunities to see their teams playing at their optimum levels, especially since there will be some form of championship hardware and winnings on the line.
20 – New York Point Guard Situation
Kemba Walker’s move to his hometown New York Knicks has been rocky so far, but he has capitalized on the extra opportunities provided by the league’s COVID-19 outbreak to prove that he still has what it takes to be a starting point guard in the NBA.
Tom Thibodeau clearly prefers Alec Burks and Derrick Rose, though an injury to the latter and the low upside of the former have left him no other options but to revisit Walker. Their season has not gone as planned which gives Walker a prime opportunity to lift the Knicks back to the upper end of the standings.
21 – Gregg Popovich’s Plans
The 72-year-old head coach of the San Antonio Spurs will go down in history as one of the best to ever do it. He has already indicated that he only has a couple more years of coaching left in him and this season may be his last on the sidelines.
He has been the head coach of the Spurs for 25 years and is the last of a dying breed of coaches who have stuck around with one team for this long. The league is a much better place with him in it, although he deserves every bit of rest and relaxation that awaits him once he finally calls it a career.
22 – The End of the Pandemic (Hopefully)
It has almost been two years since the start of the pandemic that has rattled the entire world. The NBA has been no exception and the most recent COVID-19 outbreak is a reminder that the virus is still around. This has complicated the league’s schedule and limited the availability of players, further complicating what is already a complex system.
The eventual return to normal has been very much anticipated and the end to the pandemic also means that the league can finally retire its tedious health and safety protocols.