2021-22 NBA Preview: A Look at Intriguing Questions for Each Team (Part I, The East)

2021-22 NBA Preview: Eastern Conference

Ladies and Gentlemen. Boys and Girls. The 2021-22 NBA Season is here. We did it. This is going to be a two-part series in which we highlight an intriguing question that each franchise is going to face moving forward for the upcoming season. Some are going to be obvious, while others might be a little more outside the box. Without further interruption, let’s just get right into it. Here are some questions I have about every team in the Eastern Conference.

The NBA Season is Back. Let’s talk some basketball.

Why Aren’t We Giving Atlanta More Love?

I find myself drooling when I look at the Atlanta Hawks depth chart. This team is coming off a season in which they “announced” their presence in the NBA. Now, the Hawks look ready to let everyone know that they are a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. If the Hawks can get another step in the right direction from the developmental perspective of De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, this team could get scary in a hurry. Atlanta dealt with a bit of an injury bug throughout the early portion of the season last year, so if the Hawks can stay healthy, they could be a team that comes out of the gate on fire.

Is Boston Becoming the Sleeper of the East?

There’s a serious argument to be had here, as the Boston Celtics are quickly looking like a potential wildcard in the Eastern Conference. We know how good Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are. Can new head coach Ime Udoka get this team to commit to becoming a nasty defensive team on a consistent basis? I believe he can. Boston did an outstanding job of revamping this roster in a hurry throughout the offseason. If Al Horford and Dennis Schroeder can contribute, along with some of the younger pieces on the roster, this Celtics team has the makeup of a tough gritty team to deal with.

Are the Nets still extremely dangerous?

Yes. Kevin Durant and James Harden didn’t even get to play the entire year together last season. The Kyrie Irving drama doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon, but this Nets roster is extremely more dangerous compared to last year. The front office did a great job of addressing depth in the offseason, bringing in the likes of Patty Mills, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Paul Millsap. Brooklyn now has some serious versatility to their rotation, and they still have two of the top offensive weapons in the NBA. Don’t sleep on Cam Thomas…he’s got too much firepower not to contribute as a rookie.

How Much Better Will the Charlotte Hornets be this year?

A lot. That is of course if the Hornets key players can stay healthy this year. LaMelo Ball is going to be off and running in year two for this team. If the Hornets can get Gordon Hayward to stay off the sidelines for an extended amount of time, they could be a feisty young team to deal with on a nightly basis. Rookie combo guard James Bouknight should be a great piece in the rotation, and the Hornets will continue to be one of the more underrated NBA League Pass teams this year.

Are We Buying the Chicago Bulls hype?

At first, I wasn’t. The fit just seemed to have too many chaotic parts. Then I got to thinking about it over the last couple of weeks, and I think this could be something beautiful. Yes, I’m getting drunk on the idea of Lonzo Ball finally being unleashed in a new city. I also am weirdly buying into the idea of Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan being a perfect combination on the wings. Is it weird? Yes. Does it look like it could work? Perhaps. Alex Caruso will be a great piece off the bench, and I’m thrilled to see what Patrick Williams can do in year two. Oh yeah, Nikola Vucevic still exists…I’m officially too pumped for Bulls fans this year.

How will the Frontcourt Rotation Work Out?

Plenty of us will closely be watching what happens with Collin Sexton and if he could become a popular trade candidate as the trade deadline approaches. For now, the Cavaliers have some intriguing pieces to the puzzle. After trading for Lauri Markkanen and drafting Evan Mobley third overall, there’s plenty of questions about how the frontcourt is going to work out. After the Cavaliers just gave Jarrett Allen a big extension, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the rotation works out.

How will the Backcourt Duo Workout?

Who is going to run the offense? Are the Pistons going to give Killian Hayes as many chances to be the primary ball-handler? Or will the team finally turn things over to first overall selection Cade Cunningham? Plenty of intrigue with the Detroit Pistons this year. Don’t be surprised if the Pistons look better on the court but it doesn’t translate to a big uptick in wins. This is a long re-build folks, and Detroit is on the right path.

Are the Indiana Pacers a sleeper in the East?

This is something I keep coming around to and I really think there's a valid argument here. Could the Indiana Pacers become a darkhorse in the Eastern Conference? This team has plenty of intriguing depth and it cannot be understated the type of effect that new head coach Rick Carlisle will have on this team. Unfortunately for the Pacers, they are going to start out the season with a bit of an injury bug. Caris LeVert and TJ Warren are expected to miss some time. That will most likely mean more minutes for the likes of rookie wing Chris Duarte. If this team can manage the storm and find itself full health for an extended period of time, they could ruffle some feathers in the Eastern Conference. 

Built for the Regular Season or Waiting for the Playoffs?

Personally, I don't think any team has given me more headaches than the Miami Heat heading up to the 2021-22 NBA season. On paper, I absolutely LOVE what the Heat have put together. They have an intriguing starting five that should prove to become a headache for opposing teams throughout the year. When you look at this team in terms of looking 1-7, the Heat have some intriguing depth. If Victor Oladipo can eventually return and look like his old self, then this Miami Heat team can absolutely take off and be a force. But that's a bit of a gamble for a team, especially with Oladipo's recent history. The Heat are most likely going to be a tough team over the course of the regular season, but they could be a terrifying opponent in the Playoffs if they are at full health. 

Is Milwaukee’s Roster Better than Last Year?

In a weird way, Yes. It’s incredible to think that the defending NBA Champions could be better without a massive offseason move. All of the pieces are back to the puzzle, and there are also some intriguing sleeper additions to this core. Grayson Allen looks to have plenty of fans in this front office, as the Bucks just rewarded Allen with an extension. Giannis became a terrifying force during the NBA Finals and his shot has looked horrifying in the preseason (in a good way), so buckle up. Keep an eye on Jordan Nwora as a potential sleeper in the rotation.

Can the Knicks Take the Next Step Forward?

Admit it, the NBA is better when the New York Knicks are buzzing. After shocking the basketball world with their performance during last season, the Knicks will have the attention of teams across the league. Can the Knicks build off of that and take another step forward? While the Kemba Walker addition has gotten all of the news, I’m most excited to see RJ Barrett unleashed. It’s time for Barrett to have a big year and it’s going to be fascinating to see what the recently turned 21-year-old does.

Who Surprises us From the Orlando Magic?

This team is just pure chaos and I absolutely love it. On a serious note, there’s a ton of intriguing storylines to watch with this rebuilding Orlando Magic squad this year. The curious case of Mo Bamba has been generating some buzz after a strong preseason. I’ll be fascinated to see if Wendell Carter Jr can have a bit of a bounceback season, especially after the Magic just rewarded him with a nice extension. Contrary to popular belief, I actually will have a lot of intrigue with the Magic when it comes to them as a potential League Pass team.

Ben Simmons? No, Let’s Talk About Something Else.

I don’t want to talk about it right now. Instead, let’s talk about some of the underrated names I’m intrigued to watch this year. Tyrese Maxey is going to get plenty of opportunities to show he can become a point guard of the future for the Sixers. Maxey had himself a strong Summer League showing, and he should be the one to watch here. Want a serious sleeper to keep an eye on? Insert Isaiah Joe. A former second-round pick in 2020, Joe has the ability to stretch the floor with some lethal NBA range. After a strong showing in the preseason, he could become an intriguing rotation asset.

Is Toronto a Sleeper for the Playoffs?

Yes, you read that right. I’m quickly becoming drunk on Toronto Raptors hype. After a nightmare season that saw the Raptors play their home games in Tampa Bay, this team is finally back home in Toronto. This Raptors team has some weird vibes. They are going to be young, scrappy, and fly all over the floor. Rookie forward Scottie Barnes has looked exceptional in the preseason and OG Anunoby looks poised for a breakout season. If Goran Dragic sticks with this team for the entire year, the Raptors could make a run at the playoffs.

Is this Wizards team strangely deep?

First of all, yes, I had to give some recognition to the old school Wizards logo. It’s too legendary and they honestly need to bring it back. Second, this Washington team is strangely becoming fascinating. You can make an argument that this is one of the most talented teams that Bradley Beal has had in recent years. It’s a bit sad, but it’s also true. After an offseason in which Washington brought in a number of respectable complementary pieces, the Wizards now have some talent around Beal. It’s going to be fascinating to see what Deni Avdija can do in year two. Keep an eye on Daniel Gafford, who looked fantastic for Washington last year. The Wizards just rewarded him with a nice extension, and he could thrive this year while Thomas Bryant is out with an injury.