With the biggest NBA off-season moves in the rearview mirror, we're taking a look at the early favourites to win the 2022 NBA Championship.
The NBA has one of the wildest off-seasons in all of sports, as blockbuster trades and star free agent signings are par for the course. The defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets remain among the top favourites to win the NBA Championship next season, while a completely revamped LA Lakers team cashed in all their chips in the off-season for a playoff run in 2022. Who has the best shot at a title next year?
Brooklyn Nets (+239)
Oddsmakers are clearly expecting the Nets to go on a run in 2022, if they remain healthy. It took seven games for Brooklyn to fall to the eventual champion Bucks in the playoffs, even with James Harden and Kyrie Irving hurt. Along with Kevin Durant, the Nets have arguably the best Big Three in the NBA. Depending on who you ask, Durant is currently the best overall player in the NBA, Harden is the best isolation player and Irving is the best ball-handler.
The scary part of this team is, they’ve only become better this off-season. They signed veteran point-guard Patty Mills, who was instrumental in San Antonio’s 2014 championship run and vastly improves the Nets’ 3-point shooting. Brooklyn then re-signed Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown, who should both be more comfortable coming into their second seasons with the team. Griffin is still a great passer and Brown is a crucial part of the defence. The signing of James Johnson also gives Brooklyn a capable replacement for Jeff Green, who signed in Denver.
The Nets are the best team in the NBA on paper and now Steven Nash has a little more coaching experience. If their Big Three can stay healthy, the East is theirs for the taking. No disrespect to the Bucks, they deserved their championship, but if Harden and Irving were healthy in the playoffs, last season likely would have ended very differently. While the Lakers, Warriors and Suns beat each other up all season in the West this year, Brooklyn should cruise through the East with a lot less wear-and-tear.
Los Angeles Lakers (+310)
A first-round exit to the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs clearly made an impact on the Lakers. L.A. has easily overhauled their roster more drastically than any other team in the off-season. You could see throughout last season that LeBron James and Anthony Davis needed more help. The Lakers’ front office saw and they delivered. L.A. traded for Russell Westbrook and singed key players like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard.
The Lakers gave up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma and the draft rights to Isaiah Jackson in the Westbrook deal, so yeah, you could say they’re all-in on 2022. Westbrook is one of the NBA’s best playmakers and he should make Davis’ and soon-to-be 37-year-old James’ lives easier this season, by eating minutes.
Anthony provides key 3-point shooting that L.A. lacked in the playoffs and he can space the floor for James and Davis like he did for Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum in Portland. It’s Howard’s third stint with the Lakers. He’s a big presence around the basket and defensively he can handle some of the tougher assignments to make things easier for Davis. With a rested James and Davis, this team can go far next year.
Milwaukee Bucks (+800)
The cash-strapped Bucks didn’t make any huge moves in the off-season, but why would tinker too much with a championship team? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday don’t have anything else to prove after going all the way in 2021. The core three (or four if you add Brook Lopez) is locked up for the foreseeable future, meaning Milwaukee only needed to focus on tweaking the supporting cast in the off-season.
Milwaukee has quietly been improving their depth, with the signing of backup point guard George Hill being a sneaky, good addition. It’s actually a return to the Bucks for Hill, who was originally traded away in the Holiday deal. Hill can score, he’s a playmaker and he has proven chemistry with Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee also improved their shooting by trading for Grayson Allen, who will either be the starting shooting guard, or a solid backup.
One of Milwaukee’s best moves was re-signing fan-favourite Bobby Portis. Portis had a great season last year and carved out a spot for himself in the lineup with his scoring, rebounding and hard work. He’ll be key in providing depth to the secondary scoring unit and he looks like he’ll only get better. Giannis got over the hump last year and proved he’s a winner, but can he and the Bucks do it again in 2022?