2021-22 Kia Season Preview

10 key questions: Which team is poised for a surprising, breakout season?

Two East squads have the roster pieces and intangibles to take a big step forward in 2021-22.

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry are the new superstar tandem in Miami.

For the next 10 days, we’ll be answering one key question surrounding the 2021-22 NBA season. Here’s question nine:

Which team is poised for a surprising, breakout season?

Well, if I can predict it here, how surprising will it be really? OK, that’s not the answer you’re looking for, but there is something to be said for it. Some of the biggest improvements this offseason have been made by teams — the Brooklyn Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers, the LA Clippers — that won’t surprise a soul by being good. Other top contenders — the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers — already have broken out. And jockeying around for a somewhat higher finish still in the lottery doesn’t qualify as a breakout either.

So I’m down to a few candidates from which I’ll hedge and pick two: Miami and Chicago.

For the Bulls to reach “breakout” status, they’ll need to snag a playoff spot, which means surpassing or surviving the Play-In route in the East. Adding Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to start with Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Patrick Williams should boost considerably an offense that ranked 21st (110.4 points per 100 possessions) last season. Chicago has been in search of a point guard for several years, with Ball filling the void at both ends. He and Williams will do extra duty defensively based on DeRozan’s, LaVine’s and Vucevic’s track records but there’s enough there, with a revamped bench, to push above .500 after the 31-41 finish in 2020-21.

Miami’s breakout will be at a much higher level, with Finals aspirations beyond the bubble experience in 2020. Adding Kyle Lowry was a perfect acquisition, someone to organize the Heat’s offense and provide an emotional counterpart to Jimmy Butler. Bam Adebayo will be driven by the abrupt exit from this year’s playoffs that seemed to sting him more than most. Duncan Robinson will be shooting with financial security, pickups such as P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris will be perfect for the postseason, and when president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra shift into win-now mode, this is no team with which to trifle. Something in the range of 55 victories, a Top 3 seed and a trek to the East finals (maybe beyond) all seem to be part of this Heat warning.

Other questions: 

Which second-year players will flourish?
• Can Hawks build on their playoff success?
• How can Zion improve his game next season?
• How will Kidd help Doncic in Dallas?
• Will experience push Lakers to top of West?
• Are the Nets clearly the team to beat?
• Can the Suns return to The Finals?
• How can Lowry help the Heat?
• What will be the Bucks’ biggest challenge?

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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