Record-breaking performances, breakout stars, surprise teams, blockbuster trades and more from the first 125 days of the 2021-22 season.
1. 75th Anniversary Team
We have to begin with the unveiling of the 75th Anniversary Team over the first three nights of the regular season. Read these numbers from the original announcement again: A total of 158 NBA championships and 730 NBA All-Star selections. A combined 110 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Awards and Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Awards. More than 1.5 million points scored.
A few more key numbers to note: the 75th Anniversary Team is made up of 76 players due to a tie in the voting, all 50 members of the 50th Anniversary team made the list, as did 11 active players, including six that were selected for the 2022 All-Star Game, where the 75th Anniversary Team was honored in a spectacular halftime ceremony.
The sight of seeing legend after legend walk toward the center court stage while wearing the signature blue blazer with the NBA’s 75th Anniversary diamond logo on its chest, could only be rivaled by the behind-the-scenes footage of the legends of yesterday and today celebrating one another.
2. Curry breaks 3-point record
Dec. 14, 2021, Madison Square Garden, New York City. That was the time and place when Stephen Curry became the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made and solidified his already well-earned reputation as the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. Steph wouldn’t call himself the greatest until he had that record.
And with his second 3-pointer in Golden State’s win over the Knicks that night, he reached the magic number of 2,974 – one more than Ray Allen, who was in attendance to congratulate Curry, as was the now third-ranked 3-point shooter, Reggie Miller, who called the game for TNT.
If he couldn’t break the record at home, what better stage to do it on than The Garden, which was the third game of a four-game road trip. Leading into Golden State’s final home game before the trip, Curry needed 16 3s to break the record, and as a testament to how great Curry is, there was chatter that he could actually do it at home that night against Portland, which would have topped the all-time record of 14 held by Klay Thompson. Well, Curry didn’t hit 16 3s against Portland that night, but he did a few months later to shatter the record in the NBA All-Star Game.
A few other notable milestones from the first half of the season
- LeBron James reached 10,000 career rebounds, becoming the first player with 30,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 9,000 assists. He enters the second half of the season needing only 38 assists to achieve the 30K/10K/10K career triple-double.
- Chris Paul became the first player in NBA history to reach 20,000 career points and 10,000 career assists. As noted above, he is about to get some company.
- Carmelo Anthony climbed to ninth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, passing Moses Malone. Melo needs 555 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for eighth place, which is unlikely to happen this season.
- Curry broke his own record for most consecutive games with a 3-pointer made; the mark stands at 179 straight games and counting.
3. Klay returns after missing 941 days
After missing 941 days due to a pair of catastrophic leg injuries – a torn Achilles and a torn ACL – Klay Thompson finally made his way back to the court in January for the Golden State Warriors. There may not be a player in the league today that is more universally loved than Klay Thompson, so his return was a cause for celebration among all players and fans that love the game of basketball, which is just better when Klay is on the court.
On Jan. 9, 2022 against Cleveland, in his first NBA game since Game 6 of the 2019 Finals, Thompson finished with 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting in 20 minutes as the Warriors beat the Cavs. Klay splashed three 3-pointers and threw down a monster running dunk that served as an exclamation point to his “I’m Back” moment.
In his first 16 games back, Thompson has averaged 17.1 points on 41.8% shooting from the field, 37.4% from 3-point range and 93.5% from the free-throw line. He’s shown flashes of vintage Klay along the way as he continues to work his way back to full strength.
4. Ja Morant and the Grizzlies
There is only one answer to the question of who has been the breakout star of the 2021-22 NBA season – and that is Memphis’ Ja Morant, who earned his first All-Star selection (as a starter) in his third NBA season thanks to his outstanding and spectacular play on the court each night.
Morant is a highlight waiting to happen every night for the Grizzlies – whether it be a poster dunk, a two-handed block a foot above the rim, a no-look pass, or a spinning 360 layup to name a few we’ve seen so far this season. Morant’s game is much more than jaw-dropping feats.
At 6-foot-3, Morant leads the NBA in points in the paint at 16.4 per game and is the catalyst for Memphis’ breakout season as a team. The Grizzlies entered the All-Star break third in the Western Conference at 41-19, making them one of just three teams with 40+ wins at the break (Phoenix and Golden State are the others).
While Morant is the heartbeat of the Grizzlies, he’s had plenty of help in leading the Grizzlies from being in the Play-In Tournament last season, to being in position for home-court advantage to open the playoffs this season. Desmond Bane has made a huge leap in his second season as he averaged 17.9 points and ranks 11th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (41.9%); Jaren Jackson Jr. is averaging 16.7 points and ranks fourth in the NBA in blocks (2.2 per game); Dillon Brooks, who has not played since Jan. 8 due to an ankle injury but should be back in the next few weeks, is Memphis’ second-leading scorer (18.4 ppg).
5. Cleveland’s resurgence
The Cleveland Cavaliers finished the 2020-21 season in 13th place in the Eastern Conference with a 22-50 record – tied for the fourth-worst record in the league – and entered the 2021-22 season with relatively low expectations: see the young roster improve, see what No. 3 pick Evan Mobley could provide as a rookie, and compete night in and night out to try to make the playoffs, perhaps through the Play-In Tournament.
After a promising 7-4 start to the season, the Cavs announced that starting guard Collin Sexton would miss the rest of the season due to knee surgery. But that injury (nor the injury to Ricky Rubio six weeks later, which took the veteran guard out for the season with a torn ACL) has been able to derail the Cavaliers’ turnaround.
At the break, the Cavs are 35-23 – already 13 wins ahead of last season’s total with 24 games to play – and sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs are tied with Philadelphia (currently No. 3 due to a tiebreaker) as both teams sit just 2.5 games back of both Miami and Chicago at the top of the East.
Mobley has been even better than advertised and teams with Jarrett Allen on the frontline, helping Cleveland to a fourth-ranked defensive efficiency rating (105.8). Darius Garland has had a breakout season in his third year as a pro; he is one of four players to average at least 20 points and eight assists. Both Garland and Allen made their All-Star debuts on Sunday in front of the hometown Cleveland crowd.
6. DeMar DeRozan and the Bulls
After spending the past three seasons in San Antonio, DeMar DeRozan made the move to Chicago in a sign-and-trade deal between the Spurs and Bulls. The deal has paid off handsomely for Chicago as DeRozan is in the middle of a career-best year in his 13th NBA season.
DeRozan ranks fourth in the league in scoring (28.1 ppg) and ranks second in clutch scoring (114 points in 95 clutch minutes, on 54.1% shooting). DeRozan has a well-earned reputation as the King of the Mid-Range – he leads the NBA in mid-range field goals made (259) and attempted (516) and has 103 more mid-range field goals than any other player (Devin Booker is second at 156). But perhaps his biggest highlights of the year have come from behind the arc.
In back-to-back games, on back-to-back nights, across two different calendar years, DeRozan hit a pair of game-winning 3-pointers for the Bulls on the road. He closed out 2021 with a pull-up 28-footer off one leg to sink the Pacers in Indianapolis. Less than 24 hours later, DeRozan opened 2022 with another game-winning triple, this one in the left corner after pump-faking one defender away and rising up above another.
If that wasn’t enough for DeRozan, he also put himself in incredible company in his final 10 days prior to the All-Star break, becoming the first player in league history to score at least 35 points on 50% shooting or better for seven straight games. Wilt Chamberlain had held the mark with six straight games, and anytime you can put your name next to or ahead of Wilt in the record books is special.
7. Big Men dominating – Embiid and Jokic
In each of the past three weeks, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have finished in the top two in NBA.com’s weekly Kia MVP Ladder, with the two big men trading the top two positions above all other players in the league.
Both big men have been absolutely dominant so far this season. Embiid entered the All-Star break as the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.6 points per game as he looks to become the first center to win the scoring title since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 (29.7 ppg). Embiid also ranks eighth in rebounding (11.2 rpg) and 11th in blocks (1.4 bpg) as he is a force on both sides of the ball.
Embiid is one of eight players so far this season to score 50 or more points in a game as he matched his career-best with 50 points (in just 27:03, the second-fewest minutes in a 50-point game in the shot clock era) against Orlando on Jan. 19.
Jokic is having just as good a season – and arguably better – than he did last season when he was named league MVP for the first time. Jokic’s counting stats are incredible – 26.0 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 7.9 apg – as he is the only player to rank in the top 10 in points (8th), rebounds (2nd) and assists (8th).
He is also on pace to have the highest PER in league history (32.6) and his on/off numbers may show his true impact best. Jokic has a 20.7 net rating differential: when Jokic is on the court, the Nuggets outscore their opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions; when Jokic is off the court, the Nuggets are outscored by 10.7 points per 100 possessions.
8. Suns leading the way
The Suns entered the All-Star break at 48-10, marking not only the best record in the league, but with seven fewer losses than any other team in the league (Golden State, 42-17). There have been three double-digit win streaks so far this season – and the Suns account for two of them, including a team-record 18 straight wins from Oct. 30 to Dec. 2.
So that’s the good news for the Suns. Now for the bad news. The Suns announced that Chris Paul will miss the next six-to-eight weeks due to an avulsion fracture in his right thumb. Paul is so important to everything that the Suns do; he not only scores 14.9 points per game, he leads the NBA in assists with 10.7 per game, setting up his teammates for easy shots on a nightly basis.
How well will the Suns fare over the next two months – which accounts for nearly the rest of the regular season – without their floor general? Can they hold their lead as the No. 1 seed not just in the West but the entire NBA?
9. Harden/Simmons headlines trade deadline
It was a saga that started with Philadelphia’s exit from the 2021 playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals on June 20, 2021 and was finally resolved at the trade deadline on Feb. 10, 2022, as Ben Simmons was traded from the Sixers to the Nets (along with Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks) in exchange for James Harden and Paul Millsap.
On a trade deadline day that saw a number of teams make moves to increase their chance of making a deep playoff run, or just making the playoffs to begin with, the blockbuster between the Nets and Sixers ruled the day. It’s not often that two All-NBA caliber players are traded for one another, let alone in the same conference as each has championship aspirations. It’s also rare to see a trade that appears to be a win-win for all parties involved: Simmons get a fresh start in Brooklyn alongside Kevin Durant (when he returns from injury) and Kyrie Irving (for road games only at this point), while Harden reunites with Daryl Morey and teams with Joel Embiid.
Of course, we won’t know the true outcome of this trade – or any other deal that went down at the deadline – for some time. One thing is for sure, the next few months will be fascinating to watch and the March 10 contest between the Sixers and Nets in Philadelphia is definitely circled on the NBA calendar.
10. Lakers/Nets currently in Play-In
At the start of each season, NBA.com conducts a survey of the league’s general managers to offer predictions on how the season will play out. The GMs picked the Brooklyn Nets (72%) and Los Angeles Lakers (17%) as the top two favorites to win the 2022 NBA Finals – and had each team winning its respective conference.
At the All-Star break, both teams are currently in the Play-In Tournament field in their respective conferences: Brooklyn is eighth in the East at 31-28, while the Lakers are ninth in the West at 27-31. Both teams have had a myriad of issues to deal with throughout the season, whether it be injuries, Health and Safety Protocols, team chemistry and player availability.
With less than 25 games remaining for both teams – 23 for Brooklyn, 24 for L.A. – time is of the essence for both superstar-laden teams. However, no matter where these teams end up – the Play-In Tournament or the playoffs – they have the talent to be a matchup nightmare for any team they face when healthy.