Giannis Antetokounmpo got a taste of championship champagne and now he wants more.
After leading the Milwaukee Bucks to their first NBA title since 1971, the two-time league MVP and newly minted 2021 NBA Finals MVP said he is not satisfied and has his sights set on repeating as champion.
“I’m not even close to being satisfied,” Antetokounmpo said. “As the leader of the team, that’s the tone I’m gonna set. We understand teams are coming for us. We’re gonna be ready.”
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have extra motivation because they’re not favored to win in the 2021-22 season. The Brooklyn Nets, the team the Bucks eliminated in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals, are the betting favorites (+250) to win the title followed by the Lakers (+400), according to FanDuel. The Bucks have the third-best odds (+650) to win it all.
“We know we’re the 2021 NBA champs,” Giannis said. “But right now, we’re just the Milwaukee Bucks, and nobody believes in us. And nobody believes we can do it again.”
Antetokounmpo might be exaggerating a bit when he said “nobody” believes in the Bucks. There are many — including OneManFastBreak — who fear the deer. OMFB predicts the playoff order in the Western and Eastern conferences, including the eight teams in the play-in brackets.
EASTERN CONFERENCE (TOP 6)
1-Brooklyn Nets (projected record 59-23) — The Kyrie Irving anti-vaccine drama has sucked up much of the oxygen inside the Nets’ locker room this offseason, and a resolution can’t come soon enough. Irving’s availability is vital to the Nets’ title hopes, but it’s not a deal-breaker. With or without Kyrie, Steve Nash’s unit has the most potent offense in the NBA, ranking at the top or near it in points (119), field goal percentage (49.4), and 3-point shooting (39.2). As long as Kevin Durant and James Harden are healthy, Brooklyn will be the heavy favorite in the East.
2-Milwaukee Bucks (58-24) — The biggest challenge for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. will be how they deal with having targets on their backs every night. They now go from being the hunters to being the hunted. The Bucks lost defensive stopper P.J. Tucker to free agency, but the core of the 2021 championship team returns for head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks brass brought back veteran guard George Hill, who will serve as a solid backup plan at point or shooting guard. And at the end of the day, the Bucks still have the Greek Freak.
3-Atlanta Hawks (50-32) — When Nate McMillan took over the helm, the Hawks took off. They became a completely different team. Trae Young blossomed into more of a traditional point guard under McMillan, shedding some of the wild shots he was known for during his first two seasons and becoming a true playmaker. Young took fewer shots per game (down from 20.8 to 17.7) but maintained his assists (9.4). Young’s ascent into elite status is crucial to how far the Hawks can go and prove to naysayers that last season’s playoff run wasn’t a fluke.
4-Miami Heat (49-33) — After taking a big step back last season following an NBA Finals appearance in the bubble, the Heat upgraded their point guard position by acquiring veteran Kyle Lowry. Lowry’s playmaking ability will fix some of the woes Miami had on offense, which at times became stagnant and reliant on Jimmy Butler. Fresh off a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, Bam Adebayo came into camp in fantastic shape and added a face-up jumper. Tyler Herro looks to rebound after a disappointing sophomore season.
5-Philadelphia 76ers (48-34) — Awkward. That’s the status of the 76ers organization and All-Star forward Ben Simmons. Simmons wants out of Philly but Philly can’t find a deal that would satisfy both sides. Sixers president Daryl Morey and head coach Doc Rivers are put in an uncomfortable position. They must navigate through this Simmons mess while trying to contend for a title. Philly won’t be able to move forward until they figure out what to do with their petulant star.
6-New York Knicks (46-36) — Tom Thibodeau squeezed out every ounce of talent and energy from his squad last season and surprised many by finishing in the top four. New York was one of the best defensive teams in the league and forward Julius Randle elevated his game to All-Star level. But with every Thibodeau team, it’s extremely difficult to maintain this hard-charging style. Expect a drop-off this season.
7-Chicago Bulls (43-39) — The Bulls added some nice pieces in the offseason and are now primed to make their first playoffs appearance in four seasons. The addition of point guard Lonzo Ball, forward DeMar DeRozan, and utility man Alex Caruso gives head coach Billy Donovan three solid pieces to fit with All-Star guard Zach LaVine. Ball was the big free-agent catch, signing a four-year, $85 million contract. LaVar Ball just keeps winning. Neva lost!
8-Charlotte Hornets (41-41) — Reigning NBA rookie of the year LaMelo Ball gave us a taste of what a Big Baller looks like and his basketball brilliance is making a once-moribund franchise into one of the most exciting teams in the league. You can almost hear LaVar Ball in the background saying, “I told you so!” Charlotte will have eight nationally televised games in 2021-22 and it’s all because of LaMelo.
9-Boston Celtics (40-42) — Ime Udoka, 44, takes over for Brad Stevens, who left the coaching bench after six seasons to become team president. Udoka’s first order of business is to fix the Celtics’ woeful ball movement (25th in assists). Celtics won’t have Kemba Walker to dump on as the 34-year-old guard packed his bags for New York after two underwhelming seasons in Boston. Udoka will lean heavily on forwards Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Boston sorely missed Brown (injured wrist) in the playoffs, and his mere presence will open up the floor for Tatum.
10-Indiana Pacers (39-43) — Rick Carlisle is back at the helm in Indiana, replacing Nate Bjorkgren, who was let go after one season. This isn’t Carlisle’s first rodeo in Indiana. He was the Pacers head coach from 2003-07 and was Larry Bird’s top assistant for three seasons. Getting healthy will be the No. 1 priority for Carlisle’s crew, and he has a nice building block in big man Domantas Sabonis.
WESTERN CONFERENCE (TOP 6)
1-Phoenix Suns (56-26) — After finishing with the second-best regular-season record a year ago, the Suns are poised to make the jump as the No. 1 team in the West after coming within two wins of winning it all. Phoenix returns the same group that started the 2021 NBA Finals. Monty Williams is finally getting the recognition he deserves as one of the top coaches in the league. Deandre Ayton’s growth and development into an elite center elevated the Suns into a Western powerhouse. However, the Suns declined to give Ayton the max contract extension, which means 2021-22 is a prove-it-to-me-again season for the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick.
2-Utah Jazz (55-27) — Utah finished with the best record in the conference last season but bowed out in the second round of the postseason, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Donovan Mitchell and Co. If Mitchell wants to be considered among the 10 best players in the league, he has to expand his game. Scoring comes easy for Mitchell. What the Jazz need is a playmaker who can create shots for others. Mitchell believes he is up to the task.
3-Golden State Warriors (51-31) — Steph Curry is coming off one of his best seasons, which says a lot considering he’s a two-time league MVP with three championship rings. Warriors general manager Bob Myers calls Curry “a generational player who has changed the game and won consistently at the highest level.” Curry should get his Splash Brother back this season. Klay Thompson hasn’t played in two years coming off ACL and Achilles’ tear surgeries. His return will provide the boost the Dubs need to make a postseason run.
4-Denver Nuggets (50-32) — The Nuggets opened up the vault and gave Michael Porter Jr. ($172 million) and Aaron Gordon ($92 million) massive contracts. MPJ has a huge upside and has shown flashes of becoming a superstar. The Nuggets need MPJ to reach his immense potential and become an All-Star if Denver is going to overtake the Suns, Jazz, and Lakers.
5-Memphis Grizzlies (46-36) — The grit-and-grind style is back in Memphis, and head coach Taylor Jenkins seems to have found the right blend of gritty players to play with flashy point guard Ja Morant. Morant is one of the most dynamic players in the league and the Grizzlies could win their division as long as Ja stays healthy. Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson are tough, versatile wing players who don’t mind doing the dirty work. Former Oklahoma City center Steven Adams was brought in to add more muscle to the Memphis frontcourt.
6-Los Angeles Lakers (45-37) — Much has been said about the Lakers having the oldest roster in the NBA, with nine players over the age of 32. LeBron James turns 37 and enters his 19th season. LeBron said he doesn’t want to hear about minutes restrictions. Anthony Davis holds the key to the Lakers’ season. The often-injured All-Star forward has never played more than 75 games in a season, and his last healthy full season came in 2020 when L.A. a title in the Orlando bubble. Davis needs to have an MVP-type season in order for the Lakers to raise their 18th championship banner.
7-Dallas Mavericks (44-34) — Jason Kidd returns to Dallas to replace Rick Carlisle as Mavs coach. The first order of business for Kidd is to find a way to reduce first-team All-NBA superstar Luka Doncic’s usage rate without sacrificing all the wonderful things Luka brings to the court. The second order of business for Kidd is to find a way to light a fire in Kristaps Porzingis, who has been nonexistent in the last two seasons.
8-Los Angeles Clippers (43-39) — Paul George said he’s ready to be the No. 1 guy while Kawhi Leonard recovers from a partially torn ACL. PG13 shut down his haters with a solid postseason, turning into Playoff P and carrying the Clips into the conference finals before being eliminated by Phoenix. The Clippers re-signed Reggie Jackson to a two-year deal, believing his 2021 playoff performance wasn’t a fluke.
9-Portland Trail Blazers (42-40) — Damian Lillard felt that last season’s roster wasn’t good enough to win a championship. What did the Blazers do? They brought back the same core that lost in the first round. Instead of retooling the roster, the Blazers fired longtime coach Terry Stotts and replaced him with Chauncey Billups. Lillard is giving Billups one season to show what he can do.
10-Sacramento Kings (40-42) — This could be the year when the Kings finally brought the franchise’s 15-year playoff drought. Luke Walton is entering his third season as coach, and it could be his final one if the Kings miss the playoffs. Sacramento upgraded its defense by drafting Baylor stopper Davion “Off Night” Mitchell to help improve one of the worst perimeter defensive units in the league.