Most Surprising Teams of the 2021-2022 NBA Season

Colin McGee ’22

As the 2021-2022 NBA season approaches the All-Star break, the true contenders begin to emerge. As is often the case, many teams have improved greatly this year. Of these teams, the ones that stand out as the most surprising are the Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Cleveland Cavaliers

When LeBron James announced in the summer of 2018 that he would be leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Los Angeles Lakers, many predicted that Cleveland would go back to their losing ways. For the most part, they were right. Following the team’s four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, the Cavaliers missed the playoffs for the past three seasons. However, this season has been very different. As of January 24, the Cavaliers hold a record of 28-19, best for fifth in the Eastern Conference. 

Many contribute their success to their playstyle. The playstyle of this team has been largely unconventional in the modern NBA. In an era of small ball, the Cavaliers often play with three players in their starting lineup at or near 7 feet tall.

Furthermore, Rookie Evan Mobley has been huge for this team and is likely the frontrunner in the Rookie of the Year race. Third-year guard Darius Garland has flown under the radar, having an exceptional season. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has done a great job with the group. As of right now, it appears there is a good chance that the Cavaliers will make the playoffs for the first time since 1998 without LeBron James on their roster.

Memphis Grizzlies

After seeing the Memphis Grizzlies make the postseason last year and the continued improvement of Ja Morant’s game, many NBA fans expected the Grizzlies to be a team that would be good in the future. However, not many expected the future to be so soon. As of January 24, the Memphis Grizzlies have a record 32-17. This puts Memphis at 3rd in the Western Conference.

The majority of the Grizzlies’ success is a result of the phenomenal play of Ja Morant. Morant is solidifying himself as a potential MVP candidate with his play this year. The supporting cast has been outstanding as well. In a twelve-game stretch that Morant missed due to injury, the Grizzlies went 10-2. The Grizzlies are poised once again to be a Western Conference juggernaut for years to come. This season may very well be viewed in the future as the year that this team took off.

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been consistently near the bottom of the Western Conference in recent memory. They continued to so recently despite having talent. This season it appears that this team is beginning to translate their talent into wins. As of January 24, the Timberwolves hold a record of 23-23, good for 7th in the Western Conference. For a team that has made one playoff appearance in the past 17 years, this is a very encouraging start.

The elite scoring trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell has been huge for this team. Towns has been the face of the Timberwolves franchise since he was drafted #1 overall in 2016. Russell came to the team by way of trade in 2020, and Edwards was also another #1 overall draft pick by the team later that year. The continued elite play of this trio is going to be vital to this team’s success going forward.