NBA

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

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.

Next question:

  • Which second-year players do you expect to thrive this season? (Sept. 24)

Previous questions:

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

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.

More from NBA.com

Myles Turner, Nikola Jokic, Lonzo Ball
Friday's best game, highlight, performance
NBA.com Staff
Anthony Davis dives for a loose ball during the Lakers loss to Phoenix
Frustrated Lakers drop another one
Kane Pitman
Jayson Tatum reacts during the Celtics big loss to Toronto
Udoka on Celtics loss: 'as ugly as it can get'
Kane Pitman
kyrie-irving-102220-ftr-getty
On This Date: Irving's record-breaking Nets debut
Scott Rafferty
Doc Rivers and Kevin Durant
76ers collapse late in home opener vs. Nets
Yash Matange
Chris Paul
CP3 becomes 1st player with 20k points & 10k assists
Jordan Greer
More News