Every NBA team dreams of hoisting up the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in June with each new season. So each team, no matter how abysmal the year before, laces them up and pounds the paint hard in hopes that “this year will be different.”
Some teams, like the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers, achieve their objective or come close by making the playoffs. Others, like the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks, wilt under the pressure of the 82-game schedule because of injuries, trades, or just bad chemistry.
However, some press through the hardships and lows and push for greatness. These teams don’t allow their beginning to be their ending. So let’s look at the top three turnaround stories of the 2021-2022 NBA season.
3. The Minnesota Timberwolves
Fresh off a horrific 23-49 record, The Wolves started the 2021-2022 season with pretty much the same. They lost nine of the first 13 games, and they struggled to close out games, blowing leads in the second half. Although their star player, Karl Anthony Towns, was holding it down, shooting 52.9 % from the field, the team couldn’t get it together.
In late February, after KAT had played in his third All-Star Game, the Wolves seemed to be turning it around, and the 180-degree change came from improved offense and gritty defense. Players like Anthony Edwards, Patrick Beverly, and D’Angelo Russell brought it with a defensive rating of 9 out of the 30 teams. Their tenacious defense and the steady offense put the Timberwolves at the 7th seed and in the playoffs for only the second time in 18 years.
2. New Orleans Pelicans
For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a couple of years, the 2021-2022 season seemed like more of the same. Especially considering how the Pels started with a 1-12 record. Nobody predicted that they could turn their season around and possibly be in the play-in tournament.
Dealing with injuries to their star player, Zion Williamson, and nagging injuries to Brandon Ingram, Tony Snell, and Larry Nance Jr., they couldn’t keep their head above water and continued to fall in the standings.
On February 8, 2022, the team traded for C.J. McCollum from the Portland Trailblazers. McCollum brought an average of 22.6 points and 5.1 assists to a team that desperately needed scoring. Ingram and others returned, and suddenly, just like that, the winning returned. The Pelicans have qualified for the play-in tournament and have a shot at getting into the postseason.
1. Boston Celtics
The team with the second most championships in NBA history wasn’t looking like it at the beginning of the season. In fact, they started the season with a 5-2 record, one of their worst in years. The bar was set high, but the Celtics were falling short, making the playoffs last year and going to the Eastern Conference Finals the year before that.
To make matters worse, injuries were not even their issue. Their top players, Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, and Marcus Smart, were relatively healthy and putting up phenomenal stats like 50-point games and shooting .351 from three. There was no excuse for the losing, and it took a brave veteran to speak up and out about it to change things.
After losing their third game in a row, Marcus Smart decided it was time to tell the world what he had already pointed out to his teammates: they needed to share the ball and play team basketball if they wanted any chance to win and advance to the Finals. Instead of shading or ignoring him, Tatum and Brown took his advice to heart. It paid off.
The team went from looking like a lottery team all the way to the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course, adding Derrick White and Daniel Theis didn’t hurt either. The Celtics are now looking like the Celtics, and they may win it all to tie the Lakers for the most championships ever.
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