NBA GM survey: High praise for Nets, Luka Doncic ahead of 2021-22 season

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By , Audacy Sports

It doesn't take a rocket scientist — or an NBA general manger, for that matter — to know that the Brooklyn Nets are going to be good in the 2021-22 season. Ditto for Luka Doncic producing like an MVP candidate, and the Heat's acquisition of Kyle Lowry impacting the franchise in a big way, and the top two picks of the 2021 NBA Draft — Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green — likely duking it out for Rookie of the Year honors.

But to NBA fans, who may be especially supportive or biased of their favorite franchise, it might be best to leave these opinions and projections to the professionals, and that's why the annual NBA.com GM survey is so interesting to look through each year. This time was no different, and we've got some of the key takeaways ready for you below.

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High hopes for the Brooklyn Nets

Entering last season, 81 percent of GMs in the survey thought that LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company would take home their second consecutive NBA Finals title. As it turned out, the Milwaukee Bucks were able to capture that honor. And neither of them lead the way in this year's iteration of the GM survey.

Instead, it's the Brooklyn Nets, who now have an MVP-level Kevin Durant back and in full form alongside relatively new acquisition James Harden and Kyrie Irving — whose status hangs in question due to the COVID-19 vaccine. A whopping 72 percent share went their way, with a much smaller majority — 37 percent — picking Durant to win the MVP Award. He was also voted as the best small forward in the league (67 percent), while Harden was voted the best shooting guard in the league (63 percent) yet again.

Has Luka Doncic replaced Giannis Antetokounmpo as league's top star?

Last year, Nikola Jokic took home the MVP Award and Giannis Antetokounmpo won the NBA Finals MVP en route to his first championship. They're both just 26 years old, and they have led their teams to a whole lot of success while also picking up a handful of personal accolades.

However, when GMs were asked which player they'd want to start a franchise with today, the majority of the votes (43 percent) went to Doncic — just ahead of Giannis at 40 percent — and I can't really blame them. After all, the Mavericks star is somehow still just 22 years old, and he's continuing to produce at record-setting levels. Doncic was also the runner-up to Durant in the GMs' pick for league MVP, coming up just four percentage points shy.

Though few were ready to crown him as the current best player in the league, his proven production mixed with his youth and limitless potential make him a favorite to hold that title pretty soon.

Kyle Lowry can make a difference in Miami

There were a few rumored landing spots for Kyle Lowry, including both Philadelphia and New York, but the veteran point guard now finds himself in the desirable environment of Miami — with a pretty desirable contract to boot. It was a great move for Lowry, but GMs also want us to know that they think it was a great move for the Heat, who created a superteam of sorts with Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and others.

When asked which team had the best overall offseason transaction-wise, 47 percent of general managers answered with the Heat, a clear winner to the second-place Lakers (17 percent). Mainly, it came down to the Lowry sign-and-trade, which 77 percent of GMs said will be the acquisition that makes the biggest impact. Based on the consensus, this deal helped boost Miami to a projected third-place finish in the East, behind the Nets and Bucks, based on the survey.

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Watch out for the Chicago Bulls

Though none of the Bulls' big-time offseason moves received votes when GMs were asked about the single most impactful player acquisition, all three showed up in the responses for the question regarding the "most underrated" acquisition. The players in question are Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso, all of whom will join with new-ish acquisition Nikola Vucevic and star wing Zach LaVine in a new-look Bulls system.

For these reasons, 27 percent of GMs say that the Bulls will be the most improved team in 2021-22, relatively far ahead of the two runner-ups. The Warriors and Lakers tied as the runner-ups, each garnering 13 percent of the vote. This is obviously a good sign, though it shouldn't be all that difficult to improve upon a 31-41 campaign. If they can't that's a really, really bad sign.

No consensus for Rookie of the Year

There wasn't much question as to who would be selected with the first overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but there's question as to whether or not Cade Cunningham will capture the Rookie of the Year as easily as he captured that No. 1 overall slot. In fact, more GMs voted for Jalen Green (47 percent) than Cunningham (40 percent) when predicting who would win the RotY award.

And though No. 3 pick Evan Mobley didn't get a single vote at all for that question, he topped the list for which rookie would be the best player in five years' team (33 percent), ahead of both Cunningham (30 percent) and Green (23 percent).

Erik Spoelstra has the league's respect

The Heat had a campaign to forget after their Finals appearance at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. Last year, with just 16 games left to go on the schedule, Miami found themselves at .500 after losing to the lowly Timberwolves. But in those last 16 games, they put together a 12-4 run to get into the playoffs and finish over .500 for the 10th time in Spoelstra's 13-year run as the head coach. They're the second winningest NBA franchise in that span, behind only the Spurs, and Spoelstra deserves a lot of the credit.

Apparently, GMs are not hesitant to give him that credit. He finished with a 55 percent share of the vote in the "best head coach" category, well ahead of Monty Williams (17 percent), Quin Snyder (14 percent) and Gregg Popovich (10 percent). Even after a down season — one which contained a lot of factors he couldn't really control — he held a larger portion of the vote than after the Heat's Finals appearance, when he got a 46 percent share.

The future is very bright in Atlanta

With Trae Young, John Collins, DeAndre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and others on board, the Hawks had a promising yet unproven roster entering the 2020-21 season. Last year was when they proved that they can, in fact, work together as a unit, with the help of a few veteran presences along the way. It's still that young core that is holding everything together, however, and NBA GMs — with the exception of Travis Schlenk, of course — are probably pretty jealous that they couldn't put together such a good young crew.

In fact, 50 percent of them called the Hawks the team with the "most promising young core" in the NBA, well ahead of the runner-up Rockets at 10 percent of the vote. Adding Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper through the draft certainly didn't hurt that outlook, and Hawks fans should be plenty excited about what's to come.

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