NBA Watchability Rankings

By Josh Eberley #41

The NBA has always been a top-heavy league, a star-studded affair in which few real contenders emerge each season. This year the finish line looks even tighter. Staring through our imaginary future-seeing telescope, it’s only fitting that Oracle Arena can be viewed in the months to come.

It’s about the time of year where we’d rank teams headed into next season. A regular power rankings, however, wouldn’t be very interesting, not this year anyway. Kevin Durant and his heartfelt letter saw to that.

Admittedly, it’s easy to get cynical. The new-look Golden State Warriors will feature two of the last three MVPs, a Finals MVP, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year runner-up, and another All-Star for good measure. But is this heavily favored superteam going to be the most exciting team to watch next season? That is a question that needs answering.

 

Infomercials

Unless you’re a dedicated fan, these teams are ones that no one is paying attention to. Whether it’s lack of star power, uninspired play or just being an unknown commodity, these teams just don’t draw much pull, making that old syndicated sitcom on TBS a better option.

BROOKLYN, NY - July 20: The Brooklyn Nets introduce Joe Harris, Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin, Caris Levert, Justin Hamilton, and Anthony Bennett at the HSS Training Facility on July 20, 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_NetsBrooklyn Nets

Three games not to miss:  Trail Blazers @ Nets, November 20, Celtics @ Nets, November 23, Nets @ Hornets, January 21

There’s the sequel of Linsanity in Gotham, and while that could be fun, most sequels struggle to match the luster of the original run. The cast is also different and the chances of a special run are slim, real slim.

The upside here is the Nets have some youth that might be fun to watch. The Anthony Bennett redemption tour take three, Caris LeVert could wind up being the steal of the draft and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had moments last season. The quirky Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin duo might not produce wins, but the YouTube possibilities are endless. Add in Bojan Bogdanovic after a stellar Olympic showing and the Nets have just enough to top that one Netflix series you’ve been kinda, sorta meaning to watch for a year now.


ORLANDO, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: Elfrid Payton #4 and Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic pose for a portrait during NBA Media Day on September 26, 2016 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_MagicOrlando Magic

Three games not to miss:  Warriors @ Magic, January 22, Magic @ Raptors, January 29, Thunder @ Magic, March 29

Once upon a time, there were Orlando Magic optimists, but after a bizarre and terrifying year of front office work, the Magic future looks dark and full of terrors.

This might seem harsh, but apparently the NBA agrees with me, as the Magic have a whopping one whole game on national television.

The upside with the Magic should be obvious: Mario Hezonja (dubbed the Croatian J.R. Smith) is going to see some more playing time with Victor Oladipo now in Oklahoma City. Also, there’s talk that Aaron Gordon is going to handle the ball more, leading us to believe that the Magic might stick it to the man and get bigger while everyone else gets smaller. In that same article, they talk about Gordon getting his Paul George on, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

And if all else fails, it’ll be fun to watch new additions Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo play Whack-A-Mole against rim attackers.


SACRAMENTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings poses for a portrait on NBA media day on September 26, 2016 at the Kings practice facility in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_KingsSacramento Kings

Three games not to miss:  Warriors @ Kings, January 8, Bulls @ Kings, February 6Celtics @ Kings, February 8

Speaking of teams that are well stocked on big men. . .

Chaos can be fun; see Heath Ledger’s Joker, see Aidan Gillen’s Littlefinger, just maybe don’t ask DeMarcus Cousins about it. Chaos is fun in short bursts, but no one wants to live in a constant state of Ragnarok. Although, the Kings’ size might translate better to a Dark Ages battle for humanity rather than, you know, basketball.

The upside here is Boogie. Boogie all day, and Boogie all night, because there’s not a lot else happening. DeMarcus Cousins is fun to watch play basketball, not only because he’s insanely talented, but because he’s a volcano that could erupt at any time. That fiery passion often absent from other stars is unique and makes for good television. The Kings haven’t brought home many wins the past decade but they’ve got emotion in spades.


TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 11: , Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay and Will Barton of the Denver Nuggets poses for a portrait as part of NBA All-Star 2016 on February 11, 2016 at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_NuggetsDenver Nuggets

Three games not to miss:  Warriors @ Nuggets, November 10, Thunder @ Nuggets, November 25, Knicks @ Nuggets, December 17

We’re on team No. 4 and it’s already getting tough. If you’re reading this, it’s too late. You clearly love basketball and chances are you’re going to have Nuggets games on. Even if Emmanuel Mudiay has seven turnovers, even if Nikola Jokic is sitting way too long.

The Nuggets are deep. The addition of Jamal Murray will bring a wave of Canadian fans on deck and how the Nuggets rotate him in with Gary Harris, Will Barton and Mudiay should be really interesting.

However, this team is still a ways away from competing. The Nuggets’ best player is perennially injured (Danilo Gallinari) and the Nuggets are so deep it might take Michael Malone quite some time to find a rotation that best fits the team.

The Nuggets roster reminds me some of the Lost cast. There’s a lot of screen time to be had here and a lot of talent. Tune in next week to see who seizes the spotlight.


PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 26: Eric Bledsoe #2, Tyler Ulis #8, Devin Booker #1, and Brandon Knight #11 of the Phoenix Suns poses for a portrait at the 2016-2017 team media day on September 26, 2016, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_SunsPhoenix Suns

Three games not to miss:  Kings @ Suns, October 26, Heat @ Suns, January 3Celtics @ Suns, March 5

The Suns, if nothing else, are going to be competitive, that’s externally and internally. This team is deep, they have a ton of guys who are looking to take that next step, and it’s going to be a dogfight for minutes, especially at the guard positions where the Suns’ D-League affiliate (Kentucky) has stocked them with several suitable candidates to play the 1 or the 2.

This Suns team did a smart thing bringing home veterans Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley. The young Suns core will need guidance to mature and those two veterans are a great leadership tandem.

There’s a quote from Jerry Maguire, where Tom Cruise says, “…believe me, there’s genius everywhere but until they turn pro it’s like popcorn in the pan: Some pop, some don’t.”

The Suns’ core is full of pros, but who turns into a star and who falls by the wayside is the question at hand. The Suns have an arsenal of former first-round picks, but it’s up to coaching and development to turn the ship around.


CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 23: Nicolas Batum #5 and Kemba Walker #15 of the Charlotte Hornets look on during the game against the Boston Celtics on December 23, 2015 at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_HornetsCharlotte Hornets

Three games not to miss:  Pacers @ Hornets, November 7, Knicks @ Hornets, November 26, Heat @ Hornets, December 29

There will always be those who cheer for Kemba Walker. He’s a lovable player, and he exemplified what we as fans are looking for from a franchise cornerstone in his days as a UConn Husky. Guts, glory and the dreaded, fictional killer instinct that Twitter loves so dearly. He has also turned into a pretty good NBA player. He’s improved drastically from his first couple seasons.

The problem is that this Hornets team, while improved, while coming off a strong season and while having Walker as its leader, lacks star power. Nicolas Batum thrived despite injuries as the Hornets’ second option, but in the playoffs, neither he nor Walker shot above 40 percent.

This Hornets team is easy to root for but hard to believe in. It’s hard to imagine their ceiling extending past the first round of the playoffs unless they get a huge jump in production from someone else on the roster. General manager Rich Cho is understated and flat-out good at his job, but how far can this team really go?

 

Daytime TV

You’re watching the game, peripherally checking Twitter and waiting for the big play in a game that doesn’t hold a ton of individual value to you. This tier is highlighted by underappreciated or under-covered stars and a bunch of up-and-comers. These are the teams that separate the real fans from the casual. Any schmo can pontificate about the Warriors and grouse about the Knicks, but it takes a serious fan who can speak on the intricacies of the Atlanta Hawks’ flex offense.

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 14: Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat and Josh Richardson #0 of the Miami Heat and Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat talk before the game against the Denver Nuggets on March 14, 2016 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_HeatMiami Heat

Three games not to miss:  Bulls @ Heat, November 10, Heat @ Bulls, December 10, Cavaliers @ Heat, March 4

Waiters County is upon us, Dwyane Wade is a Chicago Bull and Chris Bosh has played his final game as a member of the Heat. Just an unbelievable shift in direction from the Heat this off-season.

The positives: Hassan Whiteside is locked up, perhaps overpaid, but one of the NBA’s better big men is safely under contract. Goran Dragić is going to get to play a more prominent on-ball role with Wade gone, a factor that many assumed held him back last season. Finally, Justise “Butler- Leonard” Winslow is already a fan favorite in Miami and will have an expanded role in year two with veterans Joe Johnson and Luol Deng departed.

The negatives: how far does a Whitesdie, Dragić and Winslow core really take you? There’s no guarantee the big fish is coming next year either. The Heat struck out on Durant, fumbled negotiations with their franchise player, and now face a brand new and foreign era of basketball.


WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: John Wall #2 and Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards pose for a portrait during the 2016-2017 Media Day on September 26, 2016 at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_WizardsWashington Wizards

Three games not to miss: Raptors @ Wizards, November 2, Clippers @ Wizards, December 18, Pacers @ Wizards, December 28

Let me just take a page out of the book of the great Shea Serrano: Imagine Mario and Luigi were not friends. Imagine Donkey Kong told Diddy he was his sidekick. Imagine if Dick Grayson made more money than Bruce Wayne. Imagine if Jay Z told Beyoncé she was 1A. Imagine if Ricky Bobby told Cal Naughton Jr….wait, just imagine Ricky Bobby and Cal Naughton Jr.

Of course what I’m referring to is the report that John Wall isn’t ecstatic with the current makeup of the Wizards team or his contract.

Despite the whispers of malcontent, Wall is one of the 10-15 most exciting players in the game and worth the long look on League Pass. Otto Porter Jr. is a player on the rise and the Wizards’ frontcourt, while awkward, improved this offseason. There’s optimism beneath the surface here, and despite terrible management, as long as the Wizards have Wall, they won’t fall into that bottom tier.


EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: D'Angelo Russell #1, Head Coach Luke Walton, Brandon Ingram #14, and Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers pose for a portrait during the 2016-2017 Los Angeles Lakers Media Day at Toyota Sports Center on September 26, 2016 in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_LakersLos Angeles Lakers

Three games not to miss:  Spurs @ Lakers, November 18, Lakers @ Warriors, November 23, Wolves @ Lakers, April 9

The Lakers are the second-best franchise in NBA history, but they’ve come on tough times of late. Kobe Bryant is gone, and the Lakers, like it or not, are now fully committed to a fresh start. However, they have a trio of high lottery picks, a quintet of talented youth, and a long challenging road ahead to keep an eye on.

D’Angelo Russell, the flavor of this new Lakers era, will have his chance to play free of the Byron Scott shackles, as he’s already taken a rather exaggerated lovefest of his new coach Luke Walton. We as a critical yet not totally uninterested audience will get to see what exactly that entails. Ice in his veins? I guess will find out.

It should be fun to watch Brandon Ingram grow this season, both in his game and weight. The rest of the young core includes Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. You also can’t forget what Nick Young brings to the table.

The Lakers will not be good. Chances are they can’t be worse than they were last year, but as with all rebuilding projects, there’s joy in the struggle.


ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26: Paul Millsap #4, Dennis Schroder #17 and Dwight Howard #8 of the Atlanta Hawks pose during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

logo_HawksAtlanta Hawks

Three games not to miss: Rockets @ Hawks, November 5, Hawks @ Lakers, November 27, Celtics @ Hawks January 13

The “Dwight Howard proves he isn’t washed tour” should provide minor intrigue. The Atlanta Hawks sacrificed their longest tenured player and former All-Star Al Horford for the man once known as D12, so there are at least a few believers down in Georgia. To be clear, no one is confusing this with the LeBron returning home storyline.

Paul Millsap is perennially underrated and may actually fit better next to Howard. In an ultra-competitive League where everyone is always trying to prove something, it isn’t just Howard on this Hawks team carrying that mantle. Young Dennis Schroder also uprooted a long-tenured Hawk and former All-Star in Jeff Teague, albeit internally.

This was a team that won 60 games two seasons ago and still struggled to garner League-wide interest. It’s not that the Hawks aren’t good, it’s that they’ve been good for a decade and people are waiting for them to be great.


CAMDEN,NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers, Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers, Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers, Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers and Dario Saric #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers pose for a portrait at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex during NBA media day on September 26,2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant NBAE via Getty Images)
Jesse D. Garrabrant NBAE via Getty Images

logo_76ersPhiladelphia 76ers

Three games not to miss: Celtics @ Sixers, December 3, Pelicans @ Sixers, December 20, Bucks @ Sixers, March 6

Some of us (raises hand) fell in love with the game of Dario Šarić during the Olympics. He’s a tremendously gifted big man, with range and playmaking abilities. I was not alone in my admiration of Šarić.

Add in No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, the 2015 No. 3 pick Jahlil Okafor and (potentially) No. 3 overall (2014) pick Joel Embiid, and the rest of the Trust the Process era, and you can see why at a minimum the Sixers should have your curiosity.

The fruits of Sam Hinkie’s labors are coming into the fold and whether it blows up spectacularly or shines brightly is anyone’s guess. This team is the culmination of years of both wild speculation and intense criticism.

We’ve got Jerry Colangelo sitting at the Philly table splashing the pot whenever he wants. You owe it to yourself to see how this plays out; you’re pot committed if you suffered through the last few years of Philadelphia basketball.


NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 23: Tyreke Evans #1, Anthony Davis #23 and Buddy Hield #24 of the New Orleans Pelicans pose for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Media Day on September 23, 2016 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_PelicansNew Orleans Pelicans

Three games not to miss: Wolves @ Pelicans, November 23, Warriors @ Pelicans, December 13, Rockets @ Pelicans, February 23

The NBA’s narrative shifts are pure comedy. Stephen Curry went from hero to villain in the blink of an eye. LeBron James went from Luke Skywalker to Darth Vader to Rey over the course of his career. The Pelicans’ franchise player Anthony Davis went from heir apparent to forgotten star in one season.

Buddy Hield had such an awful summer league showing even he knows it. Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday always show promise, that is to say when they are actually healthy. The Pelicans are tough to predict. They could easily plummet once again into obscurity. Honestly, other than a few big games from Davis, they could be totally irrelevant. Or, and thankfully there is an or, they could find a little luck on the injury front, rally behind the Brow and roll into a low end playoff seed.

Don’t bet against Davis. Break the norm and let’s not forget just how good this kid (he’s still 23) is.

Reality TV

All of these teams have some sort of pull. Despite just missing the top two tiers, these are going to be teams worth keeping an eye on. Whether it’s controversy, conflict or a big plot twist, these teams have you covered. Think Love & Hip Hop or the Real Housewives...you watch a little and you’re entertained, but you kind of hate yourself for it.

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 26: Jimmy Butler #21, Rajon Rondo #9 and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Chicago Bulls poses for a portrait during the 2016-2017 Chicago Bulls Media Day on September 26, 2016 at the Advocate Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images)
Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_BullsChicago Bulls

Three games not to miss: Knicks @ Bulls, November 4 Bulls @ Heat, November 10 Cavaliers @ Bulls, December 2

What in the hell did the Bulls do this offseason? Let’s walk through it.

They trade Derrick Rose. Overdue, as it makes sense to give Jimmy Butler the wheel. Unfortunate it ended this way, but it was time for a new direction.

They sign Rajon Rondo. Wait, pardon me? Do they hate Butler or something? So much for the new direction.

They sign Wade. Oh lordy, here we go. We’ve found them, this year’s “this can’t possibly work, can it?” team.

The Bulls are fascinating. They drafted an on-ball wing (Denzel Valentine), while kind of committing to Butler. They also brought in a ball-dominant point guard and a ball-dominant wing who happens to be a hometown kid. It’s a beautiful scenario in that many of us are expecting anarchy and anything else will be a pleasant surprise.


DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 26: Harrison Barnes #40, Andrew Bogut #5, Deron Williams Dirk Nowitzki #41 and Wesley Matthews #23 of the Dallas Mavericks poses for a photo during the 2016-2019 Dallas Mavericks Media Day on September 26, 2016 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_MavericksDallas Mavericks

Three games not to miss: Mavericks @ Warriors, November 9, Grizzlies @ Mavericks, November 18, Mavericks @ Thunder, January 26

“This team shouldn’t make the playoffs!” They’ll scream it from the top of the tallest tower in every prediction piece you’ll read over the next eight weeks, but Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki don’t heed your cries.

Harrison Barnes could flourish under Carlisle (he could also crash and burn). Andrew Bogut is the type of player who usually thrives in Dallas, a hardworking and coachable veteran. Add in a healthy Matthews, a semi-motivated Deron Williams and Nowitzki, and this team might just have enough juice to get spanked in the first round again. If things go awry, you can still appreciate the waning greatness of Nowitzki and his one-legged jumper.

There’s something terribly terrific about the Dallas Mavericks’ defiance to throw in the towel, overachieving year in and year out, but how long can it last?


MEMPHIS, TN - SEPTEMBER 26: Mike Conley #11 and Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies poses for a portrait during Memphis Grizzlies Media Day on September 26, 2015 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_GrizzliesMemphis Grizzlies

Three games not to miss: Warriors @ Grizzlies, December 10, Spurs @ Grizzlies, March 18, Mavericks @ Grizzlies, March 31

Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol might be one of the better four-man tandems in basketball on paper. They might not have the vocal talents of a barbershop quartet or even the pipes of the Land down Thunder, but all in good time. It’s early after all.

If the Grizzlies are more resilient than the paper they’re listed on, this team might cause problems in the West. The Grizzlies are the Western Conference’s Atlanta Hawks, with a little more grit and grind. They will be good. They truly don’t know how to be bad. But can they exceed that?

On the flipside, if it doesn’t work, out Conley and Parsons can get their own Scrooge McDuck swimming pool started up. (The pair are owed a cool 247 million combined.)


AUBURN HILLS, MI. - SEPTEMBER 26: Reggie Jackson #1 and Andre Drummond #0 of the Detroit Pistons poses for a photo during the 2016-2017 Detroit Pistons media day on September 26, 2016 in Auburn Hills, MI. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Rick Osentoski/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rick Osentoski/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_PistonsDetroit Pistons

Three games not to miss: Pistons @ Cavaliers, November 18, Magic @ Pistons, December 4Pistons @ Cavaliers, March 14

If any team has a chance to get a huge boost from their own core’s growth, it’s the Detroit Pistons. Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond all have room to improve, and for a team that already made the playoffs, that’s a positive vibe.

The GIF and Vine potential with Drummond is strong; whether it’s a putback dunk, an airball free throw, or some insane feat of athleticism like grabbing a one-handed rebound, the man grabs your attention.

Jackson is talented; he showed it in bursts last year. If he learns how to be a better floor general, the sky is the limit for the Pistons. Unfortunately, Jackson is Frodo Baggins with the basketball. He led the league in average seconds per touch and average dribbles per touch. That’ll have to change if the Pistons want to see the team flourish as a unit.


BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 26: Al Horford #42 of the Boston Celtics poses for a portrait during 2016-2017 Boston Celtics Media Day at TD Garden on September 26, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_CelticsBoston Celtics

Three games not to miss: Celtics @ Cavaliers, November 3, Raptors @ Celtics, December 9, Celtics @ Hawks, January 13

The Celtics had their offseason Christmas hopes dashed. With their cap space and assets, they had their eyes and hopes on Kevin Durant on the free agent market and Russell Westbrook via trade, and neither one is in green. Still, the consolation prize might turn out to be a better fit.

Al Horford revitalizes a pretty good Boston team that struggled to get consistent production from their big men and also failed to limit opposing big men. Horford is “not a great player” to some, but he could mean a world of difference to a Celtics team branded as overachievers and not contenders.

Brad Stevens and company are Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. They’ve got just enough green and just enough chemistry to make this comparison justifiable.


INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Myles Turner #33, Jeff Teague #44 and Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers pose for a portrait during 2016 Media Day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on September 26, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: 2016 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_PacersIndiana Pacers

Three games not to miss: Cavaliers @ Pacers, November 16, Hornets @ Pacers, December 13, Pacers @ Raptors, March 19

The Indiana Pacers win the busy beaver award of the offseason. They moved on from Frank Vogel (replaced with Nate McMillan). They traded for Jeff Teague, they traded for Thad Young and they signed Al Jefferson. Not sure what the Pacers are baking, but it has a lot of different ingredients.

Paul George is a dark horse MVP candidate and the talent around him is evident. Whether it fits or not is a different question entirely. Teague and Monta Ellis could be a complete trainwreck or it could be a high-powered duo of backcourt scoring. My money is on the former.

The key to the Pacers’ season might stem from sophomore Myles Turner and his development. He will step into a larger role with Ian Mahinmi taking his talents to Washington D.C.

 

Prime Time

Quality viewing for the most part. Like any good show, the action is great, the execution is award-worthy and the chemistry between the participants is flawless.

TORONTO, CANADA - SEPTEMBER 28: DeMar DeRozan #10, Head Coach Dwane Casey and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors pose for a portrait during 2016 Media Day on September 28, 2016 at the BioSteel Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_RaptorsToronto Raptors

Three games not to miss: Cavaliers @ Raptors, October 28, Raptors @ Cavaliers, November 15, Raptors @ Celtics, December 9

Fresh off the greatest season in franchise history, where can this Raptors team go from here? The Cleveland Cavaliers still exist, and the rest of the East is gaining on everyone’s favorite backcourt duo to mock during the postseason.

How much further can DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry take this team? If there isn’t a gear we haven’t seen yet, then chances are the Raptors will regress. No offense to Jared Sullinger—who was a quality addition—but he isn’t the star addition the Raptors needed to close the gap against the Cavaliers.

DeRozan and Lowry had a golden summer, the Raptors had a great 2015-16, and for it to keep going, pressure may fall onto the broad shoulders of center Jonas Valančiūnas. Valančiūnas, believe it or not, was actually used even worse by his homeland during the Olympics than the Raptors. Here’s to hoping he’s a priority this year.


HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Head Coach Mike D'Antoni and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets pose for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Media Day at the Toyota Center on September 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photos by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_RocketsHouston Rockets

Three games not to miss: Rockets @ Knicks, November 2, Rockets @ Warriors, December 1, Pelicans @ Rockets, December 16

Surprised the Rockets are this high? So am I. However, you have to concede there’s something about James Harden that makes the Rockets fun. It isn’t the elite use of the flop as an offensive weapon, nor his pylon-like defense. It’s his high-powered offensive skill set being used as a divisive force on the internet.

Now he’s in a Mike D’Antoni offense and those numbers could soar even higher. The additions of sharpshooters Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson mean the Rockets could score a stupid amount of points on just about anybody, while giving up just as much.

D’Antoni teams have always been fun. Harden at the helm, with all the controversy he already draws, means this is going to be a complete and utter blast.


WHITE PLAINS, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Derrick Rose #25, Carmelo Anthony #7 and Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks pose for a portrait during media day at the Ritz Carlton in White Plains, New York on September 26, 2016. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: 2016 NBAE (Photo by Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images)
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_KnicksNew York Knicks

Three games not to miss: Knicks @ Cavaliers, October 25, Knicks @ Bulls, November 4, Bulls @ Knicks, January 12

If you weren’t shocked with the Rockets’ placing, we’re doubling down with the inclusion of the Knicks here. In the most genuine of backhanded compliments, the Knicks are the most fun team of any team that isn’t relevant this season.

Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah vs. the world. Too bad that world isn’t from 2011. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the Knicks fizzle out quickly. If everything goes right—and I mean everything: Rose and Melo keep everyone involved, everyone’s knees stay firmly in place and Kristaps Porzingis takes a step forward—we should see some Knicks playoff basketball.

If it doesn’t shake out, the media will pile on Anthony, Phil Jackson, Rose and basketball in the Big Apple—pretty much business as usual. The Knicks’ capacity to be a good team this year is spice needed in a season where much seems bland and predetermined.


PORTLAND, OR - SEPTEMBER 26: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers poses for a portrait during the 2016-2017 Portland Trail Blazer Media Day September 26, 2016 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_TrailBlazersPortland Trail Blazers

Three games not to miss: Clippers @ Blazers, October 27, Warriors @ Blazers, November 1, Spurs @ Blazers, December 23

Dame time is fun, really fun. Even when he shoots 37 percent in the playoffs, Damian Lillard has that Allen Iverson swagger. Miss three, hit one, and the crowd still eats it right up, and who can blame them? NBA basketball is about entertainment, and Lillard is amongst the best show runners.

C.J. McCollum got paid, Allen Crabbe got paid, and Evan Turner got paid. The Blazers are all in on their own guys. They were the surprise team of last season, and while most think they overpaid to keep their core together, they clearly believe.

If you didn’t notice, I think going against the grain is fun. The Blazers have gusto in the holster, and pride on the line.


ST. FRANCIS, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks, Michael Carter-Williams #5 of the Milwaukee Bucks and Jabari Parker #12 of the Milwaukee Bucks pose for a portrait during the 2016-2017 Milwaukee Bucks Media Day on September 26, 2016 at the Milwaukee Bucks Training Center in St. Francis, WI. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_BucksMilwaukee Bucks

Three games not to miss: Bucks @ Pistons, October 30, Warriors @ Bucks, November 19, Bucks @ Cavaliers, February 27

The Bucks were the trendy pick last year, but unfortunately, Greg Monroe wasn’t the X-factor or game changer that many expected him to be. The Bucks stumbled and bumbled and it wasn’t pretty.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker were entertaining after the All-Star break, and while the Bucks were still getting clubbed, it was fun to watch. Add in the massive Thon Maker and we have ourselves a long, athletic, wild unit of volatility.

This season, Jason Kidd will be giving the people what they want: Point Giannis. We can see the Greek Freak challenging Russell Westbrook for triple-double attention.

The Bucks are going to do damage this year, and you best believe they will be nightly attendees of your Vine feed.


SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 26: Rudy Gobert #27 and Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz poses for a photo during the 2016-2017 Utah Jazz media day at Zions Bank Basketball Center on September 26, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) Rudy Gobert; Gordon Hayward
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_JazzUtah Jazz

Three games not to miss: Jazz @ Spurs, November 1, Jazz @ Rockets, November 19, Warriors @ Jazz, December 3

All aboard the Utah express. With the addition of point guard George Hill to holdovers Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood, the Jazz boast the League’s most balanced starting unit. Add in Dante Exum after a year off due to injury and Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw as the sage vets, and this team is poised to jump.

The Jazz have a ton of hype following them into the 2016-17 season; pressure is on them to deliver. Perhaps this is bold, but their balanced, defensive-minded play style might be best suited to challenge the Warriors this year.

People love the overrated and underrated conversations. You could argue every Jazz starter is underrated. The Jazz are garnering real attention for the first time since the departure of Deron Williams. Can their performance possibly match the chatter?

 

Game of Thrones

You look forward to every game and adjust your calendar around the team’s tip-off. If you can’t make it, you DVR it and turn off all phone notifications so your enjoyment doesn’t get spoiled. You talk about it the next day with friends and coworkers and look forward to the next game with anticipation.

 

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 26: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves pose for a portrait during the 2016 -2017 Minnesota Timberwolves Media Day on September 26, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_TimberwolvesMinnesota Timberwolves

Three games not to miss: Timberwolves @ Warriors, November 26, Timeberwolves @ Bulls, December 3Pelicans @ Timberwolves, February 10

KAT and company are the next big ticket team. It feels like not long ago we were saying the same thing about the Oklahoma City Thunder. Time flies. Tom Thibodeau, large and in charge after an Olympic victory, will not need to convince the masses. They are on board and they are ready for a show.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn provide a nucleus of athletic freaks and tremendous overall talent. It’s a shame we won’t see Kevin Garnett doing his Old Yeller bit in the background. The young Wolves will be in a dog fight for a playoff spot, but they’ve been anointed the next great team and boast key players from multiple countries. It’s not an exaggeration when we say the world has their eyes fixed on the Wolves.


SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 28: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs box out against Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves on December 28, 2015 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photos by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_SpursSan Antonio Spurs

Three games not to miss: Spurs @ Warriors, October 25, Spurs @ Lakers, November 18, Thunder @ Spurs, January 31

The Spurs have never been boring. Their ability to wallop lesser teams over the last two decades might be irritating if you aren’t a fan, but it has never been boring.

All respect to the man, the myth, the legend, but the departure of Tim Duncan shouldn’t change that trend. Kawhi Leonard wasn’t the runner-up for MVP out of generosity, nor did he win back-to-back DPOY awards out of charity. Leonard is a player, and he is every bit as entertaining as the League’s other big names.

The turnaround jumpers may not be sexy, but LaMarcus Aldridge is downright effective and his production should see an uptick with Duncan gone.

The Spurs’ core may have aged some. Pau Gasol may have seen his best days come and go. Tony Parker is no longer blowing by dudes. Manu Ginobili is not the whirling dervish he once was. But all three can and will surprise with some old-man tricks. As long as Gregg Popovich is riding that sideline (Pop is good for a few entertaining moments in his own right, particularly against the media) the Spurs will never yield.


PLAYA VISTA, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Paul Pierce #34 of the Los Angeles Clippers, Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers, DeAndre Jordan #6 of the Los Angeles Clippers, JJ Redick #4 of the Los Angeles Clippers, head coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers, Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers, Jamal Crawford #11 of the Los Angeles Clippers, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute #12 of the Los Angeles Clippers and Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers pose for a portrait during the 2016-2017 Los Angeles Clippers Media Day on September 26, 2016 at the Los Angeles Clippers Training Center in Playa Vista, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_ClippersLos Angeles Clippers

Three games not to miss: Clippers @ Blazers, October 27, Warriors @ Clippers, December 7, Spurs @ Clippers, December 22

Chris Paul’s reign as top point guard is slowly drawing to an end (if it hasn’t already). Following a run of injuries and a bad moment with an equipment manager, there are real questions surrounding Blake Griffin. And yes, DeAndre Jordan’s bad free-throw shooting is not fun, but who else boasts a trio with that much fun packed in?

Paul is the best playmaker in the NBA, a generational point guard that draws more than the opponent’s attention on every possession. Griffin is right up there with Russell Westbrook when in fine form. Griffin’s athleticism is so magnificent, it’s as if he almost freezes the television when taking flight, a rare and special type of showstopper. Finally, Jordan, despite his flaws, has some of the NBA’s best highlights at both ends. Whether it’s a block or a lob, DeAndre does damage.

Not to be overlooked, supporting roles to pay attention to: J.J. Redick’s off-the-ball action to free himself up for jumpers, Jamal Crawford’s still-spellbinding handle and Paul Pierce’s victory lap.


OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors pose for a portrait during NBA Media Day at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California on September 26, 2016. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_WarriorsGolden State Warriors

Three games not to miss: Spurs @ Warriors, October 25, Warriors @ Cavaliers, December 25, Warriors @ Thunder, February 11

No one outside of the Bay is rooting for the Warriors. They went full heel turn. They know it, we know it, but it doesn’t change how much talent this team has. They have two of the 10 best guys to play this century, and both Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are arguably top 10 players in the current NBA landscape.

You can be mad, you can be sad, you can be somewhere in between, but Durant and Curry are too talented to ignore. You want the 35-foot bombs from Chef Curry, you want Durantula out on the wing terrorizing defenders who are somehow both too small and too slow. Love it or hate it, no one is turning away from Warriors games.


CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23, Kyrie Irving #2 and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during 2016-2017 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day at the Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images)
Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_CavaliersCleveland Cavaliers

Three games not to miss: Cavaliers @ Raptors, October 28Warriors @ Cavaliers, December 25, Spurs @ Cavaliers, January 21

The swat, the shot and the stop. Really nothing more needs to be said. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the reigning champs, they have the best player of the modern era and Kyrie Irving hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.

King James will be worth watching, and I’m not limiting that to on the court. Kevin Love, despite his limited role and lessened reputation, is still a terrific basketball player. Let us not forget Tristan Thompson, trusted James confidant and Canadian hero. Iman Shumpert may deliver another baby this season, and J.R. Smith, if he returns, only adds to the intrigue.

The Cavaliers also have the added narrative boost of being the good guys this year. James might be chasing a ghost, but the Warriors are chasing the Cavs.


OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - SEPTEMBER 23: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder poses for a portrait during 2016 NBA Media Day on September 23, 2016 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

logo_ThunderOklahoma City Thunder

Three games not to miss: Thunder @ Warriors, November 3, Thunder @ Warriors, January 18, Warriors @ Thunder, February 11

Loyalty (DJ Khaled voice). Russell Westbrook was always your favorite player not wearing the jersey of your favorite team, and now he’s the NBA’s outright champion.

Durant did what was best for Durant, at least in the eyes of Durant. But Westbrook sacrificed everything to get paid more money and not leave his home of eight years! Seriously, the defamation of Durant’s name has paved the way for Westbrook to be even more adored.

Westbrook unleashed will be something not to miss. You know Westbrook’s breakaway dunks? That will be a metaphor for his entire season. Let’s just hope he doesn’t go supernova.

Personally, I don’t even care if the Thunder win basketball games. I just want to see Westbrook driving like a runaway train. Has any player ever had a better chance to accrue a triple-double season since Big O?