With the NBA season getting ready to start soon, many fans are excited to see the best teams in the league face off, it seems like no one is paying attention to the bottom tier of teams around the league. The teams that will not be on anyone’s playoff list. The teams whose core fanbases will be excited to see them lose, in order to get a good pick in next year’s draft (excluding the Lakers and Nets). And the teams that seem to have been in a constant rebuild since the early 2010s. And although most people outside of fans will not look to turn on a Hawks game for the next few years, there still are reasons why a perfectly sane person would want to watch the Hawks, the Nets or even the Bulls.
So in order to prebutt Zach Lowe, who stated that the teams on the bottom of his famous NBA League Pass Rankings could be the most “depressing in any year [he ’s] done them,” I have written this to give you a reason to watch the Orlando Magic, without contemplating the hollowness of life.
Atlanta Hawks: Mike Budenholzer Magic
This free agency, the Atlanta Hawks have stripped their roster after trading Dwight Howard to the Charlotte Hornets and letting Paul Millsap walk to the Denver Nuggets. However, despite the team’s win total facing a decrease in the 2017-2018 season, the viewing experience of the Atlanta Hawks will stay the same. This is because since 2013-2014, the Atlanta Hawks’ watchability has never been dependent on its rosters, but its coaching, led by Head Coach and Popovich graduate, Mike Budenholzer.
Watching the Hawks in recent years has never been about appreciating the subtle genius of Al Horford or Paul Millsap or Jeff Teague, or depending on Dennis Schroder’s and Dwight Howard’s inconsistent play. Hell, the most exciting player on recent Hawks teams was Kyle Korver, an unathletic and elderly, single-trade shooting guard. And what made Korver exciting was watching the incredible passing plays that got him threes or watching his defenders getting ran through countless screens to see him get an easy three. That’s Budenholzer. And so although Korver hasn’t been on the Hawks roster since January and Millsap and Howard are gone, between the quick passing, sharp cuts and hard defense stapled into Hawks teams by Bud, Atlanta should still be a very watchable team.
Brooklyn Nets: The Lineup Mixes
I never thought I would say this about the Brooklyn Nets, but the team is actually quite deep. After needing to suffer through 1643 minutes of Isaiah Whitehead, this year it seems as if the Brooklyn Nets have enough good backcourt players for us never to see Isaiah Whitehead on the court in non-blowout situations.
The team picked up actual NBA players in the offseason like DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe and D’Angelo Russell, and when added with the Brooklyn Nets minute-worthy players like Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, Caris LeVert, Trevor Booker and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the team has a good deal of decent players.
The only problem is that all of these players, with the exception of Booker, Carroll and Hollis-Jefferson are best suited as guards. And between the three exceptions, the closest thing they have to a center is Trevor Booker, who spent just 14% of his minutes at the five last season, and just four percent of his career minutes there. This means that unless Jarrett Allen looks good, or if Tyler Zeller and the contract formerly known as Timofey Mozgov return to their mediocre forms, we should be seeing a lot of super small Net lineups. These lineups should be very fun to watch, as they will be able to turn up the pace by 500%, will take a lot of threes, and have multiple ball-handling threats on the court at the same time. This makes the Nets an exciting team to watch, even if they may be horrible defensively.
Chicago Bulls: To See if They Have Anything
Outside of the corpse of Quincy Pondexter, the masklophobic Robin Lopez and the underachieving older brother Justin Holiday everyone else on the Chicago Bulls’ roster is 25 years old or younger. However, none of these younglings have really shown the potential to be surefire NBA stars. Cristiano Felicio has shown to be not much more than your average rebounding, offensively limited center.
Despite being a solid backup point guard, Jerian Grant simply lacks the explosiveness to be a star. Despite having the athleticism that Jerian Grant needs, David Nwaba has not shown to have much else. Despite being thought of as an offensively versatile prospect going into the 2016 NBA draft, Denzel Valentine was nothing more than a high-volume three-point shooter in his rookie season. In 843 minutes, Paul Zipser was extremely offensively inefficient. Kris Dunn was incredibly disappointing in his rookie season, with a -3.05 RPM. Cameron Payne suffered his second Jones fracture in the offseason and should be out for two months to start the season. Bobby Portis has shown to be quite inconsistent in his first two NBA seasons.
Zach LaVine is coming off of an ACL tear and was a sorry defensive player before the injury. Diamond Stone has played just seven games in the NBA. And questions have been raised about rookie Lauri Markkanen’s defensive ability. But still with all of these red flags (see what I did there) around the Bulls’ youth movement, surely one or two of these eleven aforementioned young players should be able to show their star potential in 2017-2018. And although it is not clear-cut which players have shown this potential, it should be fun to watch which young players will be the ones to carry the Bulls out of their rebuild. And if not, it will still be fun to see teams blow these Bulls out like they’re the Hinkie Philadelphia 76ers.
Dallas Mavericks: The Post Fade, Curry Lite, Harrison Barnes and Dennis Smith
No singular element makes the Dallas Mavericks a watchable team. But rather the ensemble, casted by GM Donnie Nelson will give viewers a diverse, yet satisfying show led by four undeniably exciting players, despite the team being severely unlikely to make the playoffs.
First, there’s Dirk Nowitzki. And sure, Dirty Dirk may have slowed down both athletically and productively since 2014, but Dirk’s watchability has never been based on his mobility, but rather his lack thereof.
The seven-footer's season dunk high since the 2000-2001 season is just 48 in 2004-2005, and Dirk only dunked twice last season. However, both times he threw down a basic two-hander with little airtime, it was met with cheers expected for a retro Vince Carter jam.
For Nowitzki’s hair is an embodiment of his playing style. It’s messy, yet purposeful. And watching Dirk slop around the post like a fish out of water has been a treat for the past 19 years, and I do not expect that to change. Here’s to 20 more years of one-legged fades, messy hairstyles and determined facial expressions.
Last year, just four players had three-point percentages over 41% on five attempts per 36 minutes, with more than one isolation possession per game, with more than one point per possession on isolation attempts. Two of them were named Curry. That’s right, Seth Curry joined his big brother Steph, along with other superstars Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul in this exclusive club. So needless to say, Diet Curry was incredibly fun to watch last season, despite not putting up the per game numbers of his bro. Seth’s iso game alone gives him a personal shoutout on this list, as like his brother, he utilizes his quick handles and even quicker release to fool defenders into giving him easy shots.
Saying that Harrison Barnes is this generation’s Kobe Bryant is a bit extreme, as Barnes has simply dwarfed the production of Bryant. However, from Barnes’s performance last year, let’s just say that we can tell who Barnes’s favorite player was as a kid. He was in the sixth most isolation situations in the league last year, at 4.7 per game, was second among non-bigs in post-ups per game, at 3.4 per game, utilized countless jab steps and fadeaways to get to the mid-range spots he wanted, had some smooth yet crazy arm-waving finishes around the rim, and was a very explosive driver and dunker last season. Remind you of someone? And despite this scoring approach not being the most efficient way to get buckets, it is still incredibly fun to watch.
Much like Harry Barnes, whose game heavily replicates Kobe’s, Dennis Smith’s scoring ability is quite reminiscent of Russell Westbrook’s. He’s got the powerful dunks, he’s got the spin moves and he’s got the athleticism. Watching Smith navigate in the pick and roll should definitely be a treat for Mavericks fans, as well, as he is also a very underrated passer. Most athletic guards are fun to watch, and being that Smith fits that mold, I expect him to be fun to watch as well.
So there you have it, an elderly Dirk along with a few bootlegged versions of NBA stars should be a great deal of fun to watch in the 2017-2018 season.
Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner
With most teams, I can give a general theme or multiple players that make the overall team watchable. However, with the Pacers’ mish-mash of solid, yet unexciting role players, Thaddeus Young, Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison, raw prospect bigs, Domantas Sabonis, TJ Leaf and Ike Anigbogu, and inconsistent, yet flashy two-guards, Victor Oladipo, the only thing that will be surefire explanation for watching the Indiana Pacers is Myles Turner.
Despite already placing 30th in the league in RPM wins, at age 21, Turner still has the ability to grow as an NBA player, and become one of the best big men in the league on both ends of the floor.
On defense, Turner is already one of the best rim protectors in the league, holding offenders to field goal percentages 8.4% worse than usual within six feet, which greatly contributed to his solid 2.57 DRPM. And on offense, he was one of just six big men to average over 14 points per game on 58% true shooting. But watching him expand his game by doing such things as becoming a better pick and roll defender and three-point shooter will only make him more fun to watch. And to add on his pure excitement, Turner was just one of five players in the NBA to have a block percentage more than 5%, and dunk more than once per game.
Los Angeles Lakers: The Lonzo Show
Although LaVar may not like when people compare his son to Jason Kidd, I would not be surprised if Lonzo Ball has the same effect on his team that Kidd had with the Mavericks in his rookie year. To refresh, Kidd took the 1994-1995 Mavs, a team with the worst offense and assists per 100 possessions in 1993-1994, and carried them to 15th in the league in offense and twelfth in the league in assisting.
Last year, the Lakers were in a similar place as the pre-Kidd Mavs, with the 23rd best offense and 27th best assists per 100 possession, and like Kidd, Lonzo should be able to use his skillful and creative passing to get them to at least league average. Luke Walton will not be opposed to playing a running offense best suited for Lonzo either, as previously while on the staff for the Warriors, the team had one of the highest paces in the league, and even as head coach of the Lakers, the team still had the sixth highest pace in the league this year. Expect Lonzo to Nance lobs to be spectacular, and for Lonzo to launch full court passes to open offenders near the rim.
New York Knicks: The Jersey Names
The three most intriguing players for the Knicks this year all have incredibly unique and long last names, which will look great on jerseys. Frank Ntilikina should be interesting to watch as the point guard, as most international players are, and we will see if the skinny 19 years old can keep up with NBA point guards.
Willy Hernangomez will likely be the team’s starting center and should be exciting in his sophomore year, as his rebounding should come in handy for the Knicks this year. And of course, there is Kristaps Porzingis who finally gets to be the first option for these Knicks. And an unleashed Kristaps should be very fun to watch, as he was one of two players with more than 100 blocks, more than 100 three-pointers made and more than one dunk per game.
Orlando Magic: The Dunk Show
Although the Magic have been consistently bad since trading Dwight Howard in 2012, at least this season they should be exciting. That is because of their sheer ability to throw down. The team has five very good dunkers in Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon, Mario Hezonja, Terrence Ross and Jonathon Simmons, and two very good lob throwers in DJ Augustin and Elfrid Payton. And as we all know, five dunkers+two lob throwers=DUNK SHOW.
Phoenix Suns: The Youth Movement
Although the team has mostly gone under the radar since imploding in 2015-2016, the Phoenix Suns have actually taken part in what has been a pretty smooth rebuild. They already have their future number one option in Devin Booker, and the team has packed enough young talent around him for possible long-term success.
Despite starting off the season raw, post-All-Star break, Marquese Chriss showed a lot more polish and averaged 12.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game on 49.8% shooting from the field and 36% from three, and threw down some insane jams. 2017 fourth overall pick Josh Jackson has the potential to be a great player in the league and is an incredible athlete and underrated playmaker. And despite disappointing in his rookie season, there is a reason why Dragan Bender was chosen fourth overall in the 2016 NBA draft and should be a good player in this league eventually.
Despite likely being a bad team in the West, they might actually end up being one of the most exciting, as the majority of their team is athletic and last year the team played at the second-fastest pace in the league.
Sacramento Kings: The Backcourt
It would be crazy to already compare the Kings’ young backcourt of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield to the Washington Wizards’ John Wall and Bradley Beal, as the two have never played a single game together, Fox has yet to play a game in the NBA, and Fox will not even be a starter, as the Kings signed George Hill. However, with that being said, there are a lot of similarities between the two backcourts.
First, let’s start with Fox and Wall. Much like John Wall, De’Aaron Fox is a long, quick and explosive point guard with the ability to make plays in transition. And much like Bradley Beal, Buddy Hield is a shorter, long wingspan two-guard who excels as a scorer and three-point shooter. Watching these two grow into their potential should be fun for basketball fans, and if they show no semblance of the players they can become this year, at the very least, watching Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive and Kings’ GM Vlade Divac stumble around the NBA will always be amusing.