Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Last year I thought the dysfunction would’ve been fun to watch. But after 82 games of Rondo assist-hunting, DeMarcus Cousins shouting at his teammates, and George Karl making faces like this … it turns out that dysfunction is just kind of depressing. So with a last-ditch effort to make the playoffs in time for opening the new Golden 1 Center down the drain, it’s out with Karl and in with Dave Joerger, the former head of the Memphis Grizzlies and somehow Cousins’ sixth coach in six years (!!!)
Joerger is far from the only new face, though, as the Sacramento front office made sure to bring in every crazy, disgruntled free agent on the market. Matt Barnes and Arron Afflalo should bring a next-level dimension of shouting and complaining to an already-tense locker room, while Ty Lawson will be on his last legs to prove that he can beat his drinking problem and become a productive basketball player again. Add them to a group that includes Omri Casspi just getting over the fact that he’s not the Israeli Michael Jordan, starting point guard Darren Collison missing the start of the season for a domestic violence charge, and Rudy Gay howling into the infinite void and you have a powder keg that could go up at any moment.
Not only that, but the Kings somehow managed to use two first rounders in this year’s draft on centers, making that four players on this roster competing for minutes at Cousin’s position. It’s not a terrible look – both Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere have a ton of upside and Joerger consistently played two bigs together in Memphis – but one more signal that management might just have no idea what it’s doing. Plus, any coach who thinks he can talk himself into playing Cousins at the 4 and having him jack up threes is neutralizing his best player and taking the teeth out of what could be a fairly good offense.
To be fair the Kings do have a solid amount of talent on this roster and flirted with a .500 record and the 8th seed for most of last season. If you look at Cousins’ per-game stats from January you see a man possessed, averaging better than 30 ppg and hitting the 50 point mark in two back to back contests. This team was knocking on the door of a top-ten mark in offensive efficiency and looked to have finally turned the corner before a terrible losing streak going into the All-Star break caused George Karl to lose the locker room and the season to slip away.
Joerger is a much better coach than that and if he can keep this team together it’s possible they could finally squeak into the playoffs. The bottom of the West was uninspiring last year; younger teams like the Nuggets and Wolves are on the come-up, but they still look a year or two away from the postseason. Afflalo and Barnes represent a significant upgrade on the wing defenders this team had last season while a shift away from Karl’s bizarre defensive scheme should help ensure this team doesn’t let up the most three pointers for the third year in a row. Cousins operating in the post with better personnel around him might just be good enough for a solid offense, league average defense, and 45 wins.
The only problem is that I think it might be kind of boring to watch. If Joerger implements past strategies you’re going to see the old grit-n-grind style of slow it down, two bigs operating from the low and high post, very little floor spacing, and a tendency to eke out games 88-84. If that’s successful, I’m happy for Demarcus; the guy may be a just a little bit pouty, but he hasn’t deserved all of the craziness of the Sacramento environment. I’d love for him to build on the success of the US Olympic team by joining a stable, winning environment in the NBA. I just don’t know if it’ll be as fun as all that dysfunction.
Last year’s ranking: 9 (-20)