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?
Also, full disclosure this was written just days before Pat Riley and the Heat medical staff decided Chris Bosh would never play another game in Miami.
Now a great deal of this comes down to whether or not Chris Bosh is going to play basketball this year.
The Miami Herald recently reported that there is a good chance the Heat’s training staff will eventually clear Bosh to play, though it may not be at the start of the season or for every game. (In other news, Chris Bosh does look good with his shirt off). With him in the line-up, Miami has one of the league’s 2 or 3 best stretch forwards and the most dominant defensive front-court in the league. Without him, they face a ton of question marks as all of the old players who were so crucial to last year’s unexpected success left to get massively overpaid elsewhere. No Dwyane Wade, no Luol Deng, not even last year’s sneaky-good buyout pick-up Joe Johnson, and this team is transformed from a veteran group almost overnight.
This year the Heat should be leaning heavily on point guard Goran Dragic and their new $98 million man Hassan Whiteside. It’s always been surprising how little the team utilized Dragic, particularly given how they traded two first round picks to acquire him. Instead, their offense continued to be largely centered around Wade, who’s 32% usage percentage would climb even higher during crunch time or in close games. While Miami nearly scratched a top ten offense last year, having the ball in Wade’s hand meant operating at one of the league’s slowest paces and featuring a superstar who took less than one 3 pointer a game.
Dragic made an All-NBA team in one of his Phoenix seasons, by working in two-point guard line-ups and pushing the ball up the floor at a frantic pace. He’ll be much more free to do so this season, playing along a much younger supporting cast that includes promising combo guards Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson. He’ll hopefully be able to add much more pick-and-roll into Whiteside’s game as well, moving the hyper athletic big man away from his post-ups and into more efficient offense. In fact, it’s possible the Miami offense gets even better next year without Wade, although again if Bosh misses time they’re looking at a huge, Josh McRoberts sized hole at power forward.
There’s also the possibility that this team’s knucklehead factor may be too much for even Pat Riley and the Miami Mafia to keep in line. Whiteside is a noted headcase – there’s a reason he hasn’t been able to find success in the league until his age 26 season despite his physical skills – and he just lost 98 million reasons to play smart, dedicated team basketball. This team scrambled to replace high-character guys like Wade and Deng with Dion Waiters and Knicks fan favorite Derrick Williams and, again, with Bosh out this team really only has Udonis Haslem as an older statesman, voice of reason type player. Hell, even Dragic got disgruntled with his role last year and could start yapping if things go South.
I think it’s more likely that the team struggles to reshape their identity than blows up completely. The Miami basketball club is notorious for its culture and work-ethic and should have enough influence to keep guys like Whiteside and Waiters in line. However, I do think that this could be a tough watch, again, without Bosh. Other than their hole at power forward, the Heat will start two second year players in Richardson and Justise Winslow and Dragic will be doubling his usage almost overnight. Winslow is a fantastic defender, but has yet to develop much of an offensive game outside of off-ball cutting, meaning the Heat could also be starting three non-shooters in the front court. Whiteside led the league in blocks last year, but didn’t really move the needle for the Heat’s defensive rating and will have to be covering up the mistakes of three younger, less experienced players. Hell, even their bench will be a lot weaker with no real back-up center and little scoring outside of Wayne “the Rain” Ellington.
I’m crossing my fingers for Bosh, as the last remaining member of that championship Big Three. And if he does come back these guys are sure to jump up the list a few spots. But without him, don’t expect to see these guys in the postseason again. Or on my television.
Last year’s ranking: 18 (-9)