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?
Of all the NBA league pass basketball hipster destinations, sunny Orlando might be the worst place to end up. If anything, over the last few years the Magic could teach the Kings a master class in how to consistently pick somewhere between 3 and 10 in the draft and come away with a bunch of ill-fitting parts and no franchise cornerstone. And now, after making one of the best coaching hires of the summer, Orlando followed it up with one of the more perplexing off-seasons I can remember.
Gone are former 2nd overall pick and starting shooting guard Victor Oladipo, and the 11th pick in this year’s draft Domantas Sabonis in a trade that netted them Serge Ibaka on the last year of his contract. Theoretically, Ibaka should pair nicely with their starting center Nikola Vucevik; he provides the spacing and rim protection that a back-to-the-basket, finesse big like Vucevic lacks. However, Orlando promptly shot this theory in the foot by signing playoff stand-out Bismack Biyombo to a four year, $72 million contract, theoretically to be their new starting center. And then, theoretically, while Biyombo and Ibaka would be a killer defensive front-court, playing them together forces the team’s most promising prospect, Aaron Gordon, to play small forward, even though he plays best as a kind of Shawn Marion do it all 4.
If you’ve been following along at home, what this all really means is that the Magic project to put out one of the worst shooting line-ups in the league next year. Their starting point guard, Elfrid Payton, has barely cracked 30% from 3 over his career, meaning Evan Fournier will be the only above average shooter of the five. (If you want to argue Ibaka’s career 35% mark is going to get a lot better without defenses paying all their attention to KD and Russell Westbrook, I’m happy to have that conversation). It should get better off the bench, where the Magic have DJ Augustin (who may just take Payton’s starting job by the end of the year), Jodie Meeks, and the insane 1 year/$15 million they paid for Jeff Green. Another guy best at power forward who will be stuck playing the 3. Oh yeah, and can’t really shoot either.
New head coach Frank Vogel and the frontcourt additions should make this team a defensive juggernaut pretty much overnight and its possible that management is attempting to make this roster into a kind of Sunshine State Pacers. Vogel will likely say fuck it to any concept of spacing and play two traditional bigs together to maximize the team’s strengths and incorporate some of the concepts he took from Indiana. He’s also spoken about the idea of encouraging Gordon to play more with the ball in his hand, perhaps trying to emulate his past play-making forwards like Paul George and Lance Stephenson, which could jumpstart the young player’s evolution.
I’m worried that this kind of player development will go out the window pretty quickly, though in favor of consistency and winning. Vogel has had a .500 or better record and made the playoffs every year in Indiana that Paul George was healthy, and it’s been evident with the offseason acquisitions (and even the Scott Skiles hiring last year) that the front office has a clear post-season or bust mandate. While this could be a kind of fun, quirky roster with players like Gordon and last year’s first round pick Mario Hezonja, I’m predicting this quickly devolving into slow, grind-it-out offense with a bunch of predictable veterans who can’t score and games that don’t hit 90.
Last year’s rank: 14 (-12)