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?
I think the people writing Minnesota’s name in for a playoff spot in the Western Conference with Sharpie are jumping the gun juuust a little bit. Yes the team is loaded with young talent and yes they just hired Tom Thibodeau who was easily the best head coach available on the market. And yet, this team won 29 games last year and was the 3rd worst team in the Conference in front of just the Lakers and Spurs. The Knicks last year had one of the craziest improvements in win totals from the year before in picking up 15 Ws – all of which inquired an incredible rookie, a huge improvement to the supporting cast, and a healthy, career year out of Melo. The Timberwolves have added precisely nothing to their roster, and if you think Thibodeau is worth the 15 (!!!) win-shares they would need to flirt with the 8th seed, let me mention that not Kevin Durant, not Russell Westbrook, but only Steph Curry was worth more than 15 wins per game last year.
And, while I’m throwing controversial takes out there, I think Zach LaVine has a good chance to develop into a better all-around player than former #1 pick Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins has the heft and athleticism of a solid 2 guard and was one of the rare players last year to be able to average 20 points a game in his sophomore season, mainly from an uncanny ability to get to the foul line. However, LaVine’s athleticism flirts with the extraordinary. He’s a spindly body of arms and legs, perfect for switching in today’s no post-up NBA and he showed the ability late in the season to come in and absolutely LIGHT IT UP when next to a traditional point guard in Ricky Rubio.
Which is to say that if you’re the Timberwolves, this is a good problem to have. Wiggins’ size allows him to slide down a position to the 3 and the team realized LaVine was much better last season playing the 2, instead of trying to handle the ball and play-make as a back-up point guard. Which is again, an excellent piece of news, as this team drafted the all-0ut awesome Kris Dunn 5th overall and got a huge year of improvement out of Tyus Jones. With Cole Aldrich protecting the rim and crafty Euro forward Nemanja Bjelica getting another year to show off his big-man passing ability, this team’s bench will be much improved. Even if they still don’t have much in the way of shooting…
But let’s talk about Thibodeau, who should come in and install a real winning, defensive culture right away. He’ll be huge in teaching Wiggins and Lavine the best ways to maximize their athleticism to lockdown on a nightly basis and I shudder to think about what he’s going to do to the rest of the league with Karl Anthony-Towns, already a top-15 rim protector in his rookie season. I am a little worried that his preferred play-style might not get the most out of this young, exciting roster, due to his penchant for playing two traditional bigs. However, even if KAT does have to spend a little too much time at the 4, instead of annihilating teams as the next great center of the future, I have prime confidence that Thibodeau will learn how to use this group quickly and be competitive enough to cut the bullshit and play their best lineups every night.
Oh yeah, Karl Anthony-Towns. Turns out that the rookie of the year and the best rookie season since Lebron James (Anthony Davis truly broke out as a sophomore) might be worth talking about. For how much we get caught up in the hype of the New York media, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any Knicks fan who didn’t think KAT was just a bigger, nastier, rockin’-er, more fluid version of our own Kristaps Porzingis. This guy can shoot the three, post-up, take clowns off the dribble, AND switch on defense like Draymond Green. He’s 20 friggin’ years old, didn’t miss a single game due to injury last year, and looks like the blueprint for how to take down the Warriors in two years when the rest of the Wolves have matured around him. Or wait, this team beat the Warriors just last season..
If we’re ranking these guys based on pure potential, they’re number 2. If we’re ranking them as a group to improve from their record the year before, they might just be the best damn team in the league. Number 4 might be a hair too low for these guys, and I do think I’ll get a lot of blowback from the basketball hipsters for not having them ranked first overall. But I think those nerds are the same guys who are going to be disappointed if this team shows growing pains or doesn’t make a huge leap right away. Ignore them. Watch 8 million T’Wolves games this year so you’re already on board the train for the 2018 playoffs.
Last year’s ranking: 10 (+6)