With the advent of real, actual NBA preseason basketball, fans get to flip their calendars to the 2017-2018 season and start gearing up for one of the more anticipated campaigns of the last decade. As always, at Knicks at Night, we look ahead and break down the upcoming year, not by the quality of each team’s roster, but by how entertaining each should be to watch on a nightly basis. With nearly half the league’s All-Stars changing homes over the summer, there’s a lot more variability in these rankings and a lot of exciting, new situations to monitor. There’s never been a better time to plunk down that 100 bucks or so for the league’s premier subscription service, but also never a harder time choosing who to watch on a given night. To help answer that question… here are your Fourth Annual League Pass Watchability Rankings!
Zach LaVine… you are cleared for take-off!
ESPN ran an article on September 5 arguing that even with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s contract with Nike expiring, LaVine might end up being the sneaker industry’s next highly coveted free agent. The Greek Freak established himself as easily one of the 10 or 15 best players in the league last year, but its LaVine’s high flying exploits as winner of back to back dunk challenges and gunner 3 point shooting mentality that make him just as marketable. And now, moving to the city of Michael Jordan (and with pretty much the greenlight to let it fly whenever he wants), he has a real chance to become one of the real highlight machine, bankable young guys in this league.
Let’s not mess this up. Chicago absolutely butchered their chance to get a real return for their superstar forward Jimmy Butler, sending him to Minnesota for LaVine (coming off an ACL tear), second year disappointment Kris Dunn, and the rights to draft Finnish stretch 4 Lauri Markannen. The fact that they ALSO had to include their own pick in the transaction is insane enough to skip over it and never mention again. With Rajon Rondo leaving in free agency and Dwyane Wade bought out and buddying up in Cleveland, Chicago has gone all in on the youth movement, albeit at one of the worst times ever to try to tank in the watered down East.
Even with a pretty confusing couple years of roster moves, the plan has finally started to emerge for the Bulls a little. Robin Lopez will remain on the roster as a solid, average starting center and all-around locker room guy. Markannen and Bobby Portis should split time at power forward while LaVine and last year’s playoff wunderkind Paul Zipser hold down the wing spots. And finally, Chicago will throw their unbelievable amount of crap options at the point guard spot and hope that something sticks. Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant, Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine, David Nwaba… it’s almost insane how much of the roster is dedicated to 1 guards who have yet to prove they can be even reliable backups in the NBA, let alone future stars. Chicago may just be playing the odds and hoping one of these dart throws sticks to the board, but they’re going to be one of a couple of franchises (hello New York!) who look awful stupid when Dennis Smith blows up the league.
Still, the presence of Markannen and more shooting/athleticism on the wing should finally allow head coach Fred Hoiberg to play his preferred style with an uptempo offense and side to side ball movement. Lauri Markannen looked a little better than expected in Euro Basket, flashing more athleticism and all-around scoring than just some average stand in the corner shooter would. It’s been almost a running joke around the league how Chicago’s front office hired Hoiberg to replace Thibodeau and then immediately cut his legs out from under him by surrounding him with non-shooting, ball-stopping fossils like Wade and Rondo. With a young team full of lottery pick shooters and absolutely no mandate for any kind of on-court success this year, we might finally get a chance to see that kind of fun, Iowa State offense Bulls fans have been waiting for. You just wish the players were a little better.