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!
This ranking goes through the roof if the Grizzlies could play the Spurs every single night ala the Southeast Division showdown we were lucky enough to get in the first round of the playoffs last year. While the story of the West last season may have been Kawhi Leonard’s absolute stranglehold on the Conference and his subsequent injury up 20 at halftime in Game 1 against the Warriors, it was Mike Conley who matched him bucket for bucket in that first round playoff series.
Conley has been underrated long enough for the word to practically lose all meaning. He’s never made an All-Star team and never been considered one of the 7 or 8 best players at his position. He’s also famously never received a technical foul, hasn’t failed to shoot below 36% from 3 since his rookie year, and, most importantly, has brought his team to the playoffs EVERY SINGLE YEAR since the Kyle Lowry trade made him a full-time starter in Memphis eight seasons ago. Conley’s gotten better every single year he’s been in the league, plays lock-down defense from the point guard spot, and fought to return to the court against Golden State after literally breaking his eye open. He may never shed his underrated tag to the general public, but to the Grit n Grind Grizzlies fans he’s proven he can carry this team.
So much so that the Memphis front office has deemed Conley and his long-time running mate Marc Gasol “untouchable” in any trade talks. Even in a league where star players have been jumping teams during even the deadest part of the offseason (and in a league where the Grizz are pretty clearly locked into first round playoff fodder in the brutal Western Conference), Memphis has committed to going all-in with their same guys. And, with Gasol continuing to flex his game even more last year with the addition of a three point shot under first time head coach David Fizdale, there are much worse options to saddle your franchise to.
The only problem is the lack of anything significant outside of those two options. JaMychal Green is back on a two-year contract after spending the entire summer persona non-grata, but the team lost close to its entire veteran backbone last year with the Kings swooping in to sign Zach Randolph and Vince Carter and Tony Allen departing for New Orleans after no minimum deal for him materialized. The Grizz made a calculated gamble on Ben McLemore and may expect some internal improvement from second year guard Wade Baldwin, but there just isn’t very much secondary talent on this team. If they continue to get nothing out of pretty-boy Parsons and his massive contract, this could be one of the league’s most one dimensional attacks, with one of the worst second units to back it up.
To his credit Fizdale did help modernize the Grizzlies offense a good bit last year by moving Randolph to the bench and playing just one traditional big. He got the team shooting a lot more threes than in years past and fully utilized Gasol’s premier passing skills. This team was a lot more fun to watch than in years past, but not necessarily better record-wise. And now, with a massive outflow of depth and their core players only getting older, this team should really struggle in a Western Conference that experienced a strong surge in its playoff hopefuls. It’s proven foolish to try to count out the Grizzlies in the past, but this might be the year Conley finally fails to take his team to the postseason.