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!
With the potential to end up footing one of the league’s largest payrolls, the Raptors greatly benefited from the lack of available cap space around the league, re-upping on surprisingly team friendly deals for Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. While the team wasn’t also able to retain the services of Patrick Patterson or P.J. Tucker, this is still largely the same roster that’s been able to hold down homecourt advantage in the East for the last four years in a row.
At this point, what else is there to learn about the Raptors? Kyle Lowry should be able to play like a top 7 or 8 point guard in the league during the regular season before completely falling off the cliff in the playoffs. Demar DeRozan should continue to torment fans with wondering if this is the year he FINALLY adds a three point shot to his game, while pounding the ball into the floor and forcing Toronto into the absolute cellar for assisted buckets per game. And Jonas Valanciunas should look absolutely dominant for the first ten or fifteen minutes of the game before becoming completely unplayable in crunch time. We get it.
Even though its easy to think that the Bostons and Milwaukees in the East may have passed these guys by, there’s a surprising amount of young talent on this team. Toronto was comfortable flipping their backup guard Cory Joseph to Indiana for a little more shooting in CJ Miles because they remain very high on Norman Powell and Delon Wright to take on a larger role of the backcourt minutes. Pascal Siakim showed some strong defensive versatility switching out onto the perimeter while being one of the few rookies to make multiple starts for a playoff team. And Jakob Poertl wrapped up an incredibly impressive summer league campaign, showing off his finishing ability around the basket and the kind of mobility that might make Valanciunas expendable a little sooner than anyone might have thought.
Now, the Raptors should have some real problems at small forward, where they don’t have a single natural 3 on the roster. Powell will likely start there where they hope his defensive acumen will be able to make up for his lack of size at the position. The Raptors should also play a lot of two guard lineups, as they’ve traditionally paired Lowry next to Joseph in bench units that have roasted opponents. But the fact remains they lack the kind of combo forward to play at the 4 when they downsize with Serge at center and they absolutely lack anyone who can guard the Lebron James-sized, scoring playmaking wings that the best teams in the league possess.
Still, even if this team is a little flawed, and very familiar, they’re still a quality watch. They were the only team in the Eastern Conference to finish in both the top 10 offensive and defensive efficiency standings last year and have one of the most rabid fan bases in the league. We may know exactly who Lowry and DeRozan are, but they remain one of the best 3 or 4 backcourts in the NBA and perhaps the best bromance out there. DeRozan can be a maddening player from an analytics standpoint but he’s also praised around the league for his ridiculous footwork and one-on-one, Kobe Bryant-esque scoring mentality. If he does ever end up adding that three pointer to his repertoire after an All-NBA season, he could be a pretty devastating offensive player.
The Raptors do always end up killing these feel-good vibes surrounding the team by finding a way to massively disappoint in the postseason. And I think it’s pretty obvious at this point the level of utmost confidence Lebron has for being able to run right through them on his way to yet another Finals appearance. But until we get there, let’s relax and enjoy checking in on our old friends up North. It should be a pretty good season up there.