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!
After squandering arguably the best year of Kemba Walker’s career with an abysmal record in close games, the Charlotte Hornets were set to bring the band back together and chase a playoff spot in the massively weakened Eastern Conference. Then… the Dwightmare.
In a move that basketball analysts largely deemed a salary dump, Charlotte traded Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli to Atlanta for Dwight Howard and a swap of 2nd round picks. For Howard, the trade ends his “homecoming reunion” with the Hawks after one year and puts him on his third team in as many seasons. While the 31 year old was still a productive player last year, averaging double digit rebounds and shooting better than 60% from the field, his lack of mobility was badly exposed in the playoffs and he remains a constant threat to blow up locker room chemistry with his bizarre cocktail of goofy arrogance. What’s more, it’s unclear how the move will impact Cody Zeller’s minutes. The Charlotte Observer speculated that Dwight’s contract and past relationship with head coach Steve Clifford made him the obvious starter at the position, but Zeller was a far more productive player last year. An analytics darling, Zeller was secretly the second best player on the Hornets last season and the team was absolutely clobbered during the twenty games he missed to injury.
Outside of that question, though, the roster is fairly set in place. Walker greatly increased his 3 point percentage last year, both off the dribble and in catch and shoot situations, and emerged as one of the more notable All-Star snubs in the Eastern Conference. Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Marvin Williams will start at the swingman positions, which should give the team excellent switchy defensive versatility (although this may have to finally be the prove it or lose it year for MKG’s shooting). And the bench looks fairly decent as well with Frank the Tank, reclamation project Michael Carter-Williams, and the maddeningly mercurial Jeremy Lamb.
OH YEAH AND MALIK MONK!!! With perhaps the steal of the draft, Charlotte was able to select the UK guard with the 11th pick this year, giving their offense an instant injection of BALLS. Monk may not have the measurables to be a true NBA superstar but he showcased some incredible shooting and athleticism in what had to be the best college backcourt we’ve seen for some time. His comments about New York passing him on the draft suggest that he was eager to take on the spotlight as a rookie, but he couldn’t have ended up in a better situation than Charlotte. Surrounded by a veteran, quality team Monk should be able to model his game after Walker’s while filling the perfect role of highlight reel 6th man. It goes without saying that his first game in the Garden is going to be appointment television.
Other than Monk, there isn’t too much to love from an excitement perspective. Charlotte should almost certainly be a playoff team this year with good fundamentals and a roster 9 deep with solid players. Clifford has proven to be an excellent coach, but decidedly conservative. The team hangs back to guard the pick and roll, leads the league almost every year in giving up the fewest turnovers, and should come in right around league average in every other major offensive category. If Dwight Howard behaves himself, and if Monk is held to under 20 minutes a game count me out on the Hornets this year.