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 is all about Dennis Smith, Jr.
Sure, there might be a little bit of buyer’s remorse/jealousy when your team has the chance to draft a generational player and yet lets him slip to the very next pick. And while that may seem like exaggeration, there’s something about Smith that makes me feel like the boat has passed the Knicks by. Maybe it’s the kind of nuclear athleticism, the self-described Derrick Rose with a jump shot, that makes me think he could light the league on fire. Or maybe, its his overlooked playmaking ability, the ability to get into the paint and distribute that had him looking like one of the best set-up men in the country during AAU and would have had him finishing second to Lonzo Ball for Summer League assists were it not for Dorian Finney-Smith missing every single wide open jumper. With Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle who is famously hard on rookies already getting behind Smith as a franchise player, it’s hard not to see big things ahead for the kid.
And, if that’s the case, he’s joined the perfect roster of young and old talent. Dirk Nowitzki continues to be a premier floor spacer, heading into his age 40 season, while Carlisle’s propensity to play him at center last season (and probably start him there to begin the year) should leave the lane wide open for Smith. Wesley Matthews can provide excellent 3-and-D play while Harrison Barnes should be happy to have another option take some of last year’s ridiculous ISO scoring responsibilities off his shoulders. Hell, even Nerlens Noel has to be ecstatic to play with a pick-and-roll dynamo like Smith after rejecting initial offers from the Mavs to take the $4.2 million qualifying offer and bet on himself in a big way. With all these players in place, plus Carlisle’s willingness to further open up spacing by rocking with two point guard lineups (both Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell shot better than 40% from deep last year) all the cards are in place for a monster year for Smith.
With both Matthews and Noel available to hit the market again next summer, the uncertain futures of Ferrell and Curry, and the always-looming possibility of Nowitzki’s retirement, this is a big year for Dallas. Depending on what happens with these guys, the Mavericks could have close to $50 million in cap space next year to completely remake their team. And, while fans might want the team to bottom out again this year and pair Smith with another top ten selection, there’s going to be a ton of motivation between Carlisle and the team to succeed for Dirk. This team is going to have some tough sledding ahead if they want to try to make the playoffs in the West, but if Smith pops the way I think he can I wouldn’t count out the Mavs for that 8th seed.