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!
DLOOOOOOO, welcome to BK!
I might be higher on this trade for the Nets than anyone else I’ve spoken to. You lose a franchise icon in Brook Lopez and a late first rounder, sure, and you’re forced take on the contract of Timofey Mozgov (which some extra salary on a bad team, whatever) in exchange for a recent former 2nd overall pick in D’Angelo Russell. Potentially a high price to pay (and even more so when it looks like the Lakers may have uncovered the steal of the draft in Kyle Kuzma with that 27th pick) but for a talent-poor team like the Nets years away from owning their own draft picks, an absolutely necessary gamble for a blue chip prospect. And now, after prying Allen Crabbe away from Portland and hopefully getting a full healthy year out of Jeremy Lin, the Nets may have just assembled a pretty exciting backcourt.
In fact, there’s a lot of reasons to think Brooklyn might have a fairly strong offense this season. After all the Nets led the entire league in pace last year and launched the 4th most 3s per game. Head coach Kenny Atkinson clearly wanted the team to play a modern style of NBA basketball last year; the team just lacked the talent to be able to compete on a nightly basis. During the few games that Lin and Lopez were able to play together, this team had a net rating approaching that perfectly average 0; they were much closer to a 38 win team than the twenty they ended up with.
Of course, Lopez is gone now. And, without him, the Nets may just have the worst frontcourt rotation in the entire league. Mozgov was a reasonably effective player last year, but nothing close to a league average center and Brooklyn will likely look to powerforwards Trevor Booker and Quincy Acy to take on his backup minutes. Defensive pest Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will start at power forward, which should mitigate the negative impact of his horrible shooting, but he’s also severely undersized for the position. The Nets took on Demarre Carroll’s contract from the Raptors in exchange for a late first, which makes him the only natural 3 on the roster, but he’ll likely be coming off the bench to make room for their significant investment in Crabbe. With everyone playing up a position, and having Lin play next to Russell and Crabbe this should be a ghastly defense. If Mozgov misses any time, or even when he goes to the bench, this team is going to get pummeled on the boards; opponents are going to look like Tristan Thompson beasting the Hawks in the playoffs on a nightly basis.
But that’s not why we’re tuning in to watch the Nets this year. While Brooklyn is still a couple of seasons away from getting back to the postseason, they’ve finally managed to stock the roster with some youth and top-flight prospects. Caris LaVert looked solid last year, flashing some nice passing chops and a herky-jerky hesitation game. Crabbe was one of the better three point shooters in the league by percentage and should greatly benefit from more looks in Atkinson’s system. And I think it’s safe to say that everyone has forgotten just how good Jeremy Lin can look when given free rein to push the ball up the floor (ignoring whatever he happens to be trying with his hair from month to month).
Really it all comes back to Russell, though. D’Angelo has disappointed somewhat at this point in his career, especially from a character standpoint after putting Lakers teammate Nick Young on blast for his infidelity, but the fact remains that he has the potential to be a phenomenal offensive player. With the height and shooting stroke to pull up for 3s off the dribble he should be able to draw double teams at the point of attack and with the passing vision to dime up his teammates its quite possible that he has a Most Improved Player of the year type campaign with Atkinson in Brooklyn. The Nets have surrounded D-Lo with a nice young core in LaVert, Crabbe, Rondae, and this year’s first round pick Jarrett Allen and they should expect to see a ton of internal development. This might be the first season in years where Nets fans (if there are Nets fans?) can be excited to watch the talent on the floor.