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 a sensational, Most Improved Player of the Year campaign, it’s safe to wonder… can Giannis get even better?
From out of nowhere, Antetokounmpo emerged as arguably the second best player in the Eastern Conference last year, building on his absolute decking of Mike Dunleavy in the playoffs to take on a new badass, alpha-male persona. Given free rein to run point and initiate Milwaukee’s entire offense, Giannis upped his numbers in virtually every statistical category, becoming the 5th player in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks which feels like an insane sentence to write. He had huge, clutch moments during the regular season, he came up even huger in the playoffs; there can’t be a better player in the East to build a franchise around over the next five years.
Antetokounmpo was so good in fact that it drastically changed how Milwaukee’s front office viewed their own team. Until last year, this was a good, young core that looked set to develop internally and take a run at the crown when Lebron James finally started to slow down in a few years. Now, while it could have just been concerns over his second ACL tear, the fact that Jabari Parker’s name came up in trade conversations for both Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony, signaled that the Bucks were all set on competing Right Now. This remains a good young core, but after Giannis’ meteoric rise last year these guys are all-set to go toe-to-toe with the big boys in the League. Even without Irving.
In fact, looking at this team, it’s almost perfectly constructed with strong role players to operate off of Giannis. Khris Middleton returned from a gruesome hamstring injury last year to shoot better than 40% from three and provide good defense and a reasonable one-on-one ISO game. Matthew Dellevadova and last year’s rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon provide a 3 and D skillset and secondary creation from the point guard position while the Bucks must be hoping for a second year jump from 10th overall selection Thon Maker. In fact, I’d argue that if Maker could put on a little weight to act as a feasible rim protector/rebounder than this is the most versatile, position-less (in a good way) starting 5 in the entire league.
That scenario, though, presupposes Jabari Parker coming off the bench in exchange for more 3 and D minutes for Middleton and Tony Snell, which might be a tough pill to swallow for a former 2nd overall pick. At his best, Parker is an awesome player to watch, an absolute monster in transition with a tantalizing looking jumper that makes it seem like he can score from anywhere on the floor. In reality, Parker is a career 34% shooter from deep and a woeful defender. He may still just be 22 but his fit with Giannis is questionable. If the Bucks really are trying to win now, and if they want to take Parker along slowly after his ACL tear, it might make more sense for the team as a whole if he can accept a kind of super sub role off the bench.
Either way, though, this is a team with a remarkably bright future. Outside of Middleton, all their best players are under 25 and they pushed Toronto hard in the playoffs despite Khris coming back from injury and Maker and Brogdon playing big parts as rookies. Even if Giannis doesn’t take that next atmospheric leap forward this season (which would just be improving his 3 point shooting a little bit by the way), this is still a team that should be able to see a ton of internal improvement by playing more minutes together and having Brogdon and Maker get another year under their belts. And, if Giannis does make that leap? Watch out Lebron, the Bucks are coming.