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!
As always, Miami was the league’s boogeyman this summer with regards to free agency. Blake Griffin was coming to South Beach, Gordon Hayward was coming to South Beach, that next big domino to fall, they were coming to South Beach too. But in the end… they simply brought the gang back together.
The Heat rewarded rich contracts to all of their standout players from the 30-11 second half of the season, re-upping on guys like James Johnson and Dion Waiters while bringing in Game 7 Hero Kelly Olynk and drafting Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo to strengthen the frontcourt. While the Heat should have more than enough talent to compete in the wasteland Eastern Conference, the question coming into the year has to be whether this is the team that obliterated everyone over the second half of last season or the team that started the year 11-30.
Either way this should be a pretty fun group to watch. Head coach Eric Spoelstra doesn’t get the respect he deserves in the league (potentially because he looks like a 16 year old who got turned down asking to borrow his parents’ car), but he’s been one of the best coaches in the game over the last 6 years, particularly when it comes to building an offense around spacing and ball movement. Dragic is one of the league’s perennially underrated point guards and if the coaching staff can keep Hassan Whiteside motivated they miiiiight just have the best rim protector in the Eastern Conference.
And all of this is to say nothing about the true highlights on this team: Waiters Island and “Bloodsport” James Johnson. The latter slimmed down by what looked like 50 pounds after an offseason under Miami’s world-envied envied physical fitness program, emerging as a playmaking, passing dervish that gave the Heat a Draymond-lite defensive weapon to throw at opponents. As for Dion? Live by the sword, die by the sword as he rode a career year to torch everyone in his path and imbued this Miami team with an identity of ballsiness and swagger. If the Knicks could’ve gotten him for the ridiculous contract we furnished on Tim Hardaway, I wouldn’t have batted an eye.
The question is can Dion, or even Dragic for that matter, be the player to anchor a 45 win home-court advantage campaign? Similarly to Charlotte, this is a solid roster that should be able to beat up on the vast majority of the other teams in the East with superior coaching and solid, B+ players at every position. However, does this roster have that one player with All-NBA upside that can put the team on his back and carry the Heat down the stretch in close games?
Now, Dion would throw up his hand in a second to say “I’M THE GUY!!”, but the fact remains that this is a roster with a few questions attached. The Heat succeeded last season largely by playing incredibly hard and shooting a ton of 3s. They had an egalitarian scoring output, an incredibly deep bench and definitely may have benefitted from the homecourt hangover advantage in one of America’s best nightlife cities. While they’ll still continue to succeed in all of those facets of the game, bringing back the same team all but guarantees the same ceiling for these guys. Miami should definitely be a playoff team this year. But without the potential for that top 5 in either offense or defense, or that one transcendental player on the roster, it’s hard to be among the best of the League in 2017.