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!
In his second year as president of basketball operations, head coach Tom Thibodeau pulled off an absolute heist during the draft, moving Zach LaVine and last year’s first round pick pick Kris Dunn (as well as exchanging the 7th and 16th selection in this year’s draft) for All-Star forward Jimmy Butler. With Ricky Rubio out the door for a first round selection and new additions Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford, this Minnesota team is going to be much different from the Wolves teams that have disappointed the last few seasons.
There have been a few concerns raised about the team’s lack of shooting and which player will get the ball in late game situations. And, while it might not be ideal for Karl Anthony-Towns to be the team’s best 3 point specialist – or for Towns’ development to just have him parked out at the line instead of running the offense – those concerns are largely overblown. This team has too much talent to fail.
Jimmy Butler played like a top-10 guy last year, averaging 24-6-6 and dragging a miserable Chicago offense into at least mild respectability. He has the kind of defensive mindset and workhorse mentality to perfectly mirror his new (and old) coach and he should be a great influence on fellow forward Andrew Wiggins, who comes into the season fresh off a massive extension but with the expectation that he needs to get better. With Butler handling the opposing team’s best scoring threat and receiving all of the attention on the other end, Wiggins should be able to thrive in a secondary role. If he can embrace becoming a high-octane sidekick, and if some of Butler’s work ethic rubs off on him, NBA fans might finally be able to see the player touted as “Maple Jordan” coming out of high school.
Which is to say nothing for arguably the team’s best player in Towns. Over the last two years, Towns has shown an incredible offensive ceiling and deserves to be mentioned among the best big men in the game. However, while in theory Towns has the size and quickness to be a fearsome shot blocker and perimeter defender, he’s been a pretty miserable defender to this point. Like with Porzingis, he’s best suited to playing center on offense so he can stretch out opposing defenses, but he can’t rebound or protect the rim well enough to do so full-time. Although I’m sure the front office would love for this to be the year he puts it together, the signing of Gibson gives them another quality big man as well as a veteran mentor to put some of that Thibodeau toughness into Karl.
The Timberwolves have been somewhat snakebit the last few seasons, falling short of expectations and losing dozens of close games down the stretch. They’ve famously failed to make the postseason for 13 years (!!!) since the departure of KG, despite some huge performances out of Kevin Love, and fall short of their Vegas over-unders like clockwork. But book it right now, this is going to be the year that snaps the streak. The West may be brutal, but the Wolves are loaded and should play with a gritty, tough-it-out flair. The puppies are all grown up and they’re ready to ball. The playoffs shouldn’t even be a question; if everything breaks right, and these players are able to gel, they’ll be hosting one of the series come April.