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!
If you had to ask the casual NBA fan what the best offense outside of the Bay Area was last year, there’s almost zero chance they would settle on Denver. And yet, once Nikola Jokic was inserted into the starting lineup, the Nuggets posted the league’s second best unit and absolutely smoked opponents by surrounding a maestro-passing big man with shooting and athleticism at every other position. Better than Houston, better than Cleveland, Denver surprised a lot of people down the stretch and came within a single game of missing the postseason. With Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez both flashing a ton of upside potential as rookies, and Denver coming away with one of the better contracts of the offseason in bringing Paul Millsap into the fold, Denver has all of the pieces in place to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2013.
There are a lot of questions about this team, to be sure, starting with the point guard position where the team relied heavily on the 35 year old Jameer Nelson last year as Emmanuel Mudiay continued to disappoint in his second season in the league. There’s been talk of moving Murray to point guard full time as a kind of off-ball Patty Mills-lite to spot up off of Jokic, but that would leave the Nuggets without a real distributor at the point of attack (or a good pick-and-roll partner for Jokic). Danilo Gallinari is gone as well, after years of being Denver’s primary option. While the team may have replaced most of his production with Millsap, this was still the Nuggets’ leading scorer and someone who shot nearly 40% from 3 while averaging 6 trips to the free throw line a game. With Wilson Chandler perpetually on the trade block, this is a team that could be very shallow at small forward.
While that uncertainty might seem serious, there’s really not that much to dislike about Denver. In all honesty, the Nuggets should be one of the more entertaining teams in the NBA with young, killer offensive players and an up tempo system that utilizes their homecourt altitude advantage to an extra 4 or 5 wins a year. Millsap may not have Gallo’s offensive versatility, but he should be able to immensely improve last year’s 29th ranked defense while giving some of the younger players on this team some All-Star veteran mentoring. If Denver does see internal improvement from their younger players, especially after seeing Hernangomez play in Euro basket, they have enough blue chip prospects to throw at every single position and see what sticks. Jamal Murray flashed absolute superstar potential in his rookie season while the underrated 3-and-D Gary Harris has a lot to prove with an extra $10 million in incentives baked into the extension he just signed. It wouldn’t be surprising if by the end of the season these two are talked about as one of the best young backcourts in the league.
Simply put, these guys are in an incredibly enviable position where they can expect to contend for the playoffs while fielding one of the younger teams in the NBA. They may have shot themselves in the foot last season by trading Jusuf Nurkic to the rival Portland Trailblazers, but the addition of Millsap should make them another of the Western Conference lottery teams from last year that makes it to the postseason this go-round. With this offense clicking, and the team rocking some of the best jerseys in the league, I’d doubt the Pepsi Center remains one of the league’s emptier arenas for long.