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!
Was there anything less surprising during this summer of turmoil and player turnover than Dwyane Wade reuniting with Cleveland and Lebron? While Wade’s a little too old to be throwing it down like back in Miami, he was surprisingly effective last year for Chicago and should be able to contribute in a big way for Cleveland, particularly with Isaiah Thomas sidelined to start the season. Starting next to Derrick Rose might be a short lived experiment for this team because of spacing concerns, but with Thomas out for most of the regular season, the signing is great for the Cavs, giving this team another playmaker when Lebron James hits the bench.
Of course, nostalgia aside, this team gets really exciting when Thomas can return to the starting lineup. After the Kyrie Irving trade, a lot of fans equated the two players based on their similar one-on-one scoring and defensive deficiencies. However, even if Kyrie has a much higher ceiling and is three years younger, there was absolutely no comparison between these two last year. Irving had a career year scoring and shooting the ball from distance. Thomas, on the other hand, had one of the best offensive seasons in NBA history, regularly destroying teams in the final frame and powering the Celtics to a 122.7 offensive rating in crunch time. With defenses no longer sending triple teams at Thomas out of fear of leaving the best player in the world alone, it’s fair to say fans could expect to see even more out of “The King of the Fourth” this season.
All of this and no mention so far of Kevin Love who should be set for an absolutely monster year. Not only should Love have the certainty to know the front office remained behind him over the shakeup with Kyrie, but he also completely dominated in his minutes last year when Irving was off the court to the tune of 27 and 14 per-36 minutes. With Love set to start at the 5, surrounded by elite drive-and-kick players and a generational passer in James, expect a career offensive year out of the UCLA big man. He might not be the best candidate to anchor a defense with two truly porous backcourt options, but he should be all over Sports Center, crossing up and driving on the bigger, slower-footed centers in the league.
Which is to say nothing to the fact that this team is a key candidate for a huge blockbuster trade. Love may begin the season beasting the rest of the league with the Cavs’ front office “support” behind him, but he’s an eternal trade candidate if it helps Cleveland match up better with Golden State in the last year of Lebron’s contract. The combination of an All-Star level player and the juicy 2018 unprotected Nets’ first round pick Cleveland was able to pry away in the Kyrie deal, makes the Cavaliers the league’s boogeyman for a potential huge trade deadline move. Exchanging either of those for one of the players signed this summer (shoutout OKC meltdown) who are eligible to be traded December 15 could give Cleveland the fourth two-way wing to pair next to Lebron, Jae Crowder, and J.R. Smith to play the kind of truly positionless basketball required to succeed at the highest level in today’s NBA.
Dwyane Wade reunion to start the year, the Little Guy suiting up for the home stretch, and that constant, special breed of pressure and expectations that come with a Lebron-captained team should make this one of the more entertaining, high stakes seasons in The Land.