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 eight years of possessing arguably the most dominant one-two punch in the game, Oklahoma City fans were treated to a solo season for the ages. Left on his own, Russell Westbrook exploded. Like something out of a hedonistic fairytale handbook, Russ blasted past Kobe Bryant’s numbers for single season player usage to record the first triple-double average since Oscar Robertson in 1962. The numbers sound fantastic, and they are, but the way he did it, regularly making the impossible seem possible and destroying any conception of what you thought might be possible on a basketball court was what made this one of the more memorable MVP years in recent memory. It would have been insane for the Thunder to expect that kind of performance out of Russ again, and crazy to expect them to return to those 47 wins with this same roster, but now they don’t have to worry about that.
Enter Paul George. In an offseason full of fleecings, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti might have pulled off the biggest of all, trading Victor Oladipo and last year’s first rounder Domantis Sabonis for Indiana superstar Paul George (for those keeping track at home, that’s flipping the last year of Serge Ibaka’s deal for those two players, then flipping them again in a single season for George. Not too shabby). Although PG13 only has one year left on his contract, it’s a massive coup for an overpaid player in Oladipo and a rookie who had yet to prove anything. With George, OKC has a legitimate second star to pair with the transcendent Westbrook and should be right back in the mix for homecourt advantage in the Western Conference playoffs.
Enter Carmelo Anthony. With another knockdown trade, Presti swapped Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a second rounder for the Knicks’ mercurial forward as soon as he opened up his list of potential trade destinations to include the Thunder. Carmelo might not be the kind of knock-down, no question All-Star he’s been in the past, but he’s still a valuable starter who has more than shown the ability to play off of other big-time talents in the past.
It’s worth noting that in their first round series with Houston last year the Thunder were outscored by 51 points per 100 possessions (!!!) when Russell Westbrook was on the bench. While part of that could have been attributed to a system so totally dependent on one player, or backup point guard Semaj Christon being one of the 3 or 4 worst players in the league, that’s an absurd number for one of the six or seven best teams. Adding George and Anthony to the starting lineup not only gives them one of the best 5s in the NBA, but it also allows head coach Billy Donovan to stagger minutes and keep a top-15 player on the court at all times. Hell, Indiana may have gotten swept in the playoffs last year, but George went toe for toe with Lebron James the whole way. After a couple years of burying his team for not remaining competitive in the Eastern Conference, and heading into unrestricted free agency, PG should be more than motivated to make a big splash in OKC.
Outside of George and Anthony, the Thunder also made one of the better signings of the offseason, inking Patrick Patterson to a 3 year, $17 million contract. The move was met with universal acclaim by the NBA-nerd/analytics community as Patterson has been one of the more productive players in the league for years, pairing with Kyle Lowry to make Toronto’s bench unit a dominant force in the regular season. With Russ, PG, Patterson, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson the Thunder can throw out a top 5 defense. And, if they’re trailing they can juice their offense by going small with Melo at the 4 and Pat at center. Simply put, this is a team with a ton of depth and all the lineup flexibility Donovan could want.
It’s championship or bust in Oklahoma City. This team still doesn’t really have the All-Star level talent to perfectly equal a Golden State, but with Russ’ incredibly competitive attitude paired with George and Anthony in brand new situations with all the motivation in the wold, there’s a ceiling to this team no one can really comprehend. There’s still a strong second-round exit potential to this team, but if everything breaks right, this is your Larry O’Brien squad in 2018.