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!
The Knicks made the second biggest jump in league history a few years ago, improving on their win total by 15 games from one season to the next (Your number one selection, the baby Sonics/Thunder jumping by 17 as a young Kevin Durant started to round into form). With a *knock on wood* healthy season out of Joel Embiid and the additions of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and a one-year deal for J.J. Redick, Philadelphia could seriously think about breaking that record.
With Embiid in the starting lineup last year the Sixers were somehow an above average team, fielding an incredibly stingy defense with an offense that started to approach respectability. Joel may have played only 31 games, but this was a player who showed absolute superstar potential: protecting the rim, knocking down shots from deep, and rocking an old-school bigger than you post-up game. Philadelphia will bring him along slowly, both because of his injury history and the show of-faith commitment they gave to the potentially generational big man, but for the games that he’s able to stay on the floor this should be an elite defense.
More interesting, though, will be the last two first overall picks Philly will be adding to their starting lineup this year. Ben Simmons should be running point forward for the team after sitting out a season from a broken foot while the Sixers spent their draft capital to move up and acquire Markelle Fultz heading into this year’s draft. Simmons is almost under the radar at this point as a kind of Lebron-lite run and gun forward who can bust ass down the court and make passes you couldn’t begin to expect from your point guard. And, if Fultz can work through his funky shooting mechanics and return to the kind of player who was able to shoot better than 40% from the college 3 point line, Philadelphia will have one of the more high upside off-ball/secondary creators in the entire league.
With both of them clicking, chasing expectations for this team could be as simple as having one of their many young prospects hit. Robert Covington will be playing for a new contract after four years under a Sam Hinkie non-guaranteed minimum deal while Richaun Holmes has been a League Pass darling for two seasons due to his rim protection and shooting stroke. Dario Saric garnered Rookie of the Year votes last year, Jahlil Okafor should be on the board for other teams as a potential buy-low trade candidate, and the Sixers have the combination of Furkan Korkmaz/Justin Anderson/Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to throw at the wall as young players who could grow into valuable 3-and-D wing contributors.
Of course, there’s a massive amount of uncertainty surrounding this team. Embiiid did play only 31 games last year and Philadelphia brought him along slowly heading into training camp. Fultz and Simmons will be rookies, joining a team that has won an average of 19 games over the last four seasons. There’s upside for an incredible explosion, given how much the East has been decimated over the summer, but they have to actually prove it out there on the court. If the rookies deliver right away, and if Embiid can hang in there for 60+ games, this is the best team to watch in basketball. If not, this is another classic disappointment season in Philly.