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!
Kyrie, Welcome to Beantown.
Is there a roster more overhauled from last year than the Boston Celtics? And, especially when you consider that this team finished first in the Eastern Conference and made it through two playoff series, it’s downright shocking that they’ll be returning only four players from last year’s active roster. With the big money trade for Irving, a completely unsurprising Brad Stevens-Gordon Hayward reunion, and flipping Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris, this Celtics team is entirely different from last season. But, will they be any better?
As long as Lebron James is in the East, Boston isn’t sniffing the Finals. In fact, there’s reason to believe this team could be somewhat worse than last year after losing their two key perimeter defenders in Bradley and Jae Crowder. The Celtics were only the 12th ranked unit defensively last year with Bradley going a long way towards covering up some of Thomas’s deficiencies; C’s fans might even yearn for the Little Guy back after watching some of Irving’s “effort” on that end of the floor. Hayward is a high profile signing to be sure, but this team is so completely overhauled from last season they’ll need some serious work from head coach Brad Stevens if they want to return to the heights of a 50 win squad. In a league that values continuity, Washington and Toronto will be returning largely the same teams from last year, and could put Boston behind the 8 ball if they go through growing pains to start of the season.
Then again, fuck continuity. Kyrie is the best player to don a Celtics uniform since Garnett in 2008. Having him next to one of the league’s premier secondary do-it-all wings in Hayward should allow this team’s offense to reach top-5 levels, especially with their commitment to start Al Horford at center. While Marcus Smart is a below average shooter, throwing out game 3 of the playoffs, he’ll be surrounded by excellent go-to options and should be aiming for the best season of his career after failing to reach a rookie extension and set to become a restricted free agent next summer. If either of the young guys in Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown pop, this will be a fearsome group to deal with.
Again though, similar to the Rockets, this comes down to risk profile and swinging for the fences. In a league where the Finals contestants are all but predetermined the next level teams need to make big moves to stay in the conversation. Isaiah Thomas may have been coming off of one of the best offensive seasons in league history, but the trade for Kyrie keeps the timeline for the Celtics open in the future as well as the present. If this team doesn’t succeed at the highest level now, Irving and their last two 3rd overall picks are all younger than 25, with another big-time selection coming from the Sixers sometime during the next two seasons. Seeing Boston try to put it together this year with an entirely new team will be fascinating. Thinking about them years down the line is terrifying.