Most people who are reading this probably have the same problem I do; the Portland Trail Blazers are blacked out for viewers in the Northwest region on NBA League Pass. Highly annoying for those outside of the Portland area as there are no local carriers on cable, making it exceedingly difficult to see the Blazers on a regular basis. I also don’t have cable, making it impossible to watch National broadcasts on TNT and ESPN. As a result, most nights I end up watching teams I never would have normally. The proverbial “dregs of the league”, if you will. Not ideal. But it has been rewarding, in an odd sort of way. This season I’ve been able to see budding stars, offense with no point guards and some of the ugliest shots I’ve ever seen taken in a professional basketball game. Through this odd venture I’ve earmarked some teams that are legitimately exciting to watch play on a regular basis even if the way they do that is unconventional. We’ll take a look at some of those teams here.
What drew my eye before anything else was how aesthetically pleasing they are to watch, on both the eyes and ears. They wear some of the most beautiful jerseys in the league, especially their all mint green variant with sharply contrasting black and gold lettering/pinstripes. The court they play on matches their color scheme perfectly. They also have some of the best announcers in the league, giving the broadcast the verve it needs to make a sub-.500 team truly standout.
Now onto the basketball. They are headlined by Gordon Hayward and the number three overall pick from this most recent draft class, Lamelo Ball. Hayward truly is an all-around player on offense, able to score, pass and shoot well enough to give the Hornets a true fulcrum on both ends while on the court. The former all-star looks well recovered from the injuries that hampered him in Boston, looking very much like he is in play for a return to the big game. LaMelo, on the other hand, is very much Hayward’s opposite. While Gordon’s game relies on refinement, Melo is a wild amalgamation of insane passes, breakneck speed and turnovers. The 6’8” point guard is an insanely talented, eye catching highlight reel when he is on the floor. Joining them is super-dunker Miles Bridges, Scary Terry Rozier, the sweet-shooting Devonte’ Graham, and Cody Zeller who is 29 but looks 45. They have a -1.5 net rtg., meaning that even though are a losing team, nearly every single game comes down to the wire.
They play fast, tough and are good for about 10 highlights a game. What more could you want?
Current Record: 9-11
Projected Finish: Battling for the Play-In Tournament
For the first time in more than a half-decade, the Houston Rockets are no longer a one-man show. They decided earlier this season to accede to franchise star James Harden’s trade demands and in return received a BUNDLE of picks. The corpse of the team left behind isn’t as bad as it would seem though. The other piece that Houston got back in the trade return is former all-pro Victor Oladipo, who has been quickly rounding back into the type of form that allowed people to once view him as a top-six guard in the league. His backcourt partner is on a redemption tour of his own, as the Rockets received John Wall in what was viewed as a salary dump by his former team, the Washington Wizards. After missing two full years on the hardwood, Wall has recaptured a fair amount of the athleticism he possessed before his achilles tear, all while outplaying the player he is replacing, Russell Westbrook. Together they make a dynamic pair, as they can both run the floor, harass opposing ball handlers and bring an edge that was missing during the last two Harden years.
Rounding out their roster is the MIP-candidate Christian Wood, the perennially underrated Eric Gordon, the piece of hardened gravel that is PJ Tucker and whatever is left of Boogie Cousins. This team is far from perfect but have been a respectable 5-3 since the trade and are 4th in the NBA in defensive rating. Once their new nucleus has some time to gel, they have more than enough offense to rise above their current 24th ranking. Look for this team to be sneaky stingy and in competition for the lower end of the playoffs.
Their optics aren’t the best, as the classic home/away jerseys are pretty bleh. They are grouped with a hideous blue alternate that does not possess any of the classic color scheme for the team. Their broadcast pairing is pretty mediocre, dishing out an old school vibe. All the style is kept on the court.
Current Record: 9-9
Projected Finish: 8th Seed
New York Knicks
Given their recent history, the inclusion of the Knickerbockers may seem strange on the surface. Since 2012, they have been one of the worst teams, by far, in the league as they regularly waste draft picks and cap room chasing overpriced veterans that prevent them from truly competing. But this year has struck a different chord in the organization. Both President Leon Rose and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau resisted the clarion’s call this offseason, instead handing the keys to the car to their youth. Former fourth overall pick RJ Barrett and the mammoth sized Mitchell Robinson have taken over roles as starters this year, with RJ being second on the team in PPG with 17.4 and Robinson swatting everything in sight from the center spot. While they both have their limitations, especially RJ’s rough shooting splits, both have found their way to Thibodeau’s heart with strong defensive contributions.
Their best player though is Julius Randle, as the big man has been playing as a pseudo point forward. Averaging a career high six assists per game, Randle has been the heart of their offense while also leading the Knicks in scoring. Rookie Immanuel Quickley already looks like the steal of the draft, while his fellow draftee Obi Toppin has yet to take off but has already shown some spicy shooting potential. Throw in wily vets like Austin Rivers, Nerlens Noel and Reggie Bullock and this team has a truly competent rotation, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
And boy is that important, as their biggest weakness has truly hamstrung them on offense. The Knicks are currently starting four sub-league average shooters, cramping their space to a suffocating degree. Funny enough though, it’s this oddity that makes them such a compelling watch. They bring back flashes of 90’s era basketball. Tough defense, little shooting and large line-ups defined that era and the current team, which is also coincidental in that it was also the last time the Knicks were truly great. Their jerseys, A+ commentating team and general demeanor all bring back flashes of better days.
Current Record: 9-12
Projected Finish: Battling for the Play-In Tournament
Unlike the Knicks, the Grizzlies started their rebuild last season after trading away franchise icons Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. In their place is reigning rookie Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and the futuristic stretch big Jaren Jackson Jr. Morant is so unbelievingly explosive that you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve all been graced with the second coming of MVP Derrick Rose. An absolute monster that gets to the rim with ferocity, Ja pairs that with an almost inhuman passing vision. Jackson Jr came into the league viewed as a defensive dynamo, but instead has been an absolute flamethrower from three-point range. If he’s able to grow into his size, 6’11”, he could be the most dangerous stretch center in the league. When these two share the court together, combining Jaren’s shooting with Ja’s court vision, they are able to write basketball poetry.
They unfortunate thing is that they haven’t been able to share the court this season. Jackson remains out due to a surgery from last year, while Ja has only been able to play in five games so far this season due to a sprained ankle. It’s been the rest of their extremely young roster, along with some helpful play from two key vets, that have kept them afloat so far in this young season. Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, Grayson Allen, Xavier Tillman and De’Anthony Melton are all players with less than four years of experience in this league that are contributing to the rotation. Kyle Anderson, aka Slo-Mo due to his extremely slow style of play, and the gargantuan Jonas Valanciunas are the only older players playing regular rotation minutes. The most impressive thing about this young team is that they are second in Def Rtg., only allowing opposing teams to score 105.5 points per game. Unfortunately, they are ranked 28th on the other end of the floor, but that should change with the continued presence of Morant this season. If they are able to add Jaren to that mix, the young Grizz may arrive earlier than anyone would have expected.
Current Record: 8-6
Projected Finish: In the Play-In Tournament
The Cavs are now two-plus years removed from the second Lebron era and unlike the first time he left the Forest city, Cleveland doesn’t seem to be a complete mess from the wake of his decision. Instead, they used the Nets pick they received in the Kyrie trade on Collin Sexton and used their own first round pick the year after on Darius Garland. After rough starts to both of their careers, Sexton and Garland have flipped the script and now look like the backcourt of the future. The pair, now lovingly dubbed “Sexland” by fans, have blitzed opponents on the offensive end through scorching-hot three-point shooting (Both are at 44%) and dangerous pull-up shooting in the two-point range. Sexton in particular looks like a future all-star, averaging 25+ points-per-game and single handedly icing games for the scarlet and gold.
Joining them is Andre Drummond, who is reestablishing his value to the league while putting up a line of 18.1 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists. He was traded for what was essentially less than a first round pick last season and now looks like the board devouring, rim-protecting, play finishing machine that characterized much of his Pistons tenure. Their most consistent player has been Larry Nance Jr, putting together a career year at power forward and shooting 39% from three. Recent draftee Isaac Okoro already looks like a demon on the defensive end of the floor, while the recent pick-ups of Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen as part of the massive 4-team James Harden trade gives the team a proven rotation.
I also personally think their normal home/away jerseys have always looked great, scarlet truly is an underrated color. Their alternates this year feature a weird, childish scribble on the front of their jerseys, but most of the time they have a solid look. Their broadcasters are a bit of a bore, but the youthful energy of the team itself more than makes up for it.
Current Record: 9-10
Projected Finish: Battling for the Play-In Tournament