With the 2013-14 NBA season just 11 days away, Grantland’s Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe decided to blow out the annual League Pass Rankings with categories and an admittedly goofy scoring system. The goal? To figure out which of this year’s NBA teams had the best chance to consistently steal our attention every night as we try to watch five games at once. Both Zach and Bill awarded each NBA team between 0 and 10 points in the following five categories:
Category No. 1: Relevancy to the Playoff Picture
These teams aren’t just contenders, but anyone with a chance to play in the postseason. So, Philly would be a 0 and Miami would be a 10. Really, Philly should be a minus-3, but we didn’t want to make it too complicated.
Category No. 2: Stylistic/Systemic Appeal
If you’re playing 80-79 games and shooting 35 percent every night, that should matter. If you’re playing up-and-down games in the 110s, or putting on a defensive rotation clinic every night, or showing off big-ball lineups and small-ball lineups depending on the opponent, that should matter too. We should’ve called this category “Hoop Nerdgasm Potential.”
Category No. 3: League Pass Experience
Here we consider the quality of announcing teams (and how often you might have to hit the mute button during their games), sideline reporters, uniform colors, the home arena’s floor and, especially, the mascots. You know, all the stuff Zach obsesses over.
Category No. 4: Individual Player Appeal
If you have the likes of Durant, LeBron or Curry on your team, you’re in good shape. If you’re trotting out the likes of Gordon Hayward or Goran Dragic as your biggest star? You’re not in good shape. If you revolve your team around Boogie Cousins? You’re in good shape … with one of us.
Category No. 5: Unintentional Comedy/Irrational Affection/Personality Intangibles
An intentionally vague category that covers areas such as anything and everything relating to JaVale McGee or Boogie Cousins, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings running high screens, LARRY SANDERS!, any and all Gary Neal heat checks, the pathetic love that a Celtics fan feels for his now-pathetic team, all CP-Blake alley-oops, every Nick Young 3 that might get him murdered by Kobe, Professor Andre Miller doing Professor Andre Miller things, any overweight player, every Greg Oden moment, every KG interview, the Rubio-Love reunion, and anything else that would cause a riot on Grantland’s Triangle blog.
We scored each team on our own, then combined the scores into a bigger score. The lowest possible score? Zero. The highest possible score? 100. One of our two judges turned out to be a pathetically easy grader, to the other judge’s eternal delight. Who was the Randy Jackson of the League Pass Rankings? Who finished with the best score? And did we really need 11,000 words and two parts to figure this out? Without further ado, the 2013-14 League Pass Rankings, from worst to first. Here’s Part 1.
PHOENIX SUNS: 27
Bill: If I watch more than 75 total minutes of the Suns this season, I’m gonna feel like I failed. Congratulations, Robert Sarver — you did it again.
Zach: Ouch. But Eric Bledsoe is going to get starter minutes! And Jeff Hornacek is going to have them run! And they have that horrible court redesign that makes them look like they are permanently playing on Halloween!
Bill: Your love for horrible court redesigns almost rivals your love for Swin Cash and mascots. For the record, I watched Bledsoe up close for three years at Clippers games. Phenomenal athlete, destructive defender, great energy guy off the bench … and if you’re turning your offense over to him, in the words of Baby Doll Dixon, “I wish you a lot of luck.”
Zach: I’m actually cautiously optimistic about Bledsoe’s floor-generalship. I watched a ton of film on him, and it looks like he learned some tricks from Chris Paul. Shooting and turnovers are major issues, but he sees the floor well. But, yeah, it’s going to be ugly overall. Bledsoe, Alex Len, and Archie Goodwin are exciting, and Marcin Gortat is going to say some crazy stuff before they trade him. And, seriously, it’s wonderful to have Channing Frye back. But there’s not much here. Also, leave Swin Cash out of this!
Bill: My bad.
PHILLY 76ERS: 31
Zach: I had the Sixers a couple spots higher than you did, because Brett Brown is gonna try some fun stuff, I have a soft spot for Thad Young, and this is an all-around pleasing League Pass experience.
Bill: I’m secretly excited to watch Evan Turner run a team and become 2014’s fantasy mega-sleeper. Couldn’t you see him unleashing a slew of Rondo-type box scores of the 17-9-13 variety as they lose by 15 every night? DO YOUR THING, VILLAIN!
Zach: If Turner does put up those numbers, the Sixers will hope some team coughs up a first-rounder for him.
Bill: My Sixers League Pass ranking could climb if they make a legitimate run at 73 losses. The key will be Jason Richardson — if he can come back this winter and jog around for 38 minutes a night while being woefully out of shape, they could finish 8-74. I’d love to see a 265-pound, out-of-breath shooting guard deciding games in March and April — it’s always been a dream of mine. And we didn’t even mention Nerlens.
Zach: That’s because we have no clue when the team will let him play. He might help them win a couple of extra games! This Philly season is as much about the Pelicans as it is about the Sixers, since Philly has that protected first-round pick coming in the draft.
TORONTO RAPTORS: 34
Bill: If Jonas Christ Superstar makes the leap, or even a semi-leap, I could see myself getting roped into a couple of crunch times. That’s about it. I’m allergic to DeRozan’s game and Rudy’s game.
Zach: They are generally boring to watch, with DeRozan and Rudy curling around screens, catching, dribbling five times while they stand still, and then launching bad shots. But there’s some potential here.
Bill: That would be a fun marketing campaign for the Raptors: “SCREEN CURLS, FIVE STANDING-IN-PLACE DRIBBLES AND AWFUL JUMP SHOTS … COME SEE YOUR 2014 RAPTORS!”
Zach: “ALSO: DOES KYLE LOWRY HAVE THE BIGGEST ASS IN THE LEAGUE? WATCH HIM GLARE ANGRILY AT RUDY GAY EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE FRIENDS!” You and Jalen need to pour one out for the Raptors mascot, though.
Zach: In all seriousness, Jonas is going to be fun, Amir Johnson is a hoop nerd favorite, and the coaching staff has hard work ahead of it maximizing the Lowry-Gay-DeRozan combination. Gotta get rid of that 3-D logo under the basket, though. It still freaks me out.
ORLANDO MAGIC: 39
Bill: It’s hard NOT to enjoy Tobias Harris and Victor Oladipo. I’ve already been sucked into one of Orlando’s preseason games: Oladipo jumped eight feet into the air to block a Donatas Motiejunas four-footer to the dismay of both Houston announcers, one of whom said, “Come on, DoMo!” That’s when I learned that it’s much easier to call Donatas Motiejunas “DoMo.” Anyway, I kinda like the young and frisky vibe of the 2014 Magic — it’s rare when you can find a team that’s tanking while also remaining entertaining/promising/likable (and yes, young and frisky). Is it just me or would this be a fun Jimmer home? I’m not giving up on Jimmer, Zach Lowe! You can’t make me!
Zach: Stay tuned on the Houston announcing crew as we go through these rankings. But, yeah, Jimmer will be in the league as long as he can shoot from 3. Teams are trying to buy low on him, and have been all summer. I’m with you on the young-guy intrigue here, but I docked the Magic several points for canning Matt Guokas as their TV analyst. I might be most excited about Mo Harkless among all the young dudes. Serious Swiss Army Knife potential on both ends.
Bill: We may have ranked these guys too low. You brought this one up in your Orlando cameo for “Bill & Jalen’s NBA Preview” — can they figure out how to keep Oladipo, Harris and Harkless on the floor at the same time? If so, they have my attention.
Zach: Yeah. You can go Jameer Nelson–Oladipo-Harkless-Harris-Vucevic in a small-ball lineup that would be really fun, or shift Harris up to small forward, stick Big Baby in there, and let Oladipo play the point. Or, even better: Use Andrew Nicholson, now sporting a 3-point shot, in Big Baby’s spot there. Good times, lots of losses.
UTAH JAZZ: 42.5
Bill: I get Ty Corbin in the “First Coach Fired” pool, you get everyone else — do you take that bet?
Zach: I’m going field, but it’s a tough call. I mean, there might only be two legit candidates to beat Corbin out the door — Randy Wittman in Washington and Dwane Casey in Toronto. The Lakers are a wild card, since they’re nuts in general, and I could see Terry Stotts being vulnerable down the line if Portland disappoints. But Wittman needs to win now, Emeka Okafor is hurt, and Ernie Grunfeld is in the final year of his contract. Bad combination, unless Snakey the Snake really steps up. Casey has a new GM who hired two high-profile assistants, which isn’t a coincidence. Corbin isn’t a good bet to last beyond this season, but Utah has no expectations of winning. I’m taking the field.
CHARLOTTE HORBOBNETCATS: 43.5
Bill: I was on an airplane recently watching some seemingly awful Nic Cage movie called Stolen and thinking about how Nic Cage has probably been watched on more airplanes than any other actor ever. But guess what. I realized around the 35-minute mark that Stolen wasn’t so bad; we landed with 15 minutes left in the movie, and I was 12 percent pissed off that I didn’t get to see the ending, although the movie wasn’t quite good enough to pay-per-view so I could finally see the ending, either. That’s kind of how I feel about the 2013-14 Horbobnetcats. We’ll flip over expecting them to be unwatchable and realize they’re more entertaining than we expected, only we won’t go out of our way to watch them, either.
Zach: Last movie I saw on a plane that finished before we landed: Boiler Room. How does it end? I’ll never find out. Do they make a lot of money in a way that benefits the economy as a whole, just like what happens on Wall Street in real life? I’ll never find out!
Bill: This ranking climbs if Al Jefferson makes a run at the scoring title (shooting 30 times a game, but still) and/or if MKG learns how to make a 15-footer. And I’m kind of excited for the Cody Zeller–Big Al high-low game. (Thinking.) This score might be too low.
Zach: I had them dead last in my own rankings, which surprised me. I think it’s residual malaise from the last two seasons, and the fact that their court design contains an orange shade that distracts me with images of Creamsicles.
Bill: I hate you for planting this court-design subplot that’s in your head — now I’m going to be watching League Pass studying the court designs. Damn you.
Zach: And those Charlotte crowds are so, so dead. But Kemba Walker made a leap last season, and Jeff Taylor has secret fun potential. If Al Jefferson makes a run at the scoring title, I’ll eat my laptop. Very good offensive player, but hard to score at that level without 3s or free throws.
Bill: Yeah, but still.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: 49.5
Zach: Interestingly, this was the team on which we agreed most closely, in terms of both scores and ranking.
Bill: And yet we might have gone too low, for five reasons: (1) Pau finally playing center again, in a contract year, no less (and we both LOVE Pau); (2) no Dwight, which means Pau and Nash can run high screen after high screen after high screen without Dwight getting in the way; (3) a fairly compelling “Is Kobe recovered, or is he washed-up?” subplot, as well as the possibility of a recovered Kobe secretly gunning for Kareem’s scoring record while swearing publicly that it’s not on his radar; (4) Kobe’s face after every unconscionably bad Nick Young shot; and (5) without Dwight, this is suddenly one of the worst defensive teams in modern NBA history, so every Lakers game carries a 10 percent chance of an opposing player gunning for 50 and maybe even 60. I feel like both of us will watch more Lakers than we expect.
Zach: Of all the interesting on-court subplots you just mentioned, you left out D’Antoni’s unmatched pouting faces! The Lakers scored well in the unintentional-comedy category for me, mostly because of Nick Young. Major lost points for what might be the least pleasant League Pass announcing experience in the NBA. Their play-by-play guy treats every single play as if IT IS MONUMENTALLY IMPORTANT TO THIS HISTORICALLY INCREDIBLE FRANCHISE. The mute button is essential.
Bill: Yeah, I don’t know how Los Angeles sports fans ended up with Vin Scully AND the Lakers TV guy. It’s like God wanted to even things out.
Zach: This might be the year when the Lakers are just a run-of-the-mill bad team after 50 games or so.
Bill: Is it OK if I keep my fingers crossed?
BOSTON CELTICS: 50
Zach: And now we’re at the classic NBA franchise on which we disagreed strongly. You had them higher than the Spurs! The freaking Spurs! What’s wrong with you?
Bill: I’ll watch way too much of them only because it’s my team. I can’t shut off my fan faucet like you can, Zach Lowe. You’re Spock, I’m Captain Kirk.
Zach: Do you realize how bad this team’s offense is going to be before Rondo comes back? Heck, it was bad with Rondo and three Hall of Famers. There just isn’t anyone here who can create an efficient shot, or even really come close to doing that, on a consistent basis.
Bill: Two words: BRAD STEVENS. If he can take Butler to within a half-court shot of the NCAA title, he can figure out how to run an efficient offense with Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, MarShon Brooks and … God, you’re right, we are so screwed.
Zach: Brad Stevens is exciting — precise, humble, demanding, creative. And the Cs do bring the league’s best uniforms and court design. But Tommy Heinsohn (and I know this is sacrilege) requires at least five mutes per game. He might lead the league in Mute Efficiency Rating (MER).
Bill: Our biggest disagreement of the column. I love living in Tommy’s world — a world in which every official has it out for the Celtics, Avery Bradley is the next Joe Dumars, and Kelly Olynyk is the next Dirk Nowitzki. I don’t want to live in anyone else’s world. THAT … IS … BOGUS!!!!!!!!!
ATLANTA HAWKS: 54.5
Zach: I had Atlanta nine spots higher than you. You had them 27th! I’m a sucker for Horford’s defense, passing, and all-around good judgment, and there’s a ton of shooting here — Horford, Millsap, Korver, Jeff Teague, and John Jenkins is tough to defend. Mike Budenholzer’s San Antonio pedigree suggests good things.
Bill: This team enables you to tap into your full-fledged basketball nerd — I get it. For me, the Horford-Millsap combo will be fun for about 20 minutes. Then I’m going to be on the Trade Machine figuring out deals for both of them. Danny Ferry could blow this thing up, build a war chest of assets and improve his Riggin’ For Wiggins chances in two phenomenal steps: Paul Millsap straight-up for Omer Asik, then Al Horford for Carlos Boozer, Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, the rights to Charlotte’s future first-rounder (unprotected in 2016) and the rights to Nikola Mirotic. Wiggins, Asik, Mirotic, Nogueira, Schroeder, Ayon, Antic … who’s up for the all–Foreign Guy Hawks???????
Zach: A big trade or two is definitely possible. This roster is built to trade. But I like this team. Fans are going to enjoy Pero Antic.
Bill: Whoops, you just came up with another marketing slogan: “BUILT TO TRADE … THAT’S RIGHT, BUY TICKETS NOW FOR THE 2014 ATLANTA HAWKS!”
DALLAS MAVS: 56.5
Zach: Are you ready for Monta Ball? Seriously: Between “I’m going to play Monta Ball” and “Monta Ellis have it all,” he’s given us two of the best nutty NBA quotes of the last 10 years.
Bill: I’m even more excited for Dirk’s “I AM NOT EFFING DONE YET!” pseudo-comeback season. Anything less than 26 and 8 with 53 percent shooting and a third-team All-NBA spot will be disappointing. Also, I love the potential of Calderon-Dirk to trigger some extremely fond 2003 Nash-Dirk memories. And it’s great that Monta Ellis finally has a bigger platform to enrage advanced-metric guys and hoop nerds on Twitter.
Zach: Yeah, we’re relatively close on Dallas — solid team, well-coached, transcendent superstar with one of the league’s all-time great uniquely definable moves (the one-legged fadeaway), Samuel Dalembert somehow doing splits, Jose Calderon’s classic Euro “this permanently looks like I haven’t shaved in five days” beard, and Shawn Marion’s funky two-way game. I like them. They should be a very good offensive team if they’re healthy, and we’ll get to see some intriguing NBA unknown — Shane Larkin, Ricky Ledo, Gal Mekel — eventually earn some key minutes. They might also be a complete train wreck defensively, but they’ll try fun stuff.
Bill: Seems like you and I both believe the Mavs will be better than people think … while fully acknowledging how ridiculous it is to believe in a team that needs 40 good minutes a night from Sam Dalembert. I like where we are here. Is there any chance we can talk Rick Carlisle into wearing different toupees during games?
Zach: I like that he shaved his head and owned it. I hope to be that brave someday. Great coach.
Bill: I’m never going bald — but the good news is that I’m 44 and going white, so I look 10 years older than I am. Don’t count me out for one of those Dr Pepper–colored hair dye jobs soon, Zach. If my hair suddenly appears to be an unidentifiable brownish-red color, please, don’t say anything until I’m out of the room.
Zach: Speaking of teams that make you pull your hair out …
SACRAMENTO KINGS: 57.5
Bill: Boogie! Boogie!!!!!!!!!!! BOOGIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Zach: Ladies and gentlemen: the team on which we disagreed most. I had them 23rd. You had them 13th. I feel strongly that I am correct, but mostly because I am stodgy and boring, and generally have abhorred watching this team for the last three or four seasons.
Bill: Allow me to quote the famous philosopher Andrew Sharp: “There are two types of basketball fans in this world — those who love DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins, and those who are wrong.”
Zach: I am wrong, then. But Boogie is highly skilled, and I hope he gets me over to the other side.
Bill: You didn’t mean that. Anyway, I know the last few years were rough (and that’s an understatement), but they have a new coach and a whopping eight players I enjoy watching: Vasquez, Jimmer, Ben McLemore (just for the raw potential), Carl Landry (out for three months, but still), Marcus Thornton (heat check potential), Boogie, Boogie a second time, and The Totally And Irrevocably Washed-Up John Salmons (just because he’s so totally and irrevocably washed-up, it’s actually kind of amazing to watch). Their happy-to-have-a-new-owner fans will be going bonkers all season, so that will play nicely on League Pass. Jerry Reynolds is a lovable lunatic, so they got extra announcing points from me here. And I’m excited for lots of Vivek “I’m pretending I don’t know the camera is on me even though I told my TV guys to show me 15 times a game” camera shots. I’m buying Vivek stock.
Zach: Great League Pass experience all around, from the announcers to the coloring of the court and jerseys. I’ll give you that. This really comes down to me not enjoying selfish players who loaf on defense, regardless of the unintentional-comedy value they might provide by trying to attack Sean Elliott (an idea we can all get behind, I think). I hope Cousins and Thornton especially get better, and more well-rounded, and Mike Malone is the right coach to make that happen. I love Landry but he’s hurt. Remember when Chuck Hayes was like the darling of the NBA, by the way? Long, long time ago.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: 58
Bill: If we’d awarded points for a Curiosity Category, Rip City would be getting a 10 from me after a potential Executive of the Year performance from Neil Olshey. The Blazers went from having No Bench Whatsoever to trotting out Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, C.J. McCollum (out six weeks, but still) and Thomas Robinson every night. I like all four of those guys. In fact, I would have made every single move that Portland made this summer — so really, if Portland does well, then it means I could have been an NBA GM, Zach. That’s how I look at it.
Zach: Is that your way of auditioning for one of the jobs that might open up after this season if one of those win-now teams falls flat? Can you hire me in some capacity? Maybe I can be in charge of court designs and hiring the mascot?
Bill: Anywhere I go, I’m taking you with me. My goal is to take over an NBA team that has a WNBA team attached, then put you in charge of court designs, mascots, advanced metrics, scouting AND the WNBA team, followed by you immediately trading for every UConn player. We’re gonna wear out the WNBA Trade Machine.
Zach: We’re getting Diana Taurasi, even if the trade leaves us with only two other WNBA players and we have to scour local high schools to fill the roster. D is the best. No controversy about Portland — we were only two spots apart. Great court, great name, great jerseys, solid team that will be a lot of fun to watch on offense. Damian Lillard and Thomas Robinson are channeling some bitterness into their play, and I still hold out hope that Nic Batum has another level.
Bill: I blame David Kahn — Nic Batum’s career was going fine until Kahn tried to overpay him.
Zach: I still feel like Nic Batum trying to punch Juan Carlos Navarro in the balls, with some crazy serial killer look on his face the whole time, should have been a bigger deal. That was Metta World Peace–level temporary insanity.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: 59
Bill: The funniest subplot of the Bill & Jalen NBA Preview series was everyone’s daily reaction to the Bucks NOT being ranked yet. From no. 23 through no. 18, the volume of WTF comments from YouTube commenters/e-mailers/Redditors increased exponentially. When we picked Minnesota no. 17, people lost their minds and actually started to wonder if we had just forgotten about the Bucks altogether. The good news: Today doubles as Bucks Day, Zach Lowe! Your no. 15 team in the NBA … the Milwaukee Bucks!!!!
Zach: I’m a little worried about you and the Bucks. You had them six spots higher than I did, and I thought I had an unreasonable Bucks fetish.
Bill: I made fun of them all summer for willingly trying to be half-decent during a season in which you either want to contend or bottom out (with no in-between). I just don’t see the point of going out of your way to finish 44-38. But now that we’re here? I kinda like this team! They have an astonishing number of competent guys: Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Carlos Delfino, Gary Neal, Caron Butler, Luke Ridnour, Zaza Pachulia, John Henson … any of them could give you 20 solid minutes in a playoff series. And we haven’t even mentioned LARRY SANDERS! yet. Or their overwhelming trade potential with $12.5 million of Butler/Udoh expiring contracts and their ancient owner’s bizarre mandate to “Win now!” I can’t wait to see how this plays out.
Zach: It’s a fun roster, though most of the fun is up front, with the big guys, and only two of the Ilyasova-SANDERS!-Henson crew can play at once. I don’t know that Butler and Udoh are getting you anything better than a second-round pick or some unwanted mega-contract, but we’ll see. It comes down to Brandon Knight for me: Is he the point guard of the future? I’m pessimistic.
Bill: And we haven’t even mentioned the Greek Freak yet. If the Greek Freak is playing a meaningful minute, I’m watching that meaningful minute. The Bucks should create a Twitter account just to update people when he comes into a game — I’d absolutely make that a text alert on my phone. I’m driving the Greek Freak’s bandwagon, Zach. Get in now. I’m telling you. Wow, we just spent an impossible amount of time on the 2013-14 Bucks.
Zach: The Bucks have a creative Twitter and PR presence; I wouldn’t put it past them to issue Greek Freak updates. I still haven’t decided what I think of their new court design, which is officially the weirdest in the league, but the League Pass experience overall is top-notch.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: 63.5
Bill: Full disclosure: I infuriated you by giving them such a low League Pass score. You nearly quit Grantland before we talked you into staying.
Zach: Come on: If you like basketball, actual good basketball, you can’t beat this team. Great unis and court, too. You’ll miss Timmy and Manu when they’re gone. You ranked Sacramento seven spots above the Spurs. How can you feel good about yourself after that?
Bill: I was factoring in Spurs overload from their playoff games next spring, as well as all their national TV games, as well as the 12 days I spent in San Antonio last summer (I’m still trying to drain the BBQ from my body), as well as all the freaking Duncan-Pop-Parker-Manu minutes I’ve watched in my life. They will never make me say, “Oh, cool, the Spurs are on League Pass!” unless they’re battling one of the contenders. Throw in Sean Elliott (my least-favorite League Pass analyst and SOMEONE WHO NEEDS TO BE STOPPED) and that’s how we ended up here.
Zach: I believe League Pass, or at least League Pass Broadband, will allow you to choose which broadcast team you’d like to hear. That’s a game-changer when it comes to the Spurs (and a couple of others).
Bill: You mean I can live in a world that doesn’t have Sean Elliott in it? (Thinking.) This changes everything!!!
Zach: I get that the Spurs don’t have much intrigue left. We basically know who they are. The exception is Kawhi Leonard, and if I write any more about him, he’ll join Swin Cash on the list of basketball stars who have successfully secured a restraining order against me. Pop’s between-quarters interviews on national broadcasts merit a couple of stray points, even though this is supposed to be a League Pass–focused list. Still … Pop is the best.
Bill: Unless you’re up five points and 28.2 seconds away from a title.
Zach: Come on.
DENVER NUGGETS: 63.5
Bill: Another top-five team for my Curiosity Rankings that I just made up 10 minutes ago. Ty Lawson, Professor Andre Miller AND Nate Robinson? Huh???? JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson AND Darrell Arthur??? Wait, what? Masai Ujiri would be rolling around in his grave if he weren’t in Toronto offering Rudy Gay to everyone in the league right now.
Zach: Yup. This is why they came in eighth on my watchability rankings, and 21st (!) on yours. There’s just a lot of stuff going on here, and McGee’s presence basically broke the unintentional-comedy category. They won’t be as fun as last year’s team, mostly because they won’t be as good or play George Karl’s super-fast style. But the transition from Karl to Brian Shaw will be fascinating.
Bill: Just feels like this team lost its Internet Coolness title. Defensively, they’re gonna be absolutely abysmal without Iggy and Brewer (and with that motley collection of defensively IQ-challenged frontcourt guys). We don’t know when Gallo comes back or how he’s going to look.
Zach: Gallo shot really well from 3 last season after an ice-cold first dozen or so games. These guys need outside shooting on the wing, and it’s generally good if you don’t have to lean too heavily on Randy Foye to get it. And you’re right: How Shaw handles frontcourt defense, and how those players respond, will make or break the season for Denver.
Bill: Did we ever figure out why so many teams interviewed Shaw without hiring him? Everything about the Nuggets screams “REGRESSION! REGRESSION!” to me. (Even though we ranked them 13th in Bill & Jalen’s NBA Preview, I’m picking them to miss the playoffs.) With that said, I’m curious as hell to watch them. And as our Triangle dudes keep pointing out, any scenario that leads to someone saying the words “This is JaVale McGee’s team now” is an undeniably appealing scenario. I should have ranked them higher. I blew it.
Zach: Teams that win 55 games almost never miss the playoffs the next season, unless they lose a superstar player. This is in play for Denver, even though it typically walks into 30 home wins (at least) just by showing up.
Bill: Don’t sleep on this being the season when the legalization of marijuana in Colorado really wreaks havoc with the Nuggets.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: 65
Zach: The Jrue Holiday–Eric Gordon–Tyreke Evans–Ryan Anderson–Anthony Davis lineup could be devastating, or it could be one of those lineups that scores 112 points per 100 possessions (a league-best number, basically) and gives up 115. I have no idea.
Bill: We taped our first 15 Bill & Jalen previews in late September, right before Davis started kicking everyone’s ass in the preseason and looking like a potential All-NBA guy (and made me waver on my no. 19 overall selection for them). My thinking: I hated their “splashy” summer moves and hated turning two potential top-seven lottery picks and two cost-effective rotation guys (Lopez and Vasquez) into $21.5 million per year of Holiday and Tyreke. But Davis making The Leap could swing that skepticism, right?
Zach: The ultimate evaluation of that Holiday trade will depend on where that New Orleans first-round pick falls in the draft (and how well Philly does with it). It’s an odd fit, but it’s an intriguing one. But Davis is going to be great, and the three backcourt guys are just different enough, in terms of their skill sets, that they might mesh better than we’d expect.
Bill: I think they’re going to mesh in a “two guys are always pissed off because the third guy has the ball” kind of way. The ‘Cans have replaced Sacramento as this year’s odds-on favorite to have two teammates fight on the court. Either way, a riveting League Pass team and I wish we had ranked them higher.
Zach: Bonus points for Monty Williams’s daring fashion sense.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: 65.5
Bill: Ridiculous. You should be ashamed.
Zach: They came out ninth in my rankings. I was uncomfortable with them so high, but I feel better now. You ranked them 18th, which is offensive, but also deflates their ranking into what is probably a proper spot.
Bill: Ten out of 10 times, I’m picking the Hornets and Bucks for League Pass over another 85-80 Grit & Grind Grizzlies game. And god forbid they found a shooter this summer instead of banking on Mike “You’ll Be Lucky To Get 30 Decent Games From Me” Miller. Let’s face it — this Grizzlies ranking got a hoop-nerd bump from someone with the initials “Z.L.”
Zach: Their grinding style is fun if you like defense, Marc Gasol is just splendid to watch, and Tony Allen’s antics along the bench are worth a lot on their own. I mean, I’d rather watch a camera that just follows Allen for 48 minutes than a Sixers game.
Bill: Arguing with you about Marc Gasol and Tony Allen is like arguing with Tom Cruise about Scientology.
Zach: What about Jaden Smith, maybe? I wish Jaden would tweet about the NBA: “Are You Consuming NBA Basketball? Or Is It Consuming You?” “What If The Fundamentals Aren’t So Fundamental?” Back to the Grizz: Don’t forget the great arena experience, as well as my high hopes for Dave Joerger — his style of play, his minutes management, and his use of the Ed Davis–Kosta Koufos backup duo.
Bill: That last paragraph did NOT make me regret my low Grizz ranking.
INDIANA PACERS: 67.5
Zach: Seems appropriate we’ve lumped Memphis and Indiana right next to each other, right?
Bill: Why, because it’s Adam Silver’s worst-case scenario for his first Finals?
Zach: Competitive balance, baby! These are two defense-first teams with slow, unglamorous offenses that will be pretty stinky for large portions of the season. But the Pacers have one guy who looks like a potential ballhandling, wing-scoring superstar in Paul George, so they’re a more conventionally appealing team to watch. And George is already an elite defender, if you enjoy such things.
Bill: I’m thoroughly intrigued and can’t wait to see if PG24 makes a second leap. Were the Pacers a fluke contender along the lines of, say, the 2007 Jazz, 2009 Nuggets or 2004 T-Wolves — a team that took advantage of injuries/upsets/timing and outkicked their coverage for one season? Or did they build something a little more lasting? I want to find out.
Zach: And we’d never before seen Roy Hibbert play 35 to 40 minutes of inspired two-way ball over an extended stretch. He needs to do that full-time in the playoffs for these guys to come out of the East. That’ll be fun to monitor. Plus, Luis Scola, and Luis Scola’s flopping hair, make any team more watchable — especially when he’s taking Tyler Hansbrough’s old minutes. It’s hard to top a bench watchability upgrade like the one from Hansbrough to Scola, and that doesn’t even factor in how much better the Pacers might be with a real bench.
Bill: We know Chicago and Brooklyn will be MUCH better, and we know the Clippers, Rockets and maybe even the Warriors are contenders now. I liked the Scola/Watson additions, and you can’t underestimate the worth of Larry Legend’s return karma. But they’re not going to seriously contend unless they can flip Danny Granger’s expiring into one more asset. Jalen went on that Philippines trip and came away thinking Granger was D-U-N done playing at an All-Star level (or close to that). What’s your ideal Granger trade?
Zach: I just don’t think there’s a killer deal out there. I mean, you’d want a wing player with some shot-creation juice — what they thought they were getting in Gerald Green, basically — but there’s just not a big market for an expiring deal linked to a player in decline. You’re not getting a first-round pick, and the Pacers can’t just swallow someone’s unwanted long-term salary — not with well over $60 million already committed for next season (and Lance Stephenson due a new contract). You can find some workable deals, but not many that move the needle for Indy.
Bill: So I guess you’re not biting on my “Gerald Wallace and Courtney Lee for Granger’s expiring” idea.
Zach: You don’t want to make the Legend mad, do you?
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 OF BILL & ZACH’S LEAGUE PASS RANKINGS