I don’t find college basketball that compelling. There are way too many teams to keep track of, uninspiring systems and playstyle, and the constant, overhanging thought that the NCAA is completely exploiting college athletes for money. People talk about the drama of March Madness and the exciting games, but I personally prefer the premier basketball players in the world going against each other over stagnant, poorly-spaced, foul-heavy college play.
By all means, enjoy March Madness (especially if your team actually made the tournament), but here are 30 things in the NBA that I find more interesting to watch.
Note: I’m not going to discuss women’s basketball because I don’t watch it and have little knowledge about it. I’m hopeful for the Baylor Women, though!
1. Atlanta Hawks: Ball movement
Atlanta has a solid coach in Mike Budenholzer, some young pieces in Dennis Schroeder and John Collins, cap space, and they’re doing just fine in the race to the bottom. There’s a rebuilding plan there, even if winning seems like a pipe dream right now.
2. Boston Celtics: Insanely talented depth
Where do I begin? The Celtics have one of the best coaches in the game, one of the best GMs in the game, draft picks to use or trade, and a ridiculous roster that could go 13 or 14 players deep if everyone was healthy.
OK, so it’s probably not going to come together this season. But the Celtics are going to be incredible next season, with a healthy Gordon Hayward and plenty of rotation players to contend for a title.
3. Brooklyn Nets: Spencer Dinwiddie...?
Well, OK. Not being able to tank sucks. But Coach Kenny Atkinson is building a good culture there, and he’s getting to push his team every night because there’s no punishment for winning. Brooklyn plays up-tempo, interesting basketball; now they just need some more NBA players. Dinwiddie looks promising, though.
4. Charlotte Hornets: Kemba Walker
The All-Star Game will be held in Charlotte next season, and judging by this season’s game, it could actually be interesting. Besides that and point guard Kemba Walker, there’s not a lot to like for the Hornets, so here’s a random Dwight Howard moment for you. In a game against the Wizards in January, Michael Carter-Williams was fouled and then ejected for fighting. By rule, the Wizards got to choose a Charlotte player to shoot Carter-Williams’ free throws. They, of course, chose Howard, a notably poor free throw shooter. Dwight laughed, stepped up to the line, and knocked both shots down:
You take your victories where you can get them, Hornets fans.
5. Chicago Bulls: Random players outperforming expectations
Apparently, Cameron Payne has actually played well this season?
That’s pretty much what the Bulls season has been. Everyone knew that they were going to tank this season, but Chicago has actually had so many acceptable players on their team that they had to trade one (Nikola Mirotic), and bench another (Robin Lopez). Fred Hoiberg somehow improved Kris Dunn’s shot, and Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis have both improved. There’s some hope and young talent yet in Chicago, but they need that star player to draft and build around.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers: Larry Nance Jr.
Cleveland continues to be the craziest story in basketball, from the flurry of trades that completely changed their roster to J.R. Smith throwing soup at an assistant coach.
But don’t fret among the chaos, Cavs fans, for you now have the superhuman force known as Larry Nance Jr. He hustles, he screens, and he ends Mason Plumlees:
Oh, and there’s this guy called LeBron on your team? He’s pretty good, too.
7. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk's final seasons
Dennis Smith Jr. can’t play defense, but he’s a solid point guard. Dallas is finally rebuilding, but he might be their only exciting young piece. Harrison Barnes is fine, but not good.
I don’t know what else to write, so here’s a gif of a goat dunking a basketball:
Maybe Luka Doncic is the next Dirk…?
8. Denver Nuggets: Interesting young talent
Denver is about to have another promising season without a playoff berth. They added least-known All-Star Paul Millsap but have barely gotten better, and Mike Malone is probably going to be fired.
Nikola Jokic, Millsap and Gary Harris make up an interesting core, and they have a lot of depth offensively. A coaching change might help this defensive disaster, but watching Nikola Jokic pass the ball is worth it:
9. Detroit Pistons: Occasional Blake moments
This is the Blake Griffin experience:
Blake has been awful with the Pistons. The Pistons have been awful with Blake.
If they decide to keep together the Blake, Reggie Jackson, and Andre Drummond superteam, they might be able to figure something out. After all, New Orleans improved this season after adding a star big at the trade deadline last season. But honestly, I’m just trying to be optimistic here.
10. Golden State Warriors: Steph
Steph Curry is the literal definition of a game changer. Without him on the floor, the Warriors just look like any other team. That, um, also has Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson.
11. Houston Rockets: James Harden
James Harden is shooting 59-for-131, or 45%, on this shot: the incredibly difficult stepback three. The league is shooting just 36% on all three-point shots! No other player has taken even 40 stepback threes this season. Are the Rockets title favorites yet?
12. Indiana Pacers: Surprising resurgence
Victor Oladipo, who has all but locked up the Most Improved Player Award, has been instrumental in Indiana’s rejuvenation after trading away star Paul George:
He’s averaging 23 points and 2 steals per game and has his team improbably in the Eastern playoff picture. They might have one of the least recognizable rosters in the playoffs, but they are in position to make it to the second round for the first time since 2014, which without George seemed impossible at the beginning of the season. Good on you, city that cares more about college basketball than the NBA!
13. Los Angeles Clippers: Lou Williams
It’s been a wild ride for the post-Lob City Clippers. Coach Doc Rivers went from “When will he be fired” to “Will he win Coach of the Year” as he created NBA players out of G-League nobodies. Lou Williams did his best to make up for three of LA’s top players getting injured early, and Tobias Harris came in from the Blake Griffin trade and just kept producing the way he was in Detroit. The Clippers have an interesting set of solid, if injury-prone players, and could even keep free agent DeAndre Jordan. Oh, and there’s Austin Rivers, the coach’s son:
14. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball's passing
Nothing I write about the Lakers matters if LeBron decides to go there this offseason. But even if they don’t win the free agency sweepstakes, the Lakers have a bright future in clumsy, but somehow good, NBA player Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball:
These guys are a solid young core, but the Lakers would throw them away in a heartbeat to land two max players this summer regardless. Either way, they’re in good position to rise back to relevance from the pits of the Kobe Bryant retirement tour.
15. Memphis Grizzlies: Tyreke and tanking
OK, maybe Grizzlies fans should watch some college basketball, because there’s very little to look forward to in Memphis. Memphis couldn’t even trade Tyreke Evans at the trade deadline, leaving them stuck with a player they don’t need. Memphis is still in position to get a top pick in the lottery, but Evans may have cost them a couple of games in the race to the bottom with plays like this:
16. Miami Heat: Wade County
Miami has had an interesting season. They streaked early and looked like a definite playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference, but have since been so-so. The Heat are still making the playoffs, but without any stars, they will struggle to make any noise once they get there.
But who cares about that? Dwyane Wade is back, baby!
Maybe he’s regressed and isn’t that great of a basketball player, especially defensively. But Wade is a Miami icon and legend, and hopefully, he gets to retire in Miami, where he won three rings.
17. Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis!
OK, you could focus on how poorly Milwaukee has played despite their talent, including their disorganization on both sides of the ball and overdependence on their star talent. But that star talent is unfathomably amazing:
The Bucks will hire a real coach and figure out what they’re doing this offseason, and all these worries will be for naught. Even if they don’t, you still get to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo play basketball.
He dunked from the free throw line. What is this guy doing to these mere mortals?
18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Playoff basketball
Congratulations, Minnesota, you finally made the playoffs. Coach Tom Thibodeau might be running your players to the ground, and Andrew Wiggins might be even worse on defense than Karl-Anthony Towns, but at least the 2018 TimberBulls will be back in the postseason for the first time without this guy:
19. New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis
The Pelicans are vastly outperforming expectations after DeMarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles injury, with Anthony Davis playing out of his mind since the All-Star break:
Sure, Etwaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic have helped, but New Orleans is in the playoff picture because of Davis and point guard Jrue Holiday. If the Pelicans resign Cousins this summer, New Orleans could have a decent, interesting playoff team on their hands.
20. New York Knicks: Rewatch old Kristaps highlights
New York is paying for the past sins of former GM Phil Jackson; namely, signing Joakim Noah to a massive contract and giving Carmelo Anthony a no-trade clause. New York is in the strange position of being both one of the most poorly-run franchises in the NBA while also having the best player among the tanking teams in Kristaps Porzingis. Maybe it’s a good thing he suffered a really bad injury so that they can tank…?
The Knicks are undeniably cursed, but replacing high volume, low efficiency Carmelo with high volume, low efficiency Kristaps is definitely an improvement.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder: PG13 and Russ
Who would have known that Andre Roberson, one of the worst offensive players in the NBA, was so important to the Thunder’s formerly awesome defense? Without him, Carmelo Anthony’s absolutely horrendous defensive is being picked apart game after game, and no amount of Paul George contending for Defensive Player of the Year can fix that. Even with OKC’s clunky offense, the Thunder are still solidly in the playoff race and could make a little noise in the postseason if they figure out how to hide Carmelo as much as possible. Or, they could just bench him:
22. Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon can shoot threes!
OK, there’s nothing else interesting about the Magic. Go to Disney World or something…
23. Philadelphia 76ers: The Joel Health Watch
They’re the best young team in the league, are incredible defensively, and could make some noise in the playoffs, especially if Joel Embiid is healthy:
They’re apparently another candidate for LeBron’s free agency, but as it stands, this team is ready to make the playoffs year after year, even with the mysterious disappearance of Markelle Fultz
24. Phoenix Suns: Just don't watch their defense
The Suns are leading the tanking race, and have a good player in shooting guard Devin Booker.
They don’t have many other assets, however, and will need a lot of draft picks to go right to rebuild this mess of a roster. Booker is a good start, though!
25. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard
The Blazers might not be championship contenders, but they’ve taken a huge leap from the fringes of the playoffs to contending for home court advantage. Damian Lillard and C.J. Mccollum are exciting to watch, and they have a good collection of role players that fill out the roster. And if any playoff games go down to the wire, Lillard knows what time it is:
26. Sacramento Kings: (some) young talent
How about De’Aaron Fox, the 6’3” rookie point guard who threw down a game-winning putback dunk to upset the Miami Heat?
No, the Kings aren’t good, but they have some intriguing pieces such as Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Buddy Hield. Harry Giles, who has been rehabbing his entire rookie season coming off of an ACL tear, could also be a solid player for Sacramento, who desperately need some exciting talent to rejuvenate an exhausted fan base.
27. San Antonio Spurs: Aldridge and the Kawhi Leonard Watch
It’s a good thing Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge turned into Blazers LaMarcus Aldridge this season, as without star Kawhi Leonard or any significant additions (sorry, Rudy Gay), Aldridge has had to carry the Spurs’ load, and he’s carried it well.
However, the Spurs have struggled and may not make the playoffs this season. Whether Leonard can come back and be that top-5 player quickly enough will probably determine how San Antonio fares the rest of the season, but they face a tough schedule ahead of them with plenty of other West teams looking to jump into the playoffs.
28. Toronto Raptors: Finally, a modern basketball system
The Raptors are for real, and they’ll head into the playoffs as the number one seed and the East favorites. They have a very good group of role players next to Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the latter of whom has improved yet again. Just look at this ridiculous and-one transition dunk:
With the Celtics banged up and the new-look Cavs looking as disjointed as before, this could be the Raptors’ year to lose in the NBA Finals to either the Rockets or Warriors.
29. Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell!
What a story. The Jazz lost Gordon Hayward in free agency, dealt with Rudy Gobert missing games with injuries, and went on an 11-game winning streak heading into the All-Star break. They’ve gone from well out of the playoff hunt to passing five of their Western Conference rivals thanks to a sensational rookie season from Donovan Mitchell:
Mitchell isn’t just a great dunker: he’s averaging 33 minutes, 20 points, and 1.4 steals per game. As a rookie! He may not win rookie of the year (Ben Simmons is neck and neck with him for that award) but Mitchell is still one of the best, most valuable rookies we’ve seen in a while.
30. Washington Wizards: Beal-Wall drama
Are the Wizards really better without John Wall? No.
Wall has struggled this season, largely because he’s been banged up. But Washington is still firmly in the playoffs, and still has enough star talent to advance a round in the postseason, especially when Wall returns. Washington has also had nice surprises, like Tomas Satoransky, fall into their laps, which is good, since they have little flexibility to add talent outside of the draft.