Garbh Madigan takes us through the top five most entertaining teams to watch in the NBA, a.k.a. the League Pass Teams.
There aren’t a lot of us who stay up until four or five in the morning (Irish time) to watch NBA basketball. It certainly is not an achievable feat unless the basketball is of an entertaining quality. This is why I love ‘NBA League Pass teams’ – the name deriving from the NBA League Pass website where you can flick from game to game as you wish.
The brilliance of a league pass team is that they make you stay awake because you feel compelled to tweet how good a play was or you can’t bear to miss, for example, how many times Steph Curry can make a three point shot from behind his ear, falling away from two defenders with 20,000 people shouting in his face in Madison Square Garden.
To a purist, the League Pass team is identified by saying “Oh! This team is on! I am so watching this game.”
For those of you still confused, here are the categories for a league pass team:
Category 1: Style and System Appeal
The most important aspect of a League Pass team is that they are FUN! Usually, if a team is shooting beneath forty percent every night, they are a no-no. The style of a team dictates if you want to watch them.
The best league pass teams usually ignore lock down defence or simply can’t play it and try to outscore the opposition with a small-ball athletic running line up. Defence wins championships – but that is for the playoffs. To win this crown, we need to see a team in some 118-116 kind of games with loads of three pointers and alley-oops!
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, as we shall see later!
Category 2: Player Appeal
In this writer’s humble opinion, you can have the best player in the league and still be a poor league pass team. There is a need for a good supporting cast, otherwise, when the star is substituted you will find yourself changing games!
Even when LeBron James was lighting it up for the Cavs in the Eastern Finals and NBA Finals in the late 2000s, his team was ever so boring. Those teams were saved by their polarising superstar who was surrounded by three point shooters he could kick the ball out to off the drive. The ability of the cast is key.
If LeBron is who you are watching the game for, you are going to be pretty bored when Eric Snow and other players you never heard of are missing open three’s off the King’s greatness.
Category 3: Personal Affinity, One-Off Excitement and Unintentional Comedy
This is an intentionally vague category to cover anyone or anything that has ever been on “Shaqtin the Fool” (See NBA.com), every heat check guy who is going off regularly league wide (i.e Steph Curry) and also teams which include your personal favourite players / members of your own fantasy team.
So here are my power rankings heading into 2014/2015.
5. New Orleans Pelicans
This team is just fun. Everything with the Pelicans starts with their newest superstar Anthony Davis. As a Tim Duncan remix kind of player, Davis is going to give his team a twenty point, eleven rebounds and 3 blocks game every night, but that doesn’t make this a league pass team in itself.
While Davis is the centrepiece which this team will need in order to be in any way decent, the rest of the roster makes it of league pass quality. Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday provide the kind of score-first and play no defence attitude which makes this team so entertaining, especially since their Superman (Davis) basically has to prevent the other team from scoring all on his own at times.
Remember, we need over 100 point game teams for this to be really entertaining. Their style of play also lends itself to allowing teams come back from large deficits, another league pass team trait.
At the other end, this team has one of the most gifted starting fives out there; the three guard rotation can fill it up slashing with the pick and roll (again using) Davis while Ryan Anderson can act as the ultimate prototypical stretch four that he is.
A common wish last year was that with their guard heavy rotation, the Pellies would just run pick and roll for eighty possessions a game. Surprisingly, unlike any other team in the NBA they could put out five guys who could score at the end of games, a rarity in the modern game.
The problem with this squad is always going to be health. Last year, per NBA.com Ryan Anderson missed 60 games. Anthony Davis missed 15. Eric Gordon missed 18, and Tyreke Evans missed 10.
All their problems are going to be solved though because JIMMER-MANIA has arrived in the Big Easy! Jokes aside, another three point bomber like Jimmer alongside League Pass enemy Omar Asik may improve this team overall, but decrease its L.P fun rating.
4. Golden State Warriors
I was really tempted to just write the words “Splash Brothers” and leave this section at that.
When Steph Curry “goes off” in this league, it’s like no other. He is the true internet darling of the NBA as Twitter just erupts when he goes crazy. He does it with an array of moves which are always going to give him the space to shoot.
Curry’s partnership with the defensively solid Thompson and Iguodala makes for an interesting dynamic, especially when Iggy takes over the ball handling and both splash brothers can wreck havoc off the ball.
Outside of the brothers splash, there isn’t a whole lot of dynamic interesting play on this squad. While Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green give the odd spark, the inside duo of Bogut and David Lee are economical and efficient. The Warriors have a knack of getting into some extremely close and entertaining overtime games which has boosted their ranking.
It really illustrates the brilliance of Curry that the Warriors are as high as they are in these rankings.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
This is the pick that could be very out of place as I have based it almost exclusively on talent and potential. I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that athletic exciting players are what a league pass team often needs and the Wolves have it in abundance. Yes, Kevin Love – the league pass superstar – is gone from the roster, but now look at their starting five; Pekovic, Thad Young, Andrew Wiggins (No.1 pick in the draft), Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio.
Seems like a squad that will be in the lottery again, right? One would think the same again as the solid enough bench includes lottery pick Zach LaVine (already a certainty for the dunk contest surely), Mo Williams, Gorgi Dieng, Corey Brewer and (some headcases for the end of the bench – see category three) Jose Barea and Shabazz Muhammad.
The scary thing is on potential alone, this is quite the promising team. Here is the secret to having a good league pass team – have an unknown future superstar. Between Wiggins, LaVine and the Anthony Bennett redemption tour, I know I will be hooked to this team. In fact, had Phoenix let go of Eric Bledsoe (who the Wolves gave an offer sheet to) this team may actually be even higher in the rankings.
The youth and inexperience of the team hopefully leads to the realisation that the Wolves need to run the floor (an entertaining trait!) and perhaps Pekovic may be traded for future picks which would open the door for Dieng to get starters minutes.
Players like Rubio and Young are playing for a second chance as well as a new contract. Dieng showed at the World Cup and the latter end of the season that he was a really promising NBA athletic Centre and if you haven’t seen what LaVine and Wiggins can do – make sure you check it out.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Technically according to the rule makers (the great Bill Simmons of ESPN and Grantland fame) any of the best three teams in basketball are meant to be ineligible for the League Pass Team considerations. It’s meant to be fun, remember? In addition, the League Pass champions are meant to be athletic and exciting, dunking and throwing alley-oops.
The Spurs are none of the above. Instead, however, they are the best “team” in basketball. We witnessed a master class in last year’s NBA Playoffs as the former “boring” Spurs showcased who and what they are. Long gone are the days of suffocating opponents and grinding out a victory at the defensive end of the floor. They destroyed teams playing basic fundamental basketball, and boy was it wonderful to watch.
Magic Johnson said it best for ESPN after the finals:
“Sometimes you are lost for words, all you need to do is just watch this team and it says it all.”
The Spurs are a throwback to the Showtime teams of the 80’s before systems dominated play and for any purist, you need to watch the Spurs play. There is glitz and glamour in the way certain teams play which is more based on their physical attributes, the Spurs beat you with their intellect.
Personnel wise, it’s impossible not to like the Spurs. Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time (even though he is playing Center for the past four years) and is the most humble superstar the NBA has ever seen. He still shines bright alongside the selfless Tony Parker and the crafty veteran Manu Ginobli, whose redemption story after the 2013 Finals is wonderful. When you add in the Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and heat check guys like Patty Mills, this is an entertaining roster no matter what substitutions they make and who is on the floor. Even the big guys like Diaw and Splitter are fun to watch due to their array of passing.
Also adding to their League Pass score is Coach Gregg Popovich and his interviews which you can see here. Just, superb.
It’s all on show in this video. It reminds me why I love the game of basketball and is the first thing I would show anybody who wants to learn about the game. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they are my favourite team for 12 years either!
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last season, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love were all players who scored over twenty points a game and made their respective team’s League Pass teams. Turning into the super team of the Eastern Conference, surely, again on potential, this is the best league pass team of them all?
Not only is LeBron a scoring superstar, but is incredibly unselfish. His passing should take this team to another level. For the first time in his career, LeBron gets to play with a top class point guard who has great handles and is athletic enough to keep up with him. Together, those two are going to run the floor and be a nightmare for the opposition, especially off great Kevin Love outlet passes.
The League pass entertainment quality of this team may be taken down however, as (Miami-esque) interim “General Manager” LeBron James is signing a lot of old veteran players who will play slow boring winning basketball like Mike Miller and Shawn Marion. This team will be at its (fun) best with an athletic big like Tristan Thompson or the fanatical Anderson Varajao.
This team satisfies League Pass requirement number three too. David Blatt is head coaching for the first time in the NBA and his past bench rants at European teams are quite hilarious. He is joined on that bench by the “always dangerous to his own team” heat check guy in Dion Waiters and the generally quirky Cleveland crowd.
How the new “Big 3” mesh will decide if this team is going to be put in the League Pass Hall of Fame echelons, but the strong factor of the potential they have mean they start the year on top of these power rankings. Even more so than when he was “the guy” in Miami, everything comes down to LeBron and the way he runs this team as the best player in the league. Just imagine when LBJ does his patented chalk toss for the first time in four years – the crowd in the Q Arena is going to go ballistic, as will every LP Junkie there is – even if it will be 3AM in Dublin.
Garbh Madigan, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Read More About: andrew wiggins, Anthony Davis, boris diaw, cleveland cavaliers, Corey Brewer, Curry, Dion Waiters, Eric Gordon, golden state warriors, Gorgi Dieng, gregg popovich, Jimmer Fredette, kawhi leonard, kevin love, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Lebron James, Lebron leaving Miami, manu ginobili, Miami Heat, mike miller, Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA, nba news, New Orleans Pelicans, patty mills, Ricky Rubio, Ryan Anderson, San Antonio Spurs, Shawn Marion, Tim DUncan, Timberwolves, Tony Parker, Tristan Thompson, Tyreke Evans, Young, Zack LaVine