Fact: I watch too much basketball. Way too much. I'm addicted to NBA League Pass and I'm not sure how healthy it is.
If I have free time, I'm watching NBA League Pass. Running on the treadmill or doing situps? NBA League Pass is on. Laying down on the couch? NBA League Pass is on. Lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep? NBA League Pass is on. Writing a column for SBNation.com? NBA League Pass is on (true story).
You all, I assume, will not be so obsessive. You might have an hour a week when you can conceivably watch an NBA game. There are so many of them each night and so many of them during the season that you're probably a bit overwhelmed. So how can you get the best bang for your (metaphorical) buck?
Here's one NBA addict's attempt to rank each of the 30 NBA teams in terms of "watchability," so you can make your decision on what games to watch. What is "watchability?" Much like pornography, you can't define it, but you know it when you see it. Winning is not necessarily the main determining factor. There are bad teams that are eminently watchable, and there are good teams that are really tough on the eyes.
Let's go 30 to 1. Without further ado:
I'D RATHER WATCH GOLF
30. Chicago Bulls
I know what you're thinking. Hey, that Derrick Rose guy was awesome in college! Joakim Noah is fun! Tyrus Thomas makes highlight plays. And wasn't that the same team that played in that awesome series vs. the Celtics? All true. But this is a new year, and let me tell you, this team has absolutely no cohesion. There is no organized "offense," just Rose dribbling around the perimeter and Luol Deng and John Salmons shooting contested 20-footers (the worst shot in pro basketball). Rookie forward Taj Gibson is lauded for being cerebral, which should tell you something about his entertainment value. It's the classic case of a team who is so much worse than the sum of its parts.
(Though it is funny to watch Vinny Del Negro's "coaching" in action. "We missed a couple of freethrows, they got a couple of offensive rebounds, we missed a couple of shots! NO BIG DEAL!!")
ROUGHLY EQUIVALENT TO A TRIP TO THE DENTIST
29. New Jersey Nets
I don't know about you, but I like watching talent. The New Jersey Nets don't have any, therefore I can't watch them. If Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson cloned themselves and swapped DNA in a science experiment to create the perfect coach, he still couldn't make the Nets watchable. Seriously, watch them try to execute a pick and roll. Not pretty.
If you like watching 85-80 games that have no flow and tons of missed shots, the Bobcats are for you. Oh, and if you like watching rebounds. There tend to be a lot of them when the Bobcats play.
New coach Kurt Rambis currently has the Timberwolves running the Triangle Offense. To run the Triangle Offense well, you need great wing players that can pass, cut and spot up for open jumpers from anywhere on the floor. The Minnesota Timberwolves' wing players are Damien Wilkins, Corey Brewer and Sasha Pavlovic. Watching them try to execute the Triangle Offense is kind of like watching a carpenter try to fix your computer. Maybe he can figure it out, but why even ask him to?
26. Detroit Pistons
The pros? Ben Gordon, a fascinating shot-maker that is equally thrilling and maddening to watch. Gordon's the type of guy that puts your two basketball sensibilities against each other ("oh my God, how did he make that?" vs. "What the heck is he doing shooting that shot?"). Depending on your mood, you either love him or hate him. The cons? A bunch of guards who can score, but don't pass; Charlie Villanueva (who makes me mad every time I see him for some reason); and several no-name guys that many dieharts don't even know (Jonas Jerekbo, Austin Daye, DaJuan Summers, etc.). Throw in their pitiful home atmosphere (remember the good old days), and it's just a boring team.
IT'S CRIMINAL THAT THIS TEAM ISN'T MORE FUN TO WATCH
The Cavs are one of the league's best teams. They boast the best player in the league and the most recognizable star of the last decade (I'm talking about Shaq). So why so low for Cleveland?
- They don't ever run. The Cavs have the most unstoppable fast-break force in the NBA (maybe in league history), and they are 26th in the league in fast break points. I didn't tune in to watch LeBron James walk the ball up the court.
- James himself. Look, I'm a Wizards fan, so I hate the guy somewhat irrationally. But I don't think it's particularly fun to watch LeBron whine and whine to the officials. Part of it isn't his fault - his face naturally looks Hulk-ish when he scowls - but you'd wish a star like him could display more tact when bitching to the refs. It's also not fun to watch him completely abandon the offense to go one-on-five and shoot a 20-foot jump shot.
- Shaq. Shaq may still be effective in spurts, but he kills any offensive flow you try to get. It's not all that fun anymore to watch him back his ample posterior into people to try to score.
- The offense. If you are like most basketball fans and like ball movement and continuity, you won't like the Cavs offense.
- Mo Williams. He's just nauseating. I can't explain it. His ugly floaters bother me. His fake confidence bugs me. His "playmaking" bugs me. His headband bugs me. He's like that guy in a pickup game that shows up with short shorts and a headband and claims he can do everything, but really only shoots threes.
On the bright side, watching Mike Brown pretend to coach can be kind of amusing. So there's that.
Three gimmick teams that can give you a cheap thrill on the right night. All of them play up-tempo, but they also tend to miss a lot of shots too, so it's a bunch of pointless running. Philadelphia in particular was way more watchable in the past, but then Eddie Jordan brought in his weave-and-heave offense, Elton Brand morphed into the old guy who can't jump and Allen Iverson brought his "shoot at all costs" game to the mix.
MAYBE WORTH IT FOR ONE PLAYER
Portland - Want transition play? Watch someone else. Portland is the slowest-paced team in the league. Here's a typical offensive possession for Portland: Steve Blake dribbles around for 14 seconds while getting six picks that he fails to use, then dumps it in the post to LaMarcus Aldridge, who shoots an 18-foot turnaround jumper, or gives it to Roy, who makes some breathtaking awesome move for a score. If they miss, they usually rebound it and do it again. Surprisingly, this works, but it's definitely not entertaining.
New Orleans - Paul is among my favorite players to watch in the league, because he's so crafty and so good at changing speeds. That should tell you something about the rest of this crew. If you like standstill 18-foot jumpers, then I guess you'll find David West entertaining. If you like line-drive hook shots, then you'll love Emeka Okafor. If you like watching a lot of missed three-pointers, then Peja Stojakovic, James Posey, Morris Peterson and Devin Brown are for you. They've become somewhat more watchable ever since they decided to give their two rookies, Darren Collison and Marcus Thorton, some playing time, but it's still a pretty boring mix.
Miami - They play hard at least, but their games are so low-scoring. Wade is brilliant, but floats a lot during games, which is frustrating as a fan because it means more shots for a washed-up Jermaine O'Neal, Quentin Richardson, Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers. Even Michael Beasley is frustrating to watch because of all the talent he squanders. But when Wade does something, it's just so brilliant that it's worth all that pain.
If these three teams didn't have those three star players, they'd be in Chicago territory. With them, they're just somewhat boring.
I DON'T KNOW, SO I'LL JUST PUT THEM HERE
On the one hand, this is the team for the basketball purist in you. Tim Duncan is like the master chess player who always thinks three moves ahead of you, yet you don't know it. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and rookie DeJuan Blair, in theory, provide the excitement. But Ginobili is nowhere near his entertaining self right now, and the rest of the team (including Richard Jefferson, who is the king of bricking contested 16-footers) is really dull. So is San Antonio's "offense," which is really just three guys standing around while Duncan sets 100 picks for Parker. Parker also has this annoying tendency to never pass, and if he played for any other team, more people would call him out for it.
So I'll let you weigh the merits here and make up your own mind. I really can't.
ON THE CUSP, IF THEY WEREN'T SO DYSFUNCTIONAL
I thought I'd hate watching this team, but they actually are kind of interesting. I still don't get what all the fuss with O.J. Mayo is about (people, he can't drive! Hello!), and Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph remain two of the most selfish players in the league. But I love Marc Gasol (easily the NBA's most underrated player), and I love how their young bench guys (Hasheem Thabeet, Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll) come in and provide a jolt of energy, for better or for worse. So basically, tune in during the second quarter and switch around otherwise.
Two things need to happen for the Clippers to be higher on this list. One, Blake Griffin needs to come back. I have a feeling he'll be awesome to watch when healthy. Two, and more importantly, they need a new coach. This roster was not meant to play half-court basketball, yet Mike Dunleavy insists on running set play after set play. Come on, man, let us see Baron Davis running the break, with Al Thornton and Eric Gordon on the wings and Griffin trailing. Can I get an amen!
AVERAGE, BUT IN DIFFERENT WAYS
15. Utah Jazz
If the Utah Jazz played every game at home, they would be one of the five most watchable teams in the league. If they played every game on the road, they would be one of the five worst. It's incredible how a veteran team coached by Jerry Sloan can play so differently depending on their setting. Like, is the visiting locker room so much more cramped in Utah than in any other stadium? Do they poison the water? Does Andrei Kirilenko's wife give every player on the visiting team a woman to sleep with whenever they come into town? THE WORLD MUST KNOW!
14. Atlanta Hawks
I used to hate watching these guys, because they were (and often still are) squandering so much talent by running an isolation-heavy offense that always ended in Joe Johnson dribbling and shooting a bad shot. But they do play very aggressive defense that leads to transition opportunities, and it's been fun to watch Josh Smith grow from being a headcase that didn't know his strengths to one of the toughest one-on-one covers in the league. The only things holding them back are Johnson's overdribbling and Mike Woodson's stone face (seriously, every time the camera cuts to him, he's staring into space. I guess in-game coaching is overrated).
(This also gives me a chance to go on a quick tangent. With all the amazing advanced stats we have these days, how has nobody created a "dribbles per possession" stat? I need to know which players kill ball movement the most. My projected top five: Tony Parker, Joe Johnson, Allen Iverson, Corey Maggette, Earl Boykins. I have my reasons).
TWO ENTERTAINING MESSES
Here's what I can guarantee you when you watch the Wizards, no matter who they play:
- Some mind-blowing terrible stretch where they do literally nothing right and get blown out. Sometimes, that means going an entire quarter without grabbing a rebound, like what happened against Boston. Sometimes, it's letting the Indiana Pacers without Danny Granger drop 66 points in one half. Mostly, it's one major run by the other team that makes absolutely no sense.
- Some miraculous comeback effort, which is obviously in response to the coach chewing them out for said terrible stretch.
- A close game in which one team makes a boneheaded error down the stretch. Usually, that's the Wizards. They've lost two games when Gilbert Arenas missed two free throws in the final seconds. They lost one game when they fouled someone with 0.5 seconds left. They lost another when Arenas missed a layup at the buzzer. Remember when he was Agent Clutch?
What I can't guarantee is how the Wizards get to any of those points. That makes them watchable, just so you see how it all happens. Of course, if you're a fan of teams that make smart plays, you should stay away anyway. Smart plays aren't going to be found from this bunch.
(Unfortunately, this is my team. I'm going to go light myself on fire).
The Warriors have officially murdered the basketball gods. Nobody passes, which is natural when you put Monta Ellis, Anthony Randolph, Vladimir Radmanovic and Corey Maggette on the same team. Nobody rotates on defense. If you like good basketball, stay away.
(*cues Stephen A. Smith voice). HOWEVA...
On the nights when the shots are falling, they can really light it up. They push the pace and attack like crazy. Ellis in particular can be breathtaking depending on how much he feels like driving to the basket. So they can really entertain even if they do it completely the wrong way.
These teams feature the two best rookies in the league (Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans), but there's more to them than those guys. Some underrated pleasures: Andrew Bogut's incredible basketball IQ, Milwaukee's aggressive defense, Jodie Meeks having no conscious on his shots, Jason Thompson's aggression, Omri Casspi's smooth game and Paul Westphal's ability to just let his young guys play. There's a certain harmony to both of these teams that I just love. If only they had more talent.
(Wait, more talent? Doesn't one of these teams have a guy who scored 55 points as a rookie? What am I talking about?)
YOU WANT OFFENSE? YOU GOT OFFENSE!
There was one point this season when the Raptors simultaneously had the league's best offense and its worst defense. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know.
ONE FATAL FLAW AWAY FROM GOING ON AUTOMATIC TIVO
Sometimes, this team is just, well, exquisite (pardon the snobbyness). Watching Jason Kidd run a fast break is still one of the most beautiful things in sports. Dirk Nowitzki is like an expert craftsman, and while Jason Terry is annoying in the same way Mo Williams is, his all-court game is criminally underrated.
But Dallas is also, well, predictable. Everything is pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, pick-and-isolation to Dirk (okay, the last one isn't official NBA lingo, but I had to include it). They execute their plays so well, but they're still the same plays, and that can get old sometimes.
Roddy Buckets=the most electrifying player in basketball that nobody knows about. NBA fans, we need to start a movement to get Roddy Buckets more playing time. I'll call it the "Play Roddy" movement until you guys think of a better alliteration).
Two issues here. One is Dwight Howard's post game. Maybe it's effective, but man is it ugly. The other is Vince Carter's shot selection. I really do love Carter, and I think he's unfairly branded as a selfish loser when he's five years removed from his ill-fated "Yeah, I dogged it in Toronto" comments, but it can sometimes be painful to watch a lot of 18-foot fallaways.
Otherwise, though? Lots of threes, great defense, great spacing, lots of fast breaks, particularly when The Artist Once Again Known As White Chocolate After A Brief Retirement is in. What's not to like?
In Carmelo Anthony, you have possibly the game's most lethal scorer. In Chauncey Billups, you have its prototypical point guard. You have aggressive defense, tons of fast breaks, electrifying players (J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson specifically), tough guys (Nene, Kenyon Martin) and a coach that encourages the crazy.
If only they didn't make a stupid play every other possession, they'd be great. What's a stupid play? Reaching in instead of playing solid defense. Shooting a contested 30-footer (hi, J.R. Smith). Shooting jumpers even when you can't shoot (hi, Kenyon Martin). Anything Joey Graham does. Denver is exciting and frustrating, all at once. It's a fun mix, that's for sure, but you only wish they could play smarter.
(Also, Kenyon Martin, please get a new tattoo. Thanks).
There's something unbelievably satisfying about watching a veteran team just take care of business no matter what, even if everyone guns for them. Boston is 11-1 on the road this year, and watching them, you know why. They never make a mistake. All their sets are precise, though it helps that they have two great scorers in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, along with two of the league's best screeners in Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins. On defense, they shut down everything your team likes to do. You like pick-and-roll? No problem, we'll unleash the human pick-and-roll eraser, KG, on you. Like post play? Don't worry, we only have the two best low-post defenders in basketball. Good luck, guys. Thanks to Rajon Rondo, they also have the best secondary fast break in the league, meaning they do a great job of pushing the ball on missed shots and taking advantage of the confusion that results while players try to find their man on defense.
Here's the problem: Boston is so damn unlikeable. Garnett and Rondo are punks. Perkins has developed some ridiculous fake swagger, the kind that results from riding the coattails of your four all-star caliber teammates. Rasheed Wallace needs no introduction, and Pierce is a chronic whiner that got carried off the floor by his teammates in the 2008 Finals, only to magically come back a few minutes later and be just fine.
I realize the very thing that makes them so great to watch (their intensity) also makes them annoying as hell. I also realize that without that "fire," that "intensity" or whatever, the Celtics become just an ordinary team. But goddammit, do I really have to watch Kevin Garnett bark at Jose Calderon, a guy 10 inches shorter than him, during a blowout?
Does Rajon Rondo really need to shove Kirk Hinrich into the scorers table while the ref isn't looking?
You see what I mean? Just play, guys. No histrionics.
WORTH BUYING LEAGUE PASS ON THEIR OWN
Here's a good space for a confession.
Oklahoma City was pretty much the underground "team to watch" club of the NBA blogosphere before the season. They were like that Indie band you knew before they went mainstream. Since everyone was buzzing over them, I had a healthy dose of skepticism.
But then I watched them, and I was immediately hooked. Why?
- Kevin Durant. I don’t think he’s better than the Big 4 (LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Paul), but he might be more fun to watch. Why? Every move is fluid. Every cut off the ball is done perfectly. Every shot is released from a perfect point, and nobody ever blocks it. Then, just when you think he’s just a jump-shooter, he explodes to the basket and slams it down with an authority you can’t believe.
The best part about him is how efficient his movements are. Guys like LeBron, Wade and Paul spend a lot of time dribbling around waiting for an opening, but Durant doesn't waste time. He's either shooting in rhythm or driving to make a play. No probing, no "setting up the defense" or other bs. Just catch and go. That's really refreshing in this league.
- Jeff Green, the ultimate glue guy that plays off Durant perfectly.
- The way Russell Westbrook always attacks in transition off missed shots. Oklahoma City's half court offense is pretty deliberate, but they always get the ball up the court quickly, so they blitz you in transition.
- Thabo Sefolosha, who is quickly evolving into Doug Christie 2.0. I'm convinced that if the Wizards had Sefolosha instead of Nick Young, they would win 10 more games. Sefolosha's always in the right position defensively, quarterbacks their rotations, shuts down your perimeter scorer, is a brilliant passer and has an improving jump shot. I never thought Thabo was this good, but he is.
- James Harden, who is a game-changer off the bench. He runs the pick-and-roll like a 10-year vet, which is convenient because he looks like a 10-year vet. On another team, where he'd have to start and do everything, he'd be a rookie of the year shoe-in.
- Scott Brooks, the best coach nobody knows about. He has his team playing hard, contesting everything defensively and not making mistakes on offense.
- The home announcers, Brian Davis and Grant Long. They have so much genuine excitement about the team that they talk about a swing pass like it's a slam dunk. With most announcers, it's annoying, but with these guys, it's refreshing. Much like their team, they notice and appreciate the little things.
They're still a couple pieces away from being title contenders - they desperately need a solid vet big man to get them some points inside, someone like Brendan Haywood, Marcin Gortat or Tyson Chandler - but they're on the rise. Catch them now before the bandwagon becomes too crowded.
What, you say? A team without it's two most marquee players is watchable?
First of all, Tracy McGrady is no fun to watch. He's lost his athleticism, and now all he does is launch bad jump shots. He's the antithesis of what Houston has built this year, and while they're giving him a raw deal by saying he can't play when he's ready, they know what we all know: he would mess up their chemistry.
But still, Houston? Allow me to respond to your question with a series of questions.
- Do you like watching an underdog? Of course you do. You're an American who probably is also addicted to March Madness. And Houston is most definitely an underdog. Of the Rockets top nine players (Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry, Shane Battier, Trevor Ariza, Chase Budinger, Carl Landry, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, David Anderson), only Battier was a lottery pick. Scola was cased aside by the flippin' Spurs, only the gold standard as organizations go. Lowry was traded from the Grizzlies. Hayes is a 6-6 center - you tell me who'd want that. Landry and Brooks were eyebrow-raisers when they were drafted. Ariza won a championship, then was given up so the Lakers could get Ron Artest. This team plays with an edge because, well, nobody wanted them.
- Do you like watching teams that play hard? Of course you do. You're one of those people that either complains himself or has a friend who complains that nobody tries hard in the NBA. I implore you to watch the Rockets and tell you they aren't trying hard. Watch how Battier and Ariza slide their feet on defense. Watch how Hayes never gives up an inch of post position, no matter the opponent. Watch how Brooks always pushes the ball up the court. They're like that team of geezers at the YMCA that clearly don't have half as much talent as the team they're playing, but always win because they just work so much damn harder than you.
- Do you like watching teams that play smart? I'd think so. Houston knows they can't score against good defenses well in the halfcourt because of their lack of talent, so they get out in transition and shoot threes as much as they can. They're fifth in the league in fast-break points, and they're just deadly spotting up for treys. Watch them just pick apart the Clippers (one of the league's best at defending the three).
- Do you like watching up-tempo teams? Probably. As previously mentioned, the Rockets play up-tempo.
- Do you like old-fashioned post play? I do, at least. Carl Landry is a throwback, a big guy who doesn't have any interest in playing outside. I love watching him play and wish the Wizards had someone like him. Scola, too, is a deceptive post player that will do anything possible to get his shot off, even if it means pump-faking it three times.
The bottom line? Houston pretty much has every quality you want in a basketball team, except starpower. But they more than make up for that with their sound, fundamenal play.
Unfortunately, because the NBA schedule makers are bozos that are in love with star power, the Rockets aren't scheduled to be on national TV once. Cleveland gets tons and tons of national TV appearances because they have LeBron, yet Houston, who works harder and smarter than any other team in the league, can't even get one look on NBATV. Obviously, GM/whizkid Daryl Morey is such a genius that he's seduced the TV executives into completely overlooking his team. That's my only explanation, because it's a damn shame that those players don't get any sort of recognition. But maybe if they did, they'd lose their edge. So, you know what, just leave them as is.
This is about as close as you can get to basketball perfection these days. Unbelievable spacing on offense, led by the league's most skilled player (Kobe Bryant), it's most skilled post player (Pau Gasol) and it's best coach. Throw in one of the most talented young center in the league (Andrew Bynum), two glue guys who fill in the blanks (Lamar Odom and, shockingly, Ron Artest), and you have true basketball harmony.
And yet, they aren't number one because ...
1. Phoenix Suns
... it sometimes comes down to the superstars after all. Kobe Bryant may be basketball perfection, in terms of being a skilled player that has the luxury to pick his spots because of the talent of his teammates, but Steve Nash is still the gold standard in terms of entertainment. Maybe it's because you still can't imagine how a guy who looks like that makes the plays he does. Maybe it's because it still feels like every single jump shot he takes is going in. But there's something about watching Nash and the Suns that makes you smile.
Think about it: look at Nash's teammates right now? Amare Stoudemire is nowhere near as explosive as he was several years ago - microfracture and eye surgeries do that to you. Grant Hill was supposed to have faded into the sunlight by now. Jason Richardson used to be the classic "good stats, bad team" player - now he's a winning player because of Nash. Channing Frye was once derided for his soft play; now, he's the prototypical shooting big man. Three of Phoenix's top bench players -- Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic and Louis Amudnson -- were D-League quality before Nash (and in the case of Amundson, he was actually in the D-League). Phoenix's coach, Alvin Gentry, has made the playoffs once in seven years as a head coach (and that was during the 1999 lockout-shortened season). This team has no business being 16-8, yet thanks to Nash, that's where they are.
As I wrote the end of this, I was watching last Saturday's Suns-Nuggets game. The Suns were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after a grueling win over Orlando on Friday, a game in which Nash played 40 minutes and Stoudemire played 41. The Nuggets hadn't played since Thursday. A second-game of a back-to-back on the road against a rested team is a tall order no matter what, but winning the second-game of a back-to-back in Denver is the toughest task in the league, because of the altitude and the fact that Denver runs you like crazy. None of that mattered to Steve Nash, who promptly came out and nailed fadeaway after fadeaway over the outstretched arms of guys like Kenyon Martin and Nene. He had 12 of Phoenix's first 13 points and the Suns eventually raced to a big lead. Eventually, Denver woke up, came back, and won a close won thanks to some questionable officiating down the stretch, but the point is, could anyone else will their team to a performance like that under those circumstances? Maybe the answer is yes, but can anyone do it while looking like Steve Nash? No way.
And that's why the Suns remain the kings of NBA entertainment. Watch them every chance you get. I implore you.