23. Philadelphia 76ers
This feels too low, but I’m not sure where else to put them. MVP Joel Embiid is awesome, but he’s a known quantity. James Harden isn’t likely to be with the team for long. I’m a Tobias Harris apologist, but his game is designed to put casual viewers to sleep.
I am excited to see Tyrese Maxey possibly shoulder a bigger role. De’Anthony Melton is a frenetic ball of energy. Patrick Beverley is never boring (unlike the team’s art and jerseys).
If Harden brings back some interesting, new rotation players, this will be too low a ranking. But right now, it feels like we know what the Sixers are, which makes them a less compelling League Pass team.
22. Utah Jazz
A lack of star power and a tough broadcast team hurts the Jazz, but personally, I’m excited to tune in. Can Lauri Markkanen repeat his electric performance from last year? Who will emerge from the mess of guards to claim the starting backcourt spots? Relatedly, is Keyonte George actually that good? What will John Collins look like in a new role? Is Will Hardy really one of the best coaches in the NBA?
Those questions are much more interesting to NBA die-hards than casual fans. But there is a lot of uncertainty, which is a good reason to follow along.
They also have some of the genuinely strangest halftime gimmicks — like last year, when they had a poor chap play a Whammy-style game that ended with his wife springing a pregnancy announcement on him. It was as wild as it sounds.
21. Los Angeles Lakers
Like with the Clippers, it feels weird to have a LeBron and Anthony Davis-led team this low. Austin Reaves will be drawing immense scrutiny after his postseason and summer in Manila, and the team’s postseason success will undoubtedly fan the interest flames in one of the league’s flagship programs. The Lakers have beautiful jerseys and art, too.
I’m curious to see if Frank Vogel can turn this team back into the max-security prison they were during their championship run. Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, and Christian Wood bring some new faces, and Rui Hachimura will look to build upon his breakout playoffs. As always, everything depends on the big two’s health.
20. Portland Trail Blazers
I’m not one of those guys who thinks the Blazers can make a play-in run, but I am excited to see rookie Scoot Henderson and another year of Shaedon Sharpe on League Pass.
Henderson looks like some unholy combination of Derrick Rose and prime Deron Williams, combining elite athleticism with a vet’s ability to change speeds and command the game. Sharpe might be the most breathtaking athlete the league has seen; he’s certainly in the conversation. The casualness with which he takes flight has to be seen to be believed.
Deandre Ayton is finally freed from the uncomfortably sweaty confines of Phoenix, and we’ll see if his skills can expand accordingly. Robert Williams was once a singular defensive force; Portland thinks he can get back there. Anfernee Simons will likely be Portland’s best player and is a bonafide freak athlete himself (remember when he “kissed” the rim?).
It’s an intriguing collection of talent that likely won’t step into a lot of wins this year. The signs of growth should be entertaining, nonetheless. (And Lamar Hurd is a top-three color commentator.)
19. Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton has emerged as one of the best passers in the game, and the Pacers have surrounded him with some unique offensive pieces (Myles Turner, Bruce Brown) and high flyers (Obi Toppin). He has a level of in-air passing creativity you don’t often see.
There isn’t a lot of top-end talent on the team, and they will almost certainly have a bottom-five defense. Bennedict Mathurin’s growth as a passer (or lack thereof) is an important item to watch. Andrew Nembhard is a personal favorite, albeit not a particularly exciting player. T.J. McConnell and his three-foot jump shots are an enjoyable NBA oddity.