18. Charlotte Hornets
Any team with LaMelo Ball has a floor in League Pass rankings. He’ll be on a quest to quiet the surprisingly numerous haters after an injury-plagued and disappointing year. He’s one of the best passers, ballhandlers, and shooters in the league, and there’s still plenty of room for him to grow (literally and figuratively).
Rookie Brandon Miller has had an uneven Summer League and preseason so far; fair or not, his progress will be closely compared to Scoot Henderson’s. In light of the ugly recent news, it seems likely Miles Bridges joins Kevin Porter Jr. on the outside of the NBA looking in. Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier are known quantities who seem likely to be traded at some point.
Mark Williams has shown immense potential as a shot-swatting and rim-running behemoth of a center. The Hornets have arguably the best courts and jerseys in the league, and Eric Collins is the most enthusiastic and entertaining play-by-play guy around.
17. New Orleans Pelicans
This ranking is wrong.
If Zion plays 60+ games, the Pelicans become a must-watch squad. We haven’t seen anything quite like Zion since the days of Charles Barkley. He’s an elemental force around the rim with shocking ballhandling and passing chops, and he is liable to set off seismographs on any given night with an earthquaking dunk.
Trey Murphy’s injury puts a slight pall on this rating. The 3’s-and-dunks specialist seemed primed for a breakout year. Jose Alvarado’s buzzing, pesky game and devious backcourt steals are hilarious to watch. Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum are smooth, old-school operators, and Jonas Valanciunas is a monster in the middle. Herb Jones is one of the best defenders in basketball. Antonio McDaniels is a top TV analyst.
It’s quite an ensemble cast, but without Zion, this team doesn’t have enough of the it factor to maintain a top-20 ranking. So I’m forced to put them somewhere in the middle, knowing I’ll be wrong either way.
16. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizz would be a higher League Pass team if we had a full season of Ja Morant, but an increasingly troubling series of off-court incidents have earned him a 25-game suspension. Morant’s aerial acrobatics are like nothing else in the league today. It’s not just the athleticism, it’s the sheer chutzpah, the raw audacity to try things just to see if he can do them.
Even without Ja, though, the Grizzlies have compelling watches. Jaren Jackson Jr. is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and a seven-foot shooting guard. Steven Adams is a Tolkien Ent. Marcus Smart will be without shamrocks for the first time in his career; I’m not sure yet whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Desmond Bane is ready to take a leap into true stardom. Santi Aldama, Jon Konchar, and Ziaire Williams are fun and funky bench pieces. Derrick Rose is here, as is the bowling ball, Kenneth Lofton Jr. Former point guard Brevin Knight is a natural analyst.
Taylor Jenkins and staff have quietly solved the regular season, finishing second in the West in each of the last two seasons. We’ll see if they have enough firepower for another run to the top.