The authoritative, indisputable, official list of the NBA's most interesting teams
The Sixers aren't championship contenders yet, but there is no more fascinating team
On Tuesday, we. Now, let's take a look at the league's most interesting teams, calculated by a complex mathematical formula we'll call the League Pass Quotient, involving upside, youth, style, pace, talent and unpredictability.
Or maybe they're entirely based on my own personal taste. You'll never know.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers are the Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka Thunder for a new generation. There's so much upside here that it's easy to forget they won only 28 games last season. Fortunately, that is irrelevant now, as are the 51 games that Joel Embiid missed. Picture Ben Simmons running pick-and-rolls with Embiid and using the eyes in the back of his head to find J.J. Redick open behind the 3-point line. How about Dario Saric grabbing a rebound, pushing the ball and creating a wide-open dunk for Markelle Fultz? Unlike a team like the Suns, their young guys are not raw. They are skilled and smart, and they may even be able to make each other better.
Brett Brown's coaching staff has had Philadelphia playing hard and shooting from efficient areas of the court for years; now that he has better personnel, that kind of stuff will make much more of a difference. If everything goes right, the Sixers will make the playoffs, either Fultz or Simmons will win Rookie of the Year and some of the loudest critics of The Process will be forced to publicly apologize. If injuries or inexperience hold them back, they'll still be fun to watch while they're losing.
2. Houston Rockets
As entertaining as the 2016-17 Rockets were, I'm not sure they'd make this list had they brought back the same team. Mike D'Antoni's offense is still a joy to watch, and you can argue that nobody -- not even Steve Nash -- has run it better than James Harden did last season, but that team had a ceiling. In the playoffs, it was clear that Harden had to be superhuman for Houston to be successful, and while there's nothing exactly wrong with a formula that produced one of the best offenses of all-time, it didn't seem sustainable. That's why Harden recruited Chris Paul.
Paul and Harden could be one of the best backcourt tandems ever, up there with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, Magic Johnson and Byron Scott or Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. The Rockets can conceivably improve on their already-incredible offense because D'Antoni can ensure one of them is on the court at all times. They will almost certainly be better than they were on defense because of P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. As currently constructed, they look like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West, and would be an even bigger story if they acquire Carmelo Anthony.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
It's not just that the Thunder are much better than they were. It's that they have so much at stake. They need Russell Westbrook to follow up his MVP season with a more restrained, efficient one. They need him and Paul George to love playing together. They need Steven Adams to take another step toward stardom, or at least stardom in his role. Unless Westbrook signs a contract extension soon, Oklahoma City will be at risk of losing two more stars in free agency. No one knows how the uncertainty will affect the players.
I love the idea of Westbrook and George tearing opponents apart, leapfrogging their competitors in Texas and qualifying for the conference finals. I can also see a scenario where they're clearly in the West's second tier, only winning a few more games than last season's overachieving bunch. The second outcome would be almost as compelling as the first, though for entirely different reasons.
4. Boston Celtics
What is this team? I can't properly answer that yet, except to say the Celtics may have more high-end talent than any of LeBron James' recent challengers in the East. Gordon Hayward is going to be fantastic in Brad Stevens' system, and the mere idea of Kyrie Irving changing his game is fascinating enough to generate endless discussion. Danny Ainge's front office took major risks with the Irving trade and dealing the No. 1 pick, and the end result is a team with only four returning players. Stevens' experience with a rotating roster in his first couple of years in Boston should be helpful.
You're definitely going to want to see how the first year of this new Celtics experiment works. You're probably going to like watching them, if only because Stevens' teams always play an aesthetically pleasing style. Those who pay close attention likely will be rewarded with development from young players and a group that will be much better overall in May than in October. Will Boston actually be a real threat to the Cavaliers? Nobody knows, but it is expected to be closer than it was last year, and that itself is interesting.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
I strongly suggest you forget about the 2016-17 Timberwolves and pretend this is Tom Thibodeau's first season with them. Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson have come with Thibodeau to teach Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins about defense, execution and playoff-style basketball. Jamal Crawford is here to get buckets off the bench. Jeff Teague can score better than Ricky Rubio could, but his job is still to keep his teammates happy the way he did in Atlanta's egalitarian system. This is a mean team that will be extremely annoying for opponents.
Even the ways they could struggle are kind of fun to consider. What if Teague and Gibson cramp the spacing? What if Towns and Wiggins just aren't ready to play solid defense consistently? What if there isn't enough depth to prevent Thibodeau from playing his stars 40-plus minutes per game? We will find out whether the talent Minnesota has collected outweighs potential problems.
6. Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic is the weirdo point center you never knew the NBA needed. He is the franchise player, Gary Harris is a statistical darling, Jamal Murray may be the next C.J. McCollum and Paul Millsap is going to make everybody better. Then there are the other guys: Juan Hernangomez and Malik Beasley need more minutes, and Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Lyles remain intriguing. Beyond the appeal of the personnel, the Nuggets played at a fast pace and had one of the league's most efficient offenses last season. They're going to be in plenty of awesome 120-115 games.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Their main playmakers are Blake Griffin in a point forward role and the two-headed point guard monster of Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic, who would create an All-Star if you could somehow synthesize them. This is enough to be excited about the Clippers' reboot, featuring the first good bench they've had in the Doc Rivers era. Of course, there is also the potential for this to go horribly wrong, which would immediately raise questions about DeAndre Jordan's future. The star center has already agreed to leave Los Angeles once, and he can be a free agent next summer.
8. Los Angeles Lakers
I keep thinking about how the Lakers played early last season before injuries robbed them of their rhythm. Maybe that was a mirage -- based on catching opponents off-guard -- but I can't help but think that Lonzo Ball is capable of injecting the team with the same type of spirit that they showed back then. This roster wasn't built to compete in the West right away, but Ball is going to make sure they share the ball and push the pace. Also, expect Brandon Ingram to make a huge jump and newcomers Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to make the starting five pretty solid.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
There is no way that the team that employs Giannis Antetokounmpo can be left off this list. He is coming off a dream season, and still there is obviously much more room for him to grow. I'd be more psyched to watch the Bucks if they had a more inspiring offseason, but let's see if the reigning Most Improved Player has taken another step and if coach Jason Kidd can turn them into one of the East's top teams.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
Even if you can't stand the way the Pelicans are constructed, you can't help but be curious about the pairing of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The two of them have only played 17 games together, and their chemistry improved in that time. If they win consistently they might even be able to quiet the never-ending speculation about them winding up on the trade market.
11. Utah Jazz
It's unclear if they'll be able to score at a respectable rate without Gordon Hayward, but this Jazz season will be defined by defense, depth and dudes named Dante and Donovan. They should still be hipster favorites despite Hayward's departure, as Quin Snyder will continue to use unconventional lineups and make everybody pass like crazy. I'd be shocked if Rudy Gobert didn't make the All-Star team. If Ricky Rubio is rejuvenated now that he is actually wanted, that would be a bonus.
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