The NBA season is upon us, and if you haven’t already, it’s about that time to purchase NBA League Pass to get that basketball fix. It’s hard to closely follow all 30 teams in the league, so here are the teams you should pay close attention to on your League Pass.
The Unknowns: Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic
While it may seem weird and unusual to put the Lakers in this category considering the franchise’s rich history, these aren’t your older brother’s Lakers. Unlike the last two years, Los Angeles will actually be watchable — and worth watching — in what is likely to be Kobe Bryant’s final season. The Mamba intrigue should be obvious as he enters his 20th go-around in the league, but the additional fascination comes with the next wave of potential cornerstones now on the roster. With No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell set to make his debut on one of the game’s largest stages, a re-born Julius Randle ready to leave his mark after spending his rookie campaign on the sidelines and Jordan Clarkson on a mission to prove last season’s breakout was anything but a fluke, the Lakers are no longer building a shrine to Kobe, instead choosing to build a real foundation for its future.
Kevin Garnett is spending his first full year back where it all began, and not unlike the Lakers, this is a Timberwolves team looking to its past in order to usher in an exciting future. With Andrew Wiggins needing far less than a full season to show time and time again why he was so coveted as the No. 1 pick, new top selection Karl-Anthony Towns ready to contribute immediately and Ricky Rubio looking to reverse his NBA reputation, it should be fun to watch the Bounce Brothers — comprised of Wiggins and teammate Zach LaVine — be regular members of SportsCenter’s Top 10 reel.
Not even general manager Rob Hennigan may know what to expect from his Orlando squad this season, but the process should draw plenty of eyeballs in the process. Nikola Vucevic is the best center in the NBA nobody wants to talk about, Tobias Harris will be looking to take his game to a new level after signing a $64 million contract and the entire world is salivating over Victor Oladipo’s breakout potential. Throw in an exciting rookie in Mario Hezonja, the unbelievable athletic abilities of Aaron Gordon and a head coach in Scott Skiles who can seemingly make fans smile and cry simultaneously, there are no shortages to tune into what unfolds in Central Florida.
The Usual Suspects: Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers
As the name of the category indicates, there should be no surprises when it comes to these three teams. And before any of LeBron James’s minions loses blood flow because their headband is on too tight, Cleveland has been purposefully left off this list. No matter what anyone says about LeBron’s team, he’s been must-see TV since entering the league. Now on a loaded roster that includes Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and his Phunkeeduck, this season won’t be any different.
A similar argument could be made for the Golden State Warriors coming off their first title in 40 years, but the circumstances are slightly different. While most fans have become somewhat desensitized to the amazing things LeBron does on a nightly basis because he achieves greatness so regularly, there’s still a child-like fascination with the baby-faced Warriors. Between Stephen Curry’s ability to catch fire and make a 30-foot shot look like a layup, Klay Thompson right behind him setting the net ablaze and Draymond Green always doing something to draw the ire of the opposition, Golden State plays like a team that has fun playing basketball. Imagine that — adults paid to play a game for a living actually enjoying the process. It’s a joy to watch.
Despite returning basically the same roster from Tom Thibodeau’s final season at the helm, the Chicago Bulls are going to play a brand new style of basketball under new coach Fred Hoiberg. Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott are both going to be playing a lot more, the Bulls aren’t going to be afraid to fire from deep and Kirk Hinrich shouldn’t see regular minutes 10 years past his prime. With Jimmy Butler continuing to evolve and entering the first year of his new max contract as well as Pau Gasol aging like a fine wine ever since arriving in the Windy City, the Bulls will be worth watching closely to see what the real issues may or may not have been during Thibodeau’s regime.
The Breakout Pack: New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz
You knew we couldn’t get through a list of League Pass teams without mentioning Anthony Davis, didn’t you? Unquestionably the biggest matchup nightmare the NBA currently has to offer, new head coach Alvin Gentry is going to make Davis the best player in the league before the season concludes. Playing in an uptempo style offense where he’ll be significantly more involved than he ever was under Monty Williams, Davis can blow the roof off of his previously inconceivable production from Day 1. After Davis, who could qualify the Pelicans for this category on his own, Tyreke Evans is back at his real position at point guard, Eric Gordon’s creaky knees finally feel good and many have been all too quick to forget just how good Ryan Anderson can be. So long as health holds up, an admitted question mark for this group, this is a team that can finish top 10 on both sides of the ball and send an emphatic message that their 2015 playoff berth was only the beginning of what’s to come.
Members of comparable scenarios, we’re going to group Milwaukee and Utah in the same boat. With breakouts waiting to happen at every spot on the roster for both teams, the Bucks and Jazz are easily my favorite “off-brand” teams to watch. In Milwaukee, we have Giannis Antetokounmpo’s continued development to track, Khris Middleton blossoming into a star and a Moose crossing in the Midwest with Greg Monroe now patrolling the middle. In Utah, where The French Rejection stands inside to stymie opponents, Rudy Gobert is now considered appointment viewing. Derrick Favors has already shown to be the best player in the famed Deron Williams deal, while both Alec Burks and Rodney Hood are two of the most fascinating young players in the league. If Utah can replicate the defensive success it enjoyed after the All-Star break last season and move the offense forward in the process, this is a team everyone will be watching before the first quarter of the schedule is complete.