The NBA season is long at 82 games. It takes eight months to complete, and is an absolute marathon for everyone involved.
Much like the players, who have to find ways to pace themselves through the dog days of the season, even the most hardcore NBA fans can have a hard time getting up for a random night of games on a Wednesday in January with the best game being a contest between the Mavericks and Magic.
Finding the rhythm of the season and pacing yourself is crucial as an NBA fan to avoid burnout, and a big part of that is knowing which teams to watch even when the slate that night doesn’t feature marquee matchups. You have the obvious choices — good teams that are playoff locks and feature MVP candidates and/or superstar duos — but you were always going to watch them, and there will be plenty of chances to check them out on national TV throughout the year. What about when you’ve seen enough of the Lakers, or Celtics, or Rockets, or Bucks? That’s when you turn to less-heralded squads.
Some teams are bad in the grand scheme of things. They’re not going to be in the hunt for a championship and likely won’t make it to the playoffs, but they have young talent and while that doesn’t translate to a ton of wins it can be far more fun to watch. These teams can be the perfect palate cleanser when that evening’s national TV isn’t worth watching for one reason or another.
Of all the teams that will be on this list, the Bulls have the best chance, in my opinion, of making a playoff run. There’s some actual talent on this roster. Otto Porter Jr. is in an environment where, based on his brief stint in Chicago last year, he could really have a breakout season. He was extremely underused as a playmaker or finisher in Washington, and he never had a usage of 20 percent or higher his entire time with the Wizards, a statistic that jumped to 21 percent as soon as he got to Chicago. Considering Chicago’s lack of NBA capable point guards, expect them to make a lot better use of Porter as a primary offensive playmaker.
Besides Porter, this team boasts a collection of interesting players. Zach LaVine can score, Lauri Markkanen is an extremely skilled big man, and Thad Young is one of the most consistent players in the NBA. While none of their role players will blow you away, there aren’t many dudes that you look at and wince at the idea of them being on the floor. A potential road block would be Coby White struggling early on, as young point guards typically do. He’s not a great shooter and it’s rare that rookie point guards immediately thrive when they come into the league.
I’m also not particularly high on Jim Boylen. The players almost mutinied against him last season when he took over as the coach midway through the year. Eventually, they warmed up to him and LaVine even offered to pay Boylen’s fine after his coach got ejected once. However, these hard-nosed disciplinarian types typically outstay their welcome when losses start to pile up.
At worst though, the Bulls will be a good time. They’re going to score a lot of points, and maybe even win some games, which is a recipe for some fun.
The Hawks are an awful defensive team. Last season, their defense ranked 28th and was only salvaged by two other teams on this list being somehow worse. Trae Young’s defense is, well, exceptionally bad. John Collins is a hyper-athletic big man, but is also not good on that end, and while he can jump out of the gym, he has physical limitations in the form of a 6’11 wingspan on a 6’10 frame. Add in that they lost their best rim protector, Dewayne Dedmon, to free agency, and this team is going to give up a ton of points
The good news is that as bad as Young and Collins may be defensively, they are equally dynamic on offense. The Hawks are ridiculously fun to watch in part thanks to Young being a brilliant passer and the team basing a lot of what it does on the Warriors’ style of offense. They will shoot a ridiculous amount of three-pointers with a roster that features gobs of three-point shooting and athleticism. They’re an extremely young team (even more so than a year ago) and they may struggle to win a ton of games, but every single contest is going to be a shootout and it’ll be fun to watch them grow and learn how to play together in the NBA.
That said, you could talk me into the Hawks winning 30-35 games based on the weakness of the Eastern Conference alone. Last season, they won 29 games, which made them the fourth-worst team in the East. They would have to work really hard to be worse than that this season with the Wizards, Hornets, and Cavaliers all in the midst of rebuilds to one extent or another. Can the Hawks, then, be better than one more team in the East, like the Knicks? With their offense, that’s doable.
It does not matter that the Suns have once again spent an offseason gathering veteran talent like Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric. It does not matter that the Suns have interesting and talented young players like Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, and Mikal Bridges. The Suns’ biggest issue is a team culture that lends itself to losses. The Suns are an organization that refuse to get out of their own way and their players suffer the consequences for it. This year, their coach will be Monty Williams. He is their fifth head coach in five years if you want to count Jay Triano, which you should, because he coached 79 games in 2017-18 when Earl Watson was fired three games into the campaign.
The Suns have lacked leadership, consistency, and any culture whatsoever that lends itself to team building. The last four years of Suns basketball has seen them losing games by ridiculous margins. In 2017-18, they were the first team since the seven win Bobcats to finish last in offense, defense, and net rating. Last year, they were 28th in offense, 29th in defense, and 29th in net rating. Slight improvement, but still terrible.
And yet, there’s something intriguing about them. There’s just this thought that it can’t always be this way, right? They do have talent on the roster and if it all comes together they should manage to be competitive for the first time in years. It would be wonderful to see them stop squandering the talent they have and see it all come together. Maybe Williams, a coach players like, is the answer to that. If he is, and there is strong leadership throughout the organization, then this team should win games.
So why are the Suns on this list? Because Booker can score 70 points if he gets hot and Ayton dunks everything. When they aren’t getting blown out, they’re pretty fun to watch, which is why there’s just the slightest bit of hope that things will finally come together and give Phoenix fans something to be excited about.
The Cavs’ defense was historically bad last season, and they did not spend the offseason going all-in on fixing that. But honestly, who cares, because this team is in year two of a long-term rebuild, and that means they’re going to still lose a lot of games, but they should be pretty fun, regardless. Despite their horrid defense, the Cavs actually had a pretty fun offense. They had a positive net rating, and when Kevin Love came back, they looked like a competent basketball team. They lost a lot, but were competitive in those losses, which is the exact kind of bad team you want to watch.
Love is still here, and while he’s a prime trade candidate, the Cavs will be well worth watching while he is in town. It’s fun to watch him run an offense again like he did back in Minnesota, and he seems to be enjoying the veteran leader role he’s taken on while he waits for a trade. The injury he suffered last season was really unfortunate, but it didn’t seem to impact him too much. He didn’t mope, and instead, he was the main reason to watch the Cavs last season.
This year, there’s more reason to watch Cleveland besides Love. Collin Sexton had a strong finish to the end of the season — a large part of that being that he got to share the floor with Love — while Cedi Osman also had some fun moments. Is he going to be a star? No. Does that matter? Absolutely not. The reason you watch a bad team is to find players that are enjoyable amidst the chaos. That’s what Osman is.
The Cavs should put up a lot of points, and they doubled down on that by drafting Darius Garland. They will shoot all the time. They will lose most of the time. It’s going to be fun regardless.
The Grizzlies has the potential to be fun this season. Jaren Jackson Jr. showed a lot in his rookie year as a potential star in this league. Ja Morant was one of the most exciting players in college and is going to attack the rim relentlessly, and Memphis is the kind of environment where he can experiment and see what he can get away with in the NBA. Expectations are low in the post-Grit and Grind era, and that lack of pressure to perform immediately will let these guys make mistakes and learn.
This all sounds like the perfect environment for fun basketball, right? Not exactly. The Grizzlies are going to be bad, and they’ll be young, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be a joy to watch yet. We don’t know what their play style is going to be under first-time head coach Taylor Jenkins, although since he’s a Mike Budenholzer disciple, we can probably make an educated guess that they’ll chuck up a whole lot of triples. We won’t say for sure if they’ll be worth dialing into every night, but their potential is sky-high.