DimeMag

Where’s The Remote? The NBA’s Top 10 League Pass Teams

Laker fans never have to worry. When the NBA released its revised schedule about a week ago, they made sure the league’s most polarizing franchise was delivered to it’s ever-expanding fan base. Is 29 out of 66 enough? 29 times this season the Lakers will be playing on national TV, which is only about 25 times more than the New Jersey Nets, despite their star point guard and despite their jet ski-riding, womanizing owner (and even those four games got the shaft that is NBA TV). The NBA knows the big names and the big teams will make the most money. Cleveland at Milwaukee in February is for no one outside of the diehards.

God was good when he gave us the wisdom to come up with an idea like NBA League Pass. Back in high school, I wore it out watching as many Jason Williams games as I could, and even though I now use it for work, it’s still fresh. Lonely winter Friday nights sipping tea by the fireplace aren’t anyone’s idea of a good time (outside of Drake). But League Pass can at least make you forget for a few hours on those boring nights that no one wants to hang out with you.

Just as J-Will was once the League Pass MVP, Oklahoma City eventually turned into the No. 1 League Pass Team. It wasn’t only because of Kevin Durant. We’ve gotten an up close and personal view of Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook‘s development, as well as front row seats for the zaniest crowd in the game.

But now that they’ll be on TVs from Santa Monica to Dover 24 times this season, the Thunder have graduated to celebrity status. Who’ll be the next OKC? There are plenty of candidates, and all of them have certain qualities that’ll stand out on those mid-season nights when you can’t decide between Orlando/New York or Minnesota/Portland.

League Pass teams need some unproven but exciting young players, a coach who’s just awful enough to constantly screw stuff up, the potential for both embarrassment and glamour,the effect of the unknown and most importantly, a low profile among the national audience.

League Pass officially went on sale today (now go rush to make the purchase), so in honor of that glorious treat (a great Christmas gift), here are my top 10 League Pass teams for the upcoming season:

10. Phoenix
16 National TV Appearances (eight ESPN, two TNT, one ESPN2, five NBA TV)
I was actually somewhat surprised looking at the numbers of times the Suns will be on national TV. But since these are my rules and I didn’t put a capper on how many games qualify you for this, I’m keeping them on. They just get docked a few points.

Whereas they were once the greatest show on the hardwood, it’s now just Steve Nash, a reinvigorated Grant Hill and a bunch of guys holding on for dear life. Jared Dudley is fun. The new guy (Shannon Brown) jumps high. But this all comes back to Nash, someone who could make Viktor Khryapa interesting.

9. Golden State
17 National TV Appearances (six ESPN, four TNT, seven NBA TV)
Watching Mark Jackson on the sidelines calling plays, pleading with refs and hopefully hitting the crowd with his patented shuffle every now and then will be unintentional comedy. Watching Andris Biedrins shooting free throws is actual comedy. When you have a backcourt like Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, any game has the potential to turn into a track meet. They both might be small and undersized, but that only adds to every 30-pointer they throw up.

For a while, Golden State was the epitome of a League Pass team. The “We Believe” squad went unnoticed until the playoffs by everyone outside of the hardcore fans and those psychotic Warrior lovers. For some reason, Golden State never gets boring. I don’t expect them to fall off this year either.

8. Houston
7 National TV Appearances (seven NBA TV)
The Rockets got a backhand to the face with the release of the league’s revised schedule: not a single ESPN, TNT or ABC game. I love how they count NBA TV games as national appearances. I mean, technically, they are. But John from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania isn’t checking NBA TV on Sunday afternoon. He’s sucking down Coors Lights, stuffing his face with Cheez-Its and watching football. Hell, he probably doesn’t even get NBA TV. They should count these games as half of an appearance.

As for the team, I’m just interested to see how they react to being the biggest losers of the lockout. Seriously. You go from a frontline of Pau Gasol and Nene to… Jordan Hill and Luis Scola. Even Daryl Morey can’t put a number on that. That first game against New Orleans might result in an “accidental” clothesline of Chris Paul just to get back at David Stern. Houston also has Kyle Lowry, and I’m still pissed he’s not on Memphis like back in the day. There’s no better potential romance between a player and team.

7. New Orleans
9 National TV Appearances (one ESPN, one TNT, seven NBA TV)
Since David Stern is proving to be a harder bargainer than Michael Corleone, it looks like Chris Paul may play out the string in New Orleans, the only thing needed to create potentially the most toxic environment ever seen in an NBA locker room. How long until CP decides to stop passing to Trevor Ariza or Marco Belinelli? How long before even Jarrett Jack turns on him?

If Chris Paul does finally get traded sometime in the next week, forget I said all this. No one’s watching Chris Kaman, Quincy Pondexter and a crowd of zombies on a Wednesday night.

6. Milwaukee
5 National TV appearances (one ESPN, four NBA TV)
The Bucks are a lifer in the League Pass realm. Even if they fielded a lineup of Blake Griffin, a young Shawn Kemp, Vince Carter before heart surgery, Vernon Maxwell and Rasheed Wallace, and were coached by a 1970s Hubie Brown, they still might not get people in Florida to care. This year’s Bucks team has a lot of talent, and as they showed last season, a lot of potential to crash and burn. Nearly everyone is assuming Milwaukee will make the playoffs and put a scare in someone this spring. We all said the same things last year though, not knowing Brandon Jennings would actually become an even worse shooter and John Salmons would have every one of his fantasy owners ready to assassinate him by the season’s midway point.

Plus, I’m just not convinced Stephen Jackson is really ready for a winter spent in Wisconsin, chilling with weekend hunters and nightcrawlers. He says anyone not going for a title better hit the road. If he was in Atlanta or Philly, then I think he’d get by just fine. But Milwaukee? This team still has a lot of talent, and of course, the right recipe to make even the coldest winter night entertaining.

5. Washington
6 National TV appearances (six NBA TV)
This one’s easy. John Wall. The next time I watch a game this kid plays in and don’t walk away thinking “I’ve seen the future, and it is grand” will be the first. As added bonus content, there’s Andray Blatche and (hopefully) Nick Young doing Andray Blatche and (hopefully) Nick Young things, which are always interesting if nothing else. Wall is the Nucky Thompson of the show, but those other guys are the fumbling Atlanta City political leaders, the characters always looking to muck it all up in entertaining ways.

After spending a bunch of time with Wall this summer for his epic Dime #66 cover, it’s kind of a requirement that I tune in to see what he does in his “breakout” season, right?

4. Minnesota
6 National TV Appearances (one ESPN, one ESPN2, four NBA TV)
You know how CP and Kobe Bryant very nearly became the All-World backcourt last week? J.J. Barea and Ricky Rubio will become the All-Adorable backcourt. While David Kahn might finally be figuring out this GM thing, as we saw today with the ‘Wolves signing of the Puerto Rican sensation, he hasn’t completely lost his infatuation with gobbling up every and any point guard. But still, the point guard jokes can only go so far with this team because – this sounds crazy to say – Minnesota is loaded upfront. Loaded. Kevin Love. Derrick Williams. Michael Beasley. Anthony Randolph (if he ever shows up). Okay, they might still be counting on Darko and an 84-year-old Brad Miller (you know he’s hyped to go fishing/hunting/hiking/any other of that hick stuff he loves) to man the center spot. But at least the forward rotation is in great hands. Checking in on Love in the second quarter after he grabs his 17th rebound of the night is enough by itself to get Minnesota on this list.

They also have Rick Adelman as their coach (one of the best League Pass coaches ever) and everyone is already glowing about Rubio’s “crazy” passes. Where’s the like button?

3. Sacramento
9 National TV Appearances (one TNT, eight NBA TV)
I can’t believe how lucky we’ve become with this team. Not only did they fall into a few of their best players, but those players turned out to be Tyreke Evans, unbelievably fun to watch dribble and drive, DeMarcus Cousins, who might be capable of going off for 30 at any point this season (while also shooting some of the wildest shots you’ve ever seen from someone who weighs 280) and Jimmer Fredette, who could sink or swim, but will be entertaining either way. Add all that up, and then throw in the NBA’s most playground coach, Paul Westphal (It’s not a cliché with him… he truly just rolls the ball out and lets them play.), and you have the recipe for the next Thunder. With no Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, no way they’ll make any type of noise in the standings, but the on-court action will be very loud.

2. Indiana
4 National TV Appearances (four NBA TV)
The addition of O.J. Mayo today gave them a big boost in League Pass appeal, but even before that, they were coming on strong. I didn’t notice the movement until the very end of last season. It appears America still hasn’t caught up either. They play an exciting style of basketball and have a rabid fanbase. The coach – Frank Vogel – sometimes seem like a genius. Other times, he has me laughing. Paul George will never be Tracy McGrady, but sometimes when I’m watching him, I can’t help but think he’s a reincarnation of the Toronto T-Mac.

Last November, they went 20-for-21 in a quarter against Denver in one of those “HOLY S$%&!” moments. Now after a fabulous offseason that isn’t over yet, their rotation includes these names: Darren Collison, George Hill, Mayo, Dahntay Jones, Paul George, Danny Granger, David West, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. That’s better than solid.

We called them a possible League Pass Team of the Year today in Smack. We weren’t lying.

1. Memphis
10 National TV appearances (three ESPN, two TNT, five NBA TV)
My favorite team in the league to watch. Even though they screwed up by trading Dime favorite O.J. Mayo for McBob, they still have enough to make for some great League Pass moments. If we had a crazy meter, you could combine Michael Beasley with DeMarcus Cousins and Metta World Peace and it couldn’t hold up to a team like this. Tony Allen is nuts. I say that as a complement. I can see why people don’t like going up against him. He’s just ferocious on the court. Rudy Gay is coming back from surgery, which gives a combative element to an already combustible contender. Lionel Hollins is a smooth operator. Then you add in the best Bash Brothers since Mighty Ducks 2 (Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol) and you have a squad that’s ready to throwdown in the alley. Plus, they also have Hamed Haddadi (hopefully) and his swag.

The team’s de-facto slogan for the year is “Time To Grind.” Based off their personnel, it fits. No one grinds like Memphis.

Who are you most excited to watch play this season?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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