Here is your next favorite NBA team
Okay, so you’ve got your favorite team. The team you follow religiously, cheer for and cry for, and wrongly claim Kyrie Irving over Kyle Lowry for. Which is great and all, because now we can get to the good stuff: that all-important SECOND FAVORITE TEAM. With your ride-or-die status safely established, you can pick any other team, hop across bandwagons as much as you want, to be your second team without being judged by the screaming sorority sisters of the Internet who would judge you for that sort of thing. Go get swept up by some bright young thing playing for the next big team. Go even if it’s just so that you can watch some different players for a night. Go because maybe you have too much love in that big ol’ heart of yours for just one team.
Which team is your shiny new toy? Here are five for your consideration:
Is it the New Orleans Pelicans?
Anthony Davis is dope. Maybe the Anthony Davis-for-MVP hype was a bit premature, but miss me with that rationality shit. It hasn’t helped that over the last few seasons, the Pelicans surrounded Davis with the likes of Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik’s clammy foot-hands, all on fairly sizeable contracts. (Asik and Alexis Ajinca for a combined $80 million.) Some of those players are good, or well could’ve been, but when they weren’t good enough as a whole, the Pelicans didn’t have the cap flexibility to properly fill out around Davis. Those contracts are only now starting to expire after Davis’ fourth year in the league, with Anderson and Gordon already off the books, and Evans and Holiday due next summer.
The Pelicans changed up by using their cap space on a litter of players closer to Davis’ age signed to team-friendly contracts (Solomon Hill, Buddy Hield, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Terrence Jones and Lance Stephenson). It isn’t much better than the old cast, but it runs deeper than last year’s injury-decimated bunch, and there’s room for growth in spades, which is the key bit.
Hill, already an effective multi-positional defender, becomes exponentially more valuable with consistent three-point range. The Pelicans got him for $12 million per year over four years, and that was the most they spent on a single player this summer by a wide margin. They signed him for the same per-year salary, in The Cap Boom Year, than they signed Asik for in the year before. So good for them on that.
The Pelicans still might not immediately have the good year of regular season ball that they’re going to need sooner rather than later. Over in Chicago, Fred Hoiberg is the runaway favorite to be the first coach fired this season, but Alvin Gentry is probably the first sleeper pick to come to mind. But the Pelicans have more avenues to success now, and you’ll always be fine riding with Davis.
They probably should’ve been riding him and his development sooner, instead of wasting away three years capped out on fine-just-fine mid-career guys who weren’t going to grow, but this time around, patience is going to be the move. Davis still has a bit of ground to make up between where he is now (top ten?) and the slot in the top-five we’ve earmarked for him, and that small difference goes a long way towards determining the realness of the Pelicans. He needs to get stronger to match up with bruising centers and his scoring efficiency fell off last season with greater usage and a shift away from the paint on offense.
And you know he’ll turn out alright either way, but I don’t think anybody is trying to pick him for MVP again this season. If you are, though, more power to you. Anthony Davis is dope.
Is it the Memphis Grizzlies?
Now, I’m already a full-time Grizzlies fan, so let me tell you that it’s the best decision you can ever make and that you should go do that. If they’re healthy this season, they’re going to be pretty dang good. Chandler Parsons isn’t going to be some revolutionary herald from the modern NBA who finally breaks through the 90's-core miasma of Grizzlies ball, and I don’t know why you’d really want that, since Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are still working the most satisfying two-man game in the league.
If the post play doesn’t really cater to your palate, then a) well you’re weird, and b) Parsons will make it a more palpable offering. My man’s a living bento pick in the face, and also, he’ll complement the Grizzlies’ way of ball since they’ve always needed a three-point shooter who can defend well enough to stick on the floor for 30-plus minutes a game. At 6'10 and with some playmaking juice, he’ll probably play some small-ball 4 for the Grizzlies, which a) makes sense on a basketball court, and b) might seem un-grit-and-grindy to some?
Yo, who even knows what grit and grind means? Some of you started calling Matt Barnes and his shenanigans ‘grit and grind’, so clearly it’s something we can redefine on the fly. LOOK: It’s still going to be grit and grind until the Grizzlies give up on it, because that’s the one thing that runs directly counter to the GNG creed. (Also off-limits, not being a weird-ass sap about WHAT GNG MEANS when given the chance.)
I’ve got the Grizzlies as the fourth best team in the West. Better than Utah? Better than Utah. Parsons, if healthy, provides a consistently good core with the on-court conditions that they’ve been missing most. Granted, health is the big if, since the Grizzlies’ three most important players (Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons) face serious injury if’s and the other two (Zach Randolph, Tony Allen) are soon crossing 35. Their depth is nothing special, either. There’s significant risk here, and that’s easily the best argument against them. Nobody’s trying to watch a lineup of Wade Baldwin, Vince Carter, James Ennis, JaMychal Green and Ryan Hollins (not on the roster; will be) show out in March. Except maybe me, but like, point conceded.
Is it the Milwaukee Bucks?
The rationale for this is pretty straightforward, yeah? Point Giannis, Year 3 But Really Year 2 Jabari Parker, the continuing experiment of the Bucks’ positionless ball and perhaps Thon Maker. Last year was a stumble, after Michael Carter-Williams (6'6 point guard) and Greg Monroe (low-post offensive hub) didn’t fit as desired.
That’s fine, and that’s how Point Giannis came to be anyway, when the Bucks coaching staff decided that the best way to add some floor spacing to their lineups was by switching out Carter-Williams for the more shoot-y Jerryd Bayless (since replaced by Matthew Dellavedova) and letting Antetokounmpo take over ball-handling duties. Now we get to see how that flies over a full season, and it’s damn exciting. The $100 million man is gonna go to work.
The kids keep the development of the Bucks interesting. Parker still has a lot of questions about what he can do in the NBA beyond baseline cuts, and I’m not really that much of a fan, but there’s at least some mismatch scoring game and athleticism. Maker is even more of a wildcard, but watching high school’s Kevin Durant / Chris Paul combo (which, in the highlight mixtape lexicon, might as well translate to Andray Blatche) will be fun one way or another. Khris Middleton’s injury (so sad) knocks the Bucks’ playoff odds out of kilter, but this means more opportunity for the kids to go out and do something, and also more PT for the NBA randoms at the end of the roster.
Seriously, the Bucks signed Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic in free agency, paid $52 million out to Miles Plumlee in a contract extension with John Henson already making similar money, and traded a point guard better than Kyrie Irving so sorta like Kyle Lowry for Michael Beasley all in one summer. That’s badass. And MCW and Monroe are STILL THERE. Maybe for the second season in a row, the Bucks can fumble their way into something cool.
It wouldn’t be a bad investment of your time. You sort of wonder about the direction, especially since this will be the third season under Jason Kidd and the Bucks are still floundering a bit. The positionless basketball experiment (or whatever you prefer to call it since ‘positionless basketball’ is getting to be just a turn-off now) remains ongoing, but at least they have all kinds of fun pieces to keep building with. I feel like that’s plenty enough to keep a still-rebuilding team engaging. But do we really know where they’re going?
YEAH WE DO:
Is it the Utah Jazz?
Oh, it could be. The Jazz are everybody’s favorite team in the West to get crushed by the Warriors by a little less than everybody else, and they have all of the pieces to make the chess match against any team lively. The pure size of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors (and Jeff Withey!) emphasizes an advantage on defense and on the glass, and Gobert is an outstanding roll man while Favors has fleshed out his post game. They’re flanked by pretty much an entire roster of interchangeable perimeter players in that 6’6 to 6’10 size window where they have the size and the skill to do most any job.
Gordon Hayward, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks provide scoring punch and creativity from the outside. There’s a lot of upside in versatility shared between 6'6 point guard Dante Exum and tremendously skilled power forward Trey Lyles; they’re counterbalanced by the offseason additions of veterans Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson and George Hill, with Hill being the only player of the lot who measures below 6'6, but he hits right back with a 6'9 wingspan. There’s not really an exploitable link in the chain on defense, and Quin Snyder’s equal opportunity offense should net great profits from the scoring, dribbling and passing skill at every position.
The Jazz sucked when they weren’t playing with two bigs last season. I think they’ll fare better with small ball this season, but having the choice between all of those different lineup configurations makes them a fascinating and fairly unique matchup in the NBA.
I also think everyone’s overrating this team by a little bit, but I get it. They’ll have an answer (on paper, relatively speaking, hedgehedgehedge) for everything the Warriors can throw at them other than pure talent. That’s more than any of the other teams can say, although the Cleveland Cavaliers are probably still the only real threat to the Warriors. Anyway, the Jazz are well-equipped to play above the sum of their parts this season. This is a Good Bandwagon.
Is it the Minnesota Timberwolves?
There are a lot of questions here; their playoff status probably isn’t one of them. (THEY’RE NOT READY) The Wolves are short on shooters, depth and experience. You don’t always need all of those things, but to have none is tough. The presumptive starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns were one of the league’s highest-scoring units after the All-Star break last season, so you know the talent is there. Towns is everything we thought of Davis, and even farther along than Davis when he was at this stage of his career. (Towns is also not four years into the league as a member of the Pelicans.) As things stand, he’s the surest bet you can make on the NBA’s next mega-star.
But it won’t all happen right away for the Wolves. They have to figure out who they are and what they do, especially under Tom Thibodeau. I know we’re all quite certain that Thibs will be a hit, but it’s hard to imagine everything clicks in a flash. We don’t even know if two of those players from that late-season starting lineup are long for it.
Rubio has always anchored any kind of effective Minny lineups in the past. He’s a non-shooter, sure, but he’s just so funky with his passing and so stellar a defender that it hasn’t mattered, although that’s never been tested to boiling point in the playoffs. Still, it’s going to be risky to move him out for an early-career Kris Dunn, if that’s what the team is trying to do. And Dieng has always been unsung, but last season he really put the pieces together. The mid-range game was there, the high post passing was there, and even the rim protection (his most touted strength in college, a work-in-progress in the NBA) was there. People always wonder who the best frontcourt partner for Towns would be, but Dieng was effective last season.
I have no real answers, since Rubio and Dieng just feel like they shouldn’t work in that lineup, but like, they have so far. Maybe we should just stop screaming SPACING at everyone. Talent wins out.
The development of Wiggins and LaVine is the actual good stuff. For all the trash talked about LaVine’s game last year, he hit a groove when the Timberwolves shelved the Point LaVine experiment and just played him at shooting guard. I think there are very legitimate reasons to worry that Wiggins and LaVine don’t develop to peak form, that they top out as poor-man versions of, like, DeMar DeRozan and Jamal Crawford, but I also think that if you’re that worried about them, then you’re too worried about them right now.
Really, the surest thing about the Wolves is that their bench sucks. Even if everything else turns out in their favor, no team relying on Shabazz Muhammad, Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill and Brandon Rush is making the playoffs. My sleeper pick of the bunch is Euro forward Nemanja Bjelica, who was awesome for about a month at the beginning of last season and about a month at the end of last season and hot trash between all of that. So he’s a little unproven. (But the three-point shooting and passing and probably even ball-handling gets me super excited. Mainly the passing. The Wolves lowkey have a bunch of amazing passers, maybe to make up for the fact that Shabazz literally never passes.)
So yeah, it probably ain’t happening yet for the Wolves. Some kind of collapse still feels a little more likely than a playoff berth, but that’s okay. It might even be fun. Being in it for the long haul is way more fun and gives you hipster points because you’re getting in at least a little earlier than all of your friends splitting their time between Steph Curry’s team and Kevin Durant’s team this season. Besides, the Wolves are the surest bet you can make anyway. That’s a for-real ass bandwagon right there.