It’s time for the second edition of the NBA Watchability Preview. For those of you who missed the first edition, you can read it here. We’ve already covered those teams that are watchable due to a sheer inability to look away. Today let’s take a look at the five teams around the league that are full of young guns and in the near future could be ready to make a deep playoff run.
The Jazz are an intriguing team to be sure, and they are a favorite to sneak into the playoffs from the West by many experts. That may sounds like a backhanded compliment, but in the loaded Western Conference it’s not. Rudy Gobert, a.k.a. “The Stifle Tower”, and Derrick Favors make up one of the better young frontcourts in the NBA and are pretty underrated. Gobert is one of the best young rim protectors in basketball and is improving as an offensive player. Utah’s front office was largely criticized for the contract extension they gave Favors coming off of his rookie deal, but considering their alternative options he has been well worth it. He isn’t a particularly flashy guy, but he is a solid power forward for a team that honestly can’t afford an elite one if they don’t find it in the draft.
Gordon Hayward is another guy whose contract was met with some scoffing, but he’s one of the best shooting small forwards in the league and his player efficiency rating (PER) of 20.24 ranked behind only Kevin Durant, Melo and LeBron James among “true” small forwards. (Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler also ranked higher). That stat was largely provided to prove a point that Hayward is worth more than the “masses” would suggest, typically I like to lump wing players together into one category, considering that there is an increasingly shrinking difference between the basic functions of a shooting guard and a small forward. Among all wing players, he finished ninth.
Backcourt play and depth are the biggest potential foils to Utah’s playoff hopes. Trey Burke and Alec Burks are a decent at best starting backcourt. Burke hasn’t really looked like an NBA-caliber point guard since coming out of Michigan, and in an era of exceptional point guard play it looks like an even more glaring weakness. Injuries limited Burks to only 27 games last season, and he should have a better season if healthy, but is still not one of the better shooting guards in the Western Conference.
With Dante Exum out for the whole season, first-round pick Trey Lyles will probably be the first man off the bench. I wasn’t wild about the Lyles pick, but he is a pretty skilled big man and can play either frontcourt position to give Gobert or Favors a break when necessary. Trevor Booker should also pitch in some decent bench minutes, but the backcourt depth leaves a lot to be desired. That being said, Utah still has some intriguing pieces, particularly Gobert, and should be fun to watch and compete for the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference.
A new era in Milwaukee deserved the sharp new unis the team unveiled recently. Unfortunately for all you hardcore basketball fans in Wisconsin, a new city may also be coming for this franchise in the not so distant future. Milwaukee needs to approve and break ground on a new stadium fairly soon or there is a high probability that the franchise moves to Seattle, a city who desperately wants a franchise again.
Jason Kidd has looked like one of the better coaches in the NBA since the second half of his first and only season in Brooklyn. He has molded this team after the style he wants to play, and they will be a scary team on any given night and a tough out come playoff time. The starting five is young, athletic and long. Defensively, they will be a nightmare for point guards and wing players. Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker might be one of the best perimeter defending starting lineups in the league, and Greg Monroe is a versatile player in the middle. O.J. Mayo and John Henson give the Bucks some reasonably experienced depth to go alongside the starters.
The biggest question mark surrounding Milwaukee will be whether or not they can score, especially from outside. Middleton is a reasonably good shooter, but Giannis, Carter-Williams and Parker have not been very good from deep thus far in their NBA careers. Monroe is one of the best passing big men in the league, but the Bucks will have to knock down some shots if they are to optimize that skill.
Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo are a solid young backcourt and if they can start knocking down shots from outside then they could be dynamic. Payton shot a minuscule 26% from three and 55% at the free throw line. That won’t cut it at this level and he needs to get to at least league average levels at one of those or the spacing issues he will impose on his teammates will be a problem. Oladipo shot 34% from three, which isn’t awful. They are a strong defensive backcourt though and if they could improve offensively around Tobias Harris’ ability to stretch the floor and Nikola Vucevic’s low post game then this is a scary team.
Aaron Gordon was limited to 47 games in his rookie season and hasn’t really shown us his full potential yet. Coming out of Arizona, he was highly regarded for his athleticism. He has the ability to be a good rebounder and protect the rim from the power forward position. Offensively, he can’t shoot (a running theme for the Magic unfortunately) and you can’t be a super useful offensive player in the NBA as just a “dunker”. Even DeAndre Jordan, perhaps the best current “dunker”, in the NBA is not even close to as effective as he could be and benefits greatly from playing with Blake Griffin, who absorbs defensive attention like a sponge, and Chris Paul, who optimizes the abilities of everyone around him as well as any point guard in the league.
There’s a ton to like about this Celtics team, and they are correct to believe that they are one star away from being an Eastern Conference contender. Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are bulldogs defensively and, much like Payton and Oladipo, will be a nightmare for offense-oriented backcourts like Washington, Atlanta and Miami. James Young only played in 31 games in his rookie season, but as Bradley’s primary backup has the ability to emerge as one of the top perimeter scoring options for the C’s. Isaiah Thomas is another offensive threat coming off of the bench for Boston. He may have a grating personality, at least based on reports from the teams who have traded him, but he is a gifted scorer for someone who is my height (5’10”).
Father Kelly Olynyk is best known for injuring Kevin Love in last season’s playoff and looking like a huge goober. David Lee was oft-criticized for never playing for last season’s Golden State team, despite being the highest paid player on the team. Well, you can talk to his ring. I’m sure it will be much more attentive to your plight than he is, if, in fact, you fall into that camp. Lee also infused some life into the Warriors when they needed it in the Finals, and still has something left in the tank. His backup, Amir Johnson, comes over from Toronto and does two things well. He can score on the low block and rebound. Being versatile is obviously immensely valuable, but if you are only going to do two things really well those are the two best things a power forward can pick.
Honestly no one has any idea what to expect from this team. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying or confident verging on arrogant. The roster is very intriguing though. Put me on record as a huge believer in Stanley Johnson. His value may have been hurt by the system he played in, but he is an athletic wing who can get to the rim, defend and shot well in college, even if it was on a limited number of attempts. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) has been a little disappointing since being taken eighth overall in the 2013 draft, but he did have across the board better numbers last season.
Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings are a high-octane and immensely volatile point guard combo. Hopefully on the night that one has a chemistry-sapping, high-volume, low-percentage night, the other will be functioning at peak performance. Unfortunately, that seems less likely than them both spontaneously combusting and sending the shrapnel of poor shot selection and poor on-court demeanor spreading through the rest of the team. Fingers crossed Pistons fans.
Andre Drummond is an absolute animal at center, and hopefully now that he’s over Jennette McCurdy will be undistracted and ready to crush everything and everyone within a five-foot radius of the basket. He is the foundation that this house was built upon, or if we want to hit closer to home the steel frame of this Model T. Ersan Ilyasova is another odd piece in this puzzle. A few nights a year he will score 30 points on like 75% shooting from the field, but he is soft and will get beat up on the block, even with Drummond soul-crushing low-post players around him.