From "Must-see TV" to "What's on Netflix?"—SI's entertainment rankings for the 2015-16 NBA season.
The Warriors’ 2015 title run was a breakthrough for fans of beautiful basketball. Golden State proved that an offense built outside-in could withstand the rigors of the playoffs. The Warriors also showed that an undersized defense without a traditional center could force bigger opponents to adapt, and they demonstrated that an up-tempo team could be versatile and disciplined enough to defeat fast and slow opponents alike.
Now, here come the imitators. This season the NBA will feature smaller lineups and a faster style that emphasizes ball movement, spacing, three-point shooting and interchangeable positions. Even traditional, -defensive-minded teams such as the Bulls and the Pacers devoted their summers to restyling their rosters.
Here’s how the league shapes up in terms of entertainment value, from “Must-see TV” to “What’s on Netflix?” Criteria include projected success, style of play, potency, age, health, coaching and star power.
Golden State’s freewheeling, explosive offense, built around MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, perfected the captivating blowout, in which the entertainment lies in spectacular dominance. The Warriors led the league with 45 double-digit victories last season.
Kevin Durant was exquisite in 2013–14; Russell Westbrook was ferocious in ’14–15. Oklahoma City can match Golden State’s electricity if both MVP candidates stay healthy.
Come for the scoring, stay for the drama. Wild cards Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson will enhance the NBA’s most efficient attack — or derail it.
Early-season chemistry issues, midseason trades and postseason injuries kept Cleveland from fulfilling its showtime potential in 2014–15. LeBron James, still the NBA’s most spellbinding player, won’t let that happen again.
Rarely does a team with two superstars such as James Harden and Dwight Howard also go two-deep at every position. New point guard Ty Lawson will supercharge these speed demons.
The league’s most intriguing talent (Anthony Davis) now has an offensive guru as his coach (Alvin Gentry). It’s like starting a dessert recipe with chocolate and peanut butter: the other ingredients don’t really matter.
While San Antonio’s ceiling is sky high, Gregg Popovich will earn his paycheck managing LaMarcus Aldridge’s assimilation, Kawhi Leonard’s ascent and Tony Parker’s decline.
Early injuries to Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy are familiar wet blankets, but Jimmy Butler's relentlessness and an increased emphasis on outside shooting will help Chicago find a better flow.
Don’t be fooled by the weak point guards: Utah is the NBA’s best-kept secret, thanks to a stingy defense and a loaded frontcourt (with Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors).
Regression is inevitable after a 60-win season, but dismissing the Hawks would be a mistake. Atlanta plays heady, five-man basketball on both ends and returns all four of its 2015 All-Stars.
After taking heat for years, Randy Wittman has finally pledged to improve his team’s shot selection diet and make full use of John Wall’s open-court ability. Please follow through.
There’s not a Bird or a Pierce on this roster, but Boston compensates with hardworking, well-coached contributors and a young, fierce backcourt.
At full strength, Miami’s star-studded roster is among the league’s five most entertaining. But Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missed a combined 58 games in ’15, and continued absences would curtail the team’s firepower.
Leading a collection of big egos and brash personalities, the overpowering DeMarcus Cousins is one of the NBA’s most watchable stars. His legendary impatience only adds intrigue.
They’ve been dismantling opposing offenses for a half-decade. Despite a suffocating style and shooting struggles, their veteran core can be a joy to watch.
By dumping tall ball for small ball, Larry Bird transformed his team more than any other executive. Paul George’s return will boost last year’s 24th-ranked offense (97.3 ppg).
Kyle Lowry captained the East’s top offense a year ago and there are decent supporting pieces in place. Toronto occasionally thrills, but it’s hard to fully embrace these over-achieving paper tigers after two straight postseason collapses.
Jason Kidd’s tykes are built for the Vine era: 48 minutes of lockdown defense and sub-par offense, sprinkled with occasional doses of eye-popping coast-to-coast dunks.
The off-season seriously diminished Portland’s talent, but the rebuilding Blazers will focus on friskiness: Damian Lillard will be unleashed, and eager young bigs will chip in.
Tune in for the nostalgia of Kobe Bryant’s turnaround jumpers and the promise of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. Try to forget about the muddled present.
They may top this list in, say, 2020, but for now No. 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns will sparkle amid the team’s growing pains.
Even if Eric Bledsoe has an All Star season and Markieff Morris survives without his twin, Marcus, Phoenix will struggle in the West. Blame the trigger-happy front office for shipping out too much talent.
They can field a starting five composed of top 20 picks from the last four drafts, but the youngsters haven’t yet scored consistently or stopped anybody.
The good news: Phil Jackson signed actual NBA players, and No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis is no mere curiosity. The bad news: Carmelo Anthony’s supporting cast still isn’t deep enough to be competitive, especially with Derek Fisher in charge.
Rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is flashy and powerful, but Denver is still searching for a team identity.
The reversal of free agent DeAndre Jordan forced the Mavs to surround aging Dirk Nowitzki with castoffs and injury-prone players. Not even Mark Cuban’s endless bankroll and Rick Carlisle’s innovative mind can save this.
Stan Van Gundy’s spread offense is taking shape around Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, but the defense is still a disaster.
Nobody had a worse preseason than the Hornets, who lost energetic forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a serious shoulder injury. Nicolas Batum has been asked to spark a feeble offense, but don’t get your hopes up.
Jahlil Okafor’s Blue Devils won 35 games last season, but will his Sixers be able to match that before a potential lockout in 2017? Center Joel Embiid, the best reason to watch these perpetual tankers, is out for a second straight season with a foot injury.
The boom days that coincided with the franchise’s move to Brooklyn have given way to a busted reality, where forgettable mediocrity is the best-case scenario. At least Deron Williams is someone else’s problem now.