I’ve never felt more power in my life. This is it. What I’m about to tell you is gospel. These are Sports Illustrated’s official NBA entertainment rankings. It’s way too late for my editors to turn back. Whatever I say here will be etched into history, at least until you forget about everything I’ve written once the season actually starts. For now, let’s appreciate this time together, when anything is possible and every NBA team has faint hopes of being not only good, but fun.
What are the criteria for my list? I could give you some complicated rundown of different factors relating to entertainment value and how they were weighed out, but that would be a lie. You know how when you watch basketball games and some teams and players just routinely do cooler stuff than others? That’s basically what this boiled down to. What do the players and teams on this list make me feel? Do I have fond memories of watching them play basketball? When it’s a Saturday night and I want to flake out on my friends, will I say, “I can’t, I really want to watch X play tonight?” That’s how this list was formed—an unquantifiable, gut-check reaction to every roster in the NBA based off the feelings they stir inside. If that upsets you, unfortunately, there’s no turning back now.
30. Charlotte Hornets: Replacing Kemba Walker with Terry Rozier is deeply depressing. Aside from the Miles Bridges dunks here and there, there is nothing remotely exciting about this group. At least in the past, they used to lose a bunch of close games. I don’t see that happening as often this season.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers: Can you name four players on this team? The most interesting thing about this team will be when they finally seriously consider trading Kevin Love.
28. Phoenix Suns: Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are interesting in theory, except all the Suns do is lose games. At least Phoenix is actually employing a point guard this season. Ricky Rubio should help this team be more watchable, but I refuse to put the Suns any higher until they actually prove they can win 30 games.
27. New York Knicks: The Knicks will be worth watching this season if and only if David Fizdale plays Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, and Mitchell Robinson all at once. Even if for a minute, just to acknowledge how poorly this summer went for New York.
26. Washington Wizards: We’re reaching the bottom of the barrel. At least Bradley Beal is good, and he’s going to play a lot.
25. Orlando Magic: Orlando low-key rivals the Knicks when it comes to a hilariously imbalanced, forward-heavy roster. The Magic took all the zip out of Aaron Gordon’s game, and they shouldn’t be forgiven for that. Mo Bamba is going to be stuck behind Nikola Vucevic for another year. What’s the point?
24. San Antonio Spurs: San Antonio’s energetic bench unit doesn’t make up for the rote, midrange-heavy games of its offensive leaders LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan The Spurs made basketball beautiful then decided they wanted to continue winning games in the exact opposite manner. It’s also never a good sign for your team when the most memorable part of its season is its coach’s postgame press conferences.
23. Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizz are a year away from being taken more seriously as a fun watch. For now, real basketball purists can take joy in the development of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. as the losses almost inevitably pile up.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves: The offensive brilliance of Karl-Anthony Towns is basically weighed down by the offensive brickyness of Andrew Wiggings. The Wolves will move higher up the list when they figure things out, something fans—and probably the front office—are running out of patience for. Maybe they actually swing that trade for D’Angelo Russell at some point and we can revise these rankings.
21. Detroit Pistons: The Blake Griffin-Andre Drummond couple is somehow more effective than entertaining. Still, the Pistons are worth glancing at in case Blake does decide to throw down a hammer that night, and Derrick Rose provides some unpredictability in the backcourt.
20. Chicago Bulls: An up-and-coming team that could very well force itself into the East’s playoff mix. A full season of health from Zach Lavine and Lauri Markannen should provide enough fireworks for the occasional League Pass check-in.
19. Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young is liable to pull up from anywhere on the floor, and John Collins is an overlooked, young big. Atlanta also gets points for almost exclusively playing in shootouts, but the lack of defense could grow tiresome after a while.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder: As a Chris Paul apologist, it hurts to have the Thunder this low. But who knows how long this group will actually stay together and how motivated they’ll be to win. For now, there’s enough talent here to prevent anything close to an egregious tank. The development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is worth keeping an eye on even if it’s not always must-see TV.
17. Indiana Pacers: A resurgent season from Victor Oladipo would be endearing. And Domantas Sabonis is an emerging yet undernoticed talent. But Indiana is more of a high-floor team than a high-ceiling team, at least fun wise. I can espouse Myles Turner’s defensive prowess but I can‘t convince you that it’s consistently entertaining to watch.
16. Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker is probably going to have some really big nights under the tutelage of small-guard whisperer Brad Stevens. But Enes Kanter isn’t funny just because he makes jokes, and while losing Kyrie Irving may be good for chemistry, it’s not good for style points.
15. Miami Heat: The Heat’s blue-collar mentality doesn‘t always translate to thrilling basketball. Jimmy Butler will provide some flashpoint moments, but the real guy to keep an eye on is Bam Adebayo, if he takes a leap, Miami becomes much more exciting to watch. Also, Tyler Herro is going to be a sneak entrant in the Rookie of the Year race.
14. Brooklyn Nets: The Nets are a little difficult to figure out, but Kyrie Irving is still a maestro with an orange sphere in his hands. And if all else fails, his musings at least provide a talking point if not any genuine insight. Oh, and Kevin Durant has shown no signs of logging off. If anything, he’s going to be tweeting more this season. As someone who is addicted to Twitter, I unabashedly support KD on this.
13. Toronto Raptors: Toronto was actually pretty good in the games Kawhi Leonard didn’t play in last season. There’s more than enough meat left on this bone for an entertaining season, provided that championship hangover doesn’t last too long—or Masai Ujiri doesn’t get too active in the trade market. Pascal Siakam could take yet another step forward in a more leading role, and for now, we’re going to hope this team tries to make one more run.
12. Utah Jazz: Don’t let basketbloggers incessant “don’t forget about Utah” speeches stop you from appreciating the Jazz. Joe Ingles is a worthy irritant, Donovan Mitchell usually does at least one cool thing a night, and Mike Conley is going to make this offense run a lot more smoothly. I’ve also never gotten the image of Mitt Romney taunting Russell Westbrook out of my head, something that was uncomfortable but undeniably captivating.
11. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic is already the kind of player who keeps your eyes glued to the screen, and now once-a-unicorn Kristaps Porzingis is being folded into the mix. It’s a fun pairing that should be involved in some offensive hijinks thanks to the mad scientist stylings of head coach Rick Carlisle. And it would be downright rude not to mention the Mavs now employ actor and all-around renaissance man Boban Marjanovic, who is probably the last universally loved athlete in the country.
10. Portland Trail Blazers: The Blazers are consistently good, providing a similar level of comfort to a warm mug of tea before a restful night’s sleep. And that consistency comes from an explosive guard combo, including a sleeper candidate for MVP: Damian Lillard. Elsewhere, Anfernee Simons is getting a lot of preseason hype, and the Hassan Whiteside experience usually provides theatrics one way or another.
9. Houston Rockets: On one hand, the Rockets are like watching your little brother play a video game and run the same two plays over and over again. On the other hand, James Harden can go off for 60 on any night, and the boom-or-bust potential of his partnership with Russell Westbrook is impossible to ignore. I’m not sure if I’m sold on the Rockets as great basketball or morbid curiosity, but I have a legitimate interest in watching them play either way. Hopefully they can avoid international incidents moving forward.
8. Philadelphia 76ers: The novelty of the Sixers is where most of their entertainment lies. Their games will likely be defensive slugfests, but after years of smallball dictating the terms of engagement, watching a team so comically big at every position will be refreshing. Also—Joel Embiid is so dang cool. This team could arguably be more fun if they actually let Ben Simmons run, but Embiid commands attention basically every time he steps onto a basketball court.
7. Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are sneakily one of the more entertaining backcourts in the Association. Also, if there’s a team most likely to be involved in a double-overtime thriller against a generally superior opponent on a random Tuesday in January, it’s the Kings. I don’t know if the data backs up that statement, I just know in my heart for it to be true.
6. New Orleans Pelicans: Lonzo Ball plus Zion Williamson just makes too much sense on paper for this team not to be running some of the most hyped fastbreaks in years. There are also enough veterans here to make sure things never go off the rails, which is a key ingredient in this delicious serving of hoops. Seriously, have you Zion dunk a basketball? Could you imagine having that kind of power for even one minute of your life? You could like, cure cancer or something, but instead Zion chooses to wow us.
5. Golden State Warriors: Part of Golden State’s appeal is the mystery factor—how will the Warriors look without Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and for much of the season, Klay Thompson? But even more exciting is the prospect of a Warriors team that needs Stephen Curry to outscore opponents because of a suspect defense. Curry is my MVP pick, because I think he’s going to drop at least 30 a night to keep the Dubs rolling in a new era.
4. LA Clippers: The Clips were pretty entertaining without two superstars last season. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George may miss some time, but they’re a duo with potential for two-way dominance we haven’t seen since LeBron and Dwyane Wade’s first season in Miami. And if the team somehow completely fails to live up to expectations, Steve Ballmer will undoubtedly do something drastic, like eat a live chicken while Bill Gates awkwardly claps in encouragement. (If I told you that already happened once, part of you would believe it. Be honest.)
3. LA Lakers: The Lakers could be No. 1 if LeBron James didn’t have to take some nights off to preserve his body for the playoffs, which is almost a certainty. But this team is going to have a fun closing five with James at point, and people need to be more excited to watch Anthony Davis play for a good team. And while we don’t know what it’s going to be yet, some kind of unexpected drama will take this situation to another level. Last year it was a fake Heath Ledger meeting. I’m not even going to try to guess how the Lakers can top that, but you can be sure they will try.
2. Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks boast the perfect blend of a uniquely gifted superstar and a fascinating style of play. Basically, everything Giannis Antetokounmpo does borders on breathtaking, and the rest of the roster only serves to enable his greatness. Don’t take that for granted.
1. Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic is the rare superstar who is out of shape but doesn’t need to be load managed. Imagine if the year you gained all the weight in college you could still routinely drop triple doubles in the NBA. Mix together Jokic, Jamal Murray’s frenetic energy (and untucked jersey), a deeply talented roster of vets plus up-and-comers, and Michael Porter Jr.’s wild-card potential, and you have the most entertaining team in the league.