Welcome to The Crossover’s entertainment rankings for the 2021–22 season! This is a highly subjective list of teams ranked by their watchability. Criteria include, but are not limited to, number of good or relevant players, ability to score, style of play, pace, newness and vibes. If you don’t like where your favorite team is ranked on this list, it’s not my fault you’ve decided to spend your time watching basketball that’s not particularly fun. On to the rankings.
The Lakers roster is what happens when a 10-year-old tries to get all their favorite players on the same team in a video game. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. Russell Westbrook. Carmelo Anthony. Dwight Howard. DeAndre Jordan. A big part of the overall NBA journey this season will be finding out how good Los Angeles actually is once you get past the names. Will the team’s age show right away? How will Westbrook fit in with LeBron & AD? The boom-or-bust potential of this team, the curiosity of how all the veterans will mesh with one another, and the general late-career drama of LeBron puts the Lakers at the top of this list. It may not be pretty; it will always be dramatic.
Kevin Durant is perhaps the most talented scorer in the history of people to pick up a basketball, yet it’s possible he may not even be the best scorer on his team. The combo of Durant and James Harden—with or without Kyrie Irving—makes the Nets worth watching whenever they play. Mix in a roster that’s stocked with useful role players, and as long as Brooklyn is actually healthy during the regular season it will be thrilling to watch.
For years Golden State was this highly feared, indestructible bogeyman mowing down the rest of the NBA. After injuries ruined their last couple of seasons, the Warriors are primed for a big comeback this year, especially once Klay Thompson returns to the lineup. Stephen Curry, Klay, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala turning into the hunters instead of the hunted is a neat twist in the story arc of this championship core.
Nikola Jokić is the reigning MVP of the league, Michael Porter Jr. is a thrilling scorer, and Denver’s defense is typically light. That means lots of high-scoring games that stand out stylistically compared to everyone else. The Nuggets have had a high baseline level of entertainment for years now. Jamal Murray will at least have fun watching teammates play until he’s healthy enough to contribute.
Luka Dončić is the type of player who will make you laugh maniacally at the screen because you just saw something you didn’t know was possible, while the rest of the cast is adept at filling up the bucket as well. If you can’t get behind a generational talent and a zippy offense, then maybe this sport isn’t for you.
The Hawks have an emerging superstar in Trae Young, a deep roster and a general attitude of defiance, all of which served them very well during their run to the conference finals last season. This is a huge leap for Atlanta in the entertainment rankings, and it’s a testament to the exciting way the organization finished 2021. I expect the Hawks to build on that momentum moving forward.
Milwaukee has basically spoiled us with immense regular-season success the last few years. The number of blowouts the Bucks take part in almost makes me want to drop them lower, except Giannis Antetokounmpo has the potential to be the best basketball player in the known universe on any given night. Dropping the Bucks any lower than No. 7 would be a disservice to him and the competence of a team that brings it every single night.
I don’t want to look like an idiot any time Damian Lillard decides to randomly go off for 60 points while hitting 30-foot threes over double teams. The Blazers may never be a championship contender with their current core, but Lillard’s intermittent display of fireworks alone is enough to put Portland in the top ten. Combine that with a fun supporting cast, arguably the best uniforms in sports and another professional scorer in C.J. McCollum, and the Blazers will rarely let you down.
The core of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton is one of the soundest anywhere in the league. With Paul at the helm, the Suns are like a precision sports car. (Is a precision sports car a thing? Did I just make that up?) What Phoenix lacks in random nights of explosive displays—though Booker is always capable of going off—it makes up for in high levels of execution. As long as the Point God is directing traffic on a team this talented, it will be a fine-tuned machine.
LaMelo Ball passes! Miles Bridges dunks! Scary Terry! Gordon Hayward proving he was worth all that money! Trying to figure out whether the Hornets are good is beside the point. They are fun, and filled with fresh faces who are unafraid going up against any of the league’s heavyweights. Charlotte has a couple of years before it has to decide to become a serious playoff team or whatever. Until then, enjoy this honeymoon phase of the rebuild, when players like Ball are unburdened by expectations.
Chicago’s offseason makeover makes it a source of intrigue headed into next year. The polarizing nature of the Bulls’ additions means people will be watching closely for the sake of their own takes. At the very least, the Zach Lavine, Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević core should score the heck out of the ball.
Utah is like the prestige drama that comes on before or after your favorite show. The Jazz may not be who you tune in for on a Sunday night, but you end up watching anyway because the quality of the performance is still very good.
Another year, another round of questions about Ben Simmons’s offensive repertoire. With Simmons finally back on the team after a short holdout, Philly will almost certainly be good during the regular season. While the team will ultimately be judged by the postseason, Joel Embiid is still enough of a reason to watch on most nights.
Always a little bit more function over form, the Celtics seem primed for a bounceback season in 2021–22. Jayson Tatum is one of the most gifted scorers in the league, and the addition of some quality vets (Dennis Schroder, Al Horford, Josh Richardson) should have Boston more closely resembling the team that nearly snuck into the Finals in 2020.
It’s hard to place the Clippers after the injury to Kawhi Leonard. Can they be as successful this year as they were without him during last summer’s playoffs? Middle of the pack seems right for a team that should be competent as it holds out for its best player.
Zion Williamson is the reason to watch this team, except he will miss the start of the season with yet another injury in his young career. So until there’s more clarity on Zion’s medical situation, I’m hedging my bet and putting New Orleans before the fold.
Miami is going to be in a slugfest every night. The starting lineup is shooting-challenged, and this team finished second-to-last in pace last season. Erik Spoelstra would love nothing more than a rock fight every night. Though Kyle Lowry adds a little bit of masala to the mix here, the Heat likely won’t be appointment viewing until the playoffs.
Ja Morant plays the most dangerous brand of basketball in the NBA right now, constantly hurtling himself into the paint at the risk of his limbs. But when one of your better players is literally nicknamed “Slow-Mo,” it’s an indication things aren’t always very tense in Memphis. Perhaps once Jaren Jackson Jr. actually has that breakout, the Grizz can climb this list.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell are a fun little trio. In a loaded West, though, Minnesota has too often been one of the punching bags for better teams.
De’Aaron Fox is an All-Star–caliber player toiling away on the Kings. If Sacramento doesn’t get out to a relatively good start, Fox could be in danger of seeing some of his better teammates (Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes) sent elsewhere.
The Knicks are an acquired taste. To Tom Thibodeau’s credit, his teams buy in for every minute of the regular season. At the same time, that often means his offenses grind down to a deliberate halt and his defenses try to suffocate the life out of a game. These methods are effective, just not very fun.
Everything here feels like empty calories until there’s some clarity on whether this is really what Bradley Beal wants for the rest of his career. The additions of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and Spencer Dinwiddie should pay some dividends, though.
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It will be great to see the Raptors finally playing back in Toronto after a full season on the road. The franchise remains somewhat of a mystery on the court, and the departure of Lowry is a significant market of this team’s new direction.
Last season, the Pacers finished with a 111.9 offensive rating … and a 111.9 defensive rating. Perfectly down the middle doesn’t exactly make for compelling basketball. If anyone can make this team more interesting, perhaps it’s offensive wizard Rick Carlisle.
Houston will be the most fun of the bad teams, especially if Alperen Sengun can deliver on all that summer league hype.
Detroit could be No. 30 on this list, instead they get a boost as the team with the most recent No. 1 overall pick.
Nostalgia enthusiasts will be delighted to watch Ricky Rubio-Kevin Love two-man actions, provided both actually play. There’s also the whole Collin Sexton-Darius Garland “Sexland” combo, that is unless Colin Sexton gets traded.
The Magic’s national media coverage probably peaked before the season with Jonathan Isaac’s misinformed, anti-vax press conference.
How much longer will we keep having to watch Gregg Popovich coach a team so dispiritingly irrelevant?
Any games the Thunder win after the All-Star break this season will basically be an accident.
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