Ranking the 2014-15 NBA Season by Interestingness: Teams #30-26

by    October 20, 2014

There are good basketball teams, and there are interesting basketball teams: the 2014-15 NBA season should be well-stocked with both. Instead of having organized this crapshoot of opinions and projections by division, by conference, League Pass watchability or some other order, we decided on something else. Here are some thoughts on each team before this NBA season, starting with the teams you probably don’t care about and working our way up.

These “Interestingness Rankings” are merely an attempt to put some order to our thoughts. We also acknowledge that this fuzzy logic is a purely subjective way of thinking about basketball.

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30. UTAH JAZZ

by Travis Nicholson (@flgrntfwl):

The 2014-15 Utah Jazz will probably not be a good professional NBA basketball team — but they will also not be awful. There is a certain charm to being awful, one that is amplified when a team can be singled out as the absolute worst, or historically awful, or a disgrace to professional basketball. But the Utah Jazz are bad in the most boring sense of bad: unlike other teams who got that way because of horrible ownership, incompetent management or a high profile bust or injury, the Jazz made a series of respectable basketball decisions and got burned. Quiet failure on a low profile. Perpetually caught in that dreaded No Man’s Land between high lottery picks and low playoff seeds, but the Jazz now have a new coach in Quin Snyder and have produced a team that is at least worthy of your respect even if they aren’t yet worthy of your free time.

Dante Exum is an exciting young prospect, but short term expectations should be drastically tempered after he failed to get significant playing time for Australia during this past summer’s FIBA World Cup in Spain. (Jazz fans should be more excited for Rudy Gobert, who actually played in FIBA and helped France upset Spain.) Expect Gordon Hayward (just signed to 4 years/$63 million), as well as Alec Burks and Trey Burke to handle the ball with a youthful identity at the backcourt and wing, but also expect that trio to be battered down by the unending rotation of elite guards of the Western Conference a few times per week.

Incompetence is fascinating, but honest misfortune is just a bummer. People slow down for the most heinous car wrecks, but most accidents are sped fast and forgotten about. There has to be a least interesting team in the NBA, and in being damaged but not broken beyond measure, this Jazz team falls to the bottom of our ‘Interestingness’ rankings.

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29. INDIANA PACERS

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by Mitch Orsatti (@thirstyvillain):

Other teams had uglier off-seasons (see: the Atlanta Hawks), but from a purely basketball perspective the tragedy befallen the Indiana Pacers has been gruesome. Not only did they lose Lance “Born Ready, Schmurda” Stephenson in free agency to Charlotte, but their lone star Paul George severely broke his leg during in a USA basketball scrimmage and is out indefinitely for the entire season. What will be interesting is whether David West’s comments about the Pacers not being “in a position to compete for a title” spark his teammates, or ring as true as it seems right now.

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by Travis Nicholson (@flgrntfwl):

During every single Indiana Pacers game you watch this upcoming season, you are going to be reminded of that nasty leg injury. Watching Bulls’ games last season and enduring hap-hazard recaps of Derrick Rose’s injury became a chore before it became a cliche, and it remained an unrelenting narrative crutch even into the playoffs. (Luckily for us, the Pacers may not make the playoffs!) Expect Frank Vogel to be highly-competent on defence and creative on offense, but after losing Lance Stepenson his ingredients are severely limited. Expect some of the highest usage rates from George Hill and David West, as well as a lot of Rodney Stuckey isolation and spending hours of your life watching Roy Hibbert to make his way down the court that you will never get back.

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28. MIAMI HEAT

by Mark Milner (@thejockocracy):

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It seems like a bit of a shame to see the Miami Heat getting written off so quickly. When people describe the East now, it’s almost always about how good Cleveland’s going to be, about the up-trending Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors, the questionable Chicago Bulls and then, almost as an afterthought, the Miami Heat.

Yes, they lost their best player this offseason. And yes, this is a team with a lot of constraints. Some are financial: there’s $35 million in salary tied up between Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade alone. Another is depth. Once you get past Bosh, Wade and Luol Deng, they get rather thin: Udonis Haslem, Shannon Brown.

Still, there are things I find interesting about them. One is Luol Deng, who they signed this summer in a move Pat Riley called “one of the most important free agent signings that we have ever had.” Okay, maybe he’s guilty of overselling it a bit. But Deng was pretty good last year. Before Chicago traded him, he was averaging 18.3 points, 3.6 assists and 6.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, all of them his best numbers in a long time. Things dropped off in Cleveland a bit, but so did his supporting cast. And Deng just turned 29, so I’m curious to see if this season he’ll continue this trend.

Another is Bosh. For the first time since joining the Heat, he’ll be expected to carry the team. It’s something Bosh has done before, back in his Toronto days. Back when he was a Raptor, he helped drag Jamario Moon, Carlos Defino and Andrea Bargnani into the playoffs. And arguably his individual best season came in 2009-10, when he put up 23.9 points/10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes and just about dragged Toronto to the postseason (they were eliminated only on the last day, after a Knicks win).

Five seasons later, he has a better supporting cast in Miami, a more experienced coaching staff and has even developed a three-point shot, too. While I’m curious to see how this season shakes down for Miami, I’m more interested to see how Bosh performs in the spotlight again.

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by Travis Nicholson (@flgrntfwl):

Let’s not avoid the obvious: LeBron is gone so interest in the Heat for everyone, including the people of South Beach, are back to 2009 levels. Are we making a statement by putting them #28 on this list, suggesting that there are 27 more teams whose storylines will be more interesting than a franchise that has been in the Finals for four years in a row and has an outside chance of missing the playoffs one year removed from all of that? Yes. We are.

The Heat will be in a lot of close games this year, and one of the most creative and innovative coaches in the league will be given the task of re-working a revolutionary small ball system without the greatest player of our generation. Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts are smart players to attempt this with, and the third phase of Chris Bosh’s career (which begins now) might be his best.

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27. ATLANTA HAWKS

by Travis Nicholson (@flgrntfwl):

Owners of professional sports teams have never enjoyed a higher profile than they have right now. Bruce Levenson knows this well, and the sale of his controlling share in the Hawks seems like the proper course of action for when a public figure hits ‘send’ on ambiguously racist emails. The fact that the Hawks were boring and unappealing to all people is the root problem here, and new owners are not going to instantly fix that. Bruce Levenson was trying to make his basketball team appealing to someoneanyone — and he did not succeed. (Of course, that Levenson doesn’t think that black people and white people can enjoy the same product is a bigger, insidious problem.)

In his short tenure so far as commissioner, Adam Silver has started to instill a more cohesive set of progressive values in the NBA community, and because I share those values I applaud him. But instilling values and prescribing behaviour is tricky territory, and one of the things I do not need the NBA to be is my moral barometer. Basketball is a useful vehicle, but an inherently limited one, too. The result of both the Sterling and Levenson controversies was toxic discourse invading the NBA news cycle, and in the end there may be one less severely racist and one less vaguely racist owner, but (surprise! surprise!) racism didn’t go anywhere.

To basketball-type things: If you are a Hawks fan the future may not be so bleak. The team whose management had the worst off-season almost made the single best decision of the off-season in bringing back their iconic Pac logo. Plus, they have one of the league’s best young coaches in Mike Budenholzer, Al Horford should remain to be the best player in the NBA no one cares about (he is really good), some people are inclined to think Jeff Teague is beginning to shine, and — as usual — they might even end up a three-seed.

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26. ORLANDO MAGIC

More of Elfrid Payton and Elfrid Payton’s hair doing competent basketball things could place them much higher on future rankings.

More of Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Elfrid Payton’s hair doing competent basketball things could place this young Magic team much higher on future rankings.

by Mitch Orsatti (@thirstyvillain):

Great hair, massive dunks… long live a great basketball tradition.

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by Mark Milner (@thejockocracy):

Things have not been magical in Orlando over the past couple of seasons. Last year, they had one of the NBA’s worst offences and finished with 23 wins – only a shade above the flagrantly tanking 76ers and the hapless Milwaukee Bucks. While it can be argued they won the Howard trade, nobody really came out too good in that messy deal. This July they waived Jameer Nelson, the last remnant from when the Magic were a good team, without the talent to take his place. Their big move this offseason? Signing Channing Frye at July’s end.

On paper, this Orlando team looks to be raw. There’s a lot of young, unproven talent: Canadian Andrew Nicholson, Victor Oladipo, and Maurice Harkless, all of whom have two years or less in the NBA. There’s fourth-overall pick Aaron Gordon, who just turned 19 and could be in the running for Rookie of the Year. And there are people whose careers are winding down but still might have something in the tank, like Ben Gordon or Channing Frye.

Both Frye and Gordon are new to the Magic, in their early 30s and coming off underwhelming seasons. Frye’s easily their biggest signing this offseason, but it’s Gordon who interests me the most. Last year, he put up career lows in both True Shooting and Effective Field Goal percentages and finished with negative win shares. He signed with Orlando this summer and HoopsHype has him making $4.5 million this season, a nearly $10 million paycut from the reported $13.2 million he made in Charlotte last year. If he bounces back something close to form, he could be a steal for the Magic. If not, he could be out of the league in a hurry.

He’s not the only interesting player, either. Nikola Vucevic is entering his fourth season and been improving a bit each season. Last season, he averaged 16 points, 12 rebounds and nearly three assists per 36 minutes. Those numbers put him around players like Jonas Valanciunas, who had a better cast around him. As this team continues to grow, it’ll be interesting to how Vucevic grows, too.

Although Orlando’s not a playoff team, given the paltry state of the Eastern conference and their crop of young talent, I wonder how far away they are.

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Things only get better from here. Tune in tomorrow for a preview of the next five teams on our list.

is currently made up of Travis Nicholson, Mitch Orsatti and Mark Milner. Many collaborative articles can be found here, or at the individual author archives linked above.

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