Opening night is now just a few weeks away, so here’s how the 30 NBA teams stack up by entertainment value. From “must-see” to “please clap,” this list considers both substance and style. Fresh faces, intriguing offseason additions and novel philosophies earn bonus points.
1. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic — skilled, fearless and joyful — will soon be the NBA’s top showman. The 2020-21 MVP candidate’s competitive drive is worth watching every night.
2. Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant’s return will be aided by the gutsy hiring of Steve Nash and a deep rotation. Expect a freewheeling style and title talk, but Kyrie Irving could bring it all down.
3. Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company are favorites to repeat after welcoming Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell. Should they coast out of the gate?
4. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard should finally have a nine-man rotation to support him once Zach Collins is back from injury. Portland will be in the mix for the NBA’s top offense.
5. Denver Nuggets: If Jamal Murray brings his Disney World magic back to the Mile High City, this ranking might be too low. It’s too bad Jerami Grant, who left for Detroit, couldn’t see the vision.
6. Milwaukee Bucks: A reshuffled rotation around Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t alter their strategies and aesthetics much. Coming off a dream regular season, regression is possible.
7. Los Angeles Clippers: Let’s hope this group didn’t blow its best shot at a title in 2020. A resurrection starts with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George clicking more effectively together.
8. Boston Celtics: What Boston lacks in dramatic personalities, it makes up for with smart, disciplined and unselfish play. Jayson Tatum is poised to enter the MVP conversation.
9. Miami Heat: The East’s reigning champs have established stars and a rising cult hero in Tyler Herro. Will a team known for its tireless work ethic still be exhausted from its bubble run?
10. Phoenix Suns: While Chris Paul is an ideal fit, he must stay healthy or the whole plan falls apart. In a best-case scenario, Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton could all catch all-star buzz.
11. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry is back (!!!), but the loss of Klay Thompson ravaged a weak supporting cast. There’s a thin line here between “exhilarating” and “terrible.”
12. Utah Jazz: Donovan Mitchell made a leap in the bubble and has more help this year. Bojan Bogdanovic is back from injury and Derrick Favors returns to hold down the second unit.
13. New Orleans Pelicans: There are a lot of lineup fit questions. Even so, Zion Williamson is irrepressible, Stan Van Gundy is a treat and lowered expectations should help.
14. Toronto Raptors: Losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol makes them small and spunky. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby are a formidable rising core, but they need an A-lister.
15. Philadelphia 76ers: Here comes the referendum on the Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid partnership. Daryl Morey got them shooters so there are no more excuses. Skepticism is still warranted.
16. Memphis Grizzlies: Electric guard Ja Morant deserved more than three national television appearances. Still, the young Grizzlies must prove that their 2020 overachieving wasn’t a fluke.
17. Atlanta Hawks: All sizzle, no steak? While a lavish offseason spending spree gives Trae Young some quality supporting weapons, their incompetent defense remains a limiting factor.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell will finally get to put their friendship to work on the court, while No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards is a total wild card.
19. Washington Wizards: Russell Westbrook guarantees a roller-coaster ride, but the all-star guard won’t shore up an atrocious defense. Still a good wing shy of being frisky.
20. Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo’s future presents questions, but there’s a strong, if uninspiring, starting lineup in the present. The Pacers will compete, but not titillate.
21. Sacramento Kings: New season, same faint hope that a De’Aaron Fox all-star breakthrough and good health from Marvin Bagley III can squeak out a playoff spot. At least Vlade Divac is gone.
22. Charlotte Hornets: LaMelo Ball represents the ultimate curiosity factor. Sadly, the rookie’s development will take a back seat to a playoff push after Gordon Hayward’s unexpected signing.
23. Chicago Bulls: The best reason to watch is to see which young players enjoy breakthroughs now that Jim Boylen is gone. New coach Billy Donovan must coax more cohesive team play.
24. Houston Rockets: A perennial West power came unglued, losing Morey, Mike D’Antoni and Westbrook. James Harden wants out, too. A tire fire and a shame.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers: Good news: It can’t be worse than last year (or the year before). Bad news: It will be another dismal campaign unless Darius Garland and Collin Sexton make major strides.
26. San Antonio Spurs: LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan trades would have ushered in a needed youth movement. Instead, a frustrating roster remains stuck between identities.
27. Orlando Magic: Inactivity reigns for the Magic, which lost D.J. Augustin, drafted Cole Anthony and essentially ran back last year’s dull squad. Get well soon, Jonathan Isaac.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander provides spice, but the Thunder appears headed for an ugly tank and a shot at drafting Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham.
29. Detroit Pistons: Check back in 2023. Troy Weaver’s flurry of deals and signings left an ill-fitting roster that lacks pop, and a Blake Griffin trade can’t come soon enough.
30. New York Knicks: Still the Knicks. Don’t bother.