Who will be the most entertaining? Who will be unwatchable? We dish on all 30 teams in our NBA entertainment rankings.
1. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is 21 years old and, after last season, it appears he’ll be an MVP candidate for the next decade or so. He’s unlikely to take many nights off, unlike some fellow stars, which means he alone is reason enough to put the Mavericks at the top of this list. Add in that Dallas had one of the best offenses in NBA history in 2020, and the Mavs become appointment viewing for anyone who loves seeing the ball go through the net.
2. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have long been darlings of this list. Jamal Murray was the most explosive player in the bubble, and he’s not even the star of the show. Nikola Joki´c is the real draw here, with his looping jumpers, herky-jerky post-ups, and Wayne Gretzky–esque passing—an unorthodox game that stands out amid a sea of perimeter scorers. That Denver is light on defense is a bonus.
3. Brooklyn Nets
You have generational talent Kevin Durant trying to regain his pre–Achilles tear form. You have modern-day philosopher Kyrie Irving trying (in theory) to play second banana. And you have Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash trying to steer the ship in his first gig as a head coach. It’s not clear how good the Nets will be, but combining championship expectations with unpredictable superstars is always a recipe for fun.
4. Phoenix suns
After years of cellar-dwelling, Phoenix was a bubble surprise, going 8–0 in Orlando and nearly sneaking into the playoffs. This year, the scoring prowess of Devin Booker will be paired with point guard Chris Paul, who is coming off a one-season redemption tour in OKC. Will the new energy—and competent veterans—be enough to end Phoenix’s 10-season playoff drought?
5. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are lots of fun if you like to get to bed early. Giannis Antetokounmpo was so dominant during his second MVP season, he usually sat on the bench in fourth quarters because the opponent was so thoroughly blown out. Giannis’s two-way brilliance makes it impossible to keep his team out of the top five, and Milwaukee’s mini-makeover in the offseason means this year’s Bucks should seem fresh.
6. Miami Heat
The Heat play some of the most aesthetically pleasing basketball in the league, with an offense built on constant motion, not dissimilar to the Warriors of recent vintage. Bam Adebayo is a unique two-way threat, and the well-caffeinated Jimmy Butler rarely takes a night off. Whatever Miami lacks in newness or starriness, it more than makes up for in tireless consistency.
7. Los Angeles Lakers
The defending champs can be a little more of a blunt instrument than a raucous good time. The Lakers’ success is built on a suffocating defense, which isn’t always a formula for regular-season fun. And LeBron James will almost certainly be on a maintenance program after a short offseason. That said, you could still do a lot worse than watching the King and Anthony Davis.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
The jerseys are some of the best in the world, and Damian Lillard is going to hit anywhere from five to 10 shots over the course of the season that will make you react somewhere between laughing maniacally and throwing your remote through the television. The Blazers are never bad, and the funkiness of guys like C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Carmelo Anthony mean they should be a major part of your rotation.
9. New Orleans Pelicans
The Zion Williamson factor means the Pelicans can’t be outside the top 10. At a moment’s notice Zion could block a shot 15 feet into the stands or shatter every window in a five-mile radius with a thunderous dunk. Add in Lonzo Ball, All-Star Brandon Ingram and a shooter like JJ Redick, and the Pelicans are more than just a curiosity.
10. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers should be a lot more cohesive this year after giving up on the Al Horford experiment. Philly added shooters, creating a starting lineup with more balance that can play off the strengths of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Not long ago, the Sixers were the darlings of the NBA. This year’s roster more closely resembles the team that was actually fun.
11. Memphis Grizzlies
While Memphis may not be a playoff shoo-in, the Grizz’s budding star duo of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. doesn’t know any better than to go full-throttle every night. Expect a lot of dunks and a lot of exasperated opponents.
12. Golden State Warriors
This is going to be a fascinating stretch for Stephen Curry. Golden State’s one-year retreat is over, and the Warriors will expect to be contenders despite a season-ending injury to Klay Thompson. Will Curry be able to recapture the magic of his MVP days? And even if he does, will that be enough to contend in the West? The answers to those questions are worth tuning in for.
13. Houston Rockets
The polarizing Rockets figure to resemble a more typical basketball team this season after actually signing centers. However you feel about James Harden, he’s still a superstar in his prime. And now there is the added mystery of seeing what John Wall has left in the tank.
14. Boston Celtics
The Celtics are more elegance than flash, and that’s O.K. Jayson Tatum is a star, Brad Stevens is always going to coax the best out of his roster and Marcus Smart will make you experience the full spectrum of love and hate. Most impressively, Boston always holds up its end of the bargain in marquee matchups. There’s an appreciation to be found in the Celtics’ enduring competence.
15. Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell is a volatile scorer, and Quin Snyder’s intense sideline demeanor adds a mild sense of danger to any Jazz game. But outside of Mitchell, Utah’s roster doesn’t equal excitement.
16. Toronto Raptors
With Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol now departed, the Raptors have lost a good chunk of personality. It wouldn’t be wise to bet against Nick Nurse, but Toronto seems several degrees removed from its endearing championship squad.
17. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers can be really fun when everyone is on the court and clicking. This year they have a new coach in Ty Lue and the added pressure of avenging their shocking bubble playoff exit. The reason they are so low on this list is if any team is going to be extra cautious in resting stars during the shortened schedule, it’s L.A.
18. Atlanta Hawks
There is cautious optimism around the Hawks. Trae Young’s willingness to let it fly from anywhere makes him watchable, and now he has some pieces around him in Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic that should bring Atlanta closer to the middle of the pack.
19. Washington Wizards
Russell Westbrook will bring a new level of intensity, and Bradley Beal’s and Davis Bertans’s launching freely on a nightly basis should provide ample theatrics. The pressing question is: How good is the version of Westbrook the Wizards are getting?
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
A full season’s pairing of D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns means offensive fireworks. The issue here is whether the duo can be anything more than empty calories in a conference loaded with talent nearly everywhere else.
21. Chicago Bulls
The young pieces on this roster—Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter—are worthy of a check-in from time to time. Maybe Billy Donovan can finally find the right alchemy for this group.
22. Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball and Devonte’ Graham have the makings of a goofy yet effective backcourt, while Gordon Hayward will try to rediscover his All-Star ways after an injury-filled tenure in Boston. This team could sneak into one of the last playoff spots in the East, but there’s probably more intrigue in a potential LaVar Ball–vs.–Michael Jordan blowup than what happens on the floor.
23. Sacramento Kings
After a one-year blip as something fun, the Kings crashed back down to their normal boring selves last season. Sacramento slowed down its once-frenetic pace in 2020, and then in the offseason let cheeky scorer Bogdan Bogdanovic walk away. As exciting as De’Aaron Fox is, everything else going on here leaves you scratching your head.
24. Indiana Pacers
Indiana is not bad enough to be a guilty pleasure and not quite good enough to be considered seriously among contenders. The biggest drama is whether Victor Oladipo is going to try to force his way out ahead of his free agency.
25. San Antonio Spurs
How the mighty have fallen. Once the fine wine of the basketball intellectual, the Spurs are now caught between a youth movement and, shall we say, an aged vintage. San Antonio qualified for 22 consecutive playoffs by playing its brand of fundamentally airtight if unflashy basketball before snapping its streak last season. Now the Spurs are unflashy and leaking air.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
This is less of a basketball team and more of a way station for players who will eventually be traded for picks. There’s actually a smattering of talent here. Al Horford can still play. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has All-Star potential. It’s still more likely this team is stripped for parts.
27. Detroit Pistons
Are you interested in watching too many tall people play together at once? How exactly are Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin and Mason Plumlee supposed to work as a modern NBA frontcourt? Manifesting an entertaining team from this bunch figures to be a—[clears throat]—tall order.
28. Orlando Magic
The Markelle Fultz resurrection aside, there is not much interesting here. Nikola Vucevic is inconsequential. Aaron Gordon needs a new team. And Evan Fournier as lead perimeter guy hasn’t exactly worked. It would be surprising if this team didn’t undergo some major changes sooner rather than later.
29. New York Knicks
Even during a pandemic, it’s a good bet more famous people will sit courtside at MSG than suit up for the Knicks this season. New York seems content on punting this year. There’s no reason to pay attention until the front office actually starts trying.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs were better only than the injury-decimated Warriors in 2020, and their big offseason move was to re-sign 30-year-old Matthew Dellavedova. This could well be the worst team in the league. If J.B. Bickerstaff has a sense of humor, maybe he’ll at least let us see an Andre Drummond–JaVale McGee frontcourt.