The release of the 2019-20 NBA schedule filled the basketball world with a renewed excitement for the upcoming season. Thanks to this summer’s roster shuffling, there are a bunch of new-look matchups and seemingly countless must-see games.
But when it comes to national television appearances, I don’t think the NBA totally got it right.
It’s understandable that major-market teams with colossal superstars get loads of games on ESPN, ABC and TNT. And, generally speaking, it makes sense that rebuilding clubs in smaller cities don’t get as much shine. However, there are a few exciting squads who will barely play any nationally televised games. In some cases, they only have one or two games on a major network!
I broke down which teams got unfairly snubbed by the league. There seems to be a drastic imbalance between the haves and the have-nots, and it doesn’t necessarily correlate to market size, either. A couple of mid-to-large size markets deserve more games, and there are a few losing teams with enough stardom to warrant at least two or three more broadcasts throughout the year.
Maybe I’m more interested in a slight increase in variety on ESPN, TNT and ABC than most. Don’t think of this as a scathing indictment of the league’s scheduling decision. Rather, think of it as an endorsement of the following teams’ watchability.
The Case for More: Trae Young’s wizardry
The country deserves to see more of Ice Trae and Co. Not only do they have the gunslinging Rookie of the Year runner-up leading the way, but young prospects like John Collins, Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish will likely showcase a fun brand of hoops.
Lloyd Pierce’s rebuilding bunch ranked 7th in triple-tries per 100 possessions last season (12.4), and they were also top-half in league assist rankings per 100 possessions (24.6). Furthermore, they led the Association in pace, with 103.9 possessions per game (per Basketball-Reference.com).
The Hawks won’t likely improve all that much in the win-loss column this season—and thus miss the playoffs again—because they’re still so young. Nevertheless, Atlanta’s up-tempo style and rotation of young athletes are worth a couple more spots on TNT and ESPN. It would be intriguing to see them sporadically square off against playoff-caliber teams on the national stage.
Despite Young’s deficiencies, his shooting range, passing creativity and ambidexterity are matched by few stars, and this team might be one of the next big things in the East before you know it.
Unfortunately, they’re only playing seven games on NBATV and two on TNT, with zero appearances on ESPN or ABC the entire year. All I’m asking for is a couple of stints on ESPN, so we can hear Mike Breen’s classic “bang!” call when Young sinks a 30-footer.
The Case for More: Jimmy Buckets
The Heat only have two true national TV games after Christmas. That’s right. In a four-month span, we’ll get to see Jimmy Butler and Justise Winslow hooping under the bright lights just twice—hosting the Orlando Magic on March 4 and the Toronto Raptors on April 14.
Erik Spoelstra gets his teams to compete hard and often overachieve. Hyper athletes like Bam Adebayo and Derrick Jones Jr. churn out jaw-dropping highlights on a nightly basis. The Heat are rarely a dull watch.
Although they’re not Eastern Conference title contenders, they should be a playoff-caliber team. With a major star like Butler in Miami, the NBA might want to send a few more cameras that way. He is still arguably one of the top 10 or 15 players in the NBA, and he’s playing in the southeast’s biggest NBA market.
Although Miami didn’t get snubbed to the extent that some other middling teams did, the NBA should still have given it one or two more major-network broadcasts and one or two more NBATV slots. When Butler is willing this squad to a winning streak, or Dion Waiters hits back-to-back conscious-less buzzer-beaters, we’ll be wishing Kevin Harlan was there to lose his mind.
The Case for More: Speed
How did league officials watch De’Aaron Fox last season and only throw Sac-Town one nationally televised event? March 11 is the Kings’ lone cameo under the bright lights as they host the New Orleans Pelicans.
Anyone trying to watch the fastest player in the league on a regular basis will have to get NBA League Pass.
Fox made huge strides from his rookie to sophomore year, improving both as a shooter and facilitator. He went from 30.7 percent on triples to 37.1, and he bumped his assists per 36 minutes from 5.7 to 8.3. Some think he could make another significant leap in year 3. On a recent Locked on NBA podcast, Utah Jazz radio voice David Locke explained that youngsters with star potential often flourish in their third season:
…It’s in year 2 to year 3 that these players all make their biggest jump over the season. So for De’Aaron Fox, and Donovan Mitchell, and Jayson Tatum, and that great draft class…this is the year where those guys all emerge on the scene, and this (playing for Team USA), to me, seems like the perfect precursor to being ready to do that.
I know Sacramento isn’t L.A. or the Bay Area. But Fox is the best 25-and-under prospect in California.
If he continues his rise towards full-fledged stardom, the league and the major networks will wish they featured him a bit more. And even beyond Fox, the Kings have some dynamic young players to watch. It’s a good bet that one or more of Marvin Bagley, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield and Harry Giles will make compelling progress in 2019-20.
The Case for More: A talented front line in a major market
The Bulls are another team that’s not in the top tier, yet are interesting enough to warrant more than one true coast-to-coast broadcast (Friday, January 17 visiting the Philadelphia 76ers).
For starters, they’re the largest market in the Midwest and one of the league’s flagship teams. It would behoove the league to generate interest in the Bulls from not only casual regional fans but those across the country as well.
Chicago has a slew of prospects in the early stages of development. If I had to narrow it down to three players who are most worthy of prime-time eyeballs, it would be Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, Jr. They’re a fascinating triumvirate of explosiveness, perimeter finesse and interior skill.
Markkanen and WCJ, in particular, are quite gifted for their ages. They both missed nearly half of the 2018-19 campaign due to injuries, so 2019-20 will (hopefully) be their first full season together. Carter is on track to become a double-double machine, and Markkanen has a high offensive ceiling as a stretch big.
When you factor in Otto Porter, Thomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls have solid talent in their top six. While their bench is unreliable for now—and head coach Jim Boylen’s offensive creativity was noticeably lacking—it will be fun to watch that talented top unit go up against some of the Eastern Conference’s best clubs.
They deserve more nationally televised games than the New York Knicks, period.
After playing college ball at Franciscan University, Dan covered the NBA and the draft for Bleacher Report for four years and the FRS Network for three years. He now co-hosts the Unlimited Range podcast and continues to campaign for Doris Burke’s promotion to lead analyst at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter: @DanO_Bball