We’re trudging through the dog days of the NBA offseason, and the final weeks before the 2019-20 tipoff won’t fly by fast enough. Other than watching USA’s C-team play in the World Cup, there’s not much to do other than wait patiently for the upcoming season if men’s basketball is your thing.
Fortunately, it’s never too early to do our homework on some of the most fascinating teams to watch on NBA League Pass.
There’s no shortage of interesting storylines, new lineups and exciting matchups to choose from. But who exactly will be the go-to teams on the platform this season?
Our choices are based on playing style, key players to watch and playoff relevance. We excluded major-market franchises and those with 20 or more nationally televised games—it’s implied that those squads are among the league’s most interesting (or at least, TV-blessed) teams.
*Over/Under projections from Caesar’s via NBA.com.
San Antonio Spurs
2019-20 Wins Over/Under: 43.5
Gregg Popovich’s crew hasn’t legitimately competed for an NBA title in the last several years, and they aren’t a Western Conference frontrunner this season either. However, there are plenty of good reasons to keep tabs on them. The Spurs have several intriguing young additions and returnees: If their health and chemistry are strong, they could potentially earn a top-four playoff seed.
DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge will likely be San Antonio’s leading scorers again, but they’ll have a bunch of support from rising young talents. Dejounte Murray is perhaps the most enigmatic roster piece thanks to his absence in 2019-20. Will he return from ACL rehab smoothly, and will he continue the promising progress he showed as a sophomore in 2017-18?
For those who have forgotten, Murray showed tremendous versatility for his age in a modest role during his first two years in San Antonio. His instincts, length and shiftiness are ideal for a do-it-all guard. He frequently demonstrated his off-the-bounce potential pre-injury:
Murray’s defensive upside is equally lofty, as are his physical tools and feel for the game. Plus, he’ll be flanked by Derrick White, whose defensive footwork, alertness and intensity turned heads last season.
San Antonio has all the ingredients of a quality League-Pass option: Inside and outside scoring, pesky defense, familiar veterans and fresh faces (like Lonnie Walker and Keldon Johnson). Don’t take this group for granted just because its not a glitzy championship contender.
2019-20 Wins Over/Under: 48.5
Indy will reach its full “watchability” once Victor Oladipo returns mid-winter. But the Pacers are made of much more than their high-flying leader.
They inked Malcolm Brogdon to an $80-plus million deal, so the former Bucks guard figures to hold a prominent role. His combo-guard skill set and defensive talent will help hold down the fort until Oladipo returns. Indiana also acquired a couple of new wings in T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb, both of whom have a chance to thrive in a new environment. With Bojan Bogdanovic gone, both should get ample touches in the flow of the offense.
The most interesting schematic situation and lineup question is in the frontcourt.
There is a good chance Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis will spend more time together after they only shared the hardwood for 6.7 minutes per game last season, (usually just to give Thaddeus Young a breather). Considering their individual development, contracts and franchise status, as well as their success in that small sample (plus-2.8 net rating, per NBA.com), it’s worth a shot to pair them up more.
Turner’s jumper is sweet enough to make the spacing work on offense. And although they’re not the most fleet-footed duo, their effort and length could help mitigate some of the agility deficiencies on defense. Check out FreeDawkins’ video evidence of how they can jive more often:
2019-20 Wins Over/Under: 37
De’Aaron Fox gets the majority of the shine in Sac-town these days, and he deserves that love. However, the Kings’ intrigue goes beyond the speedy point guard and way down the depth chart.
Sacramento has several other promising young prospects, as well as some talented newcomers. Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield will all have ample opportunities to develop and leap closer to their ceilings. Meanwhile, offseason acquisitions Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza and Richaun Holmes will all fill their respective roles as shooter, swingman defender and rim-runner.
Bagley’s climb toward stardom could be just as electrifying as Fox’s. His explosiveness generates exciting, efficient forays around the rim, but his ceiling may hinge on his defensive development and viability as a shooter. If he can sprinkle in some jumpers to keep defenses honest, it will open up new avenues for the whole team. He hit 31 percent from three-point range last year, including 33 percent on catch-and-shoot triples (per NBA.com).
That’s not amazing, but it’s a solid start for a big man who’s still just 20 years old.
If he or fellow forward Giles make progress from the perimeter, the Kings could have a truly dynamic attack. As TBW’s Adam Spinella noted in his frontcourt breakdown series, Giles’ passing finesse complements Bagley’s score-first athleticism.
This group’s youthful hunger, athleticism, shooting and depth could make for an entertaining season. Don’t be stunned if they eclipse their projected 37-win mark.
2019-20 Wins Over/Under: 25.5
Memphis has a new coach, new point guards, and a new forward depth chart in the post-Grit and Grind era. Yet, the reasons the Grizzlies will struggle near the bottom of the West are the same as why they’ll be a League Pass dark horse.
Taylor Jenkins’ squad is inexperienced and lacks depth. Fortunately, the future is encouraging thanks to a dynamic core of prospects. Jaren Jackson Jr. delivered flashes of his inside-outside potential last season, and he’s now joined by 2019 first-round point guard Ja Morant and forward Brandon Clarke.
Morant’s offensive creativity will be offset by his defensive learning curve, but collectively, the Griz have a lot of upside there for such a young group. It probably won’t translate into a top-half finish in defensive rating, but you’ll see plenty of glimpses from JJJ and Clarke.
They could be especially potent when they’re on the floor together, closing down shooting angles and blanketing the paint in tandem. They both have interior rim-protecting prowess, yet are quick enough laterally to hound perimeter players and switch pick-and-rolls. They’re also surrounded by Kyle Anderson and a bunch of newcomers who are committed to defense: Tyus Jones, Jae Crowder and De’Anthony Melton.
Although Memphis doesn’t have the talent or experience to rack up wins this year, their rebuilding process will be worth the watch.
2019-20 Wins Over/Under: 40.5
The Magic didn’t make a huge splash this offseason, but they could be as good or better than they were in 2018-19. Orlando is building off a year where it finished 8th in defensive rating and gave the eventual champions a scare in the first round of the playoffs.
Steve Clifford is bringing back most of the same rotation. However, some of the roster’s prospects will (hopefully) be healthier and more equipped to contribute. Mohamed Bamba is fascinating, thanks to his other-worldly dimensions and surprisingly fluid shooting skills. Former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz could have a redeeming run if his shoulder holds up at all; He still has terrific shot-creating talent and defensive instincts.
And Jonathan Isaac is poised for a versatile breakout, as Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman explained:
Injuries and a general lack of polish kept Jonathan Isaac quiet through his first two seasons…(his) perceived value has been tied to his defensive versatility. But…Isaac has sporadically delivered flash plays that highlight ball-handling and perimeter shot-making skills. We’ve seen glimpses of slashes, midrange shot-creation and fluid jump-shooting out to the three-point arc (86 made threes last year). Isaac’s offensive execution figures to be sharper in 2019-20.
If two or more of Bamba, Fultz and Isaac make substantial progress, the Magic will be notably stronger. Mainstays Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier would love more support from the youngsters.
This squad lacks megastars, so the national media doesn’t pay them much attention. Smart League Pass surfers, however, will wisely tune in to this group’s length, athleticism and defensive chops.
Dan is a TBW staff writer. After playing college ball at Franciscan University, he covered the NBA and NBA 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