Nobody knows when the NBA will return.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused its fair share of problems for sports leagues and organizations around the globe. This includes the NBA, as multiple players and team staffers have contracted the virus over the past few weeks, while players and coaches have taken to social media to encourage fans and common citizens to remain indoors in an effort to curb the spread.
Of course, we do not have fresh basketball on the radar as of yet. Which is why it is as good a time as any to look back on the course of the 2019-20 season and think about some of the best teams to watch in the NBA. Not just the best teams in terms of record, but in terms of exciting play styles and personalities.
Here are some of the most fun teams to watch in the NBA.
New Orleans Pelicans (Zion version)
Listen, we should address the elephant in the room: it is easy to labor over Zion Williamson.
Ever since he first committed to Duke, Williamson has practically earned his own percentage in sports media screen time. Still, just when it feels like we have heard enough, Zion somehow outperforms expectations.
Remember when there were concerns about his weight and conditioning after the Summer League and subsequent announcement about his knee surgery? Put those to bed.
Zion was averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting nearly 59 percent from the field through his first 19 games. More importantly, he has unlocked something in Lonzo Ball.
Of course, Zion is the perfect complement for Ball. He runs the floor in transition and is always looking for opportunities at the rim, something Ball capitalizes on with pinpoint alley-oop passes–sometimes before even crossing the timeline–and generally fantastic court vision.
Lonzo and J.J. Redick are also bombing from beyond the arc because Zion captures so much attention when he is in the paint.
The Pelicans can afford to play slightly smaller with Zion in the lineup, which makes almost makes them an upgraded version of the Houston Rockets. Brandon Ingram might not be scoring quite as much, but he is still making plays as a distributor while crashing the class, and his adaptability is crucial in terms of his individual development.
It would be a shame if this team did not have one final opportunity to make a run at the eighth seed in the Western Conference, especially because a Pelicans-Lakers matchup in the first round would be utterly electric.
As good as Zion has been in a smaller sample size, the Rookie of the Year Award belongs to Ja Morant.
The former Murray State sensation was averaging 17.6 points, 6.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds through his first 59 games, but it is as much about the high motor he plays with when he’s on the floor. Ja’s speed in the open court and his ferocity in attacking the basket make him one of the most exciting players in the NBA.
But more notably, the Grizzlies are built with personnel similar to Morant.
Fellow rookie Brandon Clarke is an undersized forward who flies all over the floor and makes hyper-athletic plays at the rim. Jaren Jackson Jr. is another athletic big who can run the break in transition and was also shooting close to 40 percent from beyond the arc. Then there is Dillon Brooks, who is consistently developing as a scoring option while also being a ruthless competitor.
But the real reason the Grizzles are fun to watch: they are young and hungry. Head coach Taylor Jenkins has instilled a sense of fearlessness in this team, and they are not scared of anybody. They destroyed the likes of the Clippers and Rockets earlier this year, and also have a win over the Lakers.
Memphis is the definition of a “League Pass” team. Even fans not in their market should tune in.
What is it about the Southwest Division?
The Mavericks are third in scoring and first in offensive rating, per Basketball Reference. Of course, they also boast one of the most exciting and charismatic superstars in the league in Luka Doncic.
Doncic is performing at an elite level in his sophomore season. The 21-year-old was averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists through 54 games. He has one of the best handles in the NBA and is exceptionally crafty both in the midrange and around the rim.
Moreover, the role players are making plays all over the floor. Dwight Powell was a savant in the pick-and-roll before he was injured, but Maxi Kleber has made up for much of that production. Tim Hardaway Jr. is shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc, and Dorian Finney-Smith has been an efficient two-way player.
Seth Curry is a fascinating player to watch. Though Curry has come off the bench for a good portion of the year, he is capable of unleashing his own offensive run with a barrage of threes. Much like his older brother Steph, Curry excels at running around screens and hunting for open space. he is also capable on the ball and flashes excellent court vision every now and then.
The crazy thing about this team is they still have the opportunity to be even more exciting. Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis actually have not had a ton of time to establish chemistry due to staggered injuries, but their skill sets line up perfectly for a dynamic pick-and-roll partnership.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are similar to the Grizzlies in that they have the feel of the “upstarts.” But unlike Memphis, Oklahoma City has a veteran leader guiding their ship in Chris Paul.
Not only has Paul played at an All-Star level this season, but he is also elevating some of his younger teammates. Rather than sulk at being traded to OKC, he fully embraced the leadership role and has been a mentor to the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is excelling in is second season.
The Thunder play freely. Sometimes Paul exhibits his old mastery in isolation, other times they carve out space for SGA to get to the rim and score via an assortment of floaters and tear drops. Plus, OKC have Danilo Gallinari patrolling the perimeter and Dennis Schroeder also gunning from deep.
The bench pieces are equally intriguing. Nerlens Noel gives the Thunder a legitimate rim protector, averaging 1.5 blocks in just over 18 minutes. Hamidou Diallo, Darius Bazley and Luguentz Dort run the floor and make plays at the rim.
Oklahoma City also excels in crunch time. In fact, they are the best team in the clutch, according to NBA.com, with Paul and SGA in particular making tons of plays down the stretch of ball games.
The Thunder might not have tons of star power, but they repeatedly go at you, with Paul setting the tone.
Not only are the Bucks the best team in the league, but they also play a beautiful brand of basketball.
Mike Budenholzer’s team executes at such a high level. Giannis Antetokounmpo and co. will beat you down the floor and win in transition. If they get into the half court, they will post Brook Lopez and swarm the offensive glass.
Whereas a lot of NBA teams are playing smaller, the Bucks play big. They have quality size in terms of guys who can bang but also step out and shoot from beyond the arc.
Khris Middleton was an All-Star, but he still might be one of the most underrated players in the league. He can create for himself off the dribble, shoot from beyond the arc and handle the ball in the half court.
The Bucks move the ball well and get into their sets with ease. Of course, they also know when to clear out and let Giannis exploit a matchup.
Next time you watch the Bucks, look at how they break down the opposing teams’ personnel. Milwaukee can win by filling it up from deep or they can beat you to death on the glass and in the paint. Plus, they swarm the ball defensively and deny everything at the rim.
Los Angeles Lakers
Some might argue the Lakers are boring to watch. They run a lot of isolations and pick-and-rolls, sometimes just letting LeBron James get into the post and do work there.
But it is impossible not to be drawn to a team with both James and Anthony Davis. They are dynamos both in transition and the half court.
LeBron in particular is just unbelievable to watch. The last few weeks prior to the suspension of play gave numerous examples of his dominance. He is a matchup nightmare when he goes into the post, and sometimes he decides to just bully ball his way to the rim.
Davis is as fun to watch on the defensive end as he is running the pick-and-roll with LeBron. He races back for chase down blocks and disrupts entry passes. Los Angeles’ monstrous frontcourt allows him to roam with reckless abandon, making him one hell of a weak side defender.
But the Lakers are also fun because everyone knows their role. LeBron knows how to get Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee involved offensively. Danny Green and Avery Bradley defend and compete at a high level on the perimeter. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope runs the floor and has shown an increasing level of confidence pulling from beyond the arc.
The Lakers play with a certain energy at all times, and it feels like LeBron has been totally revitalized this year. It is hard not to stay glued to one of the best players of all time when he is playing at an elite level.