Publish date:

2016-17 Viewers' Guide

Author:

ENTERTAINMENT RANKINGS

Who will be the most fun to watch this season?

LeBron James and the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in a small-ball-heavy Finals that saw the teams taking turns running each other off the court. Even in defeat, the Dubs' major philosophical contributions to the sport were reinforced. Basketball is simply prettier and more enjoyable when the pace is up, the ball is moving, playmakers have room to operate, positions are fluid and points pour in from beyond the arc. Golden State's 2015 title produced a wave of copycats, and that trend will continue.

Here's how the NBA shapes up in terms of entertainment value, from "top trending topic" to "cut the cord." Criteria include projected success, style of play, firepower, age, health, coaching and personality.

1 WARRIORS

The most awe-inspiring and diabolical lineup in memory replaced its weakest link with an ultraefficient four-time scoring champion who is desperate to win his first title. Kevin Durant will help the Dubs rewrite the record books ... again.

2 CAVALIERS

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are scintillating in their own right. But the must-see factor is magnified by a made-for-Hollywood reality: Cleveland is the only thing standing between Golden State and the championship.

3 CLIPPERS

Don't get too hung up on feelings of déjà vu. The "same old Clippers" still have superstar talent, superb inside-outside balance and high-level chemistry honed over hundreds of games together.

4 TRAIL BLAZERS

A surprise season ended with an electrifying second-round series against the Warriors that had the feel of a sibling rivalry. The best part: Damian Lillard and his chippy cast want no part of the "little brother" label.

5 THUNDER

Russell Westbrook will be asked to do more for his team than any other NBA player this season, and he couldn't be happier about it. Buckle up and brace for delightful turbulence.

6 CELTICS

The East's top competition for the Cavaliers has every base covered: Isaiah Thomas sparks a solid attack, Al Horford plugs in perfectly to an elite defense and Brad Stevens rounds it out with superior game management.

7 ROCKETS

Last season's biggest disappointment could be in for a swift turnaround. New coach Mike D'Antoni has pledged to further empower a refocused James Harden. Defense remains optional.

8 TIMBERWOLVES

Karl-Anthony Towns is a unanimous pick as the NBA's Next Big Thing, while Andrew Wiggins and rookie Kris Dunn serve as stellar running mates.

9 SPURS

There's no replacing Tim Duncan, but Gregg Popovich has had years to prep for a transition. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge are strong pillars, and Pau Gasol's passing makes him a natural fit.

10 RAPTORS

Kyle Lowry & Co. compensate for a lack of polish with charming perseverance.

11 JAZZ

Their stylistic nonconformity—big, imposing and unapologetically slow—is welcome in a league filled with wannabe Warriors.

12 BULLS

There's a Jenga-like vibe to a foundation built on Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. Cramped spacing, bouts of lackadaisical D and a surplus of healthy egos should send this crashing down eventually.

13 PELICANS

After another season-ending injury and a number of notable free-agency defections around him, Anthony Davis has become the NBA's most underdiscussed superstar. Don't forget about the Brow!

14 KNICKS

While there's no logic to the shaky roster Phil Jackson has assembled, Kristaps Porzingis is so fascinating and novel that he single-handedly makes up for most of the faults.

15 KINGS

Drama-loving rubberneckers rejoiced when owner Vivek Ranadive admitted that ex-coach George Karl tried to trade DeMarcus Cousins for months. Without a quality floor general, there's no telling when the chaos will end.

16 PACERS

In search of more offense around Paul George, Larry Bird has changed his coach, point guard and much of his frontline. Remember the words of another famous Hoosier, John Wooden: Never mistake activity for achievement.

17 WIZARDS

With fired coach Randy Wittman no longer around to blame, the pressure falls on star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal to pull the Wiz out of their frustrating inconsistency.

18 HAWKS

Dwight Howard brings name recognition, but his explosiveness and likability have both declined badly since his Orlando peak.

19 LAKERS

Kobe Bryant dubbed himself Vino because he aged like fine wine. His successors, D'Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, are both under 21. Call them Sprite and Schweppes?

20 GRIZZLIES

Memphis lacks the personnel or depth to pull off a long-delayed transition to small ball in one season.

21 MAVERICKS

Like an aging rock star, Mark Cuban can't escape the shadow of his 2011 title-winning smash hit. His latest album is blah, just like the last three or four, and not even Dirk Nowitzki can save it.

22 HORNETS

Kemba Walker's career year, fueled by better spacing around him, keyed a much-improved offense. Will that progress continue after Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams cashed in this summer?

23 BUCKS

Look for the oft-hyped Giannis Antetokounmpo to make his first All-Star team. Unfortunately, his supporting cast doesn't really accentuate his strengths.

24 PISTONS

Stan Van Gundy's reshaped roster plays smart, effective ball. It just lacks the thrill factor.

25 SUNS

At least the franchise's focus has shifted back to developing its cache of high-upside youngsters, headlined by Devin Booker.

26 76ERS

Ben Simmons's preseason foot injury sent Philly's watchability plummeting.

27 HEAT

A major off-season talent exodus is great only for Hassan Whiteside fantasy owners. Time to tank?

28 NUGGETS

While overloaded with intriguing international prospects, the key veteran pieces don't fit together.

29 MAGIC

New coach Frank Vogel summed it up bluntly to ESPN.com: "We might have to win games 68--65." Skip their mucky slugfests unless you love interior defense.

30 NETS

Dead last by a mile for the second straight year. Would anyone notice if this cast moved back to New Jersey? Would New Jersey even take them?

GAMES TO WATCH

Mark these dates in your calendar now

Spurs @ Warriors, Oct. 25, 10:30 p.m.*

The opening-night matchup is both Kevin Durant's Golden State debut and the first game of the post--Tim Duncan era for San Antonio.

Celtics @ Cavaliers, Nov. 3, 8 p.m.

The team with the best shot at dethroning Cleveland in the East gets its initial crack at LeBron & Co.

Bulls @ Heat, Nov. 10, 8 p.m.

Dwyane Wade and Miami didn't split on great terms, but his return should still be an emotional one at American Airlines Arena.

Warriors @ Cavaliers, Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m.

Merry Christmas, Dubs! Your gift is a trip to Cleveland to face the Cavs for the first time since blowing a 3--1 lead in the Finals.

Warriors @ Thunder, Feb. 11, 8:30 p.m.

The highlight of the schedule. Kevin Durant makes his first trip back to Oklahoma City. Wonder if the Durant--Russell Westbrook angle will get played up....

76ers @ Lakers, March 12, 9:30 p.m.

If Ben Simmons is back from his foot injury, this would mark the first time that the No. 1 pick in 2016 and the No. 2 choice, Brandon Ingram, face off.

*All times EST