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Here’s a look at my five teams with fewer than 10 nationally-televised games this season that are definitely worth watching on NBA League Pass, along with my “Sixth Team of the Year.”
On the low, Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk is already being mentioned as an Executive of the Year candidate, and for good reason given the offseason he just orchestrated in Atlanta. Trae Young alone is already must-watch TV, but the Hawks pulled in plenty of help for the young star by adding Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kris Dunn, Danilo Gallinari, Solomon Hill, Rajon Rando and Tony Snell, in addition to drafting Onyeka Okongwu and Skylar Mays. Let’s not forget about this team’s promising nucleus that includes the rim-running Clint Capela (expect lots of lobs), John Collins, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter. You’ll probably see plenty of highlight-filled high-scoring nights for this young talented team looking to return to the postseason for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
Reality television fans should appreciate what could be in the works with this squad regardless of whether James Harden remains with the team. Houston switched coaches and general managers, in addition to trading Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington. Through the Westbrook trade, the club brought in John Wall, who could prove to be a lethal pairing with Harden, in addition to DeMarcus Cousins and Christian Wood. Wood is already showing some early chemistry with Harden, but you wonder how long it will last with the perennial Kia MVP candidate reportedly wanting out of Houston. New coach Stephen Silas wants to tweak what the high-powered Rockets have done in the past, and make them a more diverse team, capable of playing at a high level conventionally or small.
Nobody expected much from Oklahoma City last season, but Chris Paul’s presence and veteran leadership quickly changed that, as the point guard led the Thunder to the postseason just one season removed from finishing with career lows in field goal percentage (41.9%) and scoring average (15.6 ppg) in Houston. So, think about what Paul might do with this Phoenix team, and also consider the star power that was already on the Suns roster in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton before that trade. Phoenix worked to build on its 8-0 NBA bubble finish in the offseason by reuniting Paul with coach Monty Williams, while also adding shooting depth. You can expect Ayton’s pick-and-roll game to take a leap working with a future Hall of Fame point guard, and young superstar Booker finally starts a season with a legit shot at making the playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers
With the second-longest active postseason streak (seven consecutive years), you’d expect the Trail Blazers to be featured in more nationally-televised games; especially with a highlight machine in Damian Lillard leading the squad. Portland increased its athleticism in the offseason by adding Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., and bolstered depth with Enes Kanter and the re-signings of Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood. Gary Trent Jr. is poised for a breakout campaign. It’s important to note the Trail Blazers made the Western Conference finals just two seasons ago. They’re healthy now, and they’ve got one of the league’s most dynamic backcourts in Lillard and CJ McCollum, and a reliable big in Jusuf Nurkic, who averaged 17.6 ppg in the NBA bubble.Championship or bust for Damian Lillard and the Blazers?
As tough as it was to watch Washington move Wall for Westbrook the day before the start of training camp, you can’t help but ponder the possibilities for the Wizards’ backcourt this season. How Westbrook adapts his game to fit alongside Beal will be critical to Washington’s success. Given Westbrook’s past in Oklahoma City with coach Scott Brooks and his commitment to winning, you’d expect the former MVP to defer to Beal when needed. The guards should have plenty of options when teams load up on them too. Rui Hachimura, the No. 9 overall pick in 2019, averaged 13.5 ppg and 6.1 rpg as a rookie, and sharpshooter Davis Bertans averaged 42.4% last season from deep.
Sixth Team of the Year
We’ve already seen enough evidence in the preseason to know the Hornets will be a fun team to watch with No. 3 pick LaMelo Ball on the roster. It’s expected he’ll start the season coming off the bench, but don’t expect that to last long. He’s too good. New addition Gordon Hayward needs to fit in quickly here for Charlotte to make some noise. Hayward played well for a spell in Boston last season, but an ankle injury ultimately knocked him off rhythm. In Charlotte, Hayward, 30, might turn out to be the galvanizing force needed to bring together the youth on the roster in Ball, Devonte’ Graham, P.J. Washington, Miles Bridges and Malik Monk. Hayward fractured a finger on his right hand in the preseason but is expected to play in Charlotte’s opener at Cleveland.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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