Inaugural NBA League Pass Rankings


Welcome to Hashtag Basketball’s inaugural League Pass Rankings. Each team has been judged on five different aspects making up the assessment criteria; star value, intriguing young pieces, narrative, league pass alert frequency and play style. Star value, young pieces, play style and narrative are all fairly self-explanatory, while league pass alert frequency refers to how often you have to stop what you’re doing to suddenly flick over and watch either the last five minutes or if someone is on crazy hot streak like Klay Thompson’s 37-point quarter or when Jamal Crawford gets into a rhythm. This isn’t a basis on how good a team is going to be, but more of a ranking of how enjoyable it’s going to be to watch that team’s season. Memphis, Detroit, and Indiana are perhaps hard-done-by considering they should win in the mid 30’s, while teams like Philadelphia and the Lakers are rated higher despite looking like they’ll win fewer games. Without further ado:

The ‘goggles do nothing’ category

30th - Chicago Bulls
Star value 1/10
Young pieces 4/10
Narrative 3/10
League pass alert 2/10
Play style 3/10
Overall 13/50

Yikes. The loss of Dwyane Wade really hurts the star power category, and missing Zach Lavine for most of the season puts the young pieces down to a four. It’s really just going to be a year of hoping Markannen can repeat his hot form from the Eurobasket tournament and praying Kris Dunn isn’t as terrible as he looked last year. The most likely chance of anyone getting hot is Nikola Mirotic, and that’s not getting us too excited.

29th – Atlanta Hawks
Star value 2/10
Young pieces 3/10
Narrative 2/10
League pass alert 2/10
Play style 6/10
Overall 15/50

Dennis Schroder is enjoyable to watch when he’s on a hot streak, but he’s not really a star. The young pieces in Taurean Prince, Deandre’ Bembry and John Collins aren’t overly exciting, but Prince could be solid. The narrative on this team is pretty clear – it’s a rebuilding year, but there are no super-exciting young pieces that make it interesting. Plus with Mike Budenholzer being such a good coach, there’s no real chance he gets fired, so it should be a fairly predictable year.

28th – Orlando Magic
Star value – 1/10
Young pieces 6/10
Narrative 2/10
League pass alert 4/10
Play style 4/10
Overall 17/50

Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton should continue making progress, which is enough to get fans to watch a few games here and there. Jonathon Isaac could be interesting too, but who knows how much burn he will get. There is an outside chance of a diehard NBA fan flicking over to watch Mareese Speights score 15 in a half, or Evan Fournier turning it on. Frank Vogel deserves more points in the play style column, but it’s going to be hard for him to make the Magic interesting for a casual fan unless Biyombo becomes the defensive beast they hoped he would be.

The ‘I’m still in the Reggie Jackson fan club’ category

Equal 26th – Detroit Pistons
Star value 4/10
Young pieces 2/10
Narrative 5/10
League pass alert 3/10
Play style 5/10
Overall 19/50

Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson and Avery Bradley are all good enough to make the Pistons a decent basketball team, but none of them really equate to a strong star value. The only one on that precipice is Drummond, and when you factor in hack-a-Dre, that makes for terrible viewing. Stanley Johnson could boost the young player category if he becomes a genuine role player this year. Stan Van Gundy might be the most interesting part of this team – he’d make a lot of teams better, but he’s struggled to make the Pistons any better than a genuine 6-8 seed in a weak Eastern conference. The narrative could be interesting if things go south in Motor City.

Equal 26th – Brooklyn Nets
Star value – 2/10
Young pieces 5/10
Narrative 2/10
League pass alert 5/10
Play style 5/10
Overall 19/50

This might be a little harsh on the Nets, considering Kenny Atkinson makes bad teams play exciting basketball. The loss of Brook Lopez really hurts the star value, but D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe have the chance to get this team a few hot streaks for the league pass alert column. Caris LeVert and Russell are intriguing as young pieces, but without a pick this year, the narrative is still pretty bland.

25th – Sacramento Kings
Star value 1/10
Young pieces 8/10
Narrative 5/10
League pass alert 3/10
Play style 3/10
Overall 20/50

Is Zach Randolph the biggest star on the team? Vince Carter, George Hill, and Randolph are not going to bring in crowds, but they might stop the team from being a train wreck. Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox are going to be tremendously exciting this year, as should Skal Labissiere. Willy Cauley-Stein, Justin Jackson, and Harry Giles could also add to a fun youth-driven narrative where the Baby Kings surge towards 30 wins in a post-Boogie universe. If Hield gets going, he could get diehard NBA fans flicking over to the last five minutes of a Kings game.

The ‘one savior against a dreadful roster’ category

24th – Indiana Pacers
Star value 4/10
Young pieces 7/10
Narrative 3/10
League pass alert 5/10
Play style 2/10
Overall 21/50

The loss of Paul George hurts just about every column, except for the young pieces, which I may have overrated, to be honest. Myles Turner could genuinely become an All-Star this season and Victor Oladipo might be in his last season as a ‘young piece’ before we really know what he is. If things go south for Nate McMillan, the narrative could be one to watch, but the roster is surely solid enough to carry this team to a respectable 34-36 wins. There’s a chance Oladipo has another crazy duel like he did against Russell Westbrook two years ago, which certainly gives the league pass alert a boost.

Equal 22nd – Memphis Grizzlies
Star value 7/10
Young pieces 1/10
Narrative 4/10
League pass alert 4/10
Play style 6/10
Overall 22/50

One injury to either Marc Gasol or Mike Conley and this team is going to be a disaster. Losing Tony Allen and Zach Randolph makes that Grit and Grind narrative and play style lose a few points. Who is the most interesting young piece on this team? Deyonta Davis? Dillon Brooks? You’ve got to clutch at straws in that category, as their ceilings look like low-end role players at best. The best case scenario is Gasol and Conley both make the all-star team and somehow sneak into that 38-win range in an exceptionally tough east, but that’s easier said than done.

Equal 22nd – New York Knicks
Star value 4/10
Young pieces 7/10
Narrative 3/10
League pass alert 5/10
Play style 3/10
Overall 22/50

The narrative loses a few points as Carmelo Anthony has already been traded, so it should be a clear rebuilding year – and yet, the fact is that they are the Knicks and something is going to make this year bumpy. Kristaps Porzingis leads the way in star value and the young pieces category. Willy Hernangomez and Frank Ntilikina should get plenty of burn, but their ceilings probably aren’t clear enough to push that young pieces section up higher. The league pass alert comes purely from a Tim Hardaway/Porzingis offensive masterclass once every few weeks when things click.

21st – Phoenix Suns
Star value 4/10
Young pieces 7/10
Narrative 2/10
League pass alert 8/10
Play style 3/10
Overall 24/50

Devin Booker’s 70 point game alone gives the Suns a huge boost in the league pass alert category. That’s exactly what this column is all about. Eric Bledsoe is enjoyable to watch in tandem with Booker, while Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson, and Marquese Chriss will form an interesting young frontcourt. It looks like another year of development, but some narrative could come if the Suns are unhappy with Earl Watson’s coaching.

The ‘finally, some enjoyable basketball’ category

Equal 19th – Charlotte Hornets
Star value 6/10
Young pieces 5/10
Narrative 4/10
League pass alert 5/10
Play style 5/10
Overall 25/50

An injury to Malik Monk, combined with Steve Clifford’s dislike of playing rookies lowes the young pieces area, as Monk is the definition of a fun league pass player. The idea of a Kemba Walker/Dwight Howard or Cody Zeller pick and roll with Marvin Williams, Nic Batum and Monk spreading the floor is a delight on paper, and finally, we have progressed to some enjoyable basketball. Walker can light it up, and if Dwight Howard has another low-key strong year, this team could be fun to watch.

Equal 19th – Utah Jazz
Star value 4/10
Young pieces 4/10
Narrative 6/10
League pass alert 4/10
Play style 7/10
Overall 25/50

The Ricky Rubio/Rudy Gobert pick and roll should be fun, and Quin Snyder allows his team to stay with just about any team if the defense is sharp. The narrative in the 2017/18 season is, of course, Salt Lake City without Gordon Hayward. If the Jazz can be a top-five defense, perhaps this team exceeds expectations and becomes a go-to ‘got to watch the last five minutes’ team. Donovan Mitchell and Dante Exum should get some burn this year, but this team is still in win-now mode, so they won’t be let off the hook.

18th – Dallas Mavericks
Star value 5/10
Young pieces 7/10
Narrative 4/10
League pass alert 4/10
Play style 7/10
Overall 27/50

Dennis Smith Jr really invigorates this team in terms of pure enjoyment. He and Nerlens Noel are going to make for a really fun, young pick and roll threat. The shooting to surround that duo is going to be excellent too – Dirk Nowitzki, Wes Matthews, Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry. Any team with Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki is going to play some beautiful basketball. The dream here is that this year becomes like Tim Duncan’s last year, as he passes the torch over to the talented two-way small forward.

The ‘here’s where you really start tuning in’ category

17th – Toronto Raptors
Star value 8/10
Young pieces 3/10
Narrative 5/10
League pass alert 6/10
Play style 6/10
Overall 28/50

The backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan provide the star power, with Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas as capable supporters. With that, it should be another 50+ win season in the north, but the narrative surrounds whether this team will struggle in the playoffs again. Normal Powell by himself basically heads the young pieces category, but Jakob Poetl has shown some solid signs.

Equal 15th – Los Angeles Clippers
Star value 8/10
Young pieces 2/10
Narrative 6/10
League pass alert 6/10
Play style 7/10
Overall 29/50

The Lob City era is officially over, but any team with Blake Griffin and Milos Teodosic is going to be a joy to watch. The loss of Crawford hurts the league pass alert – those 30-point outings as a 37-year old were brilliant to watch. Jawun Evans, Montrezl Harrell, Sindaruis Thornwell and Sam Dekker all have a chance to break through as rotation guys. Lastly, the DeAndre Jordan, Griffin and Danilo Gallinari frontcourt has shades of the 2013 Knicks, true league pass darlings.

Equal 15th – Portland Trailblazers
Star value 7/10
Young pieces 3/10
Narrative 6/10
League pass alert 8/10
Play style 5/10
Overall 29/50

Like the last two seasons, the real time to watch the Blazers is when Damian Lillard gets snubbed from the All-Star team yet again and then goes on another streak where he averages 45 points for two weeks straight. On the nights when he’s not hot, CJ McCollum is a genuine league pass alert threat too. Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan probably won’t be good next year, but their cult followings will have fans intrigued. Also, the Bosnian Beast narrative is going to be really enjoyable again.

14th – Washington Wizards
Star value 7/10
Young pieces 5/10
Narrative 4/10
League pass alert 7/10
Play style 7/10
Overall 30/50

John Wall and Bradley Beal are must-watch when they’re on fire and healthy (on a side-note, how did the Wizards stay so healthy last season?) Otto Porter is in the least year of his young piece status, and Kelly Oubre moves the needle as well as two important role players. There’s no clear narrative for this year following the death of the Wizards-Celtics rivalry.

The ‘how did they get here’ category

Equal 12th – New Orleans Pelicans
Star value 9/10
Young pieces 2/10
Narrative 10/10
League pass alert 8/10
Play style 2/10
Overall 31/50

The narratives are so interesting for the Pelicans. Will DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis work? Will Cousins leave after this year? How will Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday work as a tandem (the answer is likely not going to be aesthetically pleasing)? This team just has so much talent and yet, it fits so poorly on paper. Ian Clark might be the most important role player on this team due to his shooting. This season is going to either be a roaring success or a horrible train wreck.

Equal 12th – San Antonio Spurs
Star value 9/10
Young pieces 1/10
Narrative 5/10
League pass alert 6/10
Play style 10/10
Overall 31/50

There’s going to be so much exciting basketball in the west this season, and the continuity of the Spurs doesn’t make for an interesting narrative. Kawhi Leonard by himself is so good to watch, and the former stars in Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (if he returns) should make this team very pleasing to watch under Gregg Popovich. This team is probably going to win 50+ games for the millionth year in a row, but their real league pass value will come in the playoffs.

The ‘these ones may look stupid 30 games in’ category

11th – Miami Heat
Star value 6/10
Young pieces 5/10
Narrative 5/10
League pass alert 9/10
Play style 7/10
Overall 32/50

Okay, so the Heat have locked into this fairly solid roster for the next four or so years. The Heat should be really strong in a weak Eastern conference for the next two years, but their narrative column is going to go right up after that when James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, and Dion Waiters sit on sizable contracts. Having said that, Dion Waiters by himself earns the 9/10 for the league pass alert, while Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside surrounded by shooters earn respectable scores in the star value and play style categories. Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Bam Adebayo have the chance to be real contributors on a good team and look to be the only chances of improving this roster, as all other resources are tapped out.

10th – Los Angeles Lakers
Star value 4/10
Young pieces 9/10
Narrative 8/10
League pass alert 5/10
Play style 7/10
Overall 33/50

Lonzo season baby! It’s going to be a hell of a season narrative-wise for the Lakers with the Ball family. The internal growth of Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball will be really enjoyable, particularly as they play under the tutelage of Luke Walton. The off-season is going to be interesting too – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brook Lopez will come off the books, while the likes of Paul George and LeBron James have been heavily linked to the Lakers. 

The 'clear your schedule if these teams are playing' category

Equal 8th - Denver Nuggets
Star value 7/10
Young pieces 9/10
Narrative 4/10
League pass alert 5/10
Play style 9/10
Overall 34/50

The Nuggets play a very exciting brand of basketball, with Nikola Jokic at the helm as a young star. The addition of Paul Millsap, while not necessarily a 'sexy' star, makes this team even more intriguing in terms of two-way development. Jamal Murray has the chance to become one of the exciting league pass alert guys, but he's not there just yet. The narrative isn't overly clear - it's basically whether they can take the next step and make the playoffs. 

Equal 8th - Milwaukee Bucks
Star value 8/10
Young pieces 9/10
Narrative 6/10
League pass alert 6/10
Play style 5/10
Overall 34/50

Any team with Giannis Antetokounmpo is always going to rate well in terms of young, star talent. Like a number of teams in this bracket, the narrative for the Bucks is essentially what step are they going to take this year. However, interest regarding Jabari Parker's contract, Antetokounmpo's rise towards an MVP-candidate and Thon Maker's progress make this team a really fun team to watch on a night-to-night basis. The spacing isn't great on this team, but fans of suffocating defense and transition buckets will enjoy the play style. 

7th - Philadelphia 76ers
Star value 6/10
Young pieces 10/10
Narrative 9/10
League pass alert 7/10
Play style 4/10
Overall 36/50

Trust the process! There aren't many storylines as good as those that will exist within Philadelphia this season. Following Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz co-exist as Rookie of the Year candidates will be thrilling, while the constant Joel Embiid watch will, of course, be in full swing. The spacing will probably be non-existent outside of JJ Redick, but the young pieces are going to be so thrilling. A line up of Fultz, Redick, Robert Covington, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid is going to be something special. 

Equal 5th - Minnesota Timberwolves
Star value 9/10
Young pieces 10/10
Narrative 7/10
League pass alert 8/10
Play style 5/10
Overall 39/50

Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler. The star value is there in spades, and the first two names would both be picked in the first 10 in an under-22 mock draft. The narrative is going to be really interesting, but we're looking forward to seeing Jamal Crawford turn it on once a week, while Towns, Butler and Wiggins trade 30-point games night in, night out. Tom Thibodeau will likely play a half-court oriented offense with plenty of cuts and isolations, but this team could pivot to a more run and gun style if need be. 

Equal 5th - Cleveland Cavaliers
Star value 10/10
Young pieces 1/10
Narrative 10/10
League pass alert 10/10
Play style 8/10
Overall 39/50

The Cavs have serious depth this year, and despite all the jokes, any team with LeBron James backed up by Kevin Love, Isiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Tristan Thompson should be playing consistently high-level basketball ever night. The narratives surrounding the Cavaliers are super-interesting - will James leave? Will Rose and Wade continue to regress? Will Thomas play again this year, and if he does, will it be at a high level? Ante Zizic is the only young piece on this team, and while he'll have the chance to carve out a role on this team, it'll really only be as a minimal reserve, 

Equal 3rd - Houston Rockets
Star value 10/10
Young pieces 1/10
Narrative 9/10
League pass alert 10/10
Play style 10/10
Overall 40/50

Will James Harden and Chris Paul be able to figure it out? The storyline in itself isn't complex, but the team will be under the magnifying glass for the whole season. The Rockets undoubtedly will play some of the most enjoyable basketball from a viewers perspective and will be a staple on national tv. Losing Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell in the Paul trade ultimately cost the Rockets the top spot on the league pass rankings. 

Equal 3rd - Boston Celtics
Star value 9/10
Young pieces 7/10
Narrative 8/10
League pass alert 9/10
Play style 7/10
Overall 40/50

Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are going to put on some electric shows in Boston this season. Undoubtedly, Irving is one of the top three league pass players, but aside from him, no one else is likely to have a random Kelly Olynyk game. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are two of the more exciting young pieces, while Semi Ojeleye, Terry Rozier, and Gerschon Yabusele also have a chance to make their mark. Any team with Al Horford as the third creator is going to be enjoyable to watch, and they can perhaps feel a little hard done by with this rating.

Equal 1st - Golden State Warriors
Star value 10/10
Young pieces 3/10
Narrative 8/10
League pass alert 10/10
Play style 10/10
Overall 41/50

It's a shame that play style can be limited to only 10 points. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson are all capable of 60-point nights and are arguably three of the top five league pass must-watch players. The Warriors have a really stable team - only Durant has an early exit option with a player option. After seeing how he helped the team by taking a huge discount last season, it almost seems like a non-story discussing his upcoming free agency. Jordan Bell could be the best second-round pick this season, and under the tutelage of Draymond Green, he could bolster that young pieces category next season. 

Equal 1st - Oklahoma City Thunder 
Star value 10/10
Young pieces 2/10
Narrative 10/10
League pass alert 10/10
Play style 9/10
Overall 41/50

Can Carmelo Anthony and Paul George thrive alongside Russell Westbrook? That's the narrative, and it's going to be an absolute joy to watch. Whether it feels like Team USA type basketball or whether it breaks down to each player wanting to iso will be another thing all together. The idea of Westbrook and Anthony demanding the ball in certain spots allows the play style to drop just a little. Watching the Thunder could be a little laborious last year, especially when Westbrook would chuck up ugly contested pull-ups, but it should hopefully be much more pleasant in 2017-18. 

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