The NBA season is a long, arduous trek that lasts for around two thirds of the year. With games on just about every day throughout the course of the regular season, it's hard to know which contests to watch when you're being flooded with choices on League Pass.
Just how you can choose your games to watch is up to you. But I've figured out that every NBA fan on the face of the planet is in one of four categories during this process. Category one belongs to people that know practically nothing about basketball and only witness teams and players they've heard of. In other words, these are the people that would willingly sit through a Knicks game.
Group two is the homer category. If the Cavs are playing the Warriors, but instead you choose to watch your favorite squad take on the Nets, this is the category where you belong. Category three is home to every fan who thinks they are an NBA expert, but really knows absolutely nothing. These are the fans that claim they know everything about the NBA but only ever observe Cavs fixtures. Basically, if you've ever Tweeted anything like this, you're a category three person:
That leaves the rest of us as category four members. Category four NBA fans all pick either the most exciting/tight/interesting game to watch while they're flipping through League Pass, or they pick the most enjoyable matchup in terms of the type of basketball on display. That level of enjoyment can be determined in a number of ways. Every year the great Zach Lowe (and formerly Bill Simmons) creates his 'League Pass rankings', in which he ranks every team in the NBA from 30-1 in terms of watchability, as his way of determining which contests to check out on League Pass.
My way -- which you're about to read -- is by figuring out which players in the league provide the most excitement during my viewing experience. This article is an All-Star team I have created of the players around the league that I find the most fun to watch. This is my little guide to all of you, which will hopefully help you to determine which players you want to check out during your late night League Pass sessions.
The players on this fictional team I have created are all players that I just love watching. Some are dazzling dunkers, some are smooth Europeans, others might be three-point bombers. A couple I have selected based on pure entertainment alone, with their basketball performance not really influencing my decision.
I've tried to make this team as diverse and as unique as possible, which is why you won't see any actual All-Stars on the team. Flooding the team with the Currys, Westbrooks and LeBrons of the world doesn't help anyone figure out which games they want to watch every night. We already know they are exciting.
So without further ado, here are my 12 League Pass All-Stars, players you should all be keeping an eye on this season to enhance your League Pass experience.
G - Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
If the NBA had an award for the player that spends the most amount of time on the floor of the court, Marcus Smart would win it in a landslide every single year. Whether he's diving on a loose ball, throwing himself out of bounds to save the rock, or even putting his body on the line to pull off the most masterful flop you've ever seen, Marcus Smart is never not hustling his ass off.
He is the perfect example of why you don't have to be a big scorer or a high flyer to be entertaining in basketball. Sheer guts and determination are more than enough to make a basketball game enjoyable. No matter what type of NBA fan you are, you have to appreciate a guy that gives 100% for 48 minutes every single night. You have to enjoy watching a guy that would quite literally do anything to win a basketball game.
Smart isn't only watchable because of his hustle. His defense is also incredibly satisfying to check out. Despite being 6'4'', Marcus Smart has been assigned to Kristaps Porzingis and Paul Millsap by Brad Stevens in the past. Surprisingly, he has done a brilliant job on both of them, even though he is at a clear size disadvantage. Smart uses his guts and determination to summon every ounce of himself defensively. He never takes his eyes off the ball, is always locked in and hustles to make any play he can. He is a truly terrifying defender for any player in the league to match up against.
I don't care if he can't shoot. I don't care if watching him run a pick and roll gives me and every other Celtics fan on the planet a heart attack. If he continues to give his all night in and night out, he'll stay on this team.
G - Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Will Barton is pretty close to the opposite of what makes Smart such a great player to watch. While Smart's defense and tenacity makes him watchable, Barton's a more conventional entertaining player. Barton isn't a pretty poor defensive player and isn't always focused during a ball game like Smart, but he more than makes up for it with microwave scoring and high-flying slams.
Barton is right there with Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon in the 'holy crap, can this guy actually fly?!?' club. His athleticism is something to be truly admired. If he gets an inch of open court, he's going to try and jump over anyone or anything to slam one down. The best part of his athleticism though is that unlike a guy like LaVine, Barton has the Russell Westbrook gene of having a explosive side to his athleticism. Instead of gliding up seemingly effortlessly and throwing a dunk down with finesse, Barton will take a couple of assertive power dribbles, take off with two thunderous steps and try to snap the rim in half when he dunks it.
Outside of his dunking ability, Barton has got an inconsistent jump shot that he has improved throughout the years, but it only adds to his entertainment value. There are nights where he can't make anything, but then Barton gets one tightly contested triple to go down and suddenly, he's in heat check mode. He's also got an excellent handle for a wing, something that he uses to try and break a few ankles on every single possession.
F - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
This one's obvious. Anyone that is 6'11'' with a 7'3'' wingspan and spends a good chunk of his time at point guard is going to be as watchable as just about any other player in the league. I mean how can you not love a guy that can pass like Rajon Rondo:
Send back any shot with his go-go-gadget arms:
And do this on a regular basis:
F - Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles Lakers
Larry Nance Jr. played a heck of a lot for a guy that was picked 27th overall in the 2015 NBA draft. The reason why he played so much is not only because he was incredibly exciting to watch, but also because he was absolutely superb for a struggling Lakers team. Playing at the small ball four, he was brilliant. He used his athleticism to scoot past slower power forwards and throw down some viscous slams on offense, all while being effective defensively. He was solid when he was needed to switch on to guards, poked the ball loose from larger bigs and was able to come up with some impressive rejections.
His outstanding athleticism for a big man and impressive dunking ability probably would've been enough to land him a spot on this team, but during Summer League a couple of months ago, he showed off some Draymond Green-type potential. Back in July he looked a much more complete basketball player. His defensive positioning and instincts had clearly improved, his jumpshot looked a dozen times better than it was and showed the ability to be a playmaking four, with his ball skills getting to a new level. During Summer League, he was given the green light to be one of the chief offensive playmakers on the Lakers. Here's a great clip of him showing all of us why I just compared him to Draymond:
With an expanded repertoire that is eerily reminiscent of Green, Nance makes it on this team without a doubt. With an improved jumper and playmaking ability added on to an already dazzling game, Larry Nance Jr. is going to provide some unmissable basketball this season.
C - Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Captain)
Nikola Jokic is no longer a hidden gem. He is no longer a player to keep an eye on. He is a full fledged NBA star. Sure, he only averaged 10 points last season, but some of the stuff this guy can do on the basketball court quite literally makes my jaw drop. If you are somehow still unfamiliar with Jokic after his impeccable rookie season (he plays in Denver, I don't blame you), let me introduce you to him.
Simply put it, Nikola Jokic is a joy to watch. There's not a thing this guy can't do offensively. If you want him to bang down in the low post, he'll body up anybody down low, hit them with a silky post move that will remind you of Pau Gasol and end it with a smooth finish. If you need him to stretch the floor, he can pop out to any part of the court, including three-point range, where he is more than capable of hitting from. If you want him to be a pick and roll man, he'll give his point guard a solid screen and roll to the basket hard. If you need a big to be an extra playmaker, Jokic is more than capable of that role too. Just stick him at the elbow, give him the ball and watch the big man throw perfect no-look pass after perfect no-look pass, every single time.
Nobody can say that isn't fun to watch.
Jokic isn't a very good defensive player, but he's smart and tough enough to still make a difference on that end. But his defensive play doesn't really matter when you just let him go to work on offense.
Sub - Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic (6th Man)
If Scott Skiles actually trusted Hezonja last season, he's be a starter on the League Pass All-Stars, but alas, he sits here.
He wasn't able to show it in his debut NBA season, but Hezonja is one helluva basketball player. Like many of the players on this team, he doesn't play much defense, but his offensive game speaks for itself. Hezonja is a great athlete, with a killer stroke from downtown. He only made 34.9% of his attempts from downtown last season, but his work in Europe prior to the draft tells me that he'll raise his efficiency eventually.
To be honest, his talent isn't what gets him on this team. If he were just a great athlete with a good three-point shot, that wouldn't be enough to crack the prestigious League Pass All-Stars at all. He'd be about as watchable as Ben McLemore if that was the case. What gets him here is his personality and confidence on the court. Back in his Euro League days, just by watching the tape, you could tell that Hezonja thought he was the love child of Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili. He dribbled up the court with the swagger of a man who thinks he belongs in the hall of fame and his shot selection was on par with a 40 PPG scorer.
I mean the guy thinks he's as good as Jordan. He even wears the number 23 to prove it.
With that confidence he'll take any shot that he thinks is within his range, try the most audacious dunk possible and throw a no-look pass, not because it will fool the opposition, but because he feels like it. It gets to a point where Hezonja's confidence not only borders on cockiness, but is cockiness. There is no better way to describe his personality than with this GIF:
Yup, that's Hezonja shooting a contested three with 5 seconds left when his team was up 12, for no other reason than because he's Mario Hezonja. Not only does he drain the three, but he then dapped up the opposing coach because he's the freaking man.
The NBA world needs to see Mario Hezonja light it up. He could be the most entertaining player the league has ever seen.
Sub - Ish Smith, Detroit Pistons
He won't be as fun to watch this year with limited playing time behind Reggie Jackson on the Pistons, but Ish Smith managed to win 9 of his 50 games in Philadelphia, which is a feat so hard to achieve that he should've won the MVP. Not only did he manage to win games with the 76ers, but he somehow found a way to make Sixers' basketball enjoyable, which is harder than winning a championship in my eyes.
Smith's blinding pace, fearless drives to the rim and utter disregard for taking care of the ball made him fun to watch last season. On the fastbreak he was deadly, flying past everyone in sight, while in a half-court setting he ran an endless amount of high pick and rolls. Those pick and rolls were incredibly easy to defend as the Sixers have yet to grasp the concept of floor spacing, but Smith's dynamic playmaking made them at least semi-effective.
He can't really shoot and forces the issue a little bit too much (2.6 turnovers per game last season), but the weak areas of his game don't detract from the overall level of excitement I get from watching Ish Smith tear down the court at Usain Bolt speed on every single possession.
Sub - Matt Barnes, Sacramento Kings
There's always entertainment value in a good NBA fight.
Sub - Boban Marjanovic, Detroit Pistons
If you think that watching a 7'3'' Serbian dude that weighs 290 lbs absolutely dominate garbage time with his gigantic hands isn't enjoyable, there's something wrong with you. Boban can snag offensive rebounds without jumping, block shots despite not being in defensive position, ferociously dunk on any big man in the league (if he doesn't first puncture the ball with his otherworldly hands) and post the third highest PER in the league even if he only plays in garbage time.
I can't wait to see what he does in Stan Van Gundy's four-out system.
Sub - Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs
If Patty Mills were to dye his hair blue, he would be the living embodiment of Sonic the Hedgehog. Mills is never not maneuvering his way around the court at full pace. Despite this, Mills never seems to lose any energy whatsoever.
What makes Mills such a joy to watch is that energy. He's about as energetic as an NBA player comes. On offense, he's always in motion. Whether weaving his way around pin-downs when he's away from the ball to launch a quick trey or slicing his way to the rim when he's handling the ball with a series of sharp, precise moves. When he is away from the ball, his movement is arguably the best in the NBA. He is an expert at spotting the perfect time to make a pacey cut to catch his defender of guard and once he does that, he runs perfectly around his off-ball screeners, scraping them as he passes by, so that his trailing defender has no chance of ever reaching him.
On defense, his energy is welcomed by Gregg Popovich. He harasses opposition ball-handlers with his pesky nature and makes the Spurs' tradition lockdown defenders' -- Kawhi and Danny Green -- a lot easier when he's in the game.
Sub - Marco Belinelli, Charlotte Hornets
Remember how I was talking about Mario Hezonja's shot selection? Well, let's just say that Marco Belinelli's is about 10 times as bad.
I genuinely think that Marco Belinelli believes he is better than Steph Curry. There were times throughout Kings games last season where Belinelli would take the ball up the court, the defense wouldn't be set and instead of feeding it inside to DeMarcus Cousins, Marco would pull up from 30 feet. It's not like this happened every once in a while or when he was catching fire, this was ALL THE TIME. It got to the point where every time Belinelli would touch the ball, he'd launch one, not worrying at all about where he was on the court.
The worst part is that there is no justification for these shots. Belinelli can always point to the fact that he won the three-point contest in 2014, but last season he was absolutely awful, shooting 38.6% from the field and 30.6% from long range. Despite his horrific percentages, he was still jacking up nearly 10 shots per contest.
Regardless of how frustrating he might be, it's incredibly funny to watch Beli throw up these atrocious shots every game. Add in some crafty Italian playmaking and you've got a player that is fun to watch.
Sub - Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Yeah...he can do this:
I think it's pretty safe to say he's exciting.
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