The Golden State Warriors open the 18-19 season looking for a third straight title and fourth over the past five years. Unlike the last four seasons, the Warriors won’t find themselves facing the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.
The NBA landscape has reset significantly since the last game of consequence was played.
LeBron James is in Los Angeles. Kawhi Leonard is in Toronto. Boston has both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward healthy. All the movement has this season tipping off with an air of uncertainty. Golden State remains the favorite, but they were challenged last season by the Houston Rockets. The East has a few teams ready to step forward and fill the LeBron void. Maybe, just maybe the Warriors don’t win it all this year?
Beyond the top teams, the NBA is full of interesting stories and, just importantly, reasons to watch each team. Some are building around youth, others are trying to keep playoff windows pried open. And of course, a select handful believe they can dethrone Golden State. Here are you reasons to watch all 30 teams. Let’s get the season started!
Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks are one of the few teams that is assured of being bad while also owning their own draft pick. It might get ugly in terms of wins and losses in Atlanta, but the players are worth watching. Trae Young is a threat to shoot as soon as he crosses halfcourt. John Collins is about to blow up. Taurean Prince can score the ball and is figuring out the rest. Vince Carter is even going to start their opener. Come for the kids, stay for the development.
Boston Celtics – This might be the deepest team in the NBA. Because so many young players were forced into big minutes while Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward recovered from injuries, the Celtics go a legit 10-11 deep. Irving and Hayward are healthy now and join breakout youngsters Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in one of the league’s best lineups. Boston is the team most give the best chance of beating Golden State. If they come together and figure out the rotation, it might just happen.
Brooklyn Nets – We keep waiting on the Nets to win. Maybe this year? It won’t be for lack of trying. Kenny Atkinson’s guys play harder than most. And they feature an enjoyable style that comes with plenty of pace and three-pointers. Jarrett Allen is developing into a monster in the middle. D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie are both playing for their next contract. And watch out for Caris LeVert. He’s really good and the world is about to find out.
Charlotte Hornets – Not gonna lie: Finding a reason to watch the Hornets isn’t easy. They are basically the same team as last year, minus Dwight Howard. Kemba Walker is a threat to go nuclear at almost any time, so you’ve got that. And Miles Bridges supplied at least one eye-popping highlight each preseason game. Keep an eye on Bridges injecting some much-needed athleticism for Charlotte.
Chicago Bulls – The Bulls are the NBA’s best bet to allow a 60-point game. Or multiple 60-point games. Or to let an opposing team score 150 points. Whether they start Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker, or just play them together a lot, Chicago is going to be awful on defense. But they should score just fine themselves. LaVine and Parker are fully healthy and threats to top 20 points per game apiece. Wendell Carter Jr. is the kind of guy basketball purists appreciate, because he does everything well.
Cleveland Cavaliers – No more LeBron James could make the Cavs a tough watch. But to be honest, they weren’t always that fun to watch with LeBron either. Collin Sexton is fun. He’s a bulldog. He’ll get after his man on defense and relentlessly attack the paint on offense. Maybe Kevin Love can return to his Minnesota form? Is this the year Rodney Hood finally stays healthy and breaks out? And no team is more likely to trade multiple players by the deadline than the Cavaliers are.
Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic! The most talented and proven rookie to hit the NBA in years makes the Mavericks a must-watch team. He’s got all the skill in the world and Rick Carlisle is the guy to take advantage of it. Dennis Smith Jr. is going to fly around and do stuff. DeAndre Jordan is finally a Mav and he’ll protect the rim and finish lobs on the other end. And Dirk Nowitzki will still do some trademark things before he eventually heads off into the sunset.
Denver Nuggets – If you like offense, the Nuggets are the team for you. All of their players can handle, pass and shoot. Nikola Jokic is ready to be an All-Star. Jamal Murray and Gary Harris are the best young guard tandem that still doesn’t get enough shine. If Isaiah Thomas can get back and give them bench minutes, he’s always fun. Because Denver is pretty laissez faire about defense, you can bet on an opposing player having a big night too.
Detroit Pistons – The Pistons are taking a page from the Hornets playbook. They are largely running back the same roster as last year. At least this time around they have Blake Griffin for the full year. Andre Drummond is doing stuff out around the arc. Detroit is trying to prove you can win without going small. That makes them different from everyone else, which makes them watchable.
Golden State Warriors – Just like last year, there isn’t anything left to say. The Warriors play the best, most watchable basketball in the NBA. Their offense is beautiful and they defend better than most. They almost always deliver. If there is anything left to watch for, it might be rooting for them to fail. Or you could always root for DeMarcus Cousins to make the playoffs for the first time after 535 games played.
Houston Rockets – The Rockets switched out some of their role players for new ones, so that is worth monitoring. They added Carmelo Anthony in what seems like a “boom or bust” type of move. James Harden is going to do his thing. Chris Paul will be as good as always. Clint Capela is one of the league’s best young centers and fits the Houston system perfectly. If you want efficient offense and better-than-you-think defense, the Rockets are the team for you.
Indiana Pacers – Victor Oladipo broke out in a monster way last season and took up the mantle of franchise player for the Pacers. He’s matched with newly-extended Myles Turner in a guard/big pairing that makes a lot of teams envious. Indiana added some nice veterans to bolster their bench. They won’t be sneaky good like last year, just good good.
Los Angeles Clippers – Despite no one really picking the Clippers to make the playoffs, they have an incredibly deep roster. Doc Rivers should feel better about not having this season ruined if a handful of injuries strike. Lots of the LA players are playing for their next deal too. That either means they synergize into a better than expected team, or they play selfishly and it all falls apart. Bet on the first and for the Clips to be in the playoff mix a lot longer than most think.
Los Angeles Lakers – It was fun building around the kids for a few years, but the Lakers are now LeBron James’ team. The kids are still around, but development time is over and winning time is starting. Luke Walton has Los Angeles pushing pace, which will make them an extremely fun watch. James, Rajon Rondo and Lonzo Ball are three of the best at finding teammates on the break. Brandon Ingram should have his best year. Kyle Kuzma can pour in points by filling the lane or on three-pointers as the trailer. The Lakers also feature a group of players that nicknames themselves “The Meme Team”. What more do you need?
Memphis Grizzlies – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are healthy. The Grizzlies appear to be returning to their “Grit ‘n’ Grind” roots. Kyle Anderson will do a lot of stuff, albeit slowly. Rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. will do a lot of stuff too, and more quickly than Anderson. This group will defend and make opponents earn wins.
Miami Heat – The Heat are the only NBA team that didn’t add a single new player (non-Two-Way variety). That level of continuity is generally reserved for contenders, not teams fighting for playoff berths. If healthy, Miami will be good. They play extremely hard for Erik Spoelstra. Dwyane Wade is back for a farewell tour. And Bam Adebayo is about to force his way into a starting spot.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo gets to play under a proven successful NBA coach for the first time in his career. Mike Budenholzer has scrapped last year’s crazy systems and will get the most from Giannis and Khris Middleton. Middleton is a burgeoning star who is only just starting to get the recognition he deserves. The Bucks added bigs who can stretch the floor and have quality depth. Antetokounmpo is poised to stage an MVP-caliber season, and that alone is worth watching in Milwaukee, but there’s a lot more here to like too.
Minnesota Timberwolves – The best bet on the board for a fight to breakout between teammates. Or it might just be Jimmy Butler screaming at everyone, while his younger teammates vacillate between cowering from him and ignoring his ravings. That the Timberwolves haven’t traded Butler ranks up there with the offseason’s biggest upsets. Minnesota has a ton of talent. If Butler sticks around and Tom Thibodeau can control the locker room, they’ll be a playoff team. If it all falls apart, they’ll be a mess. Which one would be more fun to watch is up to the viewer to decide.
New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis is a full-blown superstar. He seems past the nagging injuries that cost him valuable time and is in the mix for MVP. Last season Davis showed he got to another level and he might have one more mini-leap in him. He’ll work up front with Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic, in one of the NBA’s more versatile frontcourts. Jrue Holiday is ready for an All-Star season. And the Pelicans found that pushing pace and flying up and down the court worked for them after DeMarcus Cousins was injured. More of that this season please!
New York Knicks – The Knicks are going to be bad. Really bad. And they won’t have Kristaps Porzingis for much of the season, as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered last year. But they do have Enes Kanter, who can score and rebound with the best of them, while also being a ton of fun. Kevin Knox should get plenty of opportunities to show his stuff as a rookie. Frank Ntilikina will get his shot to show he’s more than just a terrific defender. And David Fizdale is around to challenge everyone, from his own players to opponents to officials to the NBA itself.
Oklahoma City Thunder – Paul George is back and he’ll share the limelight with Russell Westbrook once again. The Thunder learned last year that Westbrook works best as part of a duo and not a trio, which should bring OKC more balance. One worry is some injuries that having some key players out to start the year, including Andre Roberson until January. But that opens up time for a host of young players to show what they can do. If one steps forward, the Thunder will be better for it down the road.
Orlando Magic – It’s all about BIG in Orlando this year. As in Bamba, Isaac and Gordon. That trio has given Magic fans hope they haven’t had for a few years now. When they play together, Orlando can put together an almost impossible to score on frontcourt. The Magic have direction, and it includes lots of big, long defensive-minded players. That should be enough to make them watchable during another losing season.
Philadelphia 76ers – The 76ers stepped way forward last year, as they won 52 games and made the second round of the playoffs. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons stayed healthy and will be joined by Markelle Fultz for a full season. That trio is worth the price of admission alone. Add some smart role players around them, and you’ve got a team that is hard to take your eyes off of.
Phoenix Suns – It’s more of the same with the Suns: watch the kids. Devin Booker is one of the NBA’s best pure scorers. With Phoenix lacking a true point guard, Booker will have the ball in his hands lot to make plays for himself or others, a la James Harden. DeAndre Ayton has shown he’s ready to score on the block right away. Josh Jackson is a jumper away from being a terror on the wing. And they added some vets who can help on those regularly rocky nights where things are going sideways.
Portland Trail Blazers – The Trail Blazers are back mostly intact off a surprising run to the three seed last year. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum continue to make up one of the NBA’s best backcourt. Jusuf Nurkic fits in perfectly with them up front. Terry Stotts always has his team ready to go and adds new wrinkles every year to keep opponents off-balance.
Sacramento Kings – The Kings are going to play the youngest lineup in the league on a nightly basis. No regular in the rotation has more than three years of service in the NBA. They’ve still got Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere up front, and now add rookie Marvin Bagley III and redshirt Harry Giles to that mix. De’Aaron Fox is running the show without any veteran parachutes this year. Sacramento isn’t going to win very often, but watching this group of kids grow together should be a lot of fun.
San Antonio Spurs – Boy, this feels different, doesn’t it? After trading away Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, and seeing Tony Parker sign with the Hornets, the Spurs have no starters left from their last title team. DeMar DeRozan in silver and black is still taking some getting used to, but like LaMarcus Aldridge before him, he’ll play his best basketball under Gregg Popovich. Dejounte Murray was handed the reins at point guard, but tore his ACL. His backup Derrick White then suffered a heel injury that will shelve him for a while. At some point, the system and history might not overcome injuries and lack of proven talent. If you pick the Spurs to fail to make the playoffs for just the fifth time in franchise history, do so at your own peril. But the uncertainty is there for the first time in decades and that makes this a team to monitor.
Toronto Raptors – The Raptors finally changed it up. After years of watching essentially the same group fail to advance in the playoffs, Toronto fired Dwane Casey and traded away franchise icon DeMar DeRozan. Kawhi Leonard comes to the Raptors ready to prove he’s healthy and back to an MVP-level. When Leonard puts an opponent in his own personal torture chamber on defense, it is must-watch TV. Doing it on a squad with legitimate NBA Finals aspirations, makes it only that much more so. And Pascal Siakam is now the best player in the NBA that no one ever talks about.
Utah Jazz – The Jazz are bringing back the whole crew that advanced in the playoffs behind the league’s stingiest defense. Rudy Gobert can destroy an opponent's gameplan with his game-changing paint protection. Donovan Mitchell became the star Utah needed after Gordon Hayward left for Boston. Joe Ingles has become a less-reluctant shooter and is one of the more fun players to watch do his thing on the wing. And Jazz fans are the best. They are passionate and loud and give Utah one of the best homecourt advantages in the NBA.
Washington Wizards – If the Timberwolves aren’t the best bet to have a fistfight between teammates, the Wizards are where you should look. Tension has hovered around this team for years, and that was before adding Dwight Howard’s unique personality to the mix. If they can get past all that, there is a lot of talent here. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter have played together for what only feels like a decade. Markieff Morris is there to continue as one of the league’s best agitators. Austin Rivers gives them some guard depth behind Wall and Beal that they’ve lacked. The Wizards will be good, but they might be yet another circus in Washington D.C. to watch.