Who Will Be the Best Bad Teams in the NBA This Season?
The NBA is not a league that celebrates the average. Champions are vaunted above all else, while the worst of the worst are gifted the best chance at the next generation’s best talents. The middle of the pack can be a thankless treadmill.
However true that paradigm may be for fans and front offices alike, sometimes teams have no option but to simply do their best. Consider the Brooklyn Nets, a team that, robbed of its best assets for a half-decade, has had no choice but to slowly churn out an increasingly palatable product. Sometimes circumstances dictate that a club is stuck being the best version of average they can be.
This season will feature a few plucky teams with high-upside and bright futures. Some are either making lemonade out of the odd lemons granted by ownership, while others are taking the rare but wonderful route of slowly developing talent. These teams will be bad, there’s no doubt about it, but they sure will be fun along the way.
The Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets are going to be one of the top League Pass teams in the Association this summer. But before Nick gets too excited, it’s worth explaining the sort of sad reason why this may be the case.
Few teams have been as miserable as the Nets in recent NBA memory. It’s only been in the last season or two that the Nets have even resembled any sort of real pro basketball team. But therein lies their true appeal.
The Nets are playing with house money. There’s no real expectations, not yet. The team has some nice young players, but no true stars. And there’s no competition from their cross-town rivals to up the ante.
That offers a bit of freedom. The pressure is low, the future is unknown, and the collection of players on this Nets team might, for the first time in a while, be half-decent.
There’s an intriguing core of young players, with D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Caris LeVert in particular owning some real potential. Throw in exciting the extremely likeable Jarrett Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie, and suddenly there’s a fun, athletic, and undeniably talented group of guys to contend with.
Brooklyn finished sixth in pace last season. The team finally owns its own first-round pick, but has just a little bit too much going on to tank. I think head coach Kenny Atkinson will just let his young guys get out their and go, using a wealth of athleticism to out-gun opponents.
The Nets won’t be good this season. But they’ve got some solid pieces. They’ll compete on any given night, and could give some of the best teams issues in the process.
The Cleveland Cavaliers
The Nets are a team on the rise with an unwritten future. The Cavs, meanwhile, are a team potentially in free-fall.
Signing Kevin Love to an extension was peculiar way to stop the bleeding once LeBron James took his talents to Long Beach. It ensured the Cavs had a centerpiece, and a certain baseline of competitiveness. The Kevin Love Timberwolves of yesteryear weren’t all that good, but they were far from helpless.
More to the point, Cleveland has a championship pedigree, all things considered. Yes, it lives in the likes of J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Ty Lue, but that’s still a hell of a lot more than most other teams can say.
Meanwhile, I’m not ready to give up on Jordan Clarkson or Larry Nance Jr. Likewise, I’m excited to see what Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman have to offer. This Cavs team has something there.
Cleveland won’t win a lot of games this year, and I highly doubt they’ll sniff the postseason. But the Cavs will be crafty mix of veterans and up-and-comers. I expect they’ll play well on a nightly basis, giving them an edge over the NBA’s lesser clubs.
San Antonio Spurs
Another team scrambling to re-establish itself this season will be the San Antonio Spurs. Like the Cavs, I expect this team to be a tough out no matter the competition.
Now, it’s reasonable enough to wonder if the Spurs will even qualify as a bad team in the first place. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be borderline All-Stars in the West, after all. That said, ESPN had this team winning a pedestrian 44 games next year, and that was before DeJounte Murray was sidelined with a torn ACL.
Probably the Spurs will be much better than their record will indicate. Such is life in the wild West. Surely head coach Gregg Popovich will take care of business against the vast majority of the league, but with so many tough Western Conference teams on the schedule, I’m not sure that San Antonio will be able to keep up.
Ultimately, the Spurs will probably straddle a weird line. They’ll either be middling good team or a very good bad team. Given the barrage of mid-range jump shots we can expect from DeRozan and Aldridge, it feels okay to side with the latter.
The Los Angeles Clippers
We have a bit of a sample with this Clippers team, and the results are pretty great. Following the All-Star break, the Blake-Griffin-less Clips were 7th in offensive rating…and 28th in defensive. That amounted to a net rating of 20th in the league, the perfect mark for a good bad team.
This Clippers club has a bunch of exciting cast-offs and NBA veterans. Tobias Harris in particular gives the club something of an edge, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a fun little x-factor.
I don’t really know what this team will be. A healthy back court of Pat Beverley and Avery Bradley could help boost LA’s defensive clout. And I’m an unwavering supporter of (the oft-injured) Danilo Gallinari.
At the same time, there’s not a lot of athleticism to work with. Age and reliability have to be a concern, too.
There isn’t one great star on this club. However, there is a tremendous amount of talent. This will require a lot more coaching from Doc Rivers than we’ve seen in a while. Still, all of the pieces are there.
Final thoughts and honorable mentions
There’s a number of teams that will actually fill this odd good-bad void this season. And a few more that are expected to but won’t.
The Mavericks, for example, have some high-upside players. I think there’s a chance for the Mavs to be a very good bad team in fact. The Suns for some reason seem to think they’re in this realm as well. They’re not. The Suns are just plain bad.
In the East, there’s also a few enigmas. The Pistons, I think, are probably closer to a bad team than anything. The opposite may be true of the Hornets. I desperately want to believe the Magic will be alright, but that’s just because I love Mo Bamba.
Some of the teams listed above may very well compete for a spot in the playoffs. There are some rewards for being average in this league (mostly in the East). And I think all of these clubs will be worth checking out. Stick with OTGBasketball for the latest as the season unfolds.