2013 Tiers of Interest: The Most Interesting Team in the World (Part II)

I think this is the 3rd time I've used this in a GG article. There's a reason for this. -- Aaron

Bonjour, readers. Welcome to the first -- and perhaps only! -- edition of the Gothic Ginobili Intrigue Rankings! Why? Because regular power rankings are boring, that's why. It's a lot more fun to rank to teams by how interesting they are rather than how good they are. At least for me. What makes a team intriguing, other than my personal whims? A big part of it the distance between a team's ceiling and its floor. If I can pick a team's win total within five games without thinking too hard about it, that's not a particularly interesting team. If I can look at a team and see 30 and 50 wins as being equally possible, that's a lot more fun to think about. Relevance also matters, although less so. I try not to go strictly by ability, but if I know a team is going to be awful and it's just a matter of how awful they'll be, they will likely linger towards the bottom of the list. Above all else, this is a list about how fun a team is to think about, and whether or not I think they'll be interesting to follow in 2013-14. Now that that's set up, let's dive into the second half of yesterday's list. Rather than an ordinal 1-30 ranking, I've compiled a list of roughly ordered tiers corresponding to various levels of interest.

• • •

TIER #8: STAYING THE COURSE (... WELL, THEY CAN AFFORD TO)

Miami Heat

I had to put the Heat in the top half of this list because... well, they're the Heat. Their mere existence piques one's interest. Still, it's basically the exact same team every year at this point. Beyond their ridiculous streak last season, they weren't nearly the compelling story they were in 2011 or 2012 -- a title gives you carte blanche to rest your guys and take your foot off the gas. Hard to really blame them, but it made them inherently a little less fun. And the continuity is ridiculous.When you're invested in multiple superstars, you're pretty much stuck with that roster. The question of whether or not any team can make the Finals four years in a row at a time where the league is so competitive is the most fascinating question here. The Heat would be the favorites against any team in the East right now, but can they get through all of them? Last year, the Heat didn't face a real challenge until the Conference Finals, and they were taken right to the razor's edge by the Pacers and the Spurs. Now that the Bulls are back in the mix, the Nets got considerably better, and whoever represents the West should remain as stout a challenge as last year's Spurs -- whoever they are. The pressure could be a bit much. The possibility of Greg Oden becoming a serious contributor is a mildly entertaining sub-plot. Considering everyone they've trotted out at center over the past five years, he was easily worth the risk.

San Antonio Spurs

Some signings are interesting solely because of the team making them. If Marco Belinelli signs with the Bucks or the Raptors, no one gives a crap. If he signs with the Spurs? Genius! Bon vivant! The perfect fit! Pop is going to get SO MUCH out of him! ... Of course, for all the mocking we'd like to do of the predictable narrative, all of that is probably true. That's San Antonio for you. Anyway, the Spurs are a lot like the Heat, only a little more interesting because of the "how long can they possibly keep this up?!" factor. They seem like a lock for a playoff spot, and they're one of this season's 5 or 6 teams with a serious shot at a ring. But maybe that's the problem. Right now, everyone but a few quiet doubters fully believes that the Spurs will contend this year, especially with Kawhi Leonard gradually taking Manu's spot in the Big 3. It would be sort of amusing -- and classic Spurs misdirection -- if the Spurs finally ran out of steam the one year people stopped expecting them to die. Still, seems rather unlikely. They'll probably win another 55-60 games, take down another top seed that receives far more hype, and bow out gracefully after winning 2-3 rounds of playoff basketball. Sunrise, sunset.

TIER #7: WELCOME BACK MY FRIENDS TO THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS

New York Knicks

You know what's really funny, given all the hand-wringing people do about New York? The Knicks have made the playoffs three years in a row! Think about that. They were one of the worst teams in the league for almost a decade, but they've reached a reasonable amount of sustained success. They'll probably make the playoffs again this year, too. Four in a row! That's almost half a decade of sustained success. The problem? They've done it in such an impressively dysfunctional way, where all of their flaws are readily apparent the drama gets leeched of the proceedings. The Knicks are always fun, but it's kind of a circus of a team. And it's tough to root for that, sometimes. Andrea Bargnani seems like a semi-risky signing at first glance. But the expectations for him are hilariously low, and they gave up virtually nothing to get him. It's hard to see him not being a somewhat valuable bench player, so it may turn out to be a low-risk, high-reward move. I didn't mind the Metta signing either. Yeah, he's old, but he's coming off his most productive season since 2008-09, and he'll love every minute he gets to play in New York. The Knicks will be pushed this season, no doubt -- the Pacers, Bulls, and Nets will likely all pass them in record, and there's always the potential for a massive implosion. But chances are high that they won't be a tranwreck, and they'll be a fun story all the way from opening night to their 2nd round swan song.

TIER #6: THEORETICAL CHAMPIONS

Houston Rockets & Brooklyn Nets

I talked a lot about both of these teams in my last article, but essentially each of these teams are interesting because they've gotten themselves to a point where the idea of them winning a title doesn't seem completely off-the-wall. That's not to say it's LIKELY, mind you... just that the notion can't be laughed off. While signing Dwight Howard comes with a lot of potential pitfalls, the Nets actually took the bigger risk here. They basically have a two year window to win a title. After that, KG and Pierce will be gone or nonfactors, Joe Johnson will be in his mid 30s, and Deron/Brook will be their last two pieces of any real consequence. This is why the trade for KG, Pierce, and Jason Terry was panned by some. But I encourage the skeptics to look at the smaller picture: for the next two seasons, the Nets will be a force to contend with. That's at least worth something. Right? As for the Rockets, they may benefit this season from a surprising lack of hype. The Dwight signing itself received a ton of press, but once he officially came aboard, there have been very few articles talking up a potential dynasty in Houston, perhaps because Big Twos and Big Threes are so common that the formation of another one just isn't that big of a deal anymore. In any case, the Rockets will be very good team that will nonetheless face some big questions. Will Dwight get his 2008-11 form back? Can he play with Harden? Can we play with Asik? [ED. NOTE: I usually edit out typos, but I can't edit this one out. The childlike innocence of the question "can we play with Asik" is just too much. Thanks, John. Thanks for brightening our day.] Can Jeremy Lin run this team? Is Chandler Parsons a potential All-Star? Should be fun to watch, all things considered. We're in new territory, for sure.

TIER #5: IT TAKES TWO (HOPEFULLY)

Oklahoma City Thunder

I won't spend too much raking them over the coals for the Harden trade. It seems like everyone in the world has, and I have little to add. Still, with Kevin Martin leaving, this team is officially a two-headed monster, and it'll be interesting to see if Durant and Westbrook are enough to guide this team to a championship without a particularly stout of a supporting cast. Serge Ibaka is a force on defense, but he hasn't become the All-Star the Thunder thought he would when they chose him over Harden. And after that? It's slim pickings, and it remains to be seen if this team is still a favorite or an also-ran in a conference chock-full of both. Even if Westbrook-Durant is a better duo than Dwight-Harden, the Rockets may have the superior cast surrounding them. And that's where OKC's intrigue comes in -- if they can win the West at a time when so many teams appear better constructed, Durant's legend grows further. He'll officially be entering LeBron territory. Don't rule out this possibility.

Los Angeles Clippers

There's a metric ton of hype around this team, especially when you consider the fact that they a) lost in the first round last season, b) are the Los Angeles Clippers, and c) didn't get a great deal better in the off-season. The excitement over re-signing Chris Paul has drowned out the reasonable concern that they haven't really done anything worth noting with Chris Paul yet, and that he's still never played for a team constructed well enough to get past the second round. The Clippers could provide an all-time answer an immortal question this year: how much difference can a coach makes, really? Doc Rivers is an immeasurable upgrade over Vinny Del Negro, and that may be the difference needed to get them over the hump. Replacing Eric Bledsoe with the guy who lost his job to Mike James is a considerable downgrade, but replacing Tuff Juice with Jared Dudley -- who FINALLY gets to be on a good team! -- might make up for it. The talent level is roughly equal, and it's all about whether Doc is good enough to get this team past the other star-studded squads in the always-brutal West.

TIER #4: WE NOW RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING

Chicago Bulls

One of the most fascinating things about last season was the how the identity of the Bulls changed without Rose in the lineup. In the past, when he missed a few games, they would try to replicate his production by committee, and essentially play the same way, With Rose gone for a full year, the Bulls had no choice but to become a completely different team. Joakim Noah became the leader, and their brutal defense replaced Rose as the star of the show while Nate Robinson did a surprisingly excellent job of replacing Rose's energy. It makes you wonder how they'll operate with #1 back at the 1. Will they essentially go back to playing the way they did before he went down, or will elements of Rose-Lacking Bulls infiltrate the genetic makeup of the Rosebud Bulls? It certainly wouldn't be surprising to see Noah continue to pay a bigger role, as Rose's unofficial sidekick. Meanwhile Jimmy Butler's presence will allow Luol Deng to get some rest, if Thibs is smart, and quite possibly make him expendable. The questions of whether Rose will be his old self, how the team adjusts to his return, and whether or not Deng becomes trade bait are all enough to make the Bulls a surprisignly intriguing team going into next season.

TIER #3: THE EASTERN INSURGENCY

Washington Wizards

These next three are very much joined at the hip, as they're all young squads looking to sneak into the playoffs this year. The Wizards are the team I have the most doubts about, personally. They played .500 ball in the second half of last season's action against a not-particularly-easy schedule, and they would figure to be at least that good this year. Right? But it's hard to be confident. The Wizards are hoping the John Wall who showed up January was the real John Wall, and all of his earlier problems were simply side effects of him adjusting to the NBA and we won't see any of them ever again. Might be the case, but I wouldn't say for sure. The Wizards are also counting on Martell Webster to be just as productive as was last year, which seems like a risky proposition given that he'd been a scrap-heap amnesty guy on the cusp of retirement. We also don't know how healthy Bradley Beal will be, or if he's the potential superstar so many think he is. So yeah, there are a few big issues, but the Wizards should still be a fun energetic team. Hopefully, they'll frighten the establishment a little bit.

Detroit Pistons

I get why the Pistons went for Brandon Jennings -- he's young, and he might be a better player than his last few years in Milwaukee suggest. Still, I wish they had brought Calderon back. Sure, he's older, but during his brief time in Detroit, he was ridiculously amazing. He shot .527 from the field and .520 on threes. He took 98 three-pointers with the Pistons, and he made 51 of them! And the Pistons replaced him with a dude who struggles to shoot 40 percent? Is youth really that important? That gripe aside, I still really like this team. Josh Smith and Andre Drummond on the same team makes me wonder if @Jose3030 is secretly in charge of personnel decisions for the Pistons, and Greg Monroe finally has some talent around him. I still don't know they'll space the floor (another reason why they should have re-signed Calderon), but this team is easily good enough to sneak into the first round and give Miami or Chicago a good scare.

Cleveland Cavaliers

As for the Cavs, their big problem is injury potentialities. Bynum was the ultimate high-risk high-reward individual signing, and frankly, I thought it was a good move. We all know what his problems are, but if he's on his game, the Cavaliers could become really scary really fast. Honestly, if Kyrie, Varejao, and Bynum all end up staying healthy, I'd put the Cavs ahead of every team in the east except for the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, and Nets. And they could leapfrog one or two of that group, with some fortuitious injuries to those four. Obviously, that's a budget-of-The-Lone-Ranger sized if, but that's what puts a team near the top of the intrigue rankings. The Cavs could give the Heat a brutal second round push... or they could win 30 games. Who knows! The journey there should be a lot of fun, regardless. It doesn't hurt that they have Kyrie Irving, who is effectively a league pass alert unto himself.

TIER #2: YES WE PELI-CAN

New Orleans Pelicans

No team -- not even the Cavs -- had a bigger high-risk, high-reward offseason in its totality. Bynum is individually a bigger high-risk high-reward signing than any of the New Orleans signings, but New Orleans had SO MANY OF THEM! The Pelicans decided to go after Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, and try to get them to play with Eric Gordon. Woah! Just, woah! There's so much potential here, but it's hard to know if any of them will live up to it or if they'll complement each other's play in any tangible way. Still, if this arrangement works, it's hard to dislike what the Pelicans have put together. Anthony Davis could yet emerge to be a superstar, and the Pelicans are trying to surround him with as much talent as possible. They'll either be an unwatchable mess, or the team that the Western Establishment is deathly afraid of drawing in round 1. So many possibilities.

TIER #1: THE MOST INTERESTING TEAM ON EARTH

Golden State Warriors

Ethan Sherwood Strauss put it best -- it would not surprise me if the Warriors make the finals, miss the playoffs, or do anything in between. Steph could get hurt again. They could painfully regress to the mean if they don't win as many close games. Harrison Barnes might not be productive of the bench. David Lee could emerge as the odd man out, forcing the Warriors to trade him. And yet, if it all works out, this team could beat anyone in the league. Stephen Curry is more dangerous than Walter White when he gets hot, and it doesn't usually matter how you guard him -- he'll get the shot anyway. Curry plays with a freedom, with a reckless abandon that is glorious to watch, and impossible to defend. If he stays healthy, he'll be a superstar. Plain and simple. Meanwhile, Klay Thompson is the perfect sidekick for the Best Backcourt Ever. If you double team Steph, you leave Klay open, and he can murder you. And neither one of these guys has reached their full potential yet! Meanwhile, Iguodala was a cosmically brilliant signing that should do a lot to fix their defensive struggles, and give them yet another three-point shooter. There all sorts of reasons why this might not work out, but if everything congeals together, this team will be a rampaging beast capable of destroying everyone in their wake. In the meantime, they've earned the top spot in this list. And I can't wait to see them work.

• • •

Once again, disagreements are prime to be registered in the comments below. Hope you enjoyed this ranking exercise. Join me next week when I rank which team eats the most satisfying lunches, probably! [ED. NOTE: Do not join him for this. It will not happen.]

10 comments on “2013 Tiers of Interest: The Most Interesting Team in the World (Part II)

  1. I would think San Antonio would have to eat the most satisfying lunches. They have so many types of food to choose from. One day Patty and Baynes will grill kangaroo on the barbie. The next day, Nando, BoBo and TP are bringing in escargot with a butter wine sauce. The day after, Red Mamba would make a canadian bacon sandwich for everyone. And thats not even counting the fresh seafood Timmy would bring to the table, or high quality wine from Pop!

  2. Bargnani - "so it may turn out to be a low-risk, high-reward move". As a Knicks fan I would love for someone to explain this to me. How does a team trade one of the best 3-pointers in the league over the past two seasons for a below average one, pay 13 million dollars more for him this year alone (salary cap penalty included), and throw in three draft picks? He does not defend or rebound any better.

  3. You write, "Serge Ibaka is a force on defense, but he hasn't become the All-Star the Thunder thought he would when they chose him over Harden." And I wonder, "how much better would you like him to be?

    It's a rhetorical question -- his flaws are obvious and easy to list, he doesn't create his own shot, never ever gets assists, isn't a great defensive rebounder, and his defense isn't quite as good as you'd like to see from somebody who gets DPOY votes.

    On the other hand, he does almost everything else well, he shoots a high percentage, has enough range that he doesn't clog the lane on offense, gets offensive rebounds, is one of the best shot-blockers in the game, and did I mention that he had a higher eFG% on jump shots than Chris Bosh (.474 vs .458).

    Add it all up, and if you look at basketball-reference's Win Share statistic he ranks as the 15th or 16th most valuable player in the league. That may overrate him slightly, because of his completely inability to create his own shot, but still I ask, how dissapointed can you be in his production?

  4. It's been said before but it bears repeating: Harden v. Ibaka is a false dichotomy. The Thunder really should have ditched Westbrook to keep Harden and Ibaka.

    Westbrook's trade value was way higher, but he's clearly a more replaceable player, since, prior to last season, he wasn't a great passer, and his scoring was average (if high volume).

    You could've traded Westbrook for almost any PG in the league, OR a solid-if-unspectacular PG and a decent big.

    Here's a short list of capable PGs they almost certainly could have traded for (in many cases, they'd get another good player or picks as well):

    Holiday
    Vasquez
    Rondo
    Teague
    Wall
    Lowry
    Conley Jr.
    Lawson

    Now, some of those guys would have been risky, some (Wall, Rondo) might have been off-limits (though I doubt it, given how highly regarded Westbrook is/was, especially coming off the Finals). And maaaaybe the price of 'dumping' Westbrook's salary would have been just the above player + cap relief + dinky picks, But would anyone outside of the mainstream pundi-sphere argue that a team with one of those guys, Harden, Durant and Ibaka would be worse than just Westbrook, Durant, and Ibaka?

    As it stands now, I doubt that many serious NBA fans would take Westbrook over Harden in a draft. It's so much harder to find a really good SG than it is to find a really good PG. Try to pick the 10 best PGs; your list will be overfull, you'll spend more time figuring out who has to get left off than figuring out who to include. Now try to pick the 10 best SGs, and you're left wondering if Joe Johnson is better than Eric Bledsoe playing out of position, or whether we can call Iggy a SG now that he's on the Warriors. Here's a spec list:

    Harden/Wade
    Paul George, if he counts as a 2
    Iggy?
    Kobe if he comes back right
    Eric Gordon, maybe?
    Manu, if he's recovered from his horrible playoff slump
    Klay Thompson!
    Kevin Martin, I guess (so unsatisfying)
    Ray Allen?!
    Joe Johnson?!?
    Afflalo? Turner? Tony Allen? Danny Greenlights?

    I'm probably missing someone, but if you look at the guys outside the top 5, the falloff is so much more severe at the 2; instead of arguing whether Curry is ahead of Rose and Westbrook, or where you slot Deron Williams now, or how to rank Conley Jr., Lawson, and Holiday, you have to puzzle over whether Tony Allen's amazing D is good enough that he ranks above Thompson and his possibly-illusory leap in man-D and rebounding. Is Joe Johnson really a top 5 guy at his position? Does Danny Green's "do everything well enough-ness" actually place him in the top-10 at his position?

    Look, I know that many people only saw Harden's leap this past year, but it was obvious, statistically, in 2011-2012, when he had a big-man style TS%, great passing, and a demonstrable ability to lead a team without a PG on the floor.

    The real reason I'm so pissed? I (maybe) could have been playing NBA2k14 with the Curry-Harden Warriors.

    • Damn. If these reposted ESPN comments keep getting longer, they'll become reposted ESPN articles!

      All very defensible though. Westbrook is a great player, and he's one of the best point guards in the game. But there's certainly an argument to be made that the Thunder should've traded his long, lucrative, guaranteed contract for some prospects and lower-paid contributors. He had a lot of value given the amount of time he was locked in for and they certainly could've gotten more than they pulled for Harden... and probably cheaper, too. Pretty easy to imagine, say, the Bobcats offering Kemba/MKG/Henderson and a boatload of doomed-to-be-terrible draft picks for a chance at a top-10 player. Or the Kings offering Cousins and every asset they've got. Perhaps even a flip for Anthony Davis could've been in the cards, given New Orleans didn't have a point guard back then. Fun thought experiment.

    • Yeah, I think the only thing I'd disagree with is how obvious Harden's leap was. Those of us that saw his numbers (2012 Harden's production was essentially a clone of 2012 Manu's in a lot of different ways) and his two-step techniques knew he was in elite territory at the 2 guard. Few of us predicted he'd give Kobe and Manu a run for their money so quickly and immediately as THE premier 2-guard in basketball, though. And it was hard to predict how consistent, elite, and dominant he'd be as the gameplanned center of the offense, especially when comparing his effect to Westbrook's. But it's a compelling point.

      He certainly answered all those questions very quickly, but sometimes you just have to see it to believe it.

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