The Year of the Bottom Feeders

The Washington Wizards are the worst team in the NBA. That said, if I were going to choose any Celtics home game to attend (yes, I’m sadly a Celtics fan), I might just choose the Wizards. Why? It would be a given that we’d win by a comfortable margin and it’d be one heck of an exciting game. You’d see John Wall make some insane passes (and 10ish turn­overs), JaVale McGee would rock the rim frequently (see the off-the-backboard-to-himself dunk from last week), Nick Young would take about 10 shots he had absolutely no business taking and An­dray Blatche would just be, well, Andray Blatche. And we’d still win by 25.

In many ways, the Wizards epitomize what makes this such an exciting time to be an NBA fan. Suddenly, many bot­tom-feeders are relevant again, or at least fun to watch. There are 30 teams in the NBA. I’d argue only five aren’t exciting to watch. Those five are:

New Jersey: When Mehmet Okur, An­thony Morrow and Damion James are all playing prominent minutes, things don’t look too bright.

Toronto: A team built around Andrea Bargnani isn’t going to find itself on national TV any time soon.

Detroit: Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace were effective players back in 2005.

Charlotte: Gerald Henderson as your go-to scorer – no thanks.

New Orleans: Someone forgot to tell Chris Kaman he was in a contract year.

As you can see, things are pretty darn miserable for those five franchises (well, and the Wizards). Contrary to what you’d think though, that is actually wonderful. The bad teams this year are so royally bad and have bottomed out to such an extent that it leaves room for teams that were previously mediocre or worse to become interesting, suddenly viable teams. Five teams (Indiana, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clip­pers) who went a collective 163-247 last year are playing pretty damn well.

Indiana and Philadelphia have now made the transition from fringe playoff teams to contenders in the East. Though neither team possesses a true star, what they do have is youth and depth, which are vital this year in a shortened sea­son where teams frequently find them­selves playing on back-to-back-to-back nights. Both teams are about a major piece away from posing a real threat to Miami or Chicago, but nonetheless, they are surefire playoff teams that play a fun, up-tempo style.

Then there are Minnesota and Golden State. Minnesota GM David Kahn may have been regarded as a laughingstock, but he may have sorta-kinda known what he was doing all along. The Timberwolves did what any non-contender without a young nucleus should do: bottom out. And oh boy, did they ever bottom out. From the 2007-2008 season to last year, they went 78-250. Ouch. However, this did serve to get them lottery picks every year where they could continue to bring in young talent. Though young talent doesn’t win from the get-go, the Tim­berwolves are starting to get there. Kevin Love is the best rebounder in the NBA and is putting up MVP-worthy numbers, while Ricky Rubio has been nothing short of electrifying. The Wolves aren’t likely to make much of a playoff run, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t sud­denly one of the exciting teams to watch night in and night out.

Golden State certainly would compete for that title as well. If there’s one thing winter break is good for other than sleep­ing until noon, it’s catching up on West Coast NBA games that usually don’t wrap up until about one in the morning. That af­forded me the opportunity to watch about five Warriors games and, as a result, I found my new second favorite team. Monta El­lis jacks up absurd shots and makes them far more often than he should, Steph Curry has no shortage of swag, Nate Robinson is the kind of high-energy pure scorer that was literally made to play in Golden State and David Lee is no slouch either. It’s yet to be seen if Mark Jackson’s defense-first philosophy will show any results (they’re currently 27th in points allowed), but it probably won’t considering the four afore­mentioned guys probably couldn’t stop me off the dribble. Still, that’s just fine by me, because the Warriors turn every game they’re in into an offensive shootout that is always entertaining.

And lastly, there’s Lob City. Certainly the biggest story of the post-lockout off­season was the Chris Paul saga that ended with him coming to the Clippers. Once the hype settled down, the general conclu­sion seemed to be that the Clippers were going to be an exciting team to watch but not a real title contender, as they were still too young. I couldn’t disagree more. Other than the Thunder, the Clippers are the best team in the West, and for rea­sons other than you’d think. The Chris Paul trade received all the attention, but what really makes the Clippers formidable is that they are sneakily a veteran team. Overshadowed by Chris Paul’s arrival were the additions of Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups (who may have been the best steal of the offseason) and Mo Williams, three veterans who have all flourished in lob city and consistently come through in big spots. As long as Vinny Del Negro or Donald Sterling don’t find a way to break Chris Paul or Blake Griffin’s knees, count on seeing the Clippers in the Western Conference finals.

Suddenly, the bad teams are fun again. Though teams like the Mavs, Lakers or Spurs may have better playoff prospects, they’re so old and slow that I’d honest­ly rather watch a T-Wolves game (when was the last time you could honestly say that?). With the resurgence of so many franchises, on any given night, there are going to be a multitude of great match­ups in the NBA. It’s a great time to be an NBA fan… well, unless you’re a diehard Bobcats fan.

Contact Pete Koehler at [email protected].