Grantland’s Zach Lowe – absent Bill Simmons this year – has begun his annual examination of each NBA team through the lens of watchability. The Portland Trail Blazers, ranked No. 18 in 2014, predictably slid all the way to No. 25 after several big name players found new homes in free agency this summer. To determine whether or not this is actually fair, we need to understand the criteria of Lowe’s rankings. Each team received a score from 0-10 in the following categories:
PLAYOFFS/ZEITGEIST: An estimate of every team’s place in the day-to-day NBA conversation, and whether all of that noise correlates with watchability. We talk about the Sixers and Knicks a lot, but that doesn’t mean you should devote two and a half hours a night to them.
INDIVIDUAL PLAYER APPEAL: How often Twitter explodes with a stream of, "HOLY CRAP, TURN THE CHANNEL IMMEDIATELY, PLAYER X HAS GONE INSANE!!!!!" Some 30-point games are more stylish than others.
LEAGUE PASS MINUTIAE: My pet category — a measure of how a game looks and sounds, and whether you’ll be rushing for the "mute" button.
HOOPS STYLE: A slow-it-down team cycling between predictable sets is less entertaining than, say, the Warriors. Coaching affects aesthetics!
UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY SCALE: Bill Simmons’s pet category, back when we did these rankings together. We’re serious about hoops, but lighthearted nonsense can pull you through a Wednesday night in January: "That’s another shot-clock violation for the Lakers, as Nick Young, Kobe, and Lou Williams have torn the ball into three pieces. And here come the pretzels!"
The Blazers earned a total of 25 points, meaning they averaged 5/10 in each category. Although the specific point breakdown is not addressed, Lowe’s explanation highlights categories in which Portland was probably lauded and dinged.
Portland being so low shows how viewer-friendly the NBA is right now. The Blazers are roadkill in the West, but a Terry Stotts offense flows, and the general structure of Meyers Leonard spotting up around Damian Lillard/Mason Plumlee pick-and-rolls makes sense. Leonard won’t be a mystery after this season; Stotts will let him gun from deep, and he’ll get extended minutes to show he at least understands the general concept of defense. Lillard will have the green light from anywhere past midcourt, and Portland has dotted the roster with reclamation types itching to prove themselves. Even Stotts, a great coach, has a lot at stake as he enters the final year of his contract.
Chris Kaman brings a hillbilly fear factor you rarely see in the NBA. C.J. McCollum is going to jitterbug his way to a ton of points. Gerald Henderson is one of the league’s secret vicious in-game dunkers — and he’ll be trade bait all season!
Everything about the Blazers looks nice, though the local broadcast team can get a little homerific.
PLAYOFFS/ZEITGEIST: This was most likely the Trail Blazers’ worst category. This season is largely about growth for them. They are widely projected to miss the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference.
(Personal Score: 3/10)
INDIVIDUAL PLAYER APPEAL: This is a tough one to gauge because Lillard is ostensibly the only player that has potential to regularly explode this season (though McCollum may get there). Many expect it to be ‘Lillard Time’ all the time in Portland. Beyond Lillard, however, the Blazers lack star power.
(Personal Score: 6/10)
LEAGUE PASS MINUTIAE: From Lowe’s last note, it sounds like Mike and Mike brought the experience down for him a bit. The Portland crowd may be enough to salvage the score live, but strictly viewed through a screen, the feel of the broadcast is largely determined by one’s impression of the commentators, which will inevitably vary.
(Personal Score: 7/10)
HOOPSTYLE: This should be where the Blazers make up significant ground. A team packed with young, athletic players that plan on running in the Stotts offense sounds watchable to me. They may not have many established players (for which they were dinged in the player appeal category) but discovering who will excel is half the excitement.
(Personal Score: 8/10)
UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY: This is another tough one because we really don’t know a lot about the players yet. For the most part, each character is either very serious on the court (e.g.: Lillard) or generally unassuming (e.g.: Allen Crabbe). Kaman does bring a unique personality as Lowe suggested, but potential for on-court hijinks or JaVale McGee-style mishaps seems minimal.
(Personal Score: 3/10, Personal Total: 27/50)
Given the parameters, do you think Lowe’s estimations are fair?