The 2016-17 NBA season is finally (finally!) upon us.
As you know, Tim Duncan decided to end his 19-year dominance of Father Time this offseason. Boris Diaw, Boban Marjanovic, Matt Bonner and David West are also gone from the team. In their place are Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon, Davis Bertans, Dejounte Murray etc, etc. It will be a weird season, for sure, and there are plenty of reasons to be excited for another year of basketball.
And that's what brings us to the first-annual Spurs watchability rankings, which have been designed to determine how exciting each individual Spurs will be during the season. I took the following six categories into account to create a comprehensive (and not in the least big scientific) prism through which fans can enjoy the team. Like other popular ranking systems -- Zach Lowe's excellent NBA League Pass rankings come to mind -- I assigned each player a score 1-10, then added the respective totals together.
Talent: This is self-explanatory, but suffice to say that David Robinson would be on the high end, and Uwe Blab would be toward the other.
Importance: Simply put, how important is the player to the success of this year's team.
Highlight ability: This category is for dunk aficionados and 3-point shooting connoisseurs. For this, we are looking for players that are capable of destroying Twitter with a single play.
Flair: If there is any confusion, flair and highlight ability are not mutually exclusive. Flair refers to the ability to make the flashy play - the behind-the-back pass, nutmegs, tomahawk dunk - even if it's not totally necessary. Think of this as Manu Ginobili's pet category.
Likeability: It's fun to watch players that you feel affection for. That isn't basketball-specific; it's just human nature. So this gives weight to the players that we just can't help but like whenever they do anything.
Social capital: This refers to the player's relevance in popular culture and in the Spurs Twittersphere (some players can transcend those confines and to become relevant in the NBA Twittersphere, like Kawhi Leonard has.) If these players are a consistent part of the basketball discourse, it stands to reason that they are relevant, if not wholly watchable. Bonus points are given to players that are active on social media and do fun non-basketball stuff in their off time. (Pau Gasol, welcome to San Antonio, this category is for you.)
Now let's get started.
15. David Lee (19 points)
I might as well admit that I have not hopped aboard the David Lee bandwagon. If there was a David Lee bandwagon and it was the only mode of transportation in the entire world and I was late for work, I would still not ride the David Lee bandwagon because I am most definitely not on the David Lee bandwagon. That's how much I am not on the David Lee bandwagon.
Anyway, Lee isn't a terrible player and he does have the potential to play some minutes after this offseason's mass exodus of every competent Spurs big man not named LaMarcus Aldridge. But, for the purposes of these rankings, it is not especially exciting to watch Lee play basketball. He'll be good for a couple of nice nights when Pop rests the starters but probably not much else.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 4; Importance - 4; Highlight ability - 3; Flair - 2; Likeability - 3; Social capital - 3)
14. Bryn Forbes (22 points)
Checking in at No. 14 is the sharp-shooting rookie from Michigan State. Forbes is a late addition the team, but he certainly earned a roster spot by knocking down 58.8 percent of his 3-pointers in the preseason. 3-pointers are fun so that helps Forbes' case but he doesn't have much else working in his favor at this point in the season. His 1 score in importance and 2 score in social capital drag down his value quite a bit. Still, if and when Forbes gets some playing time, he'll be a threat to knock down the deep ball.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 3; Importance - 1; Highlight ability - 6; Flair - 4; Likeability - 6; Social capital - 2)
13. Nicolas Laprovittola (28 points)
Another late addition to the Spurs squad, Laprovittola comes in with a respectable 28 points. There is real potential for upside here, though. Laprovittola, another fellow Argentinean, has a penchant for wacky Ginobili-esque passes and he plays the game with the same reckless abandon that makes Manu such a treat to watch. This play is Exhibit A of Laprovittola's playmaking potential.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 3; Importance - 1; Highlight ability - 7; Flair - 8; Likeability - 7; Social capital - 2)
12. Dewayne Dedmon (30 points)
This dude can dunk. His 38 dunks last season would have put him third on the Spurs behind Leonard and Aldridge, though he accomplished that feat in a third of their minutes. Dedmon, a pick-and-roll rim runner with mobility, has real value on a Spurs team with major turnover in the frontcourt. Plus, the dunks should be there in a Spurs system that creates open looks. I'm all in on Dedmon.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 4; Importance - 5; Highlight ability - 7; Flair - 5; Likeability - 5; Social capital - 4)
11. Kyle Anderson (36 points)
Anderson's inclusion here definitively marks the end of the initial tier players. While he doesn't have many gears besides super slow-motion and slow-motion, Anderson can provide plenty of entertainment to fans this season. For starters, he's been compared to Boris Diaw (always a good thing when it comes to watchability) for his playmaking and he has the unique ability to destroy opponents with a slow dribble. He broke anNBA player's ankles in a game despite running at approximately 1.3 miles per hour. If that's not a testament to Anderson's unique highlight ability, I don't know what is.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 6; Importance - 6; Highlight ability - 6; Flair - 7; Likeability - 5; Social capital - 6)
10. Jonathon Simmons (37 points)
As a 26-year-old rookie, Simmons flashed the athleticism and positional versatility that NBA teams prioritize in the Death Star Warriors Era. He coined the nickname ‘Juice Unit' which is a dope moniker for the bench unit and, man, he does live up to that promise. He's one of the few Spurs capable of playing above the rim and his unusual path to the NBA endears fans to him. A beneficiary of circumstance, Simmons has a chance to secure a prominent role on this year's team.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 5; Importance - 6; Highlight ability - 8; Flair - 5; Likeability - 7; Social capital - 6)
9. Davis Bertans (37 points)
Perhaps I'm buying into the hype too much, but can you blame me? Bertans is in the Matt Bonner phylum, a deadly 3-pointer shooter that spreads the floor at the power forward position. Except: He's better! The 23-year-old Bertans, who lost a finger on his shooting hand and tore his ACL three years ago, isn't just a one-dimensional, ground-bound shooter. This preseason Bertans was trailing in transition, rose up to block the shot and very nearly came up with the clean block. It was called goaltending, but Bertans made a play that Bonner couldn't have dreamed of making. Yes, there's concern whether he'll be able to defend NBA-caliber players and we'll see that learning curve play out this season. That aside, give me Davis Bertans - and a lot of him.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 5; Importance - 4; Highlight ability - 8; Flair - 7; Likeability - 7; Social capital - 6)
8. Dejounte Murray (39 points)
Murray is a 20-year-old rookie, likely third or fourth string on the depth chart, with an inconsistent jumper and a penchant for turnovers. And he's already eighth on this year's watchability rankings! Why?
Because he can make plays like this. And this. And these.
We haven't seen a player of Murray's ilk in San Antonio in quite some time. He's a human And-1 mixtape waiting to happen and he may make Gregg Popovich's head explode multiple times this year.
Hopefully Pop gives him enough time to showcase the mouthwatering upside eventually. Just temper your expectations because he figures to develop with the Austin Spurs for a good portion of the season.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 5; Importance - 1; Highlight ability - 10; Flair - 10; Likeability - 7; Social capital - 6)
7. Danny Green (40 points)
Developing story: Danny Green is a good basketball player that has watchability upside even if he can't quite dribble a basketball. He's always a threat for a LeBron James-style chase down block and he's made ridiculous defensive stops in transition seem routine. I'll take the obvious warts for the potential of knocking down six 3-pointers in a game.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 8; Importance - 8; Highlight ability - 6; Flair - 4; Likeability - 7; Social capital - 7)
6. LaMarcus Aldridge (41 points)
Highlight ability and flair aren't inherently linked to Aldridge's ground-bound, mid-range heavy game. Still, Aldridge's talent and importance to the team ensured he won't slip past the top six. Amid trade rumors and rumblings about his happiness with Leonard's ascension, Aldridge is a pleasure to watch in his own right when he's engaged and dominating in the low post. There are only a handful of players in the entire NBA capable of decimating the opposition's will with mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper. It's a master class of a dying art and I thoroughly enjoy seeing Aldridge doing what he does best.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 9; Importance - 9; Highlight ability - 6; Flair - 4; Likeability - 5; Social capital - 8)
5. Pau Gasol (42 points)
While some fans might have bemoaned Gasol's contract, I am not one of them. Even at his advanced age, Gasol is a skilled big man that should be a seamless fit in the Spurs system. He may not ‘wow' anybody with one individual play, but his collective brilliance will make that a moot point.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 8; Importance - 8; Highlight ability - 4; Flair - 5; Likeability - 8; Social capital - 9)
4. Tony Parker (44 points)
I'm Tony Parker's biggest fan, but with his assortment of spin moves and the crafty maneuvers he uses to wedge his body in the paint, he is a joy to watch. He's not the Tony Parker of Old, but the now Old Tony Parker is still a fine option.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 7; Importance - 8; Highlight ability - 8; Flair - 7; Likeability - 6; Social capital - 8)
3. Patty Mills (51 points)
One of three players to earn a perfect ‘10' in likeability -- we'll address the other two later -- Mills has a place in my heart for his energy and unabashed shot selection. He's a jitterbug on the court and the advanced statistics bear out his effectiveness: Mills moved at an average speed of 4.72 miles per hour last season according to NBA.com, which was the fourth-highest speed in the league. When Parker sits, Mills takes it up another five notches and he's immediately a threat to jack up 20 shots in a game. Besides, basketball is just more fun when Mills is in the game.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 7; Importance - 7; Highlight ability - 9; Flair - 9; Likeability - 10; Social capital - 9)
2. Manu Ginobili (54 points)
Manu Ginobili forever. I don't care if he's 39 years old or 72 years old; he'll always be required viewing as long as he's in the NBA. Leading up to what is perhaps his last season in the NBA, Manu scores a perfect 10 in highlight ability, flair, likeability and social capital (quadruple duh).
This excitement index is right in Ginobili's wheelhouse because that's what makes Manu inextricably Manu - and what makes him unique from the rest of the league. When an average player sees a passing angle, Manu has already seen three passing angles before it and already threaded the ball to the player before the average player could blink. He passes to open space, not teammates, like an elite quarterback. That's why Manu freaking Ginobili is Manu freaking Ginobili.
The totality of everything Manu - nutmegging opponents while they are running, swatting a bat with his bare hands, his charming accent, draining step-back 3-pointers, dunking on players nearly a decade younger-- is what makes him timeless. I'll gladly watch a 39-year-old Manu over most players any day of the week.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 7; Importance - 7; Highlight ability - 10; Flair - 10; Likeability - 10; Social capital - 10)
1. Kawhi Leonard (59 points)
This is certainly not a surprise. Kawhi earned a composite score of 59 out of a possible 60 points, with a measly ‘9' for flair dragging him down a bit. In my defense, I gave Kawhi a ‘9' in flair because he's not quite in Ginobili's stratosphere and also because I didn't want him to seem invincible.
Otherwise, Kawhi tops the Spurs watchability index by a whole lot because he doesn't have many flaws. Does he have the talent? Obviously. Is he important to the Spurs' success? Of course. Does he have the capability to shut down Twitter with one play? Absolutely. Is he likeable? If you don't like Kawhi, I don't trust you. Will he be a prominent part of the NBA discourse? Yes, he's a legitimate MVP candidate.
And, remember, Kawhi is just 25 years old, so maybe next year I'll give him ‘11's' across the board because that's the only way to measure Kawhi Leonard's greatness.
He is the Spurs' most exciting player and I'd be willing to argue that he's one of the 10-15 most exciting players in the entire NBA.
(Scoring breakdown: Talent - 10; Importance - 10; Highlight ability - 10; Flair - 9; Likeability - 10; Social capital - 10)