After a long, endless grind of a regular season, here we are at last, sitting on the precipice of the long, endless grind of the NBA Playoffs. For fans of good, well-run, competent franchises, this is an exciting time. It’s a chance to bask in a year of successes, and who knows, maybe even celebrate a championship a couple of months from now.
For everyone else though – those of us unlucky enough to throw our undying love and support behind horribly-run organizations that cannot build a reliable winner – a lack of personal stakes can make the NBA Playoffs grind kind of boring and interminable.
That’s why it is time, once again, for the NBA Playoffs Bandwagon Rankings, a team-by-team assessment to determine which franchises are most worth your temporary passion and investment. It’s like last year, but it’s this year! Read on, and decide for yourself which NBA team’s bandwagon you are going to harness all of your hopes and dreams to, until June 18 rolls around and it’s back to slumming it with the garbage team you voluntarily choose to root for. Anyway…
The 2018 NBA Playoffs Bandwagon Rankings
16) Golden State Warriors
Last year was one thing. Last year – where the Warriors came in all the way at number five – it seemed like a fun idea to jump on the team’s bandwagon, if only to bask in the misery of fans who irrationally felt that Golden State was too good and ruining the beautiful game of basketball. But this year, this year is a completely different animal. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t already thrown your support behind the greatest team of this decade – potentially one of the greatest teams of all-time – your chance is long gone. To do it now, you’d be nothing but a poseur who clearly has no ambition in life. You’re better than that. Please, do not support the Golden State Warriors this postseason. Please.
15) Minnesota Timberwolves
Okay, yes, the Timberwolves did snap the longest active post-season drought in the NBA (13 seasons!) by making the playoffs, and that’s fantastic. I’m happy for them and the entire glorious state of Minnesota. I’m happy for Karl-Anthony Towns, I’m happy for Andrew Wiggins, I’m even happy for Derrick Rose, who managed to shamble his way onto a playoff team at the last possible moment. But… this team’s stars are probably already exhausted after an entire regular season of playing under Tom Thibodeau, a coach whose defining trait is his penchant for running his best players into the ground. If they somehow squeak by Houston and into the second round – and I’m almost afraid to put this out there, but – Jimmy Butler may die. Nobody wants that. Don’t root for that.
14) Boston Celtics
In any other season, the Celtics would rank last on this list because god, oh god, oh god why does this franchise need another championship banner? Between injuries though – from Hayward to Kyrie and everyone in between – and their admirable job of building up good, young talent, this team becomes slightly more fun to root for. SLIGHTLY. You could do worse, but don’t go crazy; this is still a franchise that doesn’t need you when it wins its 526th NBA championship or whatever.
13) Milwaukee Bucks
As very cool and fun and exciting and other positive adjectives as it would be… I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem like Giannis is going to be able to dunk it from the other team’s foul line…
12) San Antonio Spurs
A veritable powerhouse of competitive professional basketball, the Spurs just had their worst season since 1996-97. I mean, these losers couldn’t even win more than 47 games! That must be so embarrassing for this team. These are the San Antonio Spurs – a team that dismantles opponents with serial killer-like precision – and you’re telling me they would be no better than a six seed… in the EAST! How the mighty have fallen. Honestly, I’m not even fully convinced they want to be playing post-season games right now. Best to ignore.
11) Miami Heat
I don’t know if any fools are still riding this train, but it’s long past time to be thinking that Erik Spoelstra is an overrated coach who only found success due to the LeBron-Wade-Bosh triumvirate. Look at this team. Sure, Goran Dragić was an All-Star this year, but no one on the Heat, not even Dragić, averaged over 18 points per game this season. To take that team to the playoffs? Erik Spoelstra is a great coach. Why only number 11 here then? Weren’t you listening? They didn’t have a player who averaged more than 18 points per game this season! No thank you.
10) Washington Wizards
Beyond their two stellar guards (and Kelly Oubre’s enduring sense of style) the Wizards do not really inspire a confidence to go far in this post-season. Still, these guys squeak into the top 10 for the same reason they topped the list last year, and will rank well for however many future years. And that’s because the dream of a Washington D.C. team winning a championship, and then declining to take the twenty minute walk to meet Donald Trump at the White House, is one that is too glorious and hilarious to let die.
9) Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder lost last summer’s Victor Oladipo trade. Oladipo notched 1735 total points for the Pacers, whereas Paul George could only manage a measly 1734. Simple math. Still, the Thunder remain an extremely compelling team to watch. Why? Russell Westbrook. Playoff Russell Westbrook. Westbrook normally goes extremely hard every minute of every game, but after a season full of doubts of whether he could even get this team to the post-season? I swear, this guy is going to throw down a dunk with such force, the ball is going smash through the floor, have enough momentum to shoot all the way through the to the other side of the Earth, and somehow re-enter the atmosphere above the arena, before falling through the roof and into the hoop for a four-point play.
8) Indiana Pacers
Did you know this is the second year in a row that the Indiana Pacers have made the NBA Playoffs? Not bad for a franchise that is probably best known either for once having Reggie Miller on their team, or for playing in the same state that Hoosiers takes place. What an underdog.
7) Toronto Raptors
As good as this Raptors team is (a one-seed in the East and probably the greatest team Toronto basketball has ever had) you know that they’re going to lose the first game of a given series at home, and lose at least another one on the road. Every playoff series featuring the Raptors has a built-in element of edge-of-your-seat suspense, because every playoff series featuring the Raptors is guaranteed to go at least six games. If your ideal bandwagon is one that’s going to make you sweat, look no further.
6) Portland Trail Blazers
Hey look, the Blazers are in the playoffs again, so here’s your yearly reminder that the Blazers are a playoff-caliber team. Seriously, it feels like every year we’re hit with “Well, the Blazers are definitely going to fall off” predictions, and yet this team only seems to get better. They said this team couldn’t defend and now they’re one of the league’s 10 best. Damian Lillard remains a killer, no seriously, do not cross this man. I’m pretty sure C.J. McCollum has buried a body or two in his day as well. What’s that? Yeah, I’m talking about basketball. They’re good at basketball, they’re worth supporting for a post-season killing spree… on the basketball court.
5) Cleveland Cavaliers
Screw it, man. LeBron deserves whatever he wants at this point. If he wants to carry a “crappy” (by post-2010 LeBron standards) team, sleepwalk through an entire month, carry that crappy team some more, remake the entire team with a couple of months left in the season, get everyone on the same page, steamroll through the East, and win the title, he should be allowed to do that. And hell, you should support him in that endeavor.
4) New Orleans Pelicans
I’d like to take this space to make a confession: I fell for Anthony Davis’ unibrow shaving April Fools prank. It’s not something I’m proud of, but the video just seemed so legit at the time. That’s not the worst part though. The worst part is that I told my dad that Davis had shaved his trademark brow, and haven’t had the heart to tell him yet that it was just an April Fools prank. He’ll probably read this. Sorry dad, Anthony Davis still has one eyebrow.
Anyway, Anthony Davis is a fantastic player who deserves so much more success than he’s had, and I’m sorry I ever thought he was overrated.
3) Houston Rockets
A trio of NBA Playoffs failures come together to complete their tale of redemption. James Harden, the presumptive league MVP, who always seems to be at his worst in the post-season, and infamously fell apart in last year’s second round. Chris Paul, the surefire first ballot Hall of Famer who has never gotten past the second round with any team. Mike D’Antoni, the offensive genius whose “Seven Seconds or Less” offense presaged the style of play that dominates this era of NBA basketball, but whose teams can never seem to deliver when it counts (especially against the Spurs.) A championship would cement Harden as one of the league’s five best players, would seal Paul’s status as a legend of this game, would validate D’Antoni as one of the greatest coaching minds in the history of the sport. If that ain’t a cause to rally behind, what is?
2) Utah Jazz
If you thought the Jazz, with their lack of star power, market size, and recent successes, were a “low-value” team to jump on last year, get a load of this year’s team! Utah lost their biggest star, Gordon Hayward, to free agency. Rudy Gobert, their most important player, missed one-third of the season. Halfway through the season, this team was 17-24. But dammit, they never gave up. Behind potential Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell, and a healthy Gobert anchoring what ended up being the league’s second-best defense, a team that looked dead in the water finished out the season 31-10, netting themselves the West’s fifth seed.
Again, as with last year, when a team of lesser renown like the Jazz start toppling your traditional Western Conference powerhouses, it’s going to feel that much sweeter. Here still is your chance to get on the ground floor of something potentially really special. And of course, don’t get forget head coach Quin Snyder, who has a T-1000-esque glare that is fantastic, and am maybe sort of only bringing up as an excuse to re-use this glorious photoshop that did not get nearly enough attention last year:
1) Philadelphia 76ers
It had to be them. Two seasons ago this team won 10 games. 10 games! That’s beyond bottom of the barrel. That’s like, bottom of the rock that’s a few feet under the dirt that the barrel is sitting on top of. It seemed like Sam Hinkie’s mad dream of building a winning team via “The Process” (being intentionally terrible for several years so as to accumulate top young talent through the draft; essentially a Silicon Valley “disrupting” of the NBA) would never come to fruition. It seemed especially so after Hinkie got himself essentially run out of town in the midst of that 10 win season. But Hinkie… you sonofabitch…
The 76ers have blossomed this season, faster than you, I, or anyone (except maybe some guy on Reddit) could have imagined. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are two of, if not the two best young players in the league. Embiid played close to a full season for the first time since being drafted in 2014, and Ben Simmons is a rookie. This is already the most exciting young team in the NBA. Now if those two can stay healthy, and Markelle Fultz gets a working shoulder? Philadelphia could become a powerhouse for years to come. Hell, they already won 52 games this season, notched a three-seed, potentially have an inside track to the Conference Finals, and matched up well against Cleveland all year.
Philly’s stock couldn’t get much higher than it currently is. Trust me, you gotta get in now, while the team is still regarded as a fun collection of young, cocky upstarts. Because once that success starts rolling in, it’s not long before they start becoming regarded as loathsome assholes that everyone hates for “ruining the game.” That bubble is going to burst sooner rather than later. Jump in now. Trust the process.