The definitive 2021-22 NBL Watchability Rankings

The new season is just over a week away! Here's your guide to the watchability of each team.

Every year, Zach Lowe and a raft of imitators craft their annual NBA League Pass rankings. For those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is simple: rank every NBA team from 30 to 1 in terms of watchability. Just like last year, I’m one of those imitators — welcome back to the NBL Watchability Rankings.

To determine each team’s overall watchability, I’ve devised a formula based heavily on the original Lowe/Bill Simmons algorithm. Each team will be graded in the following categories:

Play Style (Out of 15 points): Does the team have an engaging, entertaining style of play? Do they align more with the 2014 San Antonio Spurs or the 2021 Cairns Taipans?

Player Buzz (10): Star power, intriguing youngsters, and fresh talent make me tune into games, for better or worse. LaMelo Ball made me tune in to every one of his games two seasons ago, even though the Hawks were borderline unwatchable for most of his tenure.

Team Relevance (9): Being good matters! If half your team’s games don’t mean anything, your team isn’t particularly watchable.

Highlight Potential (7): Do I switch off in the middle of a blow out, or do I stay glued to my screen in case something freakish happens?

Unintentional Comedy (5): Do I switch off in the middle of a blow out, or do I stay glued to my laptop screen in case I spot something meme-worthy? 

Minutiae (5): Does the team enhance or diminish my viewing experience with their uniforms, court design, mascots, and, in the case of the Breakers, their commentary team?

The seemingly arbitrary scoring for each category is because we’re again ranking each team out of 51 points. You may ask, why 51 points? Why not a round number, like 50? To that, I say two things: round numbers are overrated (looking at you, people who voted Russell Westbrook for MVP in 2017), and, more importantly, 51 is Rob Loe’s old college number.

And I love Rob Loe. And these are my rankings. Sue me.

10. Adelaide 36ers (34 points)

This feels mean. I had the Sixers last in these rankings a year ago, even after factoring in how much I would enjoy the Josh Giddey experience.

On top of that, there are a bunch of reasons to be excited to watch the Sixers this year. None more evident than Kai Sotto, who maxed out the ‘player buzz’ category by himself.

Whether you realise it or not, outside of LaMelo Ball, it’s likely that no player has created as much interest in the NBL as Sotto. Filipinos, such as myself, freaking worship this dude. During the YouTube livestream of their preseason hit out against Perth, 13,000 live viewers were still watching midway through the second quarter entirely because they didn’t realise Sotto was sitting out of that particular game. Basketball-wise, there’s plenty to like with Sotto too. A 7’2’’ 19 year old who can stroke it from deep and pump and drive like this? Count me in. 

 More importantly, that big-heavy roster construction doesn’t lend itself to a friendly viewing experience. The three-man frontcourt rotation of Daniel Johnson, Isaac Humphries, and Cam Bairstow in all likelihood won’t work, even though all three are incredibly talented. The guys who most resemble small forwards on this roster (Todd Withers and Hyrum Harris) are likely more suited to playing small ball four in the NBL. The make up of the roster, even if it is talented, is clunky at best.

There’s a grab bag of other random stuff I’m excited to watch with this team: Sunday Dech and Mitch McCarron putting opposing ball handlers through hell just to cross halfcourt, Isaac Humphries once again berating stat keepers for missing his blocks, Dusty Hannahs having at least one game in which he goes bonkers from three.

Still, given that every team seems to be extremely watchable this year, the Sixers bringing up the rear of these rankings feels fair.

9. Cairns Taipans (36)

In all honesty, I’m not sure I’m more excited to watch the Taipans than the Sixers. Adelaide have more star power, scored higher in the highlight potential category, and the bookies expect them to be better than the Taipans.

I also have legitimate concerns over Cairns’ ability to, you know, score points. Outside of Scott Machado, there’s not a lot of proven offensive creators on this squad.

But the algorithm don’t lie.

The Taipans rate higher on the back of maxing out the minutiae and unintentional comedy categories. They still have the best colour scheme in the league combined with arguably the best jerseys. The ‘Snakepit’, meanwhile, remains unquestionably the best nickname for any arena in the league. 

From a comedy standpoint, I’m most interested in Stephen Zimmerman. During an interview he described himself as “kind of a Nikola Jokic before Nikola Jokic”. I can’t claim to have ever watched Zimmerman play pre-NBL. Still, Zimmerman averaged 1.4 assists to 1.8 turnovers across his three seasons in the G League. If nothing else, I’m intrigued and enthralled by his level of irrational confidence in himself. 

There are other bright spots with this team, too. For starters, although Nate Jawai’s minutes have been mostly terrible over the past couple of years, it’s outrageously fun to watch significantly punier humans bounce off him in the post. Machado, meanwhile, could run an effective pick and roll with any rando off the street and make it look pretty. He should help Keanu Pinder turn him into an even more dynamic roll threat. 

(Sidenote: If Jarrod Kenny still had his mullet, I’d move them into the top five.)

This post is for paid subscribers