The (unofficial) NBA All-Fun Team: The 10 most entertaining players to watch right now – The Athletic

Mike VorkunovFeb 21, 2024

It’s crazy, I know, but watching the NBA is supposed to be fun. When you turn on a basketball game, you’re not there to get hit by a stream of betting ads, or gripe about the Wi-Fi conking out or the stream pausing on the app you’re using. You just want to watch a game and have some fun. That’s why we all do this.

There are a lot of ways to consume basketball. You can chase efficiency. You can chase championships. You can follow for the latest beef and drama. I’m watching to have some fun. That’s why I don’t want to see robot refs and endless replay reviews. Human error can be fun.

So it’s time for the second annual All-Fun team. This isn’t the NBA’s best players. You have the All-Star teams for that. This isn’t necessarily the guys with the best stats, or on the best teams. If you want superlatives, go check the leaderboards.

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I wanted to make a team of the players I’ve had the most fun watching. It’s my list. You will certainly disagree. Until I create an algorithm that can take in all the things that make a player fun and spit it out into one number, this is totally subjective.

But it’s not a lawless place. Like I said last year, there are rules. Only one All-Star is allowed. I know, I know, rules aren’t fun, but this had to be done. Otherwise, this team might just look like an All-Star team with Nikola Jokić, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry all as easy picks. The funny thing about basketball is that being good at basketball usually leads to people having fun watching you play. So, the lineup will feature a starting five and a bench five after that. I’m also going to try to avoid the players who made it last year. Since there have been only 10 honorees to this point, it seems like it shouldn’t be that hard to avoid duplication. So as much as I love watching Jalen Brunson and Alperen Şengün, here are 10 new players to appreciate this year.

Starters

Tyrese Haliburton, guard, Indiana Pacers

Haliburton’s ascent has been one of the biggest stories of the season. He’s been the engine of the league’s most prolific offense (hot take: points are fun). He’s an amazing passer and creator for himself and everyone else. He’s like a Tesla car if the self-driving features worked. He’s a deadly 3-point shooter. His passing has led to 1,176 points for other Pacers, even though he is the only one in the top 10 in assisted points to have played fewer than 1,621 minutes (and it’s way fewer; he has played 441 fewer minutes than the leader, Hawks point guard Trae Young). Sometimes Haliburton will just pull up from the logo, sometimes he’ll uncork a running hook shot, sometimes he’ll throw himself a pass off the backboard to set up a 3 in the corner for someone else.

And as cool as all that is, it’s the more mundane stuff that makes Haliburton so much fun. Like a quarter earlier in that same game when he caught a grenade in the corner with five seconds on the shot clock and then danced his way into a stepback fallaway 3. You never know what you’re getting with Haliburton, but he is this year’s All-Fun team captain.

 

Jalen Suggs, guard, Orlando Magic

Defense is fun, too! Suggs is quite good at it. He can blow up opposing teams’ possessions by hounding ballhandlers. He is sometimes a high-wire act with his relentless tenacity and occasional disregard for the limitations physics imposes on us humans. The Ringer’s Michael Pina did a great job explaining what Suggs means to the Magic, but Suggs means a lot to the league, too. At a time when offenses continue to decimate defenses, Suggs is out there playing good, hard defense,  showing that it can still be done.


Jalen Williams, wing, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are one of the most fun teams in the league. Heck, the Thunder could fill an entire All-Fun team roster. But, alas, we can’t do that. The Constitution prevents us from doing so. But we can put Williams on here. He’s sometimes the forgotten leg of the Thunder’s big three. If big threes are like boy bands, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the MVP; Chet Holmgren is the tall, unicorn-ish one; Williams is the one who can do everything. He’s a long wing with guard skills. It’s fun to watch Williams play defense, where he occasionally roams along the back line and gets into guys’ pockets, as he did to Jrue Holiday and Jaylen Brown in that great Celtics-OKC matchup in January. He’s very good in a supporting job, and then just slides over to be the main catalyst at the start of fourth quarters, when OKC gives him a starring role. Williams is kind of the epitome of the Thunder this season, so he belongs on here.

 

Jalen Johnson, forward, Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have benefited from Johnson’s third-year leap this season, and he’s given them a nice building block going forward. But we’ve all benefited from him getting more minutes this season. Johnson is a stick of dynamite every time he hits the lane. He also happens to play with one of the best lob passers in the league, which just augments his game. He’s 6-9, 220, so he brings so much force to his finishes. But Johnson isn’t just a dunker; he’s also a decent 3-point shooter (36.1 percent this season). He’s  added so much variety to the Hawks this season and made them much more interesting, even in a stale year.


Victor Wembanyama, alien, San Antonio Spurs

He can dunk from anywhere! He can shoot from anywhere! He can block 10 shots in a game! He’s like a skilled Reed Richards. Wembanyama has truly been a delight. The way he plays is a sight to take in. Even the relatively benign (this is all relative, of course) stuff is interesting. It’s so cool to see a 7-4 guy effortlessly pull up from 3 off the dribble, or deke a defender on a cut to the lane for a lob. He has made a bleh team worth watching.

Bench

Coby White, guard, Chicago Bulls

Have you enjoyed the Coby White revolution this season in Chicago? I have. White had a nondescript first four-plus years to his career before he turned it on this winter. Zach LaVine’s absence gave White time to cook, and he’s been making delicious meals ever since. White has averaged 22.4 points and 6.0 assists since Nov. 30 and is shooting 39.7 percent on 7.5 3s per game. That’s the good stuff. White is doing more with his latest chance. He’s getting to the rim significantly more often (he already has more dunks than he did last season), he’s making more plays, and he’s added some zest to Bulls games that can sometimes dawdle.


Donte DiVincenzo, guard, New York Knicks

First of all, if your nickname is “The Big Ragu,” you’re automatically on the All-Fun team watchlist. Second of all, DiVincenzo has been a delight to watch this season in New York. He’s an unheralded chaos agent on the Knicks. DiVincenzo makes things happen. He’s been a perfect addition to Tom Thibodeau’s defense as a hyperactive pest. He gets into passing lanes, flies around and generally just does stuff. On offense, he’s really  amped up his 3-point volume (a staple of the Leon Rose-era Knicks); DiVincenzo is taking more 3s per game than last season but in fewer minutes. He has taken 16 3s in a game this season — twice! He’s one of just 17 players this season to average more than a steal per game and more than seven 3s. The others are current or recent former All-Stars, along with CJ McCollum, Bogdan Bogdanović, Terry Rozier and Desmond Bane. That’s some good company.


Cam Thomas, guard, Brooklyn Nets

Cam Thomas is a bucket, as the cool kids would say. Thomas has filled the hole where all those Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving shots used to be and he is not shy about getting them up. But it sure is fun. He’s averaging 21.5 points and he’s still just 22. His minutes are up, his usage rate is up and he’s more than doubled the amount of field goal attempts per game from last season. The one thing that isn’t up is his shooting efficiency numbers (eFG% is just about flat, TS% is down, points per shot attempt is down). But put your abacus away and just enjoy the show when Thomas has it going. He’s played in 44 games and scored 30-plus points in six of them and 40-plus points in another three. There’s still joy to be found in a guy who can just go off sometimes, even in this age of abundant offense.


Toumani Camara, forward, Portland Trail Blazers

OK, I understand the reactions to this. Namely, who? And, a guy who is playing 24 minutes a night for a 15-win team? Both valid. But hey, it’s not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy. So get over it. I first noticed Camara when the Trail Blazers went to Philadelphia in October and he was a bit of a pest. He stood out for someone who had just been the 52nd pick in the draft, and he’s only gained playing time since. Camara just does a little of everything and gets in the way. He averages a steal per game and is occasionally dangerous from 3. He’s not much of a ball mover — he has more turnovers than assists — but he’s feisty and active.


Jarrett Allen, center, Cleveland Cavaliers

Allen is the forgotten hero in Cleveland. He’s an old-school kind of fun. He’s big and strong and he muscles people around. He’s a perfect example of why the NBA could do with some more physicality. But he’s also got a deft touch around the rim. He’s among the league’s best rim protectors and he’s 10th in dunks. He helped stand the Cavaliers up while they were missing Darius Garland and Evan Mobley earlier this month.

(Photo illustrations: Daniel Goldfarb / The Athletic: photos: Andy Lyons / Getty Images and Barry Gossage NBAE via Getty Images)

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Mike Vorkunov is the national basketball business reporter for The Athletic. He covers the intersection of money and basketball and covers the sport at every level. He previously spent three-plus seasons as the New York Knicks beat writer. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeVorkunov

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