Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
I do want to go back to talking about basketball video games more often in the Friday Five – that’s kind of what the NLSC is about, after all – but I have had this week’s topic on my mind for a while now. As such, I wanted to get it out of the way before new topics relating to NBA Live 16, NBA 2K16, and the 2015 NBA offseason present themselves in the coming weeks.
It’s safe to say that most of us around these parts are enthusiastic NBA fans, myself included. However, just because the NBA is where amazing happens, doesn’t mean that we love everything about the league. While I do agree with many of the common criticisms that are made of the NBA, there are a few prominent issues on which I have a different opinion. Without any further ado, here are five NBA-related criticisms that I disagree with.
1. Modern Records Aren’t Special, Because the NBA is Watered Down
This criticism comes up a fair bit, and is a favourite of NBA legends such as Tom Heinsohn. The league, they say, has been watered down by expansion and rule changes, so modern records aren’t quite as meaningful. On one hand, they do have a point. On the other hand, expansion is something that has affected the entire league, in terms of talent distribution. It’s not as though the 1996 Chicago Bulls, winners of 72 games, were a team comprised of seven or eight future Hall of Famers going up against D-League level competition. There were other teams that year who were arguably better top to bottom, and the Bulls themselves had lost B.J. Armstrong in the 1995 Expansion Draft.
Teams like the Boston Celtics of the 60s also had a couple of factors in their favour. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, those Celtics teams only had to play two rounds to win eight of their eleven championships. In those eight years, the Celtics played fewer than the sixteen games that modern teams have to win to capture the title. To win their first crown in 1957, they only needed to win seven games. Then of course, you have Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game: an incredible feat, but one that saw a bit of force-feeding and fouling to get there. At the end of the day, you play the competition that presents itself, with the rules and idiosyncrasies of the era, and it’s on you to get the job done. All records are special, and noteworthy in their own right.
2. He’s Only Putting Up Good Numbers on a Bad Team
Chances are, this will be one of the first criticisms you’ll encounter when you start getting into basketball, and are exposed to NBA analysis. It’s right up there with “Defense wins championships” as far as stock phrases are concerned; it’s just common basketball knowledge. The idea that a player’s performance isn’t really that impressive because he’s on a bad NBA team is one that I bought into for a long time; again, it’s one of those things that gets drilled into your head when you’re learning about the game. The more I’ve thought about it as the years have gone by, however, the less sense it’s made.
You could argue that being the lone talented player on a lousy roster offers plenty of opportunity to post some impressive stats. However, the key word there is talented: we’re still talking about a player who is talented enough to turn in impressive performances, night in and night out. On that note, while his teammates may be subpar, he’s still facing NBA-level competition every game. In a way, it’s a more impressive feat to post great numbers on a bad team; without any star teammates to draw defensive attention and create opportunities, it’s a tougher task. Just look at the way LeBron James’ shooting and PER dropped this year, without the benefit of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the chemistry that those three players shared.
3. We Absolutely Need to Change the NBA Draft Lottery
Please note the use of the word “absolutely” there. I don’t think the current Lottery system is nearly as problematic as a lot of people claim. I don’t believe that it needs a complete and immediate overhaul. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s still a good one that works as intended. Sure, teams can tank for the best odds, but the team with the worst record has only landed the top pick four times in the three decades the NBA has used the Lottery system (five if you want to count the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003, when they were tied with the Denver Nuggets). Tanking itself is an overblown issue: we’re really only talking about one or two teams per year, and bottoming out to rebuild through the Draft is a legitimate practice, albeit a risky and painful one.
The common cry is that the philosophy of the NBA Draft Lottery is backwards. In other words, teams are being “rewarded for losing”, indeed given incentive to lose. And if you’ll forgive a ham-fisted Star Wars reference, that is true…from a certain point of view. However, there is a far more glamorous prize up for grabs for teams who want to try and win as much as possible, called the Larry O’Brien trophy. It’s that shiny thing that you might have seen the Golden State Warriors celebrating with (and it’s got a new hat!). There comes a time when teams need to bite the bullet and endure some tough seasons as they start over. Even out the odds a little to discourage blatant tanking if you must, but in my opinion, there’s really no huge problem here.
4. We Absolutely Need to Change the NBA Playoffs Format
Once again, please note that I said “absolutely”. As with the Draft Lottery, I’m not suggesting that there’s no need to make any changes whatsoever, or that improvements to the current system can’t be made. There are changes worth considering. But if we’re talking a major overhaul, or an urgent need to fix something that’s completely broken…no, I don’t agree that that’s the case with the format of the NBA Playoffs. Reportedly, the league is moving towards a change where Division winners will still secure a spot in the Playoffs, but they’ll no longer be guaranteed a top four seed. I didn’t really have a problem with that, but I’ll concede that it’s a worthwhile change.
Eliminating the conferences, though? Seeding the top sixteen teams, regardless of whether they’re East or West? I don’t think the league needs to do that, just because the West is currently very competitive, and the East presently a lot weaker. The current format is a logical way of devising the brackets, and while it won’t always work out perfectly, it’s served the league well for decades. With all the free agent movement so far this offseason, we could well see a shifting of the balance, eliminating some of the complaints regarding the current format. Finally, if a team is truly capable of winning a championship, seeding and match-ups shouldn’t matter. Minor changes to the format? Sure. A major overhaul? Not at this juncture.
5. It’s All Rigged
So I guess this is really more of a conspiracy theory, but I’d say that it still counts as a criticism. It’s certainly something that a lot of fans grumble about, when they’re not happy with the outcome of a game, a series, the Draft, or whatever. The NBA is rigged, they say, as fake, scripted, and contrived as the WWE. Now, I don’t buy into conspiracy theories in general: most of them don’t stand up to Occam’s razor, and tend to conveniently ignore key facts that they can’t explain, or are outright disproven by. If said facts are acknowledged at all, they’re usually said to be false information, and part of the whole conspiracy. Of course.
So no, I don’t agree with this accusation levied against the NBA. For something that is supposedly undeniably true…there’s not a whole lot of hard evidence. Instead, whatever happens, whoever wins the championship, or the Lottery, it’s all submitted as “proof” that the NBA is rigged…even proof that contradicts other proof. Especially the proof that contradicts other proof. Frankly, if the NBA is rigged, then they’re doing a poor job of it. The conspiracy assumes that the NBA is simultaneously incompetent enough to allow undesirable outcomes (the low-rated Spurs/Cavs Finals in 2007, for example), yet competent enough to keep the truth hidden from all but the smartest minds who are capable of figuring it all out. Yeah, I’m not buying it.
What’s your take on these issues? What are some of the commonly held beliefs or criticisms that you disagree with? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, having a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.