The All-Star Break is nearly over, so we can finally jump right back in to our rigorous NBA-viewing schedule. Get ready to watch several NBA games a night for a few more months, just like you’ve been doing for the last three! Wait, what? You haven’t been diligent in keeping up with this NBA season? Let me help you get caught up with this quick NBA recap: ten things you need to know about the 2014-2015 NBA season.
- The Atlanta Hawks are really really good at this whole basketball thing:
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, this team is pretty unbelievable. With no true “star” to speak of, Atlanta has still managed to cruise to victory in 80% of their games through impeccable ball movement, discipline to take good shots, and solid defense. Jeff Teague has emerged as a plus point guard (and then some), minimizing his turnovers and finding good shots for himself and his teammates. Kyle Korver has been incredibly efficient, while managing to mask his usual defensive inadequacies. Al Horford has managed to avoid injury, and leads this team as a shining example of professionalism in terms of his conduct and workmanlike attitude on the floor. It’s about time he played for a winner, he’s been scrapping for this team for years. Barring some significant injury misfortune, these Hawks could make waves this June.
- There will be a new MVP this year:
Steph Curry, James Harden, and Anthony Davis all have legitimate claims to the top spot in this year’s MVP voting. LeBron has missed some time and the Cavs’ early erratic play has damaged his chances. Kevin Durant has missed significant time, while Russell Westbrook remains too polarizing a figure to garner significant votes. Curry has been a lights-out shooter for the team with the best record in the NBA, dazzling nightly with incredible ball-handling skills as well as unrivaled marksmanship. The biggest strike against him is that he has such a good (and similar) partner in the other “splash brother” Klay Thompson. Harden has upped his game considerably this year, particularly in the absence of Dwight Howard. His percentages are up across the board, and his defensive effort has ramped up considerably from the lazy defense he has played in past years. He can almost stay in front of driving guards this year! Anthony Davis is a monster, but he has missed games intermittently with various ailments, while his team is just over .500 (albeit in the brutal Western Conference). Someone get this guy a real team, the ‘Brow is unstoppable and I would love to see him dominate in the playoffs. The sky is the limit with him, and I don’t have to be a basketball expert to see that, barring injury, he is a first-ballot hall of famer when all is said and done. Seriously, watch him play some night. Multiple MVPs in this kid’s future.
- This year’s Western Conference is the best conference ever:
Try this on for size- EVERY Southwest division team in the Western Conference has a winning record as of this writing. Every last one. The defending champion Spurs are languishing in seventh place in the Western Conference… and they are winning almost two-thirds of their games! Their record against the West: 18-14. The East? 16-5. These records are not unusual, as Portland is 18-6 against the East, the Suns are 15-6, the Warriors are 16-2, and Dallas is 18-5. Compare that to Dallas’s record against the West of 18-14. 18-5 and 18-14. That’s crazy. Every game in the West has been a battle this year, with game-winning shots almost a nightly occurrence, explosive offense and tough defense being the norm, and ‘upsets’ taking place daily. You really feel for low teams on the rung in the Western Conference, as they play through a brutal gauntlet during their conference schedule, allowing for few easy wins. Luckily they get a break when they play the Eastern Conference, padding their abominable records. What nice fellas they are over in the Eastern Conference, so accommodating!
- Big men are making a comeback:
Demarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis- in all of the MVP talk, some of the most important individuals names are being lost, in part due to the flashier nature of guards in the NBA. Where would the Pelicans be without Anthony Davis? How about a 30 point home loss to the awful (though improving) Indiana Pacers this week? The Grizzlies are contenders this year in large part due to Marc Gasol’s good health. His defense and passing are invaluable to that team. Boogie? That guy has finally turned the corner, most likely due to an eye-opening experience with USA Basketball this past summer. Hassan Whiteside has also come out of nowhere to play a huge role for the Heat, and he is a large part of why they are still in the playoff race in the awful Eastern Conference. Did you see that triple double including blocks? An unbelievable performance for the journeyman.
- Adam Silver is not afraid to wield his power:
This past week, Commissioner Silver revealed that the NBA brass were investigating changes to the existing playoff structure (in part due to the imbalance of power in the conferences that was discussed above). This would be a huge change for basketball, and would change the playoff landscape for years to come. Along with other tweaks he’s tried, such as a 40-minute game, changes to the Summer League schedule and setup, and discussed possibilities for changing the draft format, raising the age for players to be drafted, and modifying schedules to improve player performance and health. This much change to an already successful league is unprecedented, but not unwarranted- the selling point of the NBA is the players, not the system.
- This is the most point guard depth in the NBA… EVER:
Think about this: Damian Lillard had to be appointed by Commissioner Silver to even make the all-star roster this year. Lillard is one of the bright young stars in the NBA, a major marketing power in the Northwest and nationwide, and he was almost left out entirely. Mike Conley didn’t make it at all, even with several players going down to injury. What is going on this year? Everywhere you look, there’s another amazing point guard running the show, shouldering the load for their team. Just take a gander at this list: Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Mike Conley, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Jeff Teague. I’m leaving off a number of bright young guards, because this list is too incredible as it is. These guys are studs! Those are 10 certifiable build-around-me stars in the NBA, major catalysts for the success of their teams. We are so spoiled right now, and there are some incredible displays of pinpoint passing, three point shooting and how-did-he-make-that layups that happen each and every night in this league. This is the greatest generation for point guards, so be sure to catch them in action before we never see their like again.
- Three-pointers are the most important shot in basketball, and it’s not even close:
Nothing swings a game more surely or quickly than a flurry of three pointers. It is no mere coincidence that the team with the consensus best deep threats in the NBA also has the best record in the NBA. The ‘splash brothers’ have brought onto a national stage how devastating consistent and efficient marksmen can be, and in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last half decade, coaches are beginning to incorporate threes into their game plans more than ever. Hell, Kyle Korver made the all-star team this year for the East. If that doesn’t speak to the power of efficient three-shooting, I don’t know what does. No offense meant to Kyle, of course- I always thought he were the best-looking Kutcher brother! And speaking of Mr. Korver, how about those percentages? I don’t want to jinx it, but this guy could actually finish with a 50/50/90 this year, pertaining to his 3-point, overall, and free throw percentages. No one- NO ONE, has ever done that before. How impressive! What’s that? That doesn’t excite you? Well too bad, because…
- Analytics are the future, and the future is now:
We’re living in a post-analytics basketball world, people. This past week we’ve seen some of the first public questioning of analytics and their effect on the game of basketball, which should tell us all that analytics have now become an accepted part of the basketball universe. All teams use them, and it’s beginning to create a backlash among basketball purists. Charles Barkley lashed out this week at Daryl Morley of the Rockets, criticizing his use of analytics, claiming that his reliance on them clouded his judgment. While this writer thinks that analytics are important to the future of basketball, and understanding how to optimize the skills of each player, there is certainly something to a more hands-off, holistic approach to evaluating player contributions. I just don’t see what could possibly be wrong with noticing patterns and attempting to correct them. Example: mid-range jumpers versus corner threes. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the corner three (with almost as high a shooting percentage as the mid-range jumper) would be more valuable, as it is worth an extra point if it goes in. Not to mention the floor spacing it provides. Some teams may go overboard with the analytics, but overall they have contributed to basketball played at a higher level. Back off, Sir Charles.
- The NBA season needs to be shorter, or have games more spaced out:
These players are tired. Really tired. Did you see what happened with LeBron earlier this year after he sat out five games? He came back guns blazing and the Cavs have been one of the best teams in the NBA ever since. LeBron may be an extreme example (seriously, go look at his lifetime minutes sometime, this guy is a machine) but every NBA player picks up nagging injuries during the season. It would most likely limit serious injury and improve performance if players were to have an extra day of rest here or there, and reducing travel, particularly on back-to-backs, would be a welcome change as well. The average NBA fan would much rather have fewer games played at higher quality than watching two exhausted teams, one missing a star due to an injury and the other with a thin bench, which has far too often been the case in recent years.
- The NBA is still so obviously biased towards major markets (or popular teams) in TV exposure:
Hopefully your fandom has been galvanized and you’re ready to go forth and watch some basketball! You flip on the tube to watch some Wednesday night basketball and BOOM Cavs versus the Bulls. The next game is… the Lakers against the Suns. Wait, aren’t the Lakers awful this year? “There’s always Friday,” you tell yourself. You look up the Friday schedule, and lo and behold, you get the Cavs facing off with the Heat and the Clippers taking on the Trail Blazers. Now, there is a reason that these same teams play in nationally televised games- they’re popular or have a good storyline. I, for one, as a Cavs fan, am glad to see my team often. But while LeBron was gone? Without shelling out the cash for League Pass, I would see two, maybe three games all season. I feel for all of the fans of the Raptors, Grizzlies or Hawks. Your teams are good! Shouldn’t we see them more? And don’t even get me started about the travesty that is hardly ever get to watch Anthony Davis play. You’re being robbed, NBA fans, robbed, I tell you! As with all sports, the more popular your team is, the more often you’ll get to see them. But come on NBA schedulers, can we at least get some flex games involving some of the best teams in the league? I’ve only seen the Hawks play twice this year, and they are the actual best team in the NBA. Criminal.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick overview of the first half of the NBA season. I can’t wait to see where we end up this June! With so many storylines to follow this year, no matter what happens, it’ll be a great watch.
Categories: The Full Court Press: SP Sports