Quit Telling Me the NBA Season Doesn’t Matter

A few weeks ago, Chris posted an article claiming that NBA season should not be watched. The main rationale for the article was based off the fact that the NBA faces the inescapable reality that the Warriors will be the 2018-2019 champions. However, I think this season, like any other, has many different reasons to watch. This article appears early in the season, but my reasons still stand. Through these first few weeks, we’ve seen the NBA with higher ratings than ever, but that only scratches the surface as to why the NBA is more interesting than ever. I won’t focus on it heavily, but just keep that in mind.

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Golden State is just the latest in a long line of NBA dynasties. (Wikimedia Commons)

First, contrary to what Chris would have you believe, the dominance of Golden State is one of the main reasons why the NBA is must-watch entertainment this season. The NBA and all of the other major sports in the US are at their height in watchability when there is a dominant dynasty.

People remember eras based off those dynasties. For example, the Showtime Lakers or Jordan’s Bulls are what fans remember from the late 80’s through the 90’s. The Warriors are probably the first true dynasty since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. The “Heatles” and the Spurs were both amazing teams, but they were never truly head and shoulder above the competition for more than a year.  

Continuing on this, dynasties become must watch because fans hate watch them and to see if they will chase the ghost of previous dynasties. People love to watch dynasties lose, there is no denying it. You could go to any average sports fan and they want to see teams like the Patriots and Yankees, both dominant teams in this century, fail to get a championship. The sheer possibility that these top teams come up short is a compelling enough reason to watch in its own right.

The Warriors are no different. Go to any forum that discusses the NBA and it will be full of users who want an end to the Warriors. On the other side of this, however, fans tune in to see if records will be broken. One of the most watched games of this past decade in NBA was when the Warriors got to win number 73, becoming the new kings of the regular season. The new ghost for Golden State to chase this year is becoming the first team since Bill Russell’s Celtics to go to five straight NBA finals. Ultimately, the Warriors, the reason many people claim the NBA is pointless, is one of the most enticing parts of this season.

The other article also does not give credit to the growth of up and coming teams. Fans of bad teams only want to watch the night-to-night growth of their young players. While going through a rebuild they set aside the fact that for the next few years a run to the NBA Finals is only a pipe dream.

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The Bucks are one of the best storylines of the young NBA season as the last undefeated team in the league. (Wikimedia Commons)

Kings fans watch to see if De’Aaron Fox will go super saiyan. I am a proud Knicks fan and my reasons for watching this season is to see how Ntilikina improves in his second season and how the trio of Knicks rookies fair in their inaugural seasons to name a few. Young players attract fans, but young coaches do too. How will their new system affect the team? During the offseason, almost a third of the NBA hired new head coaches. Coach Mike Budenholzer is one coach I am most the intrigued about because I think he will make the Bucks a top four team in the East.

In the end, many fans worry that the Warriors will make the NBA unwatchable this season. However, I think Golden State should be the least of peoples worries when it comes to the watchability of the NBA. Nevertheless if dynasties are not your thing, there are too many up and coming players and new head coaches this season to not watch.

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The better finals rematch

Golden State completed one of the great comebacks in NBA history beating Oklahoma City to advance to the NBA Finals. Those finals against Cleveland began Thursday and I have to admit that I am a little disappointed.

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Steph Curry is the reigning MVP for a second straight year. (Wikimedia Commons)

I know watching Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shoot is fun and the Draymond Green against LeBron James matchup has been interesting, but there was a much better rematch I was hoping to see in the finals this year.

It wouldn’t necessarily have been between two teams as much as it would have been between two players. Think back to four years ago when James was still wearing a Miami uniform. At this time in 2012, LeBron still had not won a ring. Neither had his main adversary in that year’s finals, Kevin Durant.

Fast forward four years and Durant is still seeking that ring while LeBron is desperately trying to bring Cleveland a title. Watching those two matchup again in the finals, granted with much different supporting casts, would have been epic to see.

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James and the Cavaliers have struggled against Golden State this season, but fared well versus Oklahoma City. (Wikimedia Commons)

It was a great battle the first time around. Durant averaged over 30 points a night, while LeBron posted 28, 7 and 10 per game. It was a battle of wills that Durant lost due to having a much weaker supporting cast. He had Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, but that was no match for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in their prime.

Outside of LeBron and Durant matching up, there are a few other matchups I would have loved to see in a Thunder-Cavaliers series, one of them involving the aforementioned Westbrook. He is one of the best pure scorers in the league at this point. His athletic blend makes him a nightmare to guard. One of the players best-suited to slowdown Westbrook is Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving.

We never got to see the two faceoff in the regular season, as Irving missed the first game as he continued to recover from that gruesome knee injury last year. He played just nine minutes in the second meeting. The regular season only scratched the surface of what this matchup could have been.

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Irving only played in Game 1 last year before fracturing his knee. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not saying for a minute that I will not be watching the finals now as a result of the Thunder not being a part of it, or that the repeat of last year’s finals won’t be interesting (especially now that Kevin Love and Irving are healthy), but I think we certainly got robbed.

I have to take what I can get though, and I might as well make a prediction. Cleveland took pretty much this same Golden State team to six games last year, despite missing two of it’s best players.

The Warriors took the first two games. I don’t think Cleveland will end up getting swept. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them snag two wins before the Warriors close it out. Repeat of last year, Golden State wins in six games and the Cavs spend another offseason wondering what went wrong.

Kerr didn’t deserve Coach of the Year

I mean come on. This is a joke right? Steve Kerr was named the 2016 NBA Coach of the Year today. That’s a little tough to swallow.

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Kerr returned to the Warriors’ bench on January 2o. (Wikimedia Commons)

Obviously, it actually has nothing to do with Kerr’s coaching ability. He is a great coach. His personnel usage is incredible and he seems to have a close connection with his players.

Kerr missed half of the season though. Actually more than half if you want to get into specifics. Due to health concerns, Kerr missed the first 43 games of the season and Luke Walton coached in his place. The Warriors ended up winning a record 73-games this season, but Kerr’s record while coaching was 34-5. Walton’s was actually better at 39-4.

While the reason why Kerr missed half of the regular season games this season was out of his control, it does not mean that it should be forgotten that he missed all of those games. Kerr’s triumphs off the court were probably more important than anything Golden State did on the court this season and he should be honored and praised for that. Just not with the Coach of the Year Award.

In my opinion, there are two ways this could have gone instead that would have been much more acceptable. The first one would be if they named Kerr and Walton Co-Coaches of the Year. They each contributed pretty much evenly to the team’s success this season.

This would be somewhat similar to 2012, when Bruce Arians won the NFL’s Coach of the Year award, despite being the interim replacement for Chuck Pagano while the later missed most of the season for cancer treatment. Arians coached 12 of the team’s 16 games, so he received the award. Walton coached slightly more than half, but with the split being so close to even, I think it would be fair to have the two coaches share the award.

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The Spurs went 40-1 this season under Popovich. (Wikimedia Commons)

The other option would have been to give the award to the next deserving coach, in this case Gregg Popovich. Pop’s Spurs won 67 games this year, and he coached all of them. That comes in tied for seventh all time for most wins in a season.

Popovich rested his guys throughout the year and showed that, similar to Golden State, he knew how to manage his team. He played small ball, he went big. He played fast, he slowed it down. Pop can get his guys to do anything he wants.

In most other seasons, San Antonio would have finished with the best record in the league. In fact, the Spurs became the team with the most wins to not finish with the best record in the league this season. Usually, that would mean that the team with the best record had the best coaching. However, in this case, it was not just one coach. If the award is meant to go to an individual and cannot be shared, then it should have gone to Popovich.

I like Steve Kerr a lot and I am not trying to argue that he isn’t a great coach, but give me a break. There is no way he deserved to win this award. It should have gone to someone else.

Making a case from the bench

This past week saw Steph Curry take on a new role for the Golden State Warriors. A spot on the bench. Curry missed back-to-back games for the Dubs due to a lower leg injury. He is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game against the Nuggets.

Stephen_CurryIn the two games that Curry has missed so far, the Warriors have struggled. First came a blowout loss to the Dallas Mavericks in which Dallas shot over 50 percent from the field while Golden State only hit 40.7 percent of their shots. The next was a narrow win over the Rockets where the Warriors were sloppy with the ball, turning it over 18 times.

There is no doubt that the Warriors are worse off with Curry on the bench but this raises an interesting question. Does this solidify Curry as the league’s MVP yet again? It seems a bit crazy but it actually makes some sense.

Peyton_ManningThis type of idea originated for the first time for me when it came the 2011 NFL season. Peyton Manning missed the entire season due to an offseason neck surgery. The Colts went from a 10-6 playoff team in 2010 to a 2-14 debacle in 2012. It made many people wonder just how valuable Peyton was to Indianapolis if his absence could make that much of a difference.

Obviously, this is not the same scenario and no one actually voted for Manning as the MVP for that season but it still presented the idea. The reason why it could genuinely work in Curry’s favor is because he has actually played during the season and is not expected to miss an extend run of games.

Stephen_Curry2Curry has already made a pretty good case to be the league’s MVP again. He leads the NBA in points per game by a decent margin and is second in shooting percentage among guards. He has chipped in a healthy 6.4 assists per night and fourth in thefts per game. He has the best box plus/minus rating and the highest number of win shares in the league this season. Not to mention that the Warriors have only lost one game that Curry started.

His absence underlined how important he is to the team. There are some noticeable changes to the Warriors game without Curry. When Curry starts, Golden State scores 114.8 points per game. Without him, the Dubs averaged only 102.5. Their three-point shooting and overall shooting dropped off. It became apparent very quickly that no matter how deep the Warriors seem, they need their leader on the court to be a contender.

Yes it is a very small sample size and it is clear that Golden State is a good team even without Curry. I really think that missing those two games strengthened his campaign for a second consecutive MVP award. He showed his true value as the most important piece on the league’s best team.

Should a player be named MVP because of the drop off his team suffers when he doesn’t play? Maybe not in the case of Peyton Manning back in 2011, but I think in the case of Curry in 2016, it helps. The award is not designed for the league’s best player, but it’s most valuable one. His value was underlined in those two games.

Does this mean that Curry has locked up the MVP race? Absolutely not, but I think he just strengthened his resume by spending two nights in late December sitting on the bench.

Western Conference Finals Preview

This one is going to have a lot of offense involved. Through two rounds of playoff basketball, Golden State and Houston are playing the most exciting brand of basketball. There is non-stop scoring in the variety of a three-point bombing squad from the Warriors and the two-man show of Dwight Howard and James Harden for the Rockets. This series is going to be hotly contested and will go for at least six games in the end. I cannot wait for it to get underway and watch some great basketball. Here are the keys to who will win this series.

Stephen_Curry2All season long, we have heard about how deep the Warriors are at pretty much every position. Against the Clippers, the Rockets demonstrated that they have just as much depth. Pablo Prigioni stepped up big time for Houston in Game 7 and really provided the spark that drove the Rockets to the win. Harden and Howard are great but Josh Smith, Clint Capela, Terrance Jones, Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry all have proven to be integral role players on this squad. Ariza and Smith carry a lot of the scoring load if Harden is ever struggling and Capela and Jones have provided enough defense if Howard finds himself in foul trouble. However, the depth that Houston is displaying does not really compare evenly to what Golden State can roll out if they so choose. When Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Andre Igoudala, Marreese Speights and David Lee is your line of backups and you still have Festus Ezeli to rotate in, that depth is scary. That line could probably beat the Knicks or the Lakers on occasion or at least give them a good game. The reason that these games will be so good is that both teams have plenty of talent beyond the starting five. Golden State definitely has the edge though.

Playing at home is always a big deal as well, especially for the Warriors. Golden State has lost only three times this season on their home court. Houston will take some solace in the fact that one of those losses came recently as the Dubs dropped Game 2 against Memphis. Houston was impressive at home this year, having lost just 12 games this season in their part of Texas, including the playoffs. That should mean that this seesaw back and forth for a little while with both teams getting a huge boost from their home crowds. Once again though, this seems to heavily favor the Warriors.

Harden_DurantThere is some hope for the Rockets though. The Warriors have shown their kryptonite in Games 2 and 3 against Memphis, the Warriors shot a combined 42.5 percent from the field, well below their season average, and went ice cold from three-point range, hitting on only 23.6 percent of their attempts. The Grizzlies showed the NBA how to beat the Dubs. You need to make them take some contested threes and force them to keep jacking them up. The Warriors were more than content to sit back and take low percentage looks in those games. Houston should have the paint protection between Howard and Smith to force Golden State to look for points outside of the paint. In those games, Steph Curry and company committed 37 turnovers, compared to Memphis’ 27. If Houston can keep hold of the ball and limit the number of chances that Golden State has to run in transition, the Rockets should keep it close.

The regular season was not kind to the Rockets. They lost players throughout and had to find ways to compensate. Now, mostly healthy, Houston should be even better than their regular season selves. And they better hope so too because this Warriors team blew them out during the season series. The Dubs swept the Rockets 4-0 by an average of 15 points per game. I said the same thing about the Nets though when they matched up against Atlanta in the first round and Brooklyn made a series of it. Houston is a much different team this time around and they know that they can turn to other sources of scoring if Harden and Howard go cold, as they did in Game 6 against Los Angeles.

In the end, I think the Warriors will be moving on in six games. I do not see Houston stealing one from them in Oakland. I also think that they will probably split the two games when the series returns to Houston. That worked fine for the Rockets against the Clippers but the Warriors have not dropped three straight games all season. No way the Houston comes back from a three-game hole again. Golden State will make its long awaited return to the finals on the shoulders of the league MVP. Harden will once again find himself the runner up.