Monday, November 7, 2016
An Early Reveal
We've barely seen the start of the NBA season. However, there are always questions that can develop from the smallest of sample sizes. So, what should we keep our eyes on as this particular campaign takes shape?
Players Becoming Downright Offensive
Just like in the NFL, the NBA has tried to open up the game for more offensive flow. While there are critics and detractors to this philosophy, a change is noticeable over the last few seasons. For 13 straight seasons, and 16 out of 18, the entire league averaged less than 100 points per game. That number has been equalled or surpassed in each of the last three campaigns. This season's early average (103.1) is a good start to eclipsing last season's (102.7) and would be the highest since 1992-1993 (105.3).
This isn't the only area where an increase in offense can be seen. Three-point attempts, and makes, are at an all-time high, and that seems to be ready to continue. But teams are also playing at a faster pace than in previous years. Offensive pace has either stayed steady or increased since the most recent NBA lockout (2011). It appears that the trend will continue in 2016-2017. Last season, offensive pace topped 95 possessions per 48 minutes since 1993-1994. The early returns for this campaign have pace raising above 97 possessions for the first time since 1990-1991.
A Chance For a Change in Reputation
Everyone knows that most successful basketball teams, no matter where the squad's star plays on the floor, start with a competent point guard. In most cases, those guards are the shortest members of the roster. But there have been exceptions over time. With respect to the players I overlook, one of the prime examples of the taller point man is Magic Johnson. LeBron James has had stints where he has run the offense from the top of the key. Before the season, a one decision concerning the position made headlines.
Milwaukee is experimenting with 6-11 forward Giannis Antetokounmpo as their choice. It's a combination that appears to be working out for the 4-3 Bucks (although Sunday's loss in Dallas didn't look too good). The "Greek Freak" is leading the team in points (21.1) and assists (6.0), while being a close second in rebounds (8.4). If this continues to produce positive results, could this become a trend across the league?
Meanwhile, Houston's new head coach (Mike D'Antoni) decided to put James Harden's "ball-hog" rep to the ultimate test. The shooting guard now has the responsibility of "starting point guard" to add to his resume. For D'Antoni and his uptempo offense, he figured why not take advantage of a player that takes so much possession of the team's offense and turn the leadership role up a notch?
Hoops fans already knew how prolific Harden was at changing the scoreboard. He led the league in points scored two years in a row. He was the players choice for MVP in 2014-2015. And, now, it appears that he has welcomed the challenge to change the rep that he's earned during his days in Houston. Harden is 4th in league scoring (31.5 ppg) ... but he's also your league assist leader (74 dimes, 12.3 apg) through the first week-plus. Can that hold up?
The Money's Flowing in Early On
The salary cap made a big jump this Summer (from $70 million to just over $94 million). That created quite the bidding frenzy for free agents during the offseason. There's going to be another slight jump in 2017 (expected to be $102 million), but some teams aren't waiting until July to sign the ink on new contract extensions. Halloween night was quite busy when it came to the league's transaction section. Four teams doled out some coin for long-term extensions. They are as follows:
* Gorgui Dieng: 4-year, $64 million extension with Minnesota
* Cody Zeller: 4-year, $56 million extension with Charlotte
* Victor Oladipo: 4-year, $84 million extension with Oklahoma City
* Steven Adams: 4-year, $100 million extension with Oklahoma City
* Rudy Gobert: 4-year, $102 million extension with Utah
With these players getting this kind of scratch, what could we expect next Summer? One thing for certain, the NBA's pockets are pretty deep at the moment.
Warriors From the East Side
It seemed like everyone (myself included) started going nuts last year when Golden State took their championship pedigree and ran toward an unimaginable mark. The Warriors won the first 24 games of the season en route to a history-making 73-9 record. While the Dubs had their fans (myself included), they also had their critics. Many scoffed at the question about whether they could compete with the team they surpassed in the regular season history books (the '95-'96 Chicago Bulls). Ultimately, the Warriors made a kind of history they didn't want, blowing a 3-1 Finals lead to Cleveland.
This season, the Cavaliers wear the crown, and they may put themselves in the same position as last season's Golden State squad. While much of the focus will be on the "remade" Warriors, the Cavs might get a run at 70 wins. If you believe what people in the know say, the Eastern Conference (while better) isn't up to par with LeBron James and Squad. Cleveland has started the season 6-0 after a one-point win at Philadelphia on Saturday. What's to say that they couldn't be 17-0 going into their December 1st matchup with the Clippers? How about surviving a couple of back-to-back stints and holding a 27-2 going into the Christmas Day Finals rematch? And if this occurs, will the hype and criticism equal what we witnessed last season? Oh, and speaking of this new quirk in the schedule...
... I can't stand it. They rarely occurred yet, and I still can't stand it. Maybe it's just me. When I think of teams playing each other in consecutive appearances, two things come to mind ... baseball or Playoff time. I'm just not feeling these two-game stretch where teams will be playing home-and-home. This isn't a 162-game schedule. This isn't the postseason. This isn't the Champions League knockout stage. But maybe this is the future of NBA basketball. Maybe, just maybe, I need to get off of my high horse and adjust to it. For the moment, though, I'm not a fan.