Most of the time when someone asks me about basketball, they ask me what I think of certain college players or teams.
“Sam, did you see the UNC versus Duke game last night?”
“Sam, what happened with the freshman from Washington did on Monday?”
“Sam, who do you think is going to make the final four?”
Most of the time I have to answer these questions with, “I don’t know,” or “I didn’t watch it.” I do not hate college basketball, but it does not interest me. There’s too much happening all at once with too many new faces every year. It is impossible to keep up.
But the National Basketball Association is different.
Stop me if you have heard these storylines before. A long-time favorite character comes back from the dead. A long time couple breaks up, and both adjust to life without the other. A family patriarch starts to show signs of losing his grip on his skill and intelligence. What does this sound like to you? A ridiculous soap opera? A superhero movie franchise? You might be right about that (I do not watch soap operas). But I am not talking about Days of our Lives or The Justice League. I am talking about the 2016-17 NBA playoffs. Let’s take a look at them:
- The resurrection: some thought James Harden’s career might have been over after last year’s season, where his Houston rocks won 41 games and lost the same, barely making it into the NBA playoffs. Despite a stunning game winning-shot by Harden in game three of the Houston’s first round series with the Golden State Warriors, they were dismantled in that series. In games one, two, four, and five of that series, the Rockets were outscored by an average of 23.75 points per game with unanimous regular-season MVP Stephen Curry out for all but two of those games. But now, things have turned around for the Rockets. The team won 55 games and only lost 27, the third-best record in the NBA while averaging 115.3 points per game the second best line in the league this year. Harden himself averaged a career best in rebounds per game (8.1) and assists per game (11.2) and points per game (29.1).
- The break-up: after eight seasons playing together on the Oklahoma City Thunder, the superstar duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pasted ways as Durant signed with Golden State in the offseason. Durant season went better from a wins and losses stand-point as Golden State won up playing on the better team as Golden State won 67 games and lost 15 games, the top record in the NBA. In Oklahoma City, Westbrook and the Thunder won 47 games and lost 35, enough to get the 6th seed and a matchup with the aforementioned Houston Rockets. On the side of individual statistics, Westbrook has had the better year, averaging 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. This remarkable feat makes Westbrook the first player to average a triple double (10 or more in three statistical categories) since NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson did it back in the 1961-62 season when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game. Not to take away from Durant though, who averaged 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game.
- The “declining” patriarch: Four Most Valuable Awards, Three NBA Championships, Three NBA Finals MVP’s, Thirteen All-Star Games, 10 All-NBA First team selections, two Olympic gold medals, 28,787 career points, 1060 games, and 41272 minutes later, and LeBron James still does not look old. James is in his fourteenth season and still stands atop the NBA’s food chain after averaging 26.4 points, 8.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds this year. Yet there has been groaning from around the league and the media about how much longer James will be able to play at such elite numbers. After logging 2794 minutes this season alone and playing in 74 of the games, many experts called into question the workload his coach Tyronn Lue was putting on his captain. But in a recent ESPN article by Dave McMenamin, James was quoted saying, “…I want to play 48 minutes because I’m a competitor. I hate coming out. … We’ve got to understand that this is a process, it’s a long process for us, and it’s a marathon and not a sprint.”
“I don’t like watching the NBA, nobody really tries.”
“There’s no defense in the league. Everyone is just looking for points.”
“I prefer college ball. It’s more exciting to watch.”
These are the typical responses I get when I ask someone if they watch the NBA. And the more I think about the season, the less I agree with the reasons why people do not watch.
Personally, I see the NBA players out there trying every night. Why do they try though? Because this is their job where they get paid millions of dollars a year to give their best effort. The incentive is there to try. Plus these athletes have been playing basketball ever since they were in high school, middle school, elementary school. They have lived their whole lives playing this game. Do you think they enjoy losing? Of course not. They are going to try to win.
Some complain that the league has no defense. Maybe the reasoning behind a statement like that is because someone sees the high number of points scored per game in the NBA now with the median points per game for a team is 105.2, up from 97.2 ten years ago. Compared to college where the median points per game is 72.5, which is up from 68.0 ten years ago, the NBA scoring per game and NCAA scoring have increased by similar amounts 7.5 and 8. In terms of possessions per game, The NCAA median sits at 71.7 (up from 67.8 ten years ago) while the NBA’s is 100.2 (up from 95.1), both grew at similar rates as well. In addition, in the NBA a team has only 24 seconds to shoot the ball versus in college where they have 30 seconds. Moreover, NBA games are 48 minutes while college games are 40 minutes. With less time to the shoot the ball and more time overall, is it possible for a correlation to exist between higher points per game averages and more possessions?
Lastly, I understand why someone might say NCAA basketball is more interesting. The NBA does not have a one-and-done championship tournament with 68 entrants with upsets every year. It is impossible to match that kind of excitement. But the NBA makes up for that in parody and phenomenal talent. Consider this previous season alone where we have had such interesting storylines including Westbrook’s pursuit of a triple-double average, Golden State’s growing continuity after acquiring Durant, Isaiah Thomas’ incredible fourth quarter performances for the Boston Celtics, the struggles for two historical franchises in the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. Why not pay attention to the NBA where almost anything can happen. So do yourself a favor on flip on some professional basketball during the NBA playoffs. Trust me. You will like what you see.
— Sam Nichols, Sports Editor