The NBA’s Peculiar Position

On June 4th, 2020, the NBA Board of Governors decided in a 29-1 vote that the NBA would resume play on July 31st, 2020. The decision was made to have the 22 teams with the best winning percentages finish the regular season by playing eight games at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. These games will have no fans in attendance, but this decision has me wondering why bother with the regular season at all.

Of course, the main reasoning behind this is for the players to shake off any rust they may have before the playoffs begin, but it also allows the chance for the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns the chance to surpass the Grizzlies as the eighth seed in the West. The same goes for the Wizards out East in surpassing the Magic, but this really just makes me question, why bother? Prior to the suspension, the teams competing in these final eight games had an average of 64.7 games played, with some teams, such as the Lakers and Spurs, only playing in 63 games, while the Mavericks were the sole team to have played 67 games. The NBA did its best in acting fair and taking safety into account with the cut-off, but in reality, it is still unfair to the teams that have already played more games than others in this current situation. Yes, they will be rested, and everyone is coming off of a break, but statistically speaking, the teams with less games have a better chance at a higher winning percentage than the teams who had to play more games to earn their winning percentage.

All this does is provide more ammunition to those who believe the season should be shortened. The NBA didn’t agree upon an 82 game season until the 1967-68 season, and except for lockout-shortened seasons of 1998-99 and 2011-12, the NBA has held onto the 82 game schedule. Teams played 72 games from 1953-54 until 1957-58, then they went to 75 in the following season. In 1959-60, they jumped up to 79 games, and then finally landed upon 80 in 1961-62. They stuck with 80 games until 1966-67, when they added another game to the schedule, before ultimately coming to 82 in that aforementioned 1967-68 season. The reasoning behind this was to allow teams to compete more often with the new teams in the expanding league, but during the late ’80s and early ’90s when the NBA had expanded even further, no more games were added to the schedule. Perhaps 82 games is the perfect amount needed for owners to justify the costs against their revenue, but I highly doubt reducing the season down to 76 games would lose them that much money.

If you simply take a look at the MVP history, you’ll notice the last time a player played all 82 games and won MVP was when Kobe Bryant did it in 2007-08. The two previous MVP winners missed 10 games, while LeBron took home MVP in 2012-13 playing in 76 games. Most MVP winners have played at least 70 games, but that also means they missed about 15% of the season. That’s not too much time missed in the grand scheme of things, but consider Allen Iverson’s 2000-01 MVP-winning season where he played in 71 games. Those 71 games mean he missed 13.4% of the season, but had the NBA been a 76 game season, suddenly he only missed 7% of the season.

Load management has become a much more prevalent strategy for star players, and as the culture of a specialized athlete has become more ingrained into society, players are suddenly becoming injured at a greater rate due to constant practicing and playing since their childhood1. It doesn’t take a degree in sports medicine to understand that, so unless the NBA is more concerned with lining the owners’ pocket books, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t reduce the number of games by six. Teams play an uneven numbers of games against other teams every year, by simply removing three home games and three away games from every team, they suddenly have an even amount of games against every team in the NBA. They can still play their divisional rivals four times, they can now play every other team in their conference an even three times, and still play against teams in the opposing conference two times. I highly doubt I’ll see a reduction in games during my lifetime, but if the NBA is truly a progressive league that takes the players’ safety and well-being into account, they’ll start considering this as an option.

Since I’ve touched upon the MVP, it’s only fair to state that Giannis should repeat as MVP this season. His Bucks did lose three consecutive games for the first time under coach Budenholzer prior to the league’s suspension, but considering they were still four games above the Lakers in the overall standings, and also the fact that Giannis is the first player to average at least 29 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists since 1965-66, to go along with an absurd 54% field goal percentage, it’s safe to say he still has the strongest case for MVP. LeBron should finish at a respectable second, as he will likely end the season as the oldest player ever to lead the league in assists for their first time. It’s a respectable feat, one that demonstrates his passing abilities for anyone who still doubted that aspect of his game, but in reality, all it does is prove what we already knew; being surrounded by star talent and shooting will improve LeBron’s numbers, as well as his team’s win total.

It’s entirely possible the Lakers surpass the Bucks’ winning percentage, and if that does happen, then I don’t see why LeBron shouldn’t be winning his fifth MVP award. However, the more interesting questions surround this eight-game stretch and the subsequent playoffs. I do not believe the Wizards will surpass the Magic, nor do I believe the Suns, Spurs, Kings, or Pelicans will surpass the Grizzlies. Only the Trail Blazers stand a chance of surpassing the Grizzlies, and that’s simply due to Damian Lillard being the best player on any of these teams’ rosters. Star power can do a lot for a team, but with Ja Morant proving his case as Rookie of the Year, my bet is on the Grizzlies to lock down that eighth seed. The standings should remain the same, and I will be greatly surprised if any of the teams on the outside looking in make it into the playoffs.

The bigger shake-up will occur with the teams who have already secured their playoff seedings. Eight games could drastically alter the seedings, and give us entirely different match ups than the ones we have now. Predicting how things will end up is a presumptuous task, as no one knows just how the players will perform after an unexpected four-month suspension. This makes it much more wise, and exciting, to simply watch how these eight games unfold, and then go from there.

Editor’s Notes

  1. Last Word on Pro Basketball – 2/3/2018 – The NBA’s Injury Problem

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