Author Jeff Morris

Things People Get Wrong about the NBA

Things People Get Wrong about the NBA

For the fifty years or so that I have been watching NBA basketball, there has been one constant… fans talking about everything that is wrong with the NBA. Players are too selfish, they don’t play hard, they travel all the time, they don’t play any defense, and on and on and on.

I will admit that there are some things I would change about the NBA (move the 3pt line back about two feet, punish teams for tanking, and stop with this load management crap), but believe most of the stuff that people complain about year after is simply wrong.

So, here goes my defense of some of the easy target for the NBA…..

The NBA is not as Popular as Other Sports

Some will say that people don’t watch NBA games on TV. Well, all I know is that there are NBA games on TNT, ESPN, and ABC throughout the season and ratings have remained fairly steady in the 2000s with somewhere around 1.3M to 1.7M viewers estimated for regular season games.

To me, the most important measure of a league is how much the teams are worth. According to a 2022 article by Forbes in 2022, the NFL had the highest number of teams valued in the Top 50 in the world. My beloved (and very, very frustrating Dallas Cowboys were #1 at an estimated value of $6.4B). The NFL is king in the US with half of the top 50 most valuable franchises in that league. But the NBA is second based on the number of teams in the Forbes’ Top 50 with seven teams:

  • NY Knicks $5.8B
  • Golden St.Warriors $5.6B
  • LA Lakers $5B
  • Chicago Bulls $3.65B
  • Boston Celtics $3.55B
  • LA Clippers $3.3B
  • Brooklyn Nets $3.2

Major League Baseball has five teams in the top 50 and the other thirteen teams are made up of teams from European Soccer leagues. There were no teams from the NHL or Major League Soccer on the list. Forbes also estimated that the average NBA teams is worth about $2.8B. I think it is safe to say the NBA is stable when it comes to the value of its teams and that is a sign of the league’s popularity.

Players Get Away with Traveling on Every Possession

This is one of a couple of complaints about the NBA that fans and critiques have repeated for years. Now, I will admit that there is some traveling in the NBA that officials either miss or let players get away with. The reason people get this wrong is that they don’t understand the rules for traveling in the NBA.

The official for how many steps a player can take before being called for traveling are as follows

Definition of the Gather

The following definition of the gather will be added to the definitions section of the playing rules:

  1. For a player who receives a pass or gains possession of a loose ball, the gather is defined as the point where the player gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.
  2. For a player who is in control of the ball while dribbling, the gather is defined as the point where a player does any one of the following:

    1. Puts two hands on the ball, or otherwise permits the ball to come to rest, while he is in control of it;
    2. Puts a hand under the ball and brings it to a pause; or
    3. Otherwise gains enough control of the ball to hold it, change hands, pass, shoot, or cradle it against his body.

Incorporating the Gather into the Traveling Rule

The gather will be expressly incorporated into the traveling rule to clarify how many steps a player may take after he receives the ball while progressing or completes his dribble:

  • A player who gathers the ball while progressing may (a) take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball or (b) if he has not yet dribbled, one step prior to releasing the ball to start his dribble.
  • A player who gathers the ball while dribbling may take two steps in coming to a stop, passing or shooting the ball.
  • The first step occurs when a foot, or both feet, touch the floor after the player gathers the ball.

Very simply, players can take two steps after they gather the basketball (typically with two hands) and one they gather the ball, the first step is when their foot hits the floor after the gather. For a visual explanation, watch this video:

I believe the NBA allows players to stretch the traveling rule to its fullest to allow for more creativity and great plays on offense. Isn’t that really what we want to see?

There is No “D” Played in the NBA/Scoring Has Never Been Higher

I combined these two together because they are really related and they are both wrong (or, at least kind of). First, let’s talk about the idea that players don’t play defense in the NBA. That is patently false. If you watch the really great players like KD, Steph, Bron, Kawhii, etc. teams guard them hard for the entire time they are on the floor. There are two problems with trying to guard elite scorers:

    1. Good offense will generally beat good defense in basketball.
    2. The rules in the NBA are set up to make it harder to play “team defense.”

If you are a true NBA fan and old enough to remember the game in the 90s, it was awful. It was common for games to be played in the 80s. Isolation basketball, clutching and grabbing. Hell, the Utah Jazz scored something like 56 points in a game in the 1997 NBA Finals. 56 POINTS!!!! There have been teams score over fifty points in a quarter this season. The NBA made some rule changes to open up the game in 2001 and one of those was to change the rules for illegal defense. Also, watch Steph Curry during a possession and how much he moves. Guarding him is almost impossible and there are lots of guys like him. I believe it was a great change for the game and made the flow of the game much better for everyone.

The second complaint about scoring being at an all-time high is partially true. Overall, the teams in the NBA are scoring more points than ever. Every team averaged at least 109ppg in 2023 with the Sacramento Kings leading at just under 121ppg. However, if you look at the twenty-five highest team scoring averages over a season, only two teams after 1995 are on the list. The 2022-23 Kings rank #20 and the 2020-21 Bucks are #24. Most of the teams in the top 25 are from the early 1960s and the 1980s.

The misleading part is that even though teams now are scoring move overall, a big part of that is the three-point shot. The all-time leaders for points in a season are the 1981-82 Denver Nuggets at 126.5ppg. However, that Nuggets team only made 40-149 three-point shots attempted during the entire 82 game season. Compare that to the 2022-23 Kings who made 1128-3060 triples during the season. That is 13.6/36.9 three-point attempts each game. In fact, the Chicago Bulls made the fewest threes in 2022-23, 854, and that is still over ten made threes/game.

Players Are Not as Good as They Used to Be Back in the Day

This is completely subjective, but the NBA has never had more talent. Almost every team has at least one great player and the good teams have two or three. The playoffs are a struggle starting in round one. Just this year the #8 Miami Heat upset #1 Milwaukee four games to one. You can find players from any era who could play today and still be good. Bill Russell, Wilt, Hondo, Oscar, Rick Barry, Bird, Magic, Kareem, MJ, Kobe, Tim Duncan and on and on would all be solid to great players today. But, don’t act like the game has gotten worse. Or that the players have gotten worse.

The talent pool is larger now because of the influx of foreign players into the league starting in the early 90s. There were almost no foreign players in the league prior to 1990. Now, every team has foreign players on their team and that just means the talent pool for the league is worldwide and not just from the US.

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