Throughout the NBA season, we may think it’s stupid when the Bleacher Report’s of the world post bench celebrations but the truth is that stuff matters. Sure in a lot of ways the bubble made it more prevalent and important than ever but the fact remains, how a team gets along with each other is vital to its long-term success. You just don’t win titles in this league with teams that hate each other or are just off. Whether it was this year’s Clippers and Sixers or last year’s Celtics, bad chemistry can ruin a team and it’s time we all acknowledge it. This sport isn’t played on a spreadsheet exclusively. Positive human interaction and relationships are key to a team competing for a title.
As great as the idea of playing small has been in enhancing the game’s skill, the reality remains that size matters a great deal in this sport. As much as we may want to point to the extra points a team gets from threes, if they can’t guard a team down low or get to the rim then it doesn’t really matter in the long run. If the sport was all about math then the Rockets would’ve at the very least been competitive with the Lakers. Instead, LA mopped the floor with them and reminded us that size is vital to success. The playoffs are won with physicality and toughness, something that just simply caters to a better size. Sure shooting is important but give the bigger guys their due.
Similarly to what I mentioned in the size point and eluded to in the chemistry point, this sport is about more than just threes and math. Obviously shooting them is an advantage but by 2020, everyone is shooting such a similar volume the ones who go extra don’t have the added help someone who embraced it a few years ago would’ve. What’s happening now more than ever, is as threes have equalized, it comes down to the other things you do well. If jacking a bunch of threes like the Bucks and Rockets is your only pitch, we’ve seen how that goes. You need a greater arsenal at your disposal than explicitly shooting. Don’t let the mainstream media voices fool you, this is about more than just a three-point shooting contest.
It’s time we end the trendy NBA title picks before the playoffs and regular season. The reality is, there are about six teams (max) that can win a title and the young upstart team just isn’t one of them. Take the Nuggets and Heat for example. Sure they both went far but as the competition against the Lakers increased, their guys just weren’t quite ready for the moment. Denver was never a real threat to the Lakers and neither was Miami without Goran Dragic, this sport is too mentally determinant for a guy who hasn’t been there before to overcome someone like LeBron James. Maybe next season, when they have that added experience, but don’t think Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro sucking in the finals was a fluke. Veterans win titles in the NBA.
As much as we love the perennial MVP, one-man show teams like the Rockets and Bucks, they have a hard and set ceiling when it comes to the NBA playoffs. If someone as great as LeBron can’t win a title without another surefire Hall of Famer on his roster, I struggle to understand why we try and convince ourselves guys like Giannis can. Khris Middleton is good but he isn’t good enough to win a title as your second-best player and that’s why all the Bucks are looking for another guard stories are coming out. As great as Giannis is or even Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic were this year, the idea any of them were real and serious threats to beat a team like the Lakers are pretty insane. This is a team game, one-man shows are great for ESPN’s January social media content but they aren’t when things matter in the NBA playoffs.
6. You need multiple players who can create shots for others
Much like I explained in this longer piece, you need multiple players who can create shots for others in the modern NBA. A huge reason for the Lakers being able to win the championship was the production they got from Rajon Rondo off the bench. As great as Davis is, he doesn’t have that ability in his game (yet) so the Lakers needed an extra man to take the ball out of LeBron’s hands at times. This is similar to what plagued the Clippers all season long. As good as Kawhi and Paul George are, no one on that team had the capability of making it easier for someone else. This caused them to stagnate and allowed the Nuggets and Mavericks time and again back into games they had no business being in. Similar issues were felt in Milwaukee, Houston, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Miami and basically everyone that didn’t win the championship. The real lesson of Golden State and Toronto’s titles wasn’t about talent, they were about having as many guys as possible who can get their own shot and get others shots as possible. Until teams recognize this, they’ll continue to flame out in tragic, epic proportions.
If a team just seems off the whole season or has that issue you can’t quite put your finger on, believe them in their struggles. What I mean in saying believe them is, they’re struggling for a reason. Essentially, they are who we think they are so we need to stop letting them off the hook. If the Clippers or Sixers offence looks bizarre all-season or the Jazz just keeps getting blown out randomly, this isn’t just some overnight fix for the playoffs. It’s a real issue plaguing them that will only get worse in the playoffs and not somehow better. The regular season may not tell us everything but it certainly does tell us some things.
8. At the end of the day, it’s about elite talent
The 2004 Pistons are the greatest crux in sports history. Every year it seems, myself included, we all find this team that reminds us of them and then we say they have a shot at a title. Here’s the thing, we use the Pistons as the rule when they’re unequivocally the anomaly. Outside of them, every other team that has won a title since the merger has had at minimum one (if not more) top 50 guys in league history. This league is about higher-end talent first and foremost. We can try and convince ourselves otherwise but when the team with two top sevenish guys win because they’re the best duo, we need to accept this sport is about talent above all else. We can crap on all in trades for stars or crazy moves to add more talent but at the end of the day, that’s what this league is about. Fit is right there with the talent but when those things merge, that’s what wins a title. Not the 2004 Pistons “model”.
It’s finally time we end the takes about coaching not mattering. From Nick Nurse to Erik Spoelstra to even Frank Vogel, we saw some unbelievable work from coaches this season. Often times we’ll hear the lazy takes about how LeBron’s coach doesn’t do anything or that at the end of the day it’s only about the players when the truth is coaching really matters in this league. In my piece about Brad Stevens, I talked about the difference between a floor and ceiling raiser as a coach and kind of just how important coaching is to winning a title. Coaches are probably the most disrespected people that directly impact who does and doesn’t win an NBA title. From now on, we as NBA fans need to agree to give them the respect they deserve because the data is in, coaching matters in the NBA.
Very quietly, the NBA has shifted into a new era. As much as people want you to think the league is all about the little guys, the bigs have arguably become the most interesting aspect. From Jokic’s freakish passing to AD’s unbelievable skillset to even an up and comer like Bam, across the league big men are doing it at high-levels in very different ways. At this point, it’s pretty clear that the big man positions are the most diverse in skillsets amongst the elite. Unlike guards for example who all kind of have a similar way of going about their business, there’s a stark difference from even guys like Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid. This new era of uniquely adept and skilled bigs is here to stay for the long run and I for one am exhilarated to see where the heck it goes from here.