OK, the NBA is back. Now what will it look like?
In the days leading up to Christmas – and likely through the first month of a truncated season – there will be a fair amount of hand-wringing about the quality of play. Gloom-and-doom purists will reference the last lockout preceding the 1998-99 season, which by any measure was not among the NBA’s brightest days.
In that forgettable season, the NBA was replete with quickly formed teams made up of poorly conditioned players playing an unforgiving schedule. That three-headed monster exposed a league that had outgrown many of its rules. And the second retirement of Michael Jordan left the NBA without its beacon who could always put a glow on the mounting pile of garbage.
By any measure, those arguments are irrefutable. The game’s pace was the slowest ever recorded. Offense plummeted to its lowest point in decades, with a scoring champion who missed three of every five shots he took. The Finals between the Spurs and Knicks were the basketball equivalent of watching paint dry, borne out by TV ratings that dropped a staggering 33 percent from an all-time high of 18.7 the previous year.
As in 1999, there is still just a month of prep time, the proposed schedule is nearly as challenging and Jordan remains retired. So there are certainly some parallels between now and 13 years ago to allow those told-you-so arguments to be heard again.
To which we say, hogwash. The NBA’s financial system was not nearly as broken as owners wanted us to believe, and the product isn’t, either.
As a whole, the players are better than ever – yes, better than ever – unshackled by recent rules changes tilted toward ball and player movement that have offense on a steady rise over the last decade. Free throw and 3-point percentage are at or near the highest rates ever.