NBA: How has the game changed over the last two decades?
The NBA has drastically changed over the years and what the game was in the 1990’s to the early 2000’s has been quite different. The way the game is coached and played is different, the modern athletes in the NBA are the complete antithesis of players in the past.
The NBA has always relied heavily on star power and those stars attract millions of fans around the world. Despite the popularity of the league, there are fundamental issues that are affecting the NBA game in a negative manner:
1. THREE POINT SHOT
The three-pointer is the great equalizer in the NBA during the last decade, but never was it abused to the point it is now. More players are living beyond the arch in today’s game, which might be great for teams like the Golden State Warriors because they have a tandem of excellent shooters, but when you watch other teams constantly chuck up three-pointers up and down the court it seems excessive.
The Houston Rockets are attempting 51.0 three-pointers in their last three games this season and 40.4 attempts on the season. The average for NBA teams this season is 26.7 attempts per game with 9.7 three-pointers made per game.
There will be experts that claim the players are becoming better shooters and that is why they attempt shots from further out than in recent decades. But the game has somewhat become watered down to dunks and three-pointers.
NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley has criticized this style of offense, pointing out that teams cannot solely rely on the outside shot, there must be a low post game to compliment.
Even the best shooter in the league gets into slumps:
The three-point shot is important but should not be the primary source of offense. The inside-out game will give three-point shooters plenty of attempts throughout the game. A large aspect of basketball skills will continue to go missing if this trend continues to dominate the NBA game.
The younger fans might not remember the style of defense that was played during the 90’s and early 2000’s, but that is no excuse, a true student of the game should go back and watch how different era’s played the game.
Most NBA fans can remember a time where centers and power forwards were menacing figures playing around the painted area. The Physical aspect of defense was a staple of basketball, guards would pay “a price” on their way to the basket. Hard screens coupled with shoving for position, the defense would make the offense work for every point.
The introduction of the zone defense was very detrimental to individual defensive skills. The zone defense basically hides players that cannot defend well, man to man defense is a strategy that shows how well a player can cover his opponent.
The referees call the game with a hypersensitivity to physicality, the rules have already been tailored to give offensive players more flexibility. Hand checking has been taken out of the game and defenders can barely touch players today without getting called for a foul, especially when it comes to superstars.
Watch how Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls played the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons:
The low post game is virtually nonexistent in today’s NBA. A handful of centers and power forwards are developing and using post skills. Let us not forget when Shaquille O’Neal dominated the league from the center position, a time when Tim Duncan used his post play and fundamentals to dominate the power forward position.
Kevin Garnett had a patented 15-foot jumper that he utilized in the post. Today’s centers and power forward’s are playing more of a finesse game, they stretch the floor and take mid-range jumpers, fittingly called stretch forwards.
Basketball seems to be evolving into the perimeter, shaping a generation of players that are focused on shooting percentages and analytics. Two players that are still playing around and under the rim are Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Another center is Andre Drummond that takes to the post to get the bulk of his points.
Ultimately, a fair balance of both would be healthy for basketball. There will be players that come into the league that can stretch the floor and shoot with range, but centers should return to dominating under the rim offensively and defensively.
NBA referees are routinely criticized by coaches and players on a plethora of issues. The game has lost some edge when it comes to passion and fervor, players that display emotion and express themselves are quickly subdued by technicals. Physical play will warrant many whistles in today’s NBA climate, what was considered a hard foul in the past is a flagrant today.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was ejected this season for arguing with the referees, in both incidents Kerr was furious with the calls and displayed his anger to the officials. Coaches and officials often clash over missed calls and “ticky tack” fouls, defensive players also have difficulty with calls by the officials, that often leads them to play without being as aggressive.
Flopping is when a player acts in order to get a call against the other team, even after the NBA started penalizing flopping, it still occurs today with players that try to sell a foul to the officials.
Flopping makes a mockery of the game we all love and follow. Rules were put in place to keep the flopping to a minimum and it gives the referee discretion to decide whether or not the player was acting.
When a number of superstars come together on one team to chase a title. Super teams might be great and beneficiary for the franchise that acquires the stars, however, it causes a negative ripple effect on the rest of the teams in the league. Throughout the history of the NBA, there have always been top tier teams that are usually contending for championships. It is impossible to spread out the talent equally to make all 32 teams competitive, even still, during the 90’s and early 2000’s, there was still an element of resistance against the top teams.
The past three years in the NBA have been dominated by the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The only story line that was interesting outside of that was the Oklahoma City Thunder with Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant on whether or not they could capture a title.
That narrative was done away with by a swift Kevin Durant signature that sent him to the Golden State Warriors during the offseason. The unprecedented move was a shock to the NBA world, Durant essentially went to the best team in the western conference that just lost the NBA finals.
The same case can be seen in Cleveland with Lebron James and Kevin Love, who joined Kyrie Irving who was a budding talent at the time and was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2011. The eastern conference is currently a power vacuum at the top, the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are the only teams that pose a threat to the Cavaliers.
The western conference is much of the same with Golden State at the top with no competition outside of the San Antonio Spurs, and the Houston Rockets. The Los Angeles Clippers are stacked with talented players but cannot seem to produce results deep into the playoffs under head coach Doc Rivers and point guard Chris Paul, who has been battling injuries.
The bottom line is that the league needs more parody in the future for basketball to become more interesting. It is detrimental to the NBA when four teams are contending for the Larry O’Brien trophy and the rest of the league are bottom feeders.
The NBA is a global product and is continuously evolving, each era will witness a different style of basketball. Subsequently, fans that did not witness the last decade or two of players and teams might not give much thought to how basketball has changed. Is the evolution of the game trending into a higher quality of basketball? I would be inclined to think otherwise.