I must confess I violated one of the ultimate commandments for sports fans: it’s never over before the final buzzer. I wrote a large portion of this post during the 3rd quarter of the Warriors game. Granted, the Warriors had a fifteen point lead and were perfect on the season when given that advantage. The furious final minute got me a little scared but I’m glad I didn’t jinx it for my many Bay Area friends.
Congratulations to Golden State and here are my memories from another wonderful season of basketball.
Tip-Off: The 2014 NBA Draft and Off-season:
It all started with new commissioner Adam Silver announcing the Cleveland’s selection of Andrew Wiggins, the second Canadian to ever be taken first overall (Anthony Bennett in 2013, also by Cleveland). Of course, he would be traded to Minnesota along with the aforementioned Bennett for Kevin Love, becoming the second number one pick since NBA-ABA merger to never play for the team that drafted him (the first being Chris Webber). Perhaps the most touching moment of the draft was when the NBA drafted Isaiah Austin with a ceremonial pick. Baylor center Isaiah Austin was projected to be a first round pick until he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, ending his basketball career. The NBA made him an honorary draftee and offered him a job to continue working in the sport, a touching gesture.
Phil Jackson tried to take his championship magic to the New York Knicks along with his old PG Derek Fisher as coach. All in all, we had nine brand new coaches, including Dave Blatt and Steve Kerr who would go on to become the first “rookie” head coaches to face off in the NBA Finals since 1946. Assistant coaches don’t usually make headlines, except for 16 year WNBA star Becky Hammon, who joined the Spurs as the first woman to serve on an NBA coaching staff. Oh yeah, we also got rid of an awful and racist owner.
The First Half: The Stars are Out
The intense start of the NBA season saw stars being out, both literally and figuratively. The injury bug impacted the likes of Bradley Beal, Kevin Durant, and Paul George, highlighting the need to potentially scale back the NBA season as a countermeasure to steadily increasing injury rates. Other stars like James Harden put up insane scoring numbers (45 points on just 18 FGs in one case!) while relative unknowns Kyle Korver and Meyers Leonard shot their way towards the exclusive 50-40-90 club. We witnessed a 37-year record toppled by a 37 point quarter, a second round pick throw down the best dunk of the season, and a journeyman center record a triple double with a season record 12 blocks. Not a bad form of entertainment to get through our favorite named winter storms (ie: Juno).
Halftime show: The Rise of Sports Analytics
One definite thing I’ve noticed this year is the increased emphasis on analytics and advanced statistics during broadcasts and game recaps. As a huge fan of sports analytics, I couldn’t be happier with ESPN/TNT showing me numbers on things like hot zones or game pacing. It’s also a fantastic way to introduce more traditional fans to data beyond points per game and number of triple doubles. Of course, there’s always resistance from
Charles Barkley old school basketball analysts, as highlighted in a rant where Barkley refers to Daryl Morey (GM of the Rockets) as a talent-less guy who couldn’t get girls in high school. Ironically, advanced analytics is one of the great supporters of Barkley’s Hall of Fame career.
On the practical side of things, NBA teams are embracing analytics more and more for roster and coaching decisions. ESPN’s great analytics rankings identifies 21/30 teams as having at least “one foot in” the door of analytics, with four “all-in” teams. Even more impressive is the fact that all four conference finalists are considered strong believers. Right around the time of the NBA All-Star Game, an entertaining affair with MVP Russell Westbrook throwing down some dunks, was the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. There were two discussions I particularly enjoyed: the future of analytics with representatives from three major leagues and the basketball specific panel featuring one of my favorite players, Shane Battier. I’m hopeful that the NBA watching experience continues this analytical transformation.
Also, Shaq takes a fall, no explanation needed.
The Second Half: At The Buzzer!
The season drew to a close with a down to wire finish for the last playoff spots. The Western Conference once again dominated the top-heavy Eastern Conference (+76 games above .500) for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The imbalance resulted in three Eastern teams making the playoffs without a winning record, and the 45-37 Thunder being left out. The Warriors grabbed an NBA best 67-15 record, the best since Dallas in 2006-2007 season. Meanwhile, the Hawks grabbed the best record in the East playing with one of the most balanced teams in history.
Once the playoffs started, we were treated to a flurry of buzzer beaters, 34 agonizing free throw attempts while debating rule changes, and of course Riley Curry. It all wrapped up with two of the greatest NBA Finals performances of all time: the MVP-worthy individual efforts of Lebron James and the team shooting/defense of Golden State. It would not have surprised me if Lebron became the second Finals losing player to win MVP (after Jerry West) and the NBA updated their logo correspondingly. I can’t wait to see all the teams reload once again to chase the dream. The next season is just around the corner beginning with the NBA draft on June 25th (which we could change in following years with some crazy proposals).
Finally, let’s not forget that basketball is all about the spectacular plays produced in moments of pure genius. This is without a doubt my favorite move of the season….enjoy! What are your highlights?