Wednesday, December 14, 2005

State of the NBA

Bob Ryan has a nice article on the state of the NBA. He does a good job describing what went wrong in the nineties, putting the blame on the coaches. He claims the NBA is improving, but I'm not as optimistic as he is. The NBA still has a lot of fixing to do. Some excerpts followed by my comments.

What happened, anyway? Well, the NBA just simply lost its way. It copycatted two coaches, one very successful and one partially successful, until what we had were lemmings plunging off the cliff. It was almost as if someone had found a way to outlaw independent thought. Simply put, defense -- or non-offense -- was in. Offense was out. Better to have no turnovers than three successful fast breaks and one turnover. Oy....

...And then came the most curious transformation in NBA history. Right before our eyes, Pat Riley, ringmaster of Showtime, had become Pat Riley, slicked-back Prince of Darkness. Say hello to the rock-'em, sock-'em New York Knicks, the world's best ugly team. What got into Riley? To this day, we don't know. Absent Magic Johnson, did he think fast breaks could, or should, never be conducted again? Absent Magic, did he swear to reinvent himself, Just Because? We'll never know....

First there's Pat Riley; told you he was evil. I'll always wonder if the Knicks style would have worked if it wasn't a New York team and it was the legendary Pat Riley coaching this thuggish basketball. Whatever the reasons, the NBA and its refs allowed teams to get away with holding, grabbing, and downright dirty play. The league still hasn't recovered.

I highlighted "found a way to outlaw independent thought" because this may be the NBA's biggest problem. Instead of well placed games with smart players, the NBA is stuck with micromanaging coaches and constant timeouts.

The highlighted phrase reminded me of the college hockey game I saw a few weeks ago. A bunch of college athletes were so well coordinated, yet the coaches weren't screaming constant orders. The players seemed to know where to be and what to do.

Is basketball really that much more complicated than hockey? Shouldn't adults who have played basketball all their lives know what to do without a coach constantly yelling orders. Is basketball so complicated that players still don't know what to do on the court after months of practice?

Coaches like Rick Pitino, Jeff Van Gundy, and Rick Carlise treat basketball like it's rocket science, so fans get treated to a slow paced game with players looking over their shoulders at their coaches to see if they should pass to the open man.

If coaches are educators like Saint Coach K preaches in those American Express commercials, players should be able to teach their players how to play smart basketball without constant reminders from the bench.

So what's the solution? A quick one would be to drastically decrease the amount of timeouts each team has. Maybe the coaches should be forced to stand behind the bench. Maybe coaches who lead teams that average under 90 points a game should be executed. Maybe all the refs should be executed (oh wait, wrong rant).

Eighties basketball game was an exciting artistic game; now too often the NBA is a sluggish tic tac toe match coached by people who treat the game like a professional chess match.

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