Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How the Lockout is Crippling NBA Basketball

It's been a little over a month since the 5 month NBA lockout was officially lifted, and NBA players got back on the courts where they belong. A little over a month ago, we here at MAMBINO amongst the other pundits of the hoops world, did nothing but lambast David Stern and Billy Hunter and bemoan how we should be knee deep in professional basketball games, when we instead talking about revenue sharing, mid-level exception contracts and BRI. And a little over a month ago, we suddenly and swiftly all got what we were waiting for.

It's January 10th, and we're about one-seventh of the way through the season. As much as we're all happy with games taking place and basketball on our TV screens, the lockout is still affecting our day-to-day watching of hoops. My eyes are telling me one story, but just to make sure, let's take a look at the league-average statistics from the 2011-2012 season, and the three previous:

2008 - 2009: 100 ppg, .459 FG%, .771 FT%, .367 3P%, 14 Turnovers

2009 - 2010:
100.4 ppg, .461 FG%, .759 FT%, .355 3P%, 14.2 TO

2010 - 2011: 99.6 ppg, .459 FG%, .763 FT%, .358 3P%, 14.3 TO

2011 - 2012: 94.6 ppg, .441 FG%, .743 FT%, .336 3P%, 15.1 TO

I cherry-picked a lot of these numbers from a wider swath of them, but let's go to the ones that stand out most.

The most notable statistic would be a 2% dip in shooting percentages across the board, and barely a turnover increase per game. Practically speaking, the difference between a player that shoots 44% and a guy that shoots 46% is negligible. So can the lockout be blamed for any type of performance dip? The answer is as certain as a 20-shot night from Kobe.

The key number here is points per game - 94.6, which is a 5 to 6 point drop from where the team scoring average has been the past 3 seasons. Offenses are sagging, players' legs are tired and the biggest casualty is the quality of ball. With less than two weeks of training camp for the incumbents and new personnel additions getting even less time with their new teams (whose presence there is even more important), most teams look lost on offense most of the time, with turnovers, steals and rebounds at a 4 season high. A lot of guys came into camp out of shape, as the resolution of the lockout came suddenly and certainly unexpected. It's no secret that most of the basketball-watching public loves the game for the highlight reel plays - almost all of which are on offense. In that light, the game looks like a mess.

The lack of pre-season preparation doesn't just affect the offense however - this is a two-way game (Amar'e, pay attention). Despite the dip in shooting percentages, from what I've seen, most teams are still adjusting to team defensive schemes. I see guys lost on pick and rolls, missing close-outs and neglecting weak side help. It's probably the worst defense I've seen the league collectively play, and even with that statement, guys just can't put the ball in the hoop. In a time when offenses should be flourishing, teams have been incredibly inconsistent in the face of a more porous than ever average NBA defense.

There's a lot of different factors here beyond the lack of preseason preparation; every team playing at least one back to back per week on average; back-to-back-to-back games; a packed schedule lending to even less practice time in between contests; the frantic nature of the season leading to a lack of real team camaraderie; injuries coming at a faster pace than Tim Tebow blog posts.

Quite frankly, I've watched a lot of bad basketball in the past month. Really bad basketball. A couple weeks ago, I attended a Jazz-Lakers game where the score was 36-39 at the half. The other night, those same Lakers had 27 turnovers in a win against the Grizzlies, whose defense couldn't hold the LA to under 55% shooting.

The problem here isn't entirely the lockout, and how it has impacted the diligent preparation that usually goes into any NBA season. It's that the owners and players, after a 5 month lockout and nearly losing the season, insisted on a 66-game slate in little over 120 days. I'm not sure if their logic was to make up most of their lost revenue from the 15 or so games they would have lost, or it was because they felt like a 66 game slate would give legitimacy to an already shortened season. Either way, the quality of basketball is suffering. The NBA prides itself on putting out the best possible product on the floor, but these games I'm seeing is not the best possible product. Sloppy play and rampant injuries across the league aren't helping the league in the long run. If the owners and the players decided they had to have a lockout in the first place, they should be willing to suffer the consequences of lost games, and thus lost revenue. I understand that one consideration, besides the NBA's own financial preservation act, was for the ancillary businesses around the NBA and their need to make up lost revenue. For that reason alone, it could be worth the poor quality of hoops so that thousands of people can make up 3 months of missing paychecks. Even so, the fan inside me rather than the ruthless capitalist I strive to be says that seeing a less-than-superb product on the hardwood is a relative travesty. A 50 or 55 game season should have been the new schedule, rather than an average of 4 games a week that is blemishing the excellence of hoops that I'm used to, and potentially shortening careers of its players.

I suppose that this the final lesson of the lockout. The fans that watch the game were never the most important factor. The fans that so feverishly watch the league (like myself; I'm ready to head back to my apartment for my lunch break so I can watch the Lakers-Suns game from last night even though I know the result) and pay big money to watch games live are getting a product that is less than satisfactory. The games we'll fork over $80 bucks to see or the $170 some of us pay for league pass just won't have the same value when we leave the arena or turn off the TV after seeing a 81-76 Bulls win, with a combined 48 turnovers. The business of the NBA is going to rebound and profit, but the quality of basketball is suffering from a poor basketball decision-making perspective. I shouldn't be complaining about more games after the prospect of seeing none for the next 6 months. But I've come to find that ultimately, the NBA doesn't really care about the fans nearly as much as they claim.

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