Hi I'm Dr. J And I'm Here To Diagnose What's Wrong With Today's NBA
Hi. I'm Dr. J. Go ahead and have a seat. Sorry to keep you waiting (not really).
We'll get to the x-ray results above, but if I'm going to start pushing NBA blogs I better lay out my professional opinion on the game first. To this point in my blogging career I've tackled important NBA issues such as which player missed the most shots in a row, why basketball beholders better believe bubble bums be bona fide buzzer beaters, who leads the league in shots resulting in offensive rebounds, and I'm currently on a mission to make a complete season Twitter thread of every Lakers Twitter graphic after a loss that just so happens to never have LeBron James in it (shout out Kenny Beecham for discovering this last year). If you followed my NFL blogs this past season you can count on seeing similarly absurd statistics blogs coming your way on the NBA.
Conjuring absurd NBA stats should be pretty easy seeing as how comically skewed the game has grown offensively. It's really a perfect spin to my schtick and emphasizes my take that the league is sick and in need of treatment. And since I'm purporting to be a doctor for this bit I guess that makes me Patch Adams because we may as well just lean into it all and laugh.
Speaking of doctor, let's get back to those x-ray results above. These scans chronicle the most common spots on the floor field goals were attempted in the NBA from 1998 to 2023 as the league wizened up to analytic efficiency. The bone white color reveals higher than normal density shooting areas while the shades of red show the highest density.
I'm not exactly sure what explains the drastic shift from 2010 to 2011 but overall the transformation over the years is alarming. What starts off looking like scans of a perfectly healthy female primary reproductive system slowly metastasizes into - I don't know - arms severed from a torso or some shit (medically speaking). The point is, this is bad. You might wonder why - and that's OK - because you're not a heatmapologist. That's why I'm here. This is bad because it shows the game has become way too predictable. In the age of basketball analytics, it's all about Moreyball's "threes, frees, and layups". And each and every year it goes further down this path.
These x-rays are just one indication of an unhealthy NBA lifestyle and would have led me to selecting the "it's complicated" Facebook status on my relationship with the game back when Zuck was still enforcing the only good form of blatant social discrimination: "no old people allowed". Oh the turntables. Here I am now in my mid-30s on the event horizon of getting sucked into planet "back in my day" takes. Whatever. Sometimes the old man take is right. The real underlaying problem not shown in the x-rays is how comically soft this league continues to become in the name of stimulating offense and keeping viewer dopamine drips flowing. I don't think you could find a better three-second example than this Seth Curry foul on James Harden.
As you can see, Curry was guilty of not touching Harden in such a way that caused Harden to pretend he got pushed from behind where the closest conceivable culprit capable of pushing Harden from behind would have been the ref himself. This was immediately recognized as an infraction on Curry and called a foul. Shit like this certainly isn't breaking news, but when every advantage is given to offense it hides how much better the actual stars of the league really are. There's never been more talent in the game than now. They don't need this shit. What the NBA needs a steady diet of offense balanced with a steady diet of defense. Much like blood pressure, too little offense is bad and too much is bad. History has shown this to be true.
(Spins in rolling doctor stool to grab more test results)
Here's the NBA blood pressure readings over the course of it's life expressed by average team score per game. Let's have a chat.
As a professional who does his research I know the health risks to having both too few points (hypo-scoring) and too many (hyper-scoring). Score too low (like in the pre-shot clock era which led to keep away contests with no scoring) and you may as well be playing soccer. Score too high (like in today's game where everyone flops and cries to the refs) and you may as well be playing soccer. Way before my time, but after the league's highest scoring 1960-61 season, the NBA product was so bad that NBC dropped it the following year. Basically no one played defense or was any good at it as the league continued to expand and dilute talent. Every game was like watching an All Star game. Well guess where on the graph today's team point average is creeping up awfully close to?
OK, final test result to go over. The overall health of the NBA's heart indicated by how many fans are watching. The EKG results below show all the Nielson ratings for every NBA finals game going back to the Bird era. It doesn't take an expert (like me) to see there are some serious abnormalities in this rhythm.
My official diagnosis is that the NBA is pre-scoreabetic and at risk of going full 1960 scorabetes. Way too much sugary offense. I'd say we need more vegetables on defense but to be honest that seems to be how most players play. I feel like these bad habits all started after the Pistons beat the Kobe Bryant "fuck it, chuck it" Lakers in 2004. But the talent in today's game is so good overall, they don't need the handicap afforded to the league in the post lockout sorta dead era.
I will say this though to all the youngins. I think the old man take that "guys today would never last in the 80s or 90s" is wrong. The best players would. They'd adjust. And they'd look even better when the "should be" scrubs of the past several years who only catch and shoot and absolutely suck on defense (Kyle Korver was the GOAT of this) are irrelevant. It wouldn't be like today when literally no player is scared to shoot the ball due to the bumper bowling rules giving them every possible advantage.
Fine. Most players.
(grabs pen from white coat pocket and prescription book as if ready to heal the world of all suffrage in one fell illegible scribble swoop)
Here's what I'm going to prescribe. These are loose ideas but ultimately the goal is to tip the scales back towards defense so that the actual stars of the league shine through the scrubs. And we have to find a way to encourage a more diversified shot selection.
Move the three-point line back including along the baselines: This is similar to what Kirk Goldsberry recommends in Sprawlball. He thinks the straight line baseline three should be a full arc but I honestly just like the visual aesthetic of the straight line. Just move it back a bit and challenge players to be sure they're in bounds before attempting shots from one of the most common spots on the floor in 2023. Daryl Morey's idea is to make three pointers 2.5 points. As a blackjack player, I think this idea stinks. This is almost exactly mathematically equivalent to casinos changing 3/2 blackjack payouts to 6/5 (for us peasant min hand blackjack players). It just loses all the umph (see I'm not a total offense hater!).
Bring back the goddamn hand check: There was nothing more gripping than watching a guard with an arm on a star above the three point line playing with fire. Nowadays defenders are three feet back. Boring! Good defensive players are getting run out of the league because they're not incentivized or allowed to play defense that requires elite skill. Hand checking is risky. It's also fun as fuck to watch as a fan because at any moment a sick deke can lead to a drive and finish or dish for a dunk. Imagine the plays guys like Tatum, Irving, or Morant would make.
No defensive three second fouls??: OK this one is a very working idea. But look, traditional bigs have no chance in this league. Total reversal to how this game started. For the most part, rule changes affecting bigs has been good overall. The only thing more boring than watching predictable threes without much ball movement is watching bigs shoot 4-ft shots over and over. But let's throw these guys a bone on defense and let them linger to protect the hoop. They still need to jump outside the circle to draw a charge and should be able to play help when a guard gets beat without forcing a forward to leave his man wide open for an easy three. Again, the real studs will make plays at the hoop past the centers or get to the line if the center is right under the basket.
I'll leave it at that for now. When this league goes fully to hell, just remember this blog. Here's some additional tests I'm going to tell you I did for good measure, but really just to charge your insurance.