Sunday 03rd March 2024,
The Hoop Doctors

Why This Year is ‘Different’ in the NBA

LeBron JamesAs we sit here in Mid-January and the midpoint of the NBA season, it has become pretty apparent that this isn’t your typical year in the NBA with a few clear-cut championship favorites and the league’s top superstars and franchises dominating. It is almost impossible to pick a championship favorite and the league’s top stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s combined team records are 37-39. As of January 12, the 19-20 Cavaliers are still the favorite to win the NBA title at 5-1 odds, if that doesn’t signify a bizarre season in the NBA, I don’t know what would.

Last year’s 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks, with a very similar roster albiet the return of potentially their most important player Al Horford, are 31-8 through 39 games and have won 24 of 26 games since Thanksgiving.

Taking a look at the NBA standings as of January 15, the top three seeds in the Western and Eastern Conference at the moment are (wait for it…) The Warriors, Blazers, Grizzles, Hawks, Wizards and Raptors. The combined number of championships amongst that group is two: The 1977 Bill Walton-led Trail Blazers and the 1979 Washington Bullets.
There are 8 teams you could conceivably argue that could make the Finals out of the West, with no clear upper echelon like the Spurs and Thunder have been the past few years, and with the Cavaliers experiencing turmoil and the Bulls in a constant state of “Will Derrick Rose be healthy for the playoffs?” the Eastern conference is as up for grabs as it has ever been as well for an underdog finals team such as the Hawks.

Could former Sixth Man of the Year James Harden be hoisting an MVP trophy this spring?

Could former Sixth Man of the Year James Harden be hoisting an MVP trophy this spring?

The year of the unknown extends to the MVP trophy as well. With LeBron and Durant’s team struggles there is a high likelihood the MVP trophy will be won by a first-timer who nobody considered a serious contender at the beginning of the year such as James Harden, Steph Curry or even Marc Gasol (huh?).

The reason this season is such an outlier by NBA standards is because it’s no secret that the NBA has been the anti-parody league as since 1980 only nine of the 30 current NBA franchises have won an NBA Championship. 25 of those 35 have been won by four teams: Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and the Boston Celtics. The Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat have also won three titles apiece in that time frame meaning 31 of the 35 championship won over the past 35 years have come from 20% of the league’s members.

In comparison, 16 of the NFL’s 32 current franchises have won a Super Bowl since 1980 and 10 different teams have won a Super Bowl since the year 2000.
19 of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises have won a World Series title since 1980.

16 of the 30 NHL franchises have won a Stanley Cup since 1980.

The NBA has long been a league of superstar’s, dynasties, traditional powers and neatly defined eras; almost impervious to the year by year variance in the hierarchy and postseason fortunes that can be seen at times in the other major American professional sports leagues.

The 80’s were Magic vs. Bird as the Celtics and Lakers traded titles with the exception of a 76ers title in 83 and Pistons championships in 89’ and 90’ to hold us over until the Jordan and Chicago Bulls era of the 1990’s. When Jordan took his two-year leave of absence to play baseball (or serve a gambling suspension) in 94’ and 95’ Hakeem’s Rockets had a brief spell of dominance winning the title both seasons. The Shaq and Kobe Lakers Dominated the early 2000’s and Duncan’s Spurs have managed to amass five titles since 99’ without ever repeating. LeBron’s four-stay in Miami resulted in two titles in the past four seasons.

There have been very few blips on the radar over the past 35 years when things didn’t seem to go according to script and the title felt like it was truly up in the air. The 1993-94 and 1994-95 NBA season’s fit that mold as the rest of the league’s superstars and elite teams salivated at the opportunity to win a title without going through Jordan. The 1999 season lockout shortened season when everybody was out of shape and the NBA was in a haze after Jordan’s retirement. The 2005-2006 season when there were a pool of contenders but no clear favorite as the Miami Heat won the title led by a virtuoso performance by a young Dwayne Wade in the finals, in a rare matchup of two franchises that had never won a title.

There have also been a few seasons in the past decade or so that didn’t go according to script such as the 2003-2004 NBA Finals in which the Pistons, boasting an elite starting lineup without a clear cut superstar dominated the Hall of Fame loaded roster of the and conceivably championship-destined prima-donna Lakers with Shaq, Kobe, Malone and Payton. Another example of this was in the 2010-2011 postseason when the Dallas Mavericks, led by Dirk and no other all-star caliber players who trounced the two-time defending champion Lakers and the Big Three in Miami en route to an unlikely title.

Although we are only at the midpoint of the regular season and the tides may turn leading to a more predictable Cavs-Spurs or Bulls-Spurs Finals when June rolls around, I am enjoying the unpredictability that has marked the 2014-15 NBA season thus far.

Enjoy the unpredictability and parody of the 2014-15 season NBA fans, it doesn’t come around often.

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