When it comes down to it, the NBA regular season is just a flirtation of what the world’s premier basketball league really is: a playoff sport.
There are many possible things that can go down in the NBA season that can influence teams come playoff time, but a few aspects have stayed relatively constant in the history of the NBA.
The NBA Championship is an Oligarchy
The NBA is an oligarchy built on merit. Usually, these oligarchies are set into place through a combination of exceptional players and great coaches, and the power rotates in dynasties. In the early 1990s, it was Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan’s world.
From 1990-1999, the Bulls won 60% of the championships. In the 2000s, it was a shared decade between Phil Jackson (for the most part) and Kobe Bryant on the Lakers, and Gregg Popovich and the Tim Duncan-led family on the Spurs. From 2000 to 2009, the Lakers and Spurs had 70% of the championships (four for LA, three for SA). In the 2010s, it’s shaping up to be LeBron’s decade. Since 2010, LeBron has 42.8% of the championships (2 with the Heat, 1 with Cleveland), and has been to the Finals in six of the last seven seasons.
— Michael Jordan Goods (@MichaelJordan1v) September 5, 2016
Looking back 20 years, the NBA Finals Champions are the Bulls, the Spurs, the Lakers, the Pistons, the Heat, the Celtics, the Mavericks, the Warriors and the Cavaliers. The NBA Championship has changed hands pretty often in the past two decades relative to the NBA’s Championship history, and it’s only gone through nine teams.
There are 30 teams in the NBA, meaning that less than a third of NBA teams have had all the Championships since 1996. Defunct teams like the Washington Bullets and the Seattle Supersonics have more titles than the average NBA team.
I don’t really see this landscape changing up unless LeBron calls it quits and someone from the East goes up to snag an individual playoff before things return to normal. The Warriors look incredibly stacked this year and have the potential to win multiple championships, so if there is any change to the oligarchy it’s going to be the Warriors becoming one of the dynasties of the decade.
Retweet if you remember this legendary block by Lebron James in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals!
📽: (HouseOfHighlights) pic.twitter.com/sFwnK7d7og
— ProCity Hoops (@ProCityHoops) November 21, 2016
There Are No Underdogs
The word underdog implies that the dog is in the fight to begin with. As we’ve seen with countless NBA playoff games, the teams considered to be scrappy underdogs usually get brushed away like a yapping Chihuahua in four or five games. Some may make it past the first round, but usually end up getting picked up by the natural oligarchy’s filters.
The world loves a good underdog story, but so far the biggest in the past couple of years was either the Cleveland Cavaliers – an already amazing team led by one of the all-time greats – coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors this year, or the Miami Heat, an even more amazing team, bouncing back in Game 6 against the San Antonio Spurs in 2013.
We even considered the Thunder as the underdog against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, but they had Kevin Durant AND Russell Westbrook. There is no Cinderella story similar to what we’d see in the NCAA. We’ve got a couple teams rotating the throne and the rest scrambling around for relevance.
The Season is Not a Good Predictor for an NBA Champion
Let’s stop looking at season records as anything more than a rough predictor. For the best players, the NBA season starts in the postseason, and everything else is pre-season warmups.
What we should be looking at is the majority of players that have something to prove. The regular season is an opportunity to build their brand, land a fatter contract next year, or grow themselves as a player.
That’s why people like to watch rookies so much in the NBA season. They have more room to grow. LeBron dropping anything short of 50 points and a triple-double isn’t going to impress anyone as much as a rookie averaging 30 points per game.