The success of the NBA has made it easier to mask its many flaws. Although most fans remain enamored by ridiculous dunks and off balance 3-point shots, it is becoming harder to see players on the professional level fail to have a complete grasp of the fundamentals of the game. Many recreational players do some of the things in the public gym that NBA players are failing to do in arenas in front of large crowds.
Consider the free throw. In the NBA, big men get fouled so frequently that it is absurd when they have so many struggles to hit open 15-foot shots. Many, if not most, recreational players can shoot free throws better than at least half the players in the NBA. Players in high school box out better than most professionals in the NBA. Coaches have more respect in high school and college and they even know when to call a timeout. It could have been possible for the Oklahoma City Thunder to add Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor to a roster that already includes Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. There are some glaring flaws in the NBA and the whole Eastern Conference is one of them.
The top 15 flaws in the NBA represent mostly the rules, coaching and style of play. The athletes are still amazing, the arenas are full, and yet many of the things that make basketball purists sick are prospering in the NBA. It is an amazing game to watch and relatively easy to play, but for these reasons and more, the quality of play has been in decline.
15 Poor Coaching
Coaching in the NBA is more about making sure matchups don’t get exploited and the offense flows with the combination of players on the court. There might be a couple of inbounds plays and some adjustments made at halftime, but other than that the coach is more of a figurehead. Many star players often elect to do their own thing when plays are called or little time is left on the clock. Coaches even let leads evaporate from double digit cushions to single digit deficits without calling timeouts. Even if they have nothing to say to their team, it would at least make it seem like they have a part in controlling their team while letting the players regroup. Although player development has become a bigger part of the job, there is no excuse for the lapses of control during games.
14 The Missing Bank Shot
For some reason, the bank shot has become extinct. Players in or just outside of the paint continually aim at the front of the rim, while the bank shot is open and left unguarded. Layups have become finger rolls and scoop shots that might look impressive, but an extra dribble or two would easily yield two points off the glass. Even shots on the move or off to the side are shot straight at the rim. There are also many guys who should consider banking in their free throws, especially those who shoot around 50%. It is sad that many commentators even consider long bank shots to be lucky and worth less than a swish. The reality is that many players seem to consider bank shots to be less sexy and antiquated when they are still worth the same amount of points.
13 Inconsistent Defense
The playoffs are living proof that defense can be played in the NBA. It seems like defense is missing during most of the regular season as teams go through the motions, putting up a fight only when the outcome seems to be in doubt. Last season, James Harden of the Houston Rockets played matador defense and the Rockets got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. The Memphis Grizzlies have had troubles scoring during stretches of games, but their defense has so often kept them in games. Defense is more about heart and dogged determination than talent and skill, yet so many players don’t seem to want to play it throughout a whole game or entire season. More consistent effort and a better understanding of how good defense can compensate for bad offensive play, would help.
12 Traveling Is Never Called
Traveling has become one of the NBA’s lost rules. It has become such an epidemic that traveling even happens on uncontested fast breaks. Most drives to the basket now routinely involve 3-4 steps. There is so much entertainment value in drives that end with dunks that it seems like the NBA front office has told officials to look the other way. The only traveling calls that seem to be called are when players on the perimeter get close out defense and decide to drive to the hoop after shuffling their feet and taking steps before dribbling. This shuffling on the perimeter still happens with great frequency as 3-point shooters shuffle their feet on many occasions while repositioning themselves for a less contested shot. By letting traveling go, the NBA is only punishing effective defense, but then again, that might be by design.
11 Poor Post Play
Where have all the good big men gone? The NBA game is now a game of point guard penetration with guards breaking down the defense with dribble drive penetration. Big men now position themselves for alley-oop dunks and offensive put backs. Just 20 years ago, everyone from the 6-foot-4 Charles Barkley to Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing, made their living in the post. Much of the game’s post play will be gone when Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge retire. Big men today can either shoot the three, drive or stay out of the way on offense, while protecting the rim on defense. Post play might not be as exciting but come playoff time, it is a good thing to have when offenses become stagnant when perimeter defense is tight.
10 Settling On The Three
The three point shot has certainly helped open up the NBA game, but too many teams settle for threes when their offense breaks down. On the other hand, there are players who have a habit of settling for contested three point shots when the mid-range jumper or dribble drive are open for the taking. It has become a plague with so many players thinking the gratification of scoring one extra point is worth so much more than taking the easy two points. The shot has become so enticing that players even look to take it when just a few seconds have ticked off the shot clock. For most players, the 3-point shot is still a low percentage shot, yet when left open these same players will let the ball fly. Even big men who seldom shoot from the outside will let one fly for curiosity’s sake every now and then. However, it is not pretty when most of them don’t go in.
9 The Draft Lottery
Why is there even a draft lottery? It is hard to understand why the Oklahoma City Thunder, who finished at 45-37 and have Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, deserve a shot at getting a number one pick. It might make for some interesting hype and television coverage, but the draft lottery usually doesn’t help the team needing the break. Thankfully this year, the Timberwolves won the lottery, becoming the first last place team since 2004 to win the lottery. The lottery does make it less advantageous to throw all your games to get the first overall pick, but there really is no need to have teams with winning records get their chance. It might be more interesting to give fewer teams a chance at the top four or five spots. In that manner, many teams that had a shot at making the playoffs would not be eligible. At least then teams that really need the top picks would be the only teams capable of getting one.
8 Preventing a Turnover by Calling a Timeout
The 20-second timeout has been the impetus behind so many timeouts that are being used to maintain possession of the ball. The problem with this is that in many cases, possession has not exactly been established prior to the calling of the timeout. Players will fly through the air to keep a ball from going out of bounds, but have been awarded timeouts with two feet still in the air. Loose balls are far from corralled when one player calls a timeout in order to keep it from becoming a jump ball. It makes no sense that so many timeouts can be called with possession still in doubt. It seems like such a simple fix to have possession clearly established before a timeout is called.
7 Overuse of Dunks
We all love the slam dunk but there is nothing worse than a wide open missed dunk. It often seems like players are taught that dunks are worth more points the way so many players feel like they have to punctuate a score with a dunk. When dunks are contested, layups are often left open for easy scores. It seems so odd that players feel the need to challenge shot blockers by attacking the rim with a dunk. In many cases, it seems like players have forgotten how to make simple layups. Missed dunks have the complete opposite effect of dunks that are made. Instead of exclamation points that vibe the other team, missed dunks are signs of weakness and the inability to measure up. What’s even worse is that they are a failure to score two easy points.
6 No Boxing Out
There are still plenty of NBA players who are terrific at rebounding the ball at both ends of the court, but the mechanics of rebounding have still been lacking. Players routinely jump high to coral the ball, but it does little good when the guy behind them is a little taller and jumps just as well. Today’s players fail to realize that boxing out helps take the opposing player’s legs away. Using proper technique, there is less of a need to jump real high and snag the ball right off the rim. It is hard to watch teams go “small” with defensive stops turning into multiple rebounds and eventually put back scores. Great perimeter defense is so quickly negated by the inability to rebound the ball. Players learn about boxing out at an early age but many of them are so athletically gifted that they seldom need to box out until they get to the NBA. They fail to realize how phsically gifted all NBA players are.
5 Atrocious Free Throw Shooting
Some of the league’s top free throw shooters are still close enough to 90%, but the bottom half of the free throw shooters are a different story. Too many players hover around 50%. The Houston Rockets, for example, have three players who struggle to hit, or come close to hitting, half of their free throw attempts. It seems ludicrous that these players can fly through the air and throw down thunderous dunks, but can’t shoot better than a couch potato who has downed a six-pack of beer on the free throw line. Even some decent 3-point shooters can be found in the bottom half of the league’s free throw shooters. To the casual NBA fan, it is hard to grasp how a closer shot could harder to make. A little dedication and time in the gym could go a long way towards fixing this travesty.
4 Too Much Pick and Roll
The pick and roll has become the preferred play of the NBA. Although it often leads to some exciting back door cuts for dunks or layups, it often becomes over used and turns the offensive sets into two-man games. It certainly is a way to create mismatches and force the defense into covering them with double-teams, but the picks are often either weak or can easily qualify as moving screens. Whatever the case, teams will continue to go to this one play every time down the court until the other team changes the way they defend it. It might make sense, but the game becomes boring forcing the players not who are not involved to become watchers. When they are finally called upon to score they end up laying bricks. It seems like such a basic set, but it always takes teams too long to adjust.
3 The 82 game season
The NBA season is too long. Each single game starts to lose its significance when so many regular season games are played. Even the playoffs have the potential of adding 28 extra games to a season that is already too long. The NBA might argue that this gives more revenue and chances to see the major stars play, but more teams like San Antonio have started to rest players during the regular season, while others enter the second season with rosters that are far from intact. In a game that supposedly has no contact, an all-star roster can be made from the players who have missed at least one playoff game. This probably wouldn’t be so extreme if the season was shorter. An 82 game season is demanding on the players and makes no sense when 16 teams end up making the playoffs. Unfortunately, the only thing that makes sense is the extra money.
2 The Eastern Conference
The Eastern Conference of the NBA is severely flawed and not getting any better. A quick look at the NBA playoff seedings tells more of a compelling tale. Each Western Conference playoff seed has a better record than the equivalent seed in the Eastern Conference. Three teams from the Eastern Conference, Brooklyn, Boston and Milwaukee, wouldn’t even make it into the Western Conference playoffs. Even worse, the Oklahoma City Thunder, boasting a 45-37 record and an MVP candidate in Russell Westbrook, failed to qualify for the playoffs in the rugged West. This disparity happens year after year and the draft has not helped even the playing field. The storied franchises in Boston, Detroit, New York and Philadelphia, had a 107-221 combined record. It has become time to seriously consider some realignment.
1 The Intentional Foul
The Western Conference playoffs have exposed a glaring weakness in the NBA game. Big men have notoriously had issues with shooting free throws, but there should be no way soft bear hugs should put them on the line. Flagrant fouls are no different than intentional fouls and yet there are penalties for committing them. The intention of both fouls is still the same. They are both efforts to prevent the opponent from scoring, and although flagrant fouls require penalties to help keep players safe, intentional fouls need a penalty to keep the game from becoming boring. At least flagrant fouls are almost exclusively committed in order to prevent easy layups or dunks, while intentional fouls are more often committed off the ball and away from the action. These fouls have only given fans extra television breaks that don’t even bring the league extra advertising revenue.