The times are changing for the NBA, and I can’t be any happier.
For the past six to eight years, it was gruelling to watch what was going on in the league. Each year, more and more big-time superstars seemed to feel the urge to cluster towards just a handful of destinations, making less and less NBA teams actually competitive. The trend started with the Celtics in 2007, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce. At the time, the hype and excitement for NBA followers was huge, but for me, seeing three big-time Hall-of-Famers on one team, and eventually, a superstar Rajon Rondo rising up and capping off the so-called ‘fantastic four’, it really didn’t seem fair at all. It felt wrong. Then three years later, when LeBron James made his announcement and joined Dwayne Wade and the Heat in 2010, alongside Chris Bosh, it felt even worse.
Why? In my perspective, it was as if these players and teams were cheating the system, breaking some sort of unspoken rule of the NBA. What you’re supposed to do is build a team – start off with a top-pick in the draft and build a supporting cast around that soon-to-be superstar. This is how you build a competitive and balanced league, and ideally, how you build a legacy.
Instead, this ‘Big three’ trend as it’s typically referred to, where three or more superstars group up in an attempt to fish out an NBA title or two, completely went against this ideology. In essence, it’s a short term, risky and broken solution to earn titles. Sure, the Celtics won a championship and the Heat won a couple as well, but it didn’t take long for these two teams to return to their sub-par level once the hype settled. At the same time, you can look at the teams who attempted to create the same sort of mould but crashed and burned miserably – such as the Lakers with Nash, Bryant, and Howard and the Nets with Garnett, Pierce, Williams and Johnson.
The Rise of the ‘Spurs-like’ Era
With this trend dying, a new one has taken over. Without a distinct way to define it, many just refer to it as a ‘Spurs-like’ or ‘Spurs-esque’ style of basketball. What they mean by this is pretty straightforward if you’re familiar with the San Antonio Spurs. Teams have learned to adopt the strategy and culture to what only the Spurs have mastered in my time of watching the NBA – a completely team-focused, 12-man strong, unselfish, multi-weapon arsenal, and pass-first style of play, or in other words, a traditional team-building ideology but on a whole different level.
You can look at the two first-place seeds in the NBA last season, the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks, as perfect examples. These two teams had historical seasons, playing some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen. Yet, they didn’t hunt down set-in-stone superstars in order to do this – their management and players all bought in to the ‘Spurs-like’ mentality. For a team like the Warriors, they adopted this style of basketball so deeply that it has almost become obsessive. They’ve taken it to a whole new level. What they’re doing is taking a drafted superstar and developing him into the league’s MVP; building a strong supporting cast, and turning those players into all-star calibre players; not simply about winning championships, but making history as one of the greatest teams of all-time.
The Next Wave
I’m more excited than ever for the future of the NBA. There’s still going to be a few teams like the Knicks and Lakers who will continue to try and build those star-studded teams, but there are teams like the Timberwolves, Jazz, Bucks, Magic and (brand new) Celtics who have begun to climb the ranks with the way of the Spurs, and now the Warriors, surely in their minds.
One team that I’m especially looking forward to watch, and hope to see the ‘Spurs-like’ ideology become utilized to a further extent, is the Minnesota Timberwolves. Check out their potential starting line-up and bench for next season:
PG: Ricky Rubio (24), Tyus Jones (18)
SG: Zach LaVine (19), Kevin Martin (old man status)
SF: Andrew Wiggins (19), Shabazz Muhammad (22)
PF: Anthony Bennett (21), Kevin Garnett (old man status)
C: Karl-Anthony Towns (18), Gorgui Dieng (24), Nikola Pekovic (almost old man status)
If properly developed and without major injuries, there is no question that this team will be one amongst the top a couple years down the road. The real question is, though, is if this team can actually contend for title(s) with the lineup they currently have? Can they actually win over the best of the best?
I think they could, and I also think the Bucks and the Jazz could eventually lift the Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads a few years down the road as well.
A new, fresh and exciting league has begun to show its beautiful face. With the right play style, a team of hopeful young gunners and underdogs can actually win games. Which, to clarify, doesn’t necessarily mean replicating the Spurs, but learning from their culture and developing a team of generous and energetic teammates that can see any given player score 20 or 25 points on any night of the season.
If you have doubts to what I’m preaching, then you must’ve missed out on what happened this past season. You must’ve missed a 60-22 Atlanta Hawks team, with a starting lineup that probably began as a mystery to most folks, record the most wins ever in a single month (20-0); or see a player like Klay Thompson, behind superstar Steph Curry, break the record with the most points in one quarter (37); or maybe you missed out on the Golden State Warriors, a team that many saw as above average at most, make history, win a championship and take the whole league by storm.
So yeah, guide a young team of talented prospects like the Timberwolves the proper way, and I’m sure a few records will be broken within the next few seasons.