A bold declaration, to be sure, but I am most comfortable making the following statement:
The 2016-17 NBA season is professional basketball at its very best.
You can have your Larry Birds and your Michael Jordans and your Wilt Chamberlains. In fact, you can have all of your NBA legends and their supposed heydays.
On a night-in, night-out basis, today's NBA is professional sports at their very best. Here are 25 reasons you're missing out if you're not watching.
The Warriors are on pace to have the best offense ever
We went over this briefly a couple weeks ago, and it remains true over a month into the season: when you adjust for the strength of the opposing defenses, no team in the past 30 years has roasted opponents like Golden State. We don't have the data to look back any further than that, but it seems safe to say that KD, Steph, Klay and the rest of the Warriors are making history once again this season.
Now, insert your own "3-1 lead" joke here, if you're so inclined.
Russell Westbrook's pursuit of history is must-see TV
As soon as Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City, we started speculating about whether Westbrook could average a triple-double this season as the sole superstar on the Thunder. It seemed ridiculous -- then the season started. Every OKC game is a must-watch event, to see whether Westbrook will tally yet another triple-double on his one-man revenge tour around the NBA.
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The premier franchises are relevant (and fun)
Saying goodbye to Kobe Bryant last year was pretty cool, especially that last game. Really, though, now that Kobe is gone, the young Lakers can flourish (especially with coach Luke Walton in the fold). On the other side of the country, Phil Jackson's Knicks are playing their best basketball in years. That might not be saying a lot, but Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose are a fun team to watch before the West Coast games start on a given night.
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Even the worst teams give you a reason to tune in
I could list all the impressive young players on squads like the Suns, the Nets, and even that mess of a roster in Dallas. Or we can all just agree that Joel Embiid by himself is all the motivation one needs to watch some of the worst teams in the NBA.
When even "The Process" is this entertaining, you know the NBA is at its very best.
The NBA thrives when it has "superteams"
As nice as it is that the bad teams are fun, the NBA is a star-driven league. Perhaps more than that, the Association is at its best when it has several clear-cut title contenders going against one another year in and year out. No one celebrates the '80s and '90s because there was parity, after all. We loved the dynasties in Boston and Los Angeles and (briefly) Detroit and Chicago.
People will cry foul when someone like KD joins up with the Warriors because that superteam didn't come about organically like the old Celtics or the Lakers. That misses the point. The times have changed, and teams are built differently these days. What hasn't changed is the value of an elite team.
When it comes to professional basketball, we want to watch the very best duke it out over and over again. With the Warriors and the Cavaliers, we have that epic matchup -- and the NBA is better for it.
The players are bigger, faster and stronger -- literally
While much has been made of "small-ball" -- and we'll get to the 3-point revolution soon enough, I promise -- there's a fun visual thanks to Basketball-Reference. Check out the league averages throughout history, specifically height and weight when sorted by year. The trend is clear: players have gotten heavier and taller over time.
That's the natural order of things, of course. Better nutrition, better training regimens, better prenatal care: it all adds up to healthier human beings, which we see at the extremes in professional sports. That, in turn, makes the games even better. It's the same phenomenon we see in Olympic sports, where world records keep falling as we push the limits of the physical form.
Yes, there are outliers. Wilt Chamberlain was spectacular, as was Bill Russell. The list goes on and on. But the average player today is simply better than his metaphorical forefather. Period.
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The most important position on the court is also the deepest
Everyone loves a dominant center, and there's nothing like a wing who can get buckets. But the game starts with its point guards — the guys who initiate the offense.
Fortunately for those who enjoy a flowing, entertaining product, the point guard position is ridiculously deep these days.
Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, Kyrie Irving, George Hill, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Patty Mills, Eric Bledsoe, Ricky Rubio, Goran Dragic, D'Angelo Russell, Dennis Schroder ... you get the picture, right?
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Yet positions don't matter as much these days
There have always been coaches who embraced positionless basketball (Hey, Don Nelson! Miss you!), but eschewing conventional positions is truly all the rage these days. For proof, look no further than point-forward-guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose official role for the Bucks these days is "whatever they need me to do."
There will always be roles to fill and specific skills needed in basketball, of course. The trend toward putting your best five players on the court and seeing what happens, though, is a huge part of why the NBA is so fantastic.
Still, there's a new Golden Age of big men on the horizon
When all else is equal, height rules in basketball.
I mean, I love the 3-pointer as much as the next guy, but that's one of the ultimate truths of the game. If you and I are exactly the same player, and you're an inch taller, you are a superior basketball player. And that rumbling you hear in the distance is a new class of young 7-footers with all the skill in the world and the wingspan to blanket the entire planet.
James Harden and Mike D'Antoni were made for each other
Full disclosure: As a Suns fan, D'Antoni is one of my favorite coaches ever. Even I have to admit, though, that his approach to the game might make it difficult to win titles.
I don't care, though. The NBA is at its best when "Seven Seconds or Less" (or some variation) is alive and well, and Harden is the perfect catalyst for D'Antoni's offense. He's like a younger, bigger, more aggressive Steve Nash. Oh, and a more bearded Nash, too, obviously.
NBA coaches are better than they've ever been
A game is only as good as the leaders coming up with the schemes and teaching the players from the bench. We should be thankful, then, that today's coaches are among the brightest crop in the game's history. Guys like Luke Walton and Steve Kerr took the lessons they learned from Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Lute Olson (shout out University of Arizona) and other legends of the profession, filtered those perspectives through their own experiences as players, and realized that you can be a stern perfectionist and a players coach at the same time.
These players are already incredibly skilled and intelligent; in today's NBA, the best coaches are teachers, and fun reinforces the important lessons while making learning enjoyable.
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And the front offices are making excellent decisions, too
Okay, not every GM is a complete genius. I can't explain what's going on in a place like Orlando, for instance. But as the NBA has embraced a mixture of old-school scouting, playing experience and a knack for data, the decision-makers have improved at their jobs.
The fewer wasted draft picks there are and the more trades we see that benefit both teams, the better off we all are as NBA fans.
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The rules are designed to make the game as fun as possible
In the mid-00s, then-commissioner David Stern took a look at what the defensive-minded teams of the late-90s had wrought and decided he needed to do something. There was no offense; grabbing, fouling and at times punching opponents ruled the league.
So the NBA changed the rules to allow zone defense ... and that made things even worse. One year later, though, the powers all but eliminated hand checking and changed the rules to promote offensive freedom of movement. It took a few seasons, but once the players and coaches caught up to the new rules, scoring exploded. More than a decade later, we're reaping the benefits of those changes.
As effective as Stern was in his job, Adam Silver is undoubtedly an improvement as commissioner. He seems to take a pragmatic, level-headed approach to the tasks at hand, using the NBA's leverage as a PR machine to advocate progressive change and the embrace of all peoples as fans and human beings. And his players are mostly in the same boat, acting as advocates, leaders and resources in their communities.
That might not sit well with everyone, and it's obviously not an on-court thing, but it makes me proud to be an NBA fan.
You can watch EVERYTHING
Granted, League Pass Broadband can be a finicky technological experience. I feel for anyone who's watched a loading screen rather than an NBA game on their mobile device this season.
Yet I can only complain so much, because I never want to take for granted the fact that I can (generally) watch any basketball game whenever I want, wherever I want. That's crucial to loving the NBA these days, when any given night is going to bring you a spectacular game that might or might not be on national television.
Above all, there's absolutely nothing like an NBA game that comes down to the final few possessions. Being able to switch from the big game of the night to the drama in Memphis or wherever makes today's NBA experience better than it's ever been.
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And the social media experience is the best in the world, too
Unlike certain leagues that I will not name here, the NBA encourages its teams to share highlights in-game on Twitter, and the people who run the official social media accounts are the very best at what they do. More than any other sport, professional basketball requires two screens — one for the game, and one for the game within the game online.
A growing D-League has improved the NBA's talent level
For too long, NBA-caliber players had limited opportunities for exposure if they went undrafted and fell off the basketball radar after college. Although we're not quite to a D-League system with one-to-one affiliation, we're close. That "minor league" allows teams to develop players within their systems at a lower level while giving minutes to players on the main roster who might otherwise sit on the bench during real NBA games. The very best teams are taking full advantage of local D-League affiliates, which in turn is increasing the overall level of talent across the board.
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A truly global game has brought in the best from around the world
The NBA has a clear global growth strategy. First, you host camps in another country, building an appreciation for the game with the kids. Then, you host exhibition games abroad, giving those new fans exposure to the players they only see on TV or online. Finally, years later, those young people grow up to raise NBA players of their own, who come to the league and dominate.
The 3-point revolution changed the game forever
I won't harp on this point too much, since it's largely self-evident. Over the past half-decade or so, the NBA realized that 3 is greater than 2. By stretching the boundaries of an offense out farther and farther on the perimeter, teams have changed the nature of basketball. There's more space in which to create — and more area for a defense to cover. The players are in constant motion, always seeking the best shot, which might be a skyscraping rainbow from 30 feet.
I understand why some "purists" don't like it. For the rest of us, though, the game is better for its revolution. To wit: the NBA as a whole is posting a league-best effective field goal percentage, and all the extra space means that teams are turning the ball over at a historically low rate.
Either way, there's no looking back.
But there's still more than one way to win
Of course, as DeMar DeRozan is hellbent on proving this season in Toronto, you don't have to fall in love with the 3-pointer to be an effective scorer or team in 2016-17. A smart team finds ways to use its guards as screeners, cuts off the ball with perfect timing, and confuses a defense with a never-ending series of feints, backdoor plays and counters to counters.
If you hate the deep ball, the Raptors and the Bulls are here for you, friend.
NBA defenses are more sophisticated than ever
The most common criticism I hear about today's NBA is that there's no defense. That couldn't be further from the truth; instead, the "problem" is that today's players are so skilled offensively.
But if you really think there's no defense today, I defy you to watch tape from the '80s and '90s. What you'll see is one player catching the ball in the post, then everyone else standing around as he goes to work against a lone defender. A double-team slowly comes from a predictable angle, and the offensive player either beats the defense to the rim or kicks it out to start the whole thing over.
The defenses were effective because a 6-year-old could have predicted what was coming. Today's defenses have to prepare for everything and recognize the specific action heading their way in a split second. To the uninitiated, it might look like a lack of discipline and effort. To the real NBA fan, it's poetry in motion.
In the age of the one-and-done, the NBA and NCAA have similar priorities
College and professional basketball have a mutual understanding these days: Since the players won't be around for very long, college coaches try to turn them into the best possible players as quickly as possible in the hopes of maybe winning a NCAA title, and to hell with building roster continuity and chemistry over four years.
That works well for the NBA, which gets an additional year of data on these young guys rather than having to guess in the draft on players coming straight out of high school. The next step, of course, is making the rules the same.
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The NBA has rivalries once again
There might not be many rivalries, admittedly, and they might all involve either the Warriors or Clippers, but there's some genuine bad blood in the NBA this season. The Cavs and Dubs are obviously on a collision course for a third straight Finals meeting, and Draymond Green might actually fight someone this time. Chris Paul, meanwhile, seems to hate everyone, and we can only pray that the Clips take on the Grizzlies and the Rockets during the playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference,, there's the Cavs' continued rivalry with ... dominance, I guess? Step your game up, East. Come on.
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Kawhi Leonard is everything you want in a basketball player
The NBA lost a number of legends to retirement this offseason, chief among them Tim Duncan. Yet the Big Fundamental's legacy lives on in San Antonio with The Klaw.
Leonard shows up to work, does his job, doesn't ask questions, doesn't showboat, and doesn't care that he leaves a wake of destruction everywhere he goes. He's the perfect basketball player for that uncle in your life who wants players to "act like you've been there before." Every year, he adds a new facet to his game. Every game, he's better than the last.
If you need a favorite player, you could do much worse than Kawhi.
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Finally, we're watching the best player in NBA history
This is it. I'm calling my shot: LeBron James is the best NBA player ever.
Not the greatest, mind you. That's a discussion that entails winning and not losing in the Finals and all that stuff, and the answer to that question is Michael Jordan.
LeBron, though, is the best basketball player in NBA history: an unrivaled package of intelligence, speed, athleticism, decision-making, unselfishness, skill, shotmaking, compassion, leadership and a million other little things you see individually in others but never in one person.
He's the best. He just is, at least in my book. Deal with it.