NBA 2016–17 — A Fan’s Scrutiny !

72–10! Chicago Bulls had lost 10 games in the 1995–1996 season and were about to lose 3 more in the Playoffs before sealing the title for themselves. An almost ‘Perfect’ season.

Over the years we have witnessed prodigious single season team records in the NBA, the best(73–9) among those was achieved recently by the Warriors in 2015–16 season, previous record being held by the 95–96 Jordan-led Bulls. Distinctively, teams such as the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Hawks, etc. have constantly made the Playoffs in the recent seasons. There is no doubt that such facts make us NBA aficionados admire the amount of hard-work, dedication and diligence these teams put in.

However! —Are these teams the only ones praiseworthy?

The game enthusiasts might easily disagree with that. Obviously, the top seeded teams get a huge boost to their fan base and have a larger impact globally. But when teams with restricted resources and struggling past records perform exceptionally well, its then that we appreciate such milestones/facts and realize that its the NBA — ‘Where Amazing Happens!’. This season too we witnessed a few teams that exceeded expectations of their fans and proved some of the critics and predictions wrong. Lets dig into them!

UTAH JAZZ

The Utah Jazz will be entering the Playoffs this year after 5 seasons. Also, they have not started at home in Playoffs since 2001. Missing 3 starters for almost one-third of the year, the Jazz were the most injury impacted team this season. Here’s a brief tally of the games missed by some of their key players:

  • Derrick Favors — 32
  • George Hill — 33
  • Rodney Hood — 23
  • Raul Neto — 42

Nevertheless, these absences not only forced Gordon Hayward & Rudy Gobert to step into the team’s leadership roles but also improve their own game. They led the injury-ravaged Jazz to 51–31 (tied with LAC) and clinch the Northwest Division title for the first time since 2007–08 season.

Their season tally 51–31 got them the 5th seed in the Western Conference Playoffs and will now face Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.

One of the key factors in Utah’s defense has been the 7 ft. Rudy Gobert. With a true shooting report of 68.6% and leading the league in blocks, he is already being recited as the Defensive Player of the Year on Twitter. A brief look at his stats:

  • 1st in Blocks — 2.6 BPG
  • 4th in Rebounds — 12.8 RPG
  • 2nd in FG%(>60 games) — 66.2%

HOUSTON ROCKETS

On June 1st, 2016 Houston Rockets appointed Mike D’Antoni as their new Head coach. The NBA pundits had predicted a season with 44 wins for the Rockets; they hit that mark in game 63 itself. The credit for such a remarkable improvement this season can be reasoned with Mike’s offensive coaching. Mike D’Antoni was responsible for shaping up Steve Nash’s playmaking ability when he coached the Phoenix Suns a decade ago. This time, it was James Harden who was about to be grilled under Mike’s oven.

Mike unlocked James Harden’s best offensive version yet. Harden who averaged 7.5 assists per game last season, lead the NBA in assists(11.2 APG) this year. His playmaking ability has been off the charts recently with improved assists to turnover ratio. He also crossed the 900 assists mark in Houston’s last game of the season against the Timberwolves.

James Harden

  • 2nd in scoring — 29.1 PPG
  • 1st in assists — 11.2 APG
  • 1st in double-doubles — 64!
  • 2nd in triple-doubles — 22!
  • Missed only a single practice this season

With these stats, Harden is easily a fan favorite for MVP this season. Also, since this was the first season for Mike D’Antoni as head coach of the Rockets, who finished 3rd in the Western conference with 55–27, Mike might also easily bag the Coach of the Year award.

MIAMI HEAT

The Heat were in for a tough season with Dwayne Wade joining the Chicago Bulls and Chris Bosh’s blood clots troubling him for the entire year. The Eric Spoelstra coached Miami began the season with 11–30. Most of the fans had given up hope. Astoundingly, the Heat had a 13 game winning streak that followed. After the streak ended, they were just 2 positions away from qualifying for the Playoffs.

Although, the Heat failed to qualify for the Playoffs, they are still proud of the final standings. With a tally of 41–41 at the season’s end, Miami won the last 30 of the 41 games they played(not to mention the winning streak).

Intriguing indeed! Why the sudden swap of fate(or was it?)?

First of all, it was a team effort all the way through. O Yes ! it took 41 games for the Miami Heat to actually start playing the ‘Miami Heat Basketball’. The only team that had a better record than Miami after mid-January was Golden State, which means that the Heat were the best team in the Eastern conference for the last 3 months of the season, yet they were not able to clinch a berth for the post season. How tough it seemed for the Heat is exemplified in Eric’s statement he gave mid season:

“The biggest thing we were thinking about and planning for as a staff coming out of training camp was how were we going to get a bunch of strangers — guys on free-agent contract years, guys with every reason not to buy into a team and a lot of departures from people who knew what our culture is about — how were we going to get a group together that would really care about each other and play for each other?”

During the streak, both Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters were putting up more than 20 points a game. Miami also had an absolutely dominant force in Hassan Whiteside who is 1st in rebounds(14.1 RPG) in the league. He is also one of the top 5 blockers in the NBA this season.

The Heat streak broke a rather obscure record(see twitter post below) this season.

Although the Heat didn't make the Playoffs, they did something which no other team has ever done in the history of NBA.

Spoelstra for Coach Of The Year?

This season was the first since 2003 when there was not a single star within the starting lineup – No LeBron, No Wade, No Bosh!. This year was Spoelstra’s most challenging and exigent of his career. He started with 11–30, encountered major injuries for some of his players, kept the faith alive within the team and shaped one of the most appreciative comebacks in the last 3 months of the season. The award voters might not even consider this incredible feat, maybe because there exists a mindset preferring the awardee to clinch a Playoff berth, some might even consider it mandatory, but what was achieved in the last 3 months of the season by Spoelstra and the Heat will be remembered as much more than this award’s recognition would have.

Eric Spoelstra’s words in a press conference after Heat were not able to clinch a Playoff spot this season.

Guys that have bounced around, been in different places. Everybody had a story in this room. To come together as strangers, guys with every reason not to buy into a team — this felt like three or four seasons wrapped in one.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt this way about a team before, or wanted something more for a team, We went through so much together. Now we don’t have a practice tomorrow at noon. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like the basketball gods shined down on us. We believe in magic. We believe in karma. We believe in things you cant define. None of us are handling it well right now.