The 2022-23 NBA season will leave us with many memorable moments. Some significant, some not. I thought of this idea as a way to capture the NBA season and all its glory because ultimately with 30 teams and over 450 players, it's hard to remember it all. This piece is by no means going to be a beautiful, hand-selected depiction of a period of time like a time capsule is. I intend to include everything relevant, even if bad or ugly, to respect the honesty of portraying the league and the game I love dearly.
One of the biggest things I point to when thinking about or looking back at this year is how freaking great of a place the game is in. From the increase in international talent being showcased every night on the biggest stages, to the parity of the playoffs, or even the fact that so many young players and coaches impact the game every night. All three of these things drive the increasingly diverse, complex, and exhilarating experience that is the NBA. Whether you are a fan of a team that has a player like Luka Doncic or a Miami Heat fan on their unprecedented 8-seed NBA Finals run or a fan of the Jazz with Will Hardy, all of these things bring a unique balance to how fantastic the NBA is, and will continue to be in the future.
The league has reached new heights and places regarding its global reach. The NBA Finals this year were broadcast to 214 countries and territories and in over 60 languages. Those figures seem unfathomable until you take into account how many great players there are from outside of the United States in the league today. In the NBA Finals where we witnessed the Denver Nuggets win the title, their two best players are from Serbia (Nikola Jokic) and Canada (Jamal Murray). Another factor regarding international talent is how many of them are contributing at a high level night in and night out. Six of the top eight MVP voting recipients were from outside the United States. That is an awesome way to show just how talented these international players are today and it goes hand in hand with how broad the NBA's reach has become.
I know the more casual fan may be more excited to see the likes of Boston, Golden State, or one of the Los Angeles teams succeed in the playoffs, but I thoroughly enjoyed the playoffs this year especially due to the unpredictability. The ratings show us we don’t need those teams there as this was the highest viewed playoff average (5.47 million) since 2018. Although I believe the best team and player won the NBA Finals, the lead-up to that moment was nothing short of interesting.
In the Western Conference, the Kings after not making the playoffs for sixteen years took the defending champion Warriors to seven games. The seven-seed Lakers eliminated the two-seed Memphis Grizzlies. In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks took the Boston Celtics to six games. The eventual Eastern conference champions Miami Heat, as an eight seed, shocked the number one overall seed Milwaukee Bucks in five games. To put a cherry on top of the parity sundae, the NBA Finals featured the Western Conference’s one seed and the Eastern Conference's eight seed that had to win the play-in game just to be in the playoffs.
Never change NBA. We love you just the way you are.
Young Coaches and Players
The NBA as a brand has to be very excited because of the sheer amount of young coaches and players. First-year coaches showed great success this year. Guys like Will Hardy leading the Jazz beyond expectations, Darvin Ham leading the Lakers to the Western Conference Finals, and Joe Mazzulla leading the Celtics to a 57-25 record. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of some of the guys who have been head coaching for a few years that achieved success this year like Jamahl Mosley, Willie Green, and Mark Daigneault.
A few metrics help represent the growth and impact of the young players in the league this year. The first is how many young players are high-level scorers. Nine of the top twenty-five point-per-game leaders were under the age of twenty-five. That equates to 36% of that list. Those nine guys are Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jayson Tatum, Ja Morant, Trae Young, DeAaron Fox, Anthony Edwards, Jalen Green, and Keldon Johnson. The other metric is the representation of the All-NBA teams. Four of the fifteen All-NBA players this year are under twenty-five years old. What's even crazier is that three of the four are on the All-NBA first team! Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Jayson Tatum made the first team and DeAaron Fox made the third team. That doesn’t even include mention of Paolo Banchero, Jalen Williams, Cade Cunningham, or Evan Mobley who are all up-and-coming stars as rookies and sophomores this year and will make an impact for years to come.
I want to be as honest as possible with the content put out. This piece shall represent that to the fullest. We often times reminisce about the “good times” but if we want to look back at only the good parts of history, how can we properly reflect and learn from the events? This NBA season as mentioned previously has so many good things that it can be remembered for but let's make sure we reflect on some of the things that made this season unique, even if not for the better.
This story began just six days prior to NBA training camp opening. ESPN’s Senior Insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted on the evening of September 21st, 2022, “Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka is facing possible disciplinary action – including a significant suspension – for an unspecified violation of organizational guidelines.” Boy did this send NBA Twitter into a frenzy. The Boston Celtics suspended him for the full season once an investigation concluded he had an inappropriate relationship with a female staff member of the Boston Celtics.
The consequences of this may have impacted the Boston Celtics more than any bad player performance in this year's postseason run. This forced Boston to have to make a head coaching change less than a week before its team was going to officially get together for organized activities. Regardless of the returning roster or previous experience with the team, that is a hard thing to ask anyone to do. Joe Mazzulla was appointed interim head coach and eventually elevated to full-time head coach later in the year. This might not have been the ideal time for Mazzulla to have been put in a head coaching position at 34 years old. He led the Celtics to a 57-25 regular season record and an Eastern Conference Finals berth but showed clear signs of a lack of experience throughout the playoffs.
For Ime Udoka, it was obviously not a great way to have your second year in the NBA as a head coach go especially for such a storied franchise. He spent the season without a job due to the Celtic's suspension and the circumstances surrounding it. The NBA is a business and winning is best for business. Less than a year after the original incident, Ime Udoka was hired as the Houston Rockets' head coach to replace Stephen Silas.
To be transparent, this saga began many years prior to this season. Robert Sarver was the owner of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury for 17 years. This year was when we saw a resolution to a situation that went on for far too long. I don’t want to spend time going through the detail of Sarver’s despicable and disgusting behavior in this paragraph. If you want to read more in detail about what transpired, read ESPN's Baxter Holmes's piece here.
I want to shed light on what should be viewed as a very unfortunate mark for the league. We know this is not the first instance of racist or misogynistic behavior by an NBA owner. People like Robert Sarver or Donald Sterling, former Los Angeles Clippers owner, have no place in this league. My hope and plea to the league and to other teams and their respective front offices are that we can use these circumstances and learn from them. The NBA and its teams are billion-dollar entities. They have the resources to put the best possible people of character in any position. These situations should not continue to happen and as the NBA evolves and progresses forward, hopefully, the people running the league and its organizations can progress with it.
This story quickly turned into one of the more intricate stories in recent memory. The Grizzlies saw their star point guard flash a gun on his Instagram Live in March. The league stepped in and gave him an 8-game suspension and he went through a readers digest version of therapy. Morant was able to return before the playoffs and he and the Grizzlies would be bounced in round one of the Western Conference playoffs to the Los Angeles Lakers. The timing of this incident was nothing short of unfortunate. The NBA this year was super talented and the margins for error making or missing the All-NBA team were razor-thin. Not to mention, due to the incident occurring in March, he was left off of all three All-NBA teams which cost Ja roughly $40 million dollars.
Fast forward to May, and the NBA playoffs are going on without the Grizzlies. Yet, we continue to discuss Ja Morant because unfortunately, he made the same mistake he made back in March. I am in no way trying to determine the motive for why Ja might be doing these heinous acts, but I can't help but sit here and wonder why a guy who is in the fourth year of his NBA career would risk throwing away millions of dollars, NBA championships, and his reputation because of something so simply avoidable. I hate the entire situation for him, his family, the Grizzlies organization, and the NBA. I hope whatever is going on, he can get help and learn from his mistake.
An event or situation can be both bad and ugly. I tried to isolate “The Bad” as things that had a moral dilemma or consequence. “The Ugly” are things I hope we can look back on as unique to this season that cause us to answer a question or make a change. Ultimately, neither is an easy thing to discuss but “The Ugly” helped shape the final construct of how this NBA season was captured.
The Draymond Green/Jordan Poole Punch
If this were a Jeopardy answer it would sound something like, “Things that can single handily derail a defending champion for 1000”. This incident was shocking for a myriad of reasons. I am not naive enough to say that these things don’t happen on good teams, they absolutely do. When you are dealing with the world's greatest athletes, with egos and reputations in such a highly competitive environment, tensions are bound to escalate. But this incident between Draymond Green and Jordan Poole raised a few interesting questions:
How could a team that was so connected less than 5 months prior have such an incident occur among two of its best players?
Was it a contract-related conflict as Poole inked his 4-year extension just days after this video surfaced?
Why did this video surface when it did?
What does this say about Draymond’s leadership ability and character?
Did this make Bob Myers question his future with the organization?
That brings us to the most important question. Did this derail the Warrior's season before it even began? That's for you to decide.
I want it to be completely clear that I LOVE the addition of the Elam Ending in the NBA All-Star game and I hope it sticks around long term. But even as a die-hard fan and appreciator, watching this year's game was difficult. I love offense as much as the next guy but 184-175 is completely disregarding defense which is 50% of the game. I understand fully that this is an All-Star game that is an exhibition but there has to be a way that we can at least try to make the product more enjoyable. I do not have that answer and am all ears for a solution since these are the best players in the world on the same court for a weekend.
In regards to the weekend itself, I have fewer qualms due to either the three-point contest or dunk contest being exciting any given year. We cannot realistically expect a Zach LaVine vs Aaron Gordon or a historic performance from three every year to bring life to these events. This year however we did get a very fun result from both. In the 3-point contest, we saw Tyrese Haliburton put up 31 points in the first round and in the dunk contest, G League standout Mac McClung went on to wow the audience with a stellar performance.
I do think exploring new ideas is always a good thing because you never know what could take off and be the next big thing for the NBA. I vote in favor of trying to implement HORSE again. Why not try to get these guys to go at each other one on one like we are in the park? I hope whatever the NBA does for the All-Star weekend (if anything at all), they don't get rid of the Celebrity Game. Who doesn’t love seeing Kevin Hart tossing dimes to Michael B. Jordan and Snoop Dogg while being guarded by Nick Cannon or Wale?
The MVP Race
As I try to put a bow on top of a beautifully wrapped NBA season, I can’t help but include a glaring theme from this year. How much hatred there was for someone who didn’t share the same pick of NBA MVP with you. It even spurred hatred towards the players themselves in the case of Kendrick Perkins and other talking heads that shouldn’t be on television in the first place talking about our beautiful game. As I look back on this NBA season, I want to remember how freaking awesome Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid were. Not how rude or hateful people were in discussing why one was better or more deserving than the other.
Do better. <3
I want to close with a simple thank you to you, the reader, for supporting me and my dream this year by simply reading, listening, or interacting. I hope as you reflect on what this season brought you, you look back and can find something good in it all (despite the bad or ugly) and share it with me and others. Even though I am writing this without a game to look forward to for a few months, the NBA Draft, free agency, and the rest of the off-season festivities are quickly approaching. We won’t have basketball for a little while, which is sad, but we as NBA fans should still be smiling because of how awesome of a place the game is in as we head into the 78th season soon.
See you in October.