|This season has beeen strange even as it began the same way last season ended. (Getty Images)|
An Overlying Theme: The Season Without Reason
We knew it would be different. We thought it might be weird. But we didn't have any idea it would be a season without reason.
The lockout gave birth to this monstrosity, with games stacked on top of games stacked on top of games. The players in the beginning were hopeful, optimistic, just glad to be back at work. But then the schedule nailed them in the face and by the end of the first month, the basketball took a nose dive.
Percentages dipped, injuries started piling up and the comments started murmuring throughout the league. "We have another game tomorrow?" And there were some... unexpected results.
No lead was safe. Teams would build absurd leads... and then watch as the fell apart. Players would come out hot as pistols and then plummet. No one was safe from injury. Nothing really made any sense. Teams loaded with stars were double-digit games under .500. The Sixers were an elite team. It was chaos.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle described the season as wacky as his boss Mark Cuban spoke of how metrics for this season had to be tossed out because of the nature of the season. There are indications he was right.
But it also yielded some nice stories. The Nuggets a surprising team that took advantage of the early season slumps by the contenders.
Oh, and did we mention the league blocked a trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers, acting as the owner of a franchise collectively that they were individually in competition with, resulting in Chris Paul landing in L.A.... with the Clippers, and then forming a team that everyone grew to despise because of a one-sentence catch phrase used once caught on camera and a penchant for flopping?
Or that the Lakers then traded Lamar Odom to the Mavericks for nothing but a first-round draft pick, and still wound up losing the trade?
How about that the Blazers went from leading the division for much of the month to firing their coach and going into take mode?
Or the Knicks... you know what? There's not time.
This season was beyond the limits of sanity. The playoffs seem to be just as wide open as injuries and an altered schedule take their toll. It's like taking the normal NBA, messing with its DNA and putting it in a Petri dish for a year.
I guess this is what you get when you play God.
The rest of the Baseline Awards for 2012.
The Daryl Dawkins Award for Ridiculousness
JaVale McGee and it's not even close.
He denied giving a statement he gave to multiple reporters holding microphones to his face during the lockout. He runs the other direction. He goes by "Pierre." There is no end to the hilarity that is JaVale McGee. A sweetheart kid with a huge chip on his shoulder towards the media who runs the other direction. What can be more NBA than that?
Most Overblown Story of 2012: Tanking and the terrible horrible terrible horribleness that is losing
Why are we freaking out about this? If everyone tried as hard as they possibly could, would the world be a better place? Do teams that are invested in trying, even the teams with talent, always actaully produce quality games at all time? I get that watching teams not try to win isn't fun. But we're talking about maybe 25 percent of the season, tops.
Is watching the Warriors lose by 15 with young players who aren't very good but aren't familiar really that much worse than watching them lose by nine with players that are predictable and with a flawed roster?
Maybe I'm missing something, but speaking personally... I love tanking. It's hilarious. That's the NBA.
Look, you can talk about how this league is about wondrous execution and the greatness of champions, but you'd be wrong. Michael Jordan was awesome, but primarily because he made everyone else look stupid most of the time. This league rotates around the ridiculousness. It's Planet Lovetron and a guy changing his name to Metta World Peace and Moses Malone mumbling. It's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar lobbying for his own statue and Birdman's tattoos. It's "The Decision" and players efforting for triple-doubles in blowouts. This league is absurd. It's not going to kill us to have some bad basketball in the middle of it.
The argument that it doesn't help teams? That's valid. There are better ways to help the teams that need help, but rewarding the mediocre teams just outside of the playoffs instead of the truly wretched won't help anything. It'll just make the problem worse.
There are issues in this league. Maybe this is one we should just let slide.
Most Impressive Team: Chicago Bulls
The Spurs have been the best regular season team. But the Bulls have been the most impressive. Night to night, game to game, the Bulls bring the highest level of effort in each player that steps on the floor. The questions about their having a playoff gear are legitimate only because you can't imagine them playing harder.
They've taken down the Heat and Celtics without Rose, and managed the best record in the East without their MVP. They can hit you with any number of lineup combinations and schemes and get scoring from all over. The Bulls aren't the most dominant team in the league but they've shown the most from night to night.
Storyline of the Year: Linsanity
That was craziness.
An undrafted point guard out of Harvard gets cut from two different teams, including one of the best development teams in the Rockets, then lands on a Knicks team loaded with superstar talent. Days before he's set to be released, he's forced into duty due to injury and not only sticks, but excels, dropping the Lakers in a nationally televised game. This from a guy who was sleeping on his brother's couch because he didn't want to pay the money for a place in New York if he was going to be cut.
It was brief, it was memorable, it was loaded with socio-political elements and discussions, but mostly, it was exciting. For a few weeks, Jeremy Lin made us forget lockout ball and obnoxious superstardom, and just enjoy basketball.
Worst Storyline of the Year: Dwightmare
Dwight Howard was really likeable three years ago. He really was. But then all this happened. Howard demanded a trade, but the Magic didn't trade him. And so it sat like that for months, with rumors about phone calls with Kobe Bryant and deallings with the New Jersey Nets behind the Magic's back and all sorts of nonsense.
Then he tells his teammates he's staying. Then he backs out of it. Then he changes his mind. Then he backs out of it. Then he signs a waiver, locking him into a team going nowhere for another year. Then rumors surface of him telling ownership he wants Stan Van Gundy fired.
Which Van Gundy confirms!
Then Howard comes sauntering over and puts his arm around SVG, unaware SVG has just ratted him out for his backstabbing to the cameras. Awkward. So awkward.
And then he developed a herniated disc in his back and was lost for the season.
There's ridiculous. There's completely ridiculous. There's "The Decision" and then there's this Dwight nonsense. Dwight managed to look worse than LeBron. Congrats, big guys, we didn't think anyone could do it.
The level to which Brandan Wright was a bust can not be overstated. He was a power forward that couldn't rebound or defend, a combo-forward who couldn't dribble, pass, shoot, or defend. He was without a positional home, without a role-based skillset, without an NBA future.
And the Mavs made him pivotal. Wright has been a revelation this year. He "got it." The secret which every coach tries to unlock with a project player was discovered by the Mavericks. Whether it was just the natural maturity process, the coaching of Carlisle and leadership of the Mavericks' locker room, or just random luck, Wright is a legitimate NBA player. It's potential fulfilled, at least in some capacity. And that's a good story to take from the year.
Three Things Which Surprised Me This Season:
1. Dual-Point-Guard lineups worked: The trend was set with Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, but really, it was a league wide occurrence. Some efficiency differentials (points scored vs. allowed per 100 possessions):
Jeff Teague-Kirk Hinrich: 7.5
Rajon Rondo-Avery Bradley: +14.7
Derrick Rose-C.J. Watson: +11.2
Ty Lawson-Andre Miller: +5.3
George Hill-A.J. Price: +14.9
There are pairings that don't work, obviously, like Darren Collison and George Hill, and Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry. But the trend has been interesting to see. It makes you wonder if a true shooting guard is necessary anymore, because most of the new athletic hybrid 3's can guard perimeter players (Paul George, LeBron James, etc>).
2. Teams thrived witout their stars: The Bulls were downright dominant without Derrick Rose. The Lakers thrived in a handful of games without Kobe Bryant. The Heat went on a winning stretch without Dwyane Wade.
How does this make any sense?
It brought up the worst kind of arguments about those teams being better without their stars. They weren't. But it did allow players the room to breathe. It lowered their ceiling but upped their output. Metta World Peace was hitting big shots and back to his defensive leadership ways (before he went UFC on James Harden when Bryant came back).
the Bulls offense started moving the ball and getting equal usage from its players, finding easy shots at the rim. Miami... well, Miami has enough stars to go around.
But it was interesting to see how teams played when they were forced to avoid relying on one guy.
3. Coaching mattered: It's a players league. But the difference in coaching this season was phenomenal. So many teams would have totally folded had they started off to the kind of starts Dallas and Boston did. But veteran coaches with a knowledge of what their teams needed, which was time, got them through it and there they are, both in a position to make a run.
Then you have Gregg Popovich engineering the league's best offense out of a core that's been together for a decade and a crew of players that have spent time in the D-League.
Mike Brown was either the cause of or solution to all the Lakers' problems this season, depending on who you talked to.
Coaching always helps a good team become great, but the best work from coaches in the most difficult positions was the difference in establishing the elite teams.