With San Antonio’s trouncing of the Dallas Mavericks, five out of the eight first-round NBA Playoffs matchups were decided by a much-coveted Game 7. Not only has that tied a record for most seven-game series in an NBA playoffs–with plenty of postseason basketball still left to be played, mind you–it’s happened during a leg in the contest long considered to be the least competitive due to a mismatch in standings and talent. For good reason, certain NBA enthusiasts are proclaiming that this is evidence of greater parity in the NBA, something the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was supposed to provide. But were these exciting first round playoffs really the result of increased parity in the NBA?
The answer isn’t so clear-cut, in fact, it probably goes something like so: it certainly seems that way, and this is assuredly a step toward a more balanced league, but deeper analysis suggests this year’s competitiveness might be more about other contributing factors than just a leveled playing field.
1. For starters, OKC had to vanquish a team that posted the league’s best record post All Star break. One, that with added shooting and a healthy Marc Gasol, is easily one of the NBA’s elite squads and a potential roster mismatch for about any opponent. So, the Grizzlies were more talented than their standing suggested.
Throw in Westbrook’s hero ball antics, which were not helped by Scott Brooks‘ elementary schemes, and you have a chippy Grizzlies team ready to prove skeptics wrong. A case for ‘competitiveness being a result of parity’ comes more in the form of the Thunder’s bench: they don’t really have much of one because of Kevin-Durant-and-Russell-Westbrook-sized checks. Plus, who can forget the James Harden fiasco?
2. Miami’s brutal sweep of Charlotte at the hands of its superstar-filled group was expected. The Bobcats could still do with a boost of talent. So, parity … not such a factor here.
3. Dallas underachieved all year. So, they were more like a six or seven seed than the No. 8 status they started the playoffs with. That said, they would still be overachieving by pushing a disciplined Spurs team to the brink. A lot of that was the result of Dallas’ defensive strategy of crowding San Antonio’s perimeter shooters. So coaching, more than equaled talent, seems to be the culprit here. In the end, San Antonio’s deeper roster prevailed.
4. The Wizards were the more talented team to begin with. Sure, this might lend itself to the theory that the league’s parity has improved considerably but it’s hard to say that the Bulls don’t win the war with a roster that includes Luol Deng and a healthy Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah. If Washington can grab a big free agent in the offseason due to CBA salary constraints from other teams then they become the darlings of a new CBA reality.
5. The scrappy Warriors benefited some from the Donald Sterling drama messing with the Clippers’ psyche. So, it’s hard to say if their seven-game series was forced by the hand of parity or something else especially when considering that both teams were stacked talent wise. Certainly, XN Sports has never thought that this Clippers team is built for championships, so bad team makeup could be a bigger contributor than equal doses of star players.
6. Any argument involving a Nets team spending about $200 million on a roster kind of negates the issue of parity from the default. Still, approaching from the other end, the Raptors side, could indicate that the two teams have been neck-t0-neck because of Toronto’s balanced team. It’s hard to refute that.
7. Can you say McHale? Sure, both Houston and Portland are talent-heavy squads that are made up that way because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement–how else would OKC have given up Harden to the Rockets?–but Kevin McHale‘s horrid coaching plays a big part in this particular upset. From a long-term standpoint, though, the success of both squads is a sign of greater parity.
8. The Hawks were a much better team than given credit for. They also posed matchup problems for Indiana who weren’t exactly helping the situation with team friction, Roy Hibbert playing like a fossil of his former self, and a clunky offense. That said, a fully healthy Atlanta organization could have easily been a No. 5 seed out east. So, this could have been a case of equal parts parity, equal parts unrelated factors.
All in all, it would seem that the league is certainly moving toward a place where results are less predictable — but it isn’t quite there yet. Many other factors have contributed to the success of lower-tiered teams, which, yes, has made for some splendid basketball. Hopefully much more awaits in the weeks to come.