The Three-Pointer Can Ruin Basketball

The installment of the three-point line changed the way basketball is played. While we still see post-proficient players in this day and age, one thing that is undeniable is that along with the evolution of basketball, there has also been the evolution of the types of players in the game. Specifically, one type of player. And you know about the type of player I’m writing about because if you have ever known a kid who loves basketball, you’ll know what kind of situation they’ll play over and over again in their heads:

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The kid’s team is down by two. They need two to tie, three to win. The shot-clock hits 5. The kid gets the ball. 4. The kid dribbles. 3. The kid picks up the ball behind the three-point arc. 2. The ball leaves the kid’s hands. 1. The ball reaches its zenith. 0. The buzzer goes off as the ball rips through the hoop. The crowd goes wild and that kid is hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates.

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I believe that there is a problem with the romanticism behind the three-point buzzer beater, and in a similar vein, the whole, ‘pull-up three-pointer’ in general. When it goes in, the pull-up three-point shot is one that can bolster egos, and diminish opponent’s confidence, leading them to leave the playground defeated. However, that doesn’t mean it is a good shot. In fact, it is an incredibly low-percentage shot for many, and one, I believe, that too many players take advantage of it in today’s version of basketball. This type of player, the one who takes pull-up threes, is one who is not looking to create the best possible play for his team, but rather to throw up a prayer from 24+ feet. While this is not always the case, I believe that the idea of being the one to get the team ahead by one with no time remaining can be too enticing, meaning that team-oriented basketball takes a backseat.

Basketball used to be played a bit more like soccer; there was no added benefit of a long range shot, meaning that plays to get the ball closer to its desired destination had more value. In this version, teams look for the best shot (the highest percentage shot) they can get within 24 seconds. The three-point line left this idea intact, the idea that teams should always look for the best shot possible, but it started to draw players further away from the basket, towards low percentage land. The Spurs and many other teams have shown that three-point shots can be apart of a game that does look for the best shot possible, especially when playing against a zone defense.

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“What about all of the teams that don’t use the three-point shot as effectively, dad?” 

“Well, son, that’s a good question.”

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Those teams don’t look so good, and their pull-up threes don’t belong in a game that looks for the best shot possible; It is too easy for a player to just pull up and launch a 24-foot prayer instead of looking for the best shot. But as always, this may not continuously be the case, and sometimes, the shot clock doesn’t have enough time left on it for a team to find a good, high-percentage play.

So with the addition of the three-point line, the NBA lost many intricately run plays to ego-boosting pull-up three-pointers. Does that mean something needs to change?

The three-pointer also adds extra excitement to basketball, like it did to the kid on the playground. It allows some teams to come back from larger deficits and could help even out the game. It allowed a new type of player to enter the NBA: the three-point specialist. Usually, these players make up for height and weight advantages other teams have over them by being able to shoot from anywhere past half-court.

The main question I would like to leave here is this: when a team makes a lower percentage shot, should they be rewarded by an extra point? Or should a shot from outside be worth the same as one inside the paint?

Let’s say that we’re watching a game between two teams: one only shoots three pointers, the other only shoots twos. Each team gets 85 shots, which was around the average for last year’s shots by team per game. The median 2 point shot percentage during last years season was about 49%, and the median 3 point shot percentage was 35%. If we apply these numbers to each team, this is what we get:

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Final Score (both scores rounded down)

Team 3-Pointer – 29.75 shots made • 3 points per shot = 89

Team 2-Pointer – 41.65 shots made • 2 points per shot = 83

3-Pointer wins!

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The idea here is that you can run just three point plays, make 14% less than your 2-pointer counterpart, and still win the game by six points. The three-point shot decreases the value of the high percentage shots, and the NBA needs to think about if this is good for the development of the sport or not.

 

Watch Out for the Chargers Next Season

After another brutal losing season, Dean Spanos, the owner of the San Diego Chargers announced that the team will moving to Los Angeles. While some call it more of a return to Los Angeles, I wouldn’t go that far. The franchise had only played one season in the Coliseum before shipping off to San Diego for 56 years. Although a majority of the team’s glory has taken place in San Diego under the likes of LaDanian Tomlinson, Dan Fouts and Junior Seau to name a few, this move to LA will see positive results for a few reasons. First, it opens up a huge market to the Chargers who in large part were a small market team. Secondly, the past few years haven’t been anything to brag about, after going 9-7 the first two years under late coach Mike McCoy. The Chargers then went 9-23 the next two seasons and were a dreadful 7-18 in games decided by eight points or fewer in that time.

Philip Rivers did not have a good season on the tail end of this year and struggled in large part with decision making, turnovers and not having his go-to wide out, Keenan Allen for the last 15 games. Even with this much adversity, the Chargers were still a top ten offense. Melvin Gordon proved to be the guy the Chargers thought they were drafting when they took him with their first round pick in 2015, coming up with 3 yards short of 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Next season expect Melvin Gordon to break 1,000 yards with a run heavy offense under Anthony Lynn.

The defense has taken a huge step into turning back to a top-notch force in the NFL. This year, even with injuries, they figured to be tough, standing toe to toe with some of the leagues most prolific offenses. Joey Bosa is as good as advertised, and Melvin Ingram is one of the most well rounded outside linebackers in the league. The linebacker corps feature Denzel Perryman, Manti Te’o and Jatavis Brown who was one of the steals of this year’s draft. Next season when Jason Verrett returns, with the addition of Casey Hayward last free agency and veteran Brandon flowers, the Chargers secondary has potential to be downright suffocating.

The Chargers will make the playoffs in a wild card spot next season and be part of a division that features three playoff teams. While this may be a huge step from a 5-11 season, when healthy, the Chargers are one of the most talented teams in the league. With the addition of offensive minded head coach Anthony Lynn who was formerly the offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, Philip Rivers will not be throwing the ball as much with Anthony Lynn being a run heavy coach. When he does he will have to take care of the ball more. He will have his best receiver back in Keenan Allen, with an emerging deep threat in Tyrell Williams and rising stud tight end, Hunter Henry. With the defense being potentially stifling, the Chargers are going to be arguably one of the toughest teams to play against in the league next year, with a projected record of 11-5. Los Angeles and the StubHub Center will bring a breath of fresh air and new scenery for this Chargers team to flourish once again.

Grayson Allen is the Villain College Basketball Deserves

Every four years, it seems as though Coach K manages to find a new player that embodies Duke University. From Christian Laettner to JJ Redick to Steve Wojciechowski, Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been able to sustain his teams’ identity: elitist, privileged, spoiled, dirty, cocky, and most importantly really good at basketball.

We all love to hate these guys, but Grayson Allen, who is the continuation of this trend, is a different breed. He covers all of the same criteria, but recent hate for him has reached a new extreme. Anyone who is not currently in a coma is aware of his recent incidents in which he is caught tripping numerous victims on the basketball court across the nation. The backlash has been pretty severe, with people calling for his head and even claiming that he is suffering from mental illness because of how preposterous his actions have been.

Thankfully, Coach K suspended Grayson for one entire game which completely rehabilitated him and brought him back a new man. Since the suspension, Grayson has only tripped another player and happened to aggressively push a Florida State assistant into the second row.

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Not only is there a blatant lack of accountability for his actions, but Allen has the mentality of a 7-year-old to go with it. He has temper tantrums on the bench when things don’t go his way, and will rub it in your face when he’s beating you. He is the ultimate villain and maybe the most hated figure in sports right now.

With all of that being said, I think that Grayson Allen is the best thing to happen to the game of college basketball in a long time. Despite electrifying freshmen like Lonzo Ball and Malik Monk, it’s Allen’s antics that are putting butts in the seats. A true villain in any sport is going to be good for it. Popularity for the NBA skyrocketed in the 90s because of the “Bad Boy” Pistons and a guy named Michael Jordan who many were not too fond of at the time. The Miracle On Ice probably wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if we were indifferent towards the Soviet Union. College basketball has a huge opportunity to grow because of America’s sweetheart, Grayson.

People love to hate him and people love to hate Duke. Come March, all eyes will be on Allen and the Blue Devils.

NCAA Football Playoff Format Needs to be Reconfigured

College football fans have seemingly never been too pleased with how the NCAA deals with deciding who is the best team in the nation, let alone the top four. Even before the four-team playoff, fans were clamoring for an eight-team playoff as often as Boise State ran trick plays under Chris Petersen.  The BCS system was thrown out in favor of the College Football Playoff, as both fans and athletic programs agreed that the decision of who should play in the national championship should not be left up to computers, but rather a core committee. This committee would choose the teams that they think should be selected to have the opportunity to compete in the College Football Playoff, similar to how Division I basketball teams are selected to play in March Madness.  Now a 13-person committee comprised primarily current and former athletic directors and football coaches selects the team.

The CFP uses a four-team bracket instead of the computerized rankings used under the BCS system and this year, the committee selected Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington. While there certainly are improvements that can be made to the CFP, this new system of deciding which teams are best suited to compete for the CFP trophy is far superior to the BCS system.

The most different attribute of the CFP system and bracket is that it allows what the committee deems to be the best teams to compete for a chance to play in the national championship game.  Previously, under the BCS system, polls were subject to human bias, in addition to the fact that the BCS standings were also partially based off of how the coaches would rank the top 25 teams. This setup assumes that they would have had the time and spent the effort to see all of the relevant teams compete. Instead of determining which two teams were to compete for a national championship under the previous BCS bowl system, the CFP committee makes each team they invite to the College Football Playoff earn their birth to the College Football Playoff final and to subsequently win a national championship.  Nearly every other sport utilizes a playoff system to decide who indeed is the best team in the nation for that year, so there is no reason to doubt the decision made in regards to college football in following suit by establishing the CFP bracket and committee to decide who has a chance to play in the penultimate game of the season.

This new playoff system in effect renders bowl games other than the New Year’s Six (Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Peach Bowl, Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl) to be less meaningful.  This is the biggest problem with the CFP.  Now, top players such as running backs Christian McCafferey and Leonard Fournette of Stanford and Louisiana State University respectively, have begun electing to sit out of their team’s bowl games in order to avoid the risk of an injury that might have a negative effect on their draft status. Nobody saw this before the CFP, which glorifies only playing in the top six bowls available.

What needs to happen in order to prevent star players from not finishing out seasons with their teams and playing in their bowl games is to get rid of the meaningless bowl games and to turn them into the early rounds of an extended college playoff, culminating in the national championship game.  This is not to say that CFP is worse than the BCS, but its flaws are evident.

One other major flaw of the current playoff system is its lack of value given towards conference championship games.  Many college football fans will argue that Penn State deserved to be in the four-team bracket instead of a team like Ohio State because they won their conference championships. I believe that in order to improve the CFP system as a whole, conference victories and championship games must be weighed more heavily than they are in the current state of the CFP. If they do not, these games do not serve much purpose and should be scrapped.  Conference tournaments in college basketball play an integral role in the March Madness selection process and the same should go for college football.  Regardless of their loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, the exclusion of Penn State from the CFP illustrates that their comeback victory in the Big Ten Championship game was not enough to propel them into the CFP and that represents a flaw in the system.

Without a doubt, NCAA football is headed towards at least an eight-team playoff; the only question is when it will take place.  This playoff system is the perfect manner to decide which universities should play in bowl games, and adjustments certainly need to be made sooner rather than later.

Ten Years After David Beckham

Ten years ago as of last Wednesday, the Los Angeles Galaxy purchased David Beckham, an English soccer player from Real Madrid on a five-year contract worth 250 million dollars. Many considered his hefty transfer to be the precursor of a significant breakthrough in the standard and the popularity of soccer in the United States, both within Major League Soccer (MLS) and for the Men’s National Team. After all, Beckham was at the time one of the most marketable athletes in all of sports since the turn of the century, and more importantly the first world-class soccer player in the MLS era. But looking back now, is there a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after’ with David Beckham’s move to the MLS?

Well, right now, the standard of soccer in the United States is reminiscent of an awkward dancer: they more or less have the steps (the system) down, but the rhythm (culture) still lags far behind.

The United States is undoubtedly still learning the “steps” of soccer. While there have been multiple professional soccer leagues in the United States in the past, none of them were able to remain afloat for even two decades, ultimately due to a lack of popularity. Considering that the MLS was founded 24 years ago in 1993 and is still growing, it is all but safe to say that the MLS is here to stay. After another decade of development that has seen the addition of nine new professional teams to the league, with four more teams being added by 2018, the MLS is quickly expanding its presence across the country. This, combined with the increasing number of American player development academies clearly signifies the United States’ ambition to breed world-class players of their own both within the MLS and for the national team.

One must remember, however, that learning the steps is futile if you have no rhythm.

For over a century, the United States has had a thriving culture in several sports, but that list has never included soccer. Although 24 years is a long lifetime for a professional soccer league in the States, it is minuscule in comparison to that of America’s mainstream sports. The American professional baseball, basketball, football and hockey (Canadian-American) leagues have existed for 114, 71, 96, and 99 years respectively, meaning that Americans have been watching and playing these longstanding sports since long before soccer meant anything to the general public on a domestic level. In doing so, the “steps” have long been ingrained into the minds of many of these kids, some of whom then utilize them in pursuing a competitive sports career. More importantly, these experiences as both observers and participants has helped to develop a culture within each of these sports that has collectively become a part of the identity of the United States. The entertainment is there, the prestige is there, and the experience is there.

There is rhythm flowing through the veins of these American sports fans.

The rhythm of soccer, on the other hand, has always felt foreign to the United States, because, well, it is. Players almost exclusively use their feet to play, while feet are rarely used as the primary means of operation in mainstream American sports. Regular season games can end in a 0-0 tie, as opposed to the extra innings or overtime period(s) that guarantees victory to one specific team. Professional teams can compete in up to five different competitions within the same season, whereas in the States, there is always a regular season followed by playoffs, all for one trophy. On a global scale, despite the incredible success of the women’s national team, the more followed men’s national team has never gotten past the quarter-final of the FIFA World Cup, the most coveted trophy in the world of soccer.

Furthermore, even though soccer is the most popular sport in the world, it is also the one sport in which the United States does not own bragging rights. While the American professional leagues of the aforementioned sports are each considered the best professional leagues in the world, this is not the case in soccer. The best soccer players in the world aim to play in Europe, which is widely considered the highest level of competition in the world. Unlike American kids who pursue a multitude of sports at their own will, so many children from around the world grow up watching only soccer, establishing an innate sense of dedication towards learning the “steps” and adopting the “rhythm” of the beautiful game.

With that being said, the MLS is decades away from coming even the slightest bit close to the standard of soccer that exists across the top leagues in Europe. David Beckham’s move to the LA Galaxy in 2007 acted as an invitation to long-established world-class talents to play in the MLS towards the ends of their career, after already being past their respective primes. Household players including Didier Drogba, Tim Cahill, Ashley Cole, Jermaine Defoe, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Kaka, Thierry Henry, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo have all played in the MLS since Beckham’s move in 2007. While the addition of such famous soccer players has helped increased the appeal of the MLS to Americans, it does not reflect positively on the standard of the league nor does it help to increase it.

On the other side of his career, now 18-year old Christian Pulisic from Hershey, Pennsylvania, signed a professional contract at the age of 16 with German club Borussia Dortmund, where he has already received regular playing time, scoring multiple goals for his team. Moving to Germany was an easy decision for Pulisic, who is now considered to be one of the brightest young talents to come out of the United States, for he knew that playing in the United States would only be detrimental towards reaching his untapped and arguably world-class potential.

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So what can we as Americans do to develop the rhythm of soccer?

This is the only time that you will ever see me saying this: Watch more television. In 2013 and 2014, NBC Sports Cable Network aired two seasons of the Premier League, the professional soccer league in England, which is widely considered to be the best professional soccer league in the world. Viewership of the Premier League increased considerably between those two seasons, inspiring NBCSN to sign a $1 billion contract with the Premier League for exclusive broadcasting rights. Signing such a large contract serves as a statement by major American television networks, considering the fact that they recognized the development of a long-term increase in the popularity of European soccer in the United States.

It has been stated time and time again that watching top-level soccer does indeed help aspiring players to increase their “soccer IQ”, or their knowledge of the mechanics of the game. As more and more Americans tune in to watch the fast-paced excitement of the Premier League, I believe that their continued interest will gradually help Americans in developing that rhythm that has been lacking in American soccer for so many years. Specifically, as more children watch the highest standard of soccer, they will be more in touch with the game on a global scale, and those kids will be increasingly motivated to become a great talent themselves.

The only thing we can do other than study up is to keep young talents like Christian Pulisic at home, so that we can build a powerful professional league upon a foundation of homegrown talent, rather than upon the temporary stints of past-prime foreign soccer players.

Bye, Bye, Beckham

With the thin culture of soccer that had existed in the United States as well as the young age of the MLS at the time, David Beckham’s transfer to the LA Galaxy in 2007 was never going to make a significant short-term impact on soccer in the States. His move did not have any evident influence the expansion of the MLS, or on the increasing number of player development academies across the country. While I do not necessarily believe it myself, one could argue that he did have a long-term impact on soccer in the United States simply by signing a contract. His move to the MLS was one of the biggest sports publicity stunts of the century, and one that may have helped catalyze in some small way a mainstream American interest in the sport of soccer,

With or without the help of David Beckham, here we stand in 2017 as an awkward dancer in the world of soccer.

 

 

 

 

Figures In Sports, The Media & The Fans: A Love Triangle

Aside from the Jersey Shore relationship of Ronnie and Sammi, there is probably no other relationship that has more ups and downs than that of the love triangle between the media, important figures in the sports world and the fans that support those figures. This was highlighted by the comments made by Steve Kerr at the end of Game 6 of the NBA Finals, for which he was fined for criticizing the referees. However, when a newsperson asked him about his thoughts of the officiating, was he supposed to praise it? Even if Kerr would be wrong in criticizing the officiating of Game 6, a man is entitled to his opinion. Or is he?

Enter the fans. Fan support when it comes to the practice of sports is absolutely vital to the supported team’s success. Players don’t just say, “we couldn’t have done it without the fans,” for no reason. It is a statistical fact that teams have a better chance of winning games when they play at home, where there are more fans cheering them on. Regardless of this, it is also undeniable that the vast majority of fans are unaware of a plethora of key details that would have them view certain discrepancies in the sports world in a different light. To the average Warriors fan, the $25,000 fine imposed by the league towards Kerr would seem absolutely heinous. Most Warriors fans, though, wouldn’t know that all athletes and coaches in the NBA have a clause in their contract in which it explicitly states that they are not allowed to criticize officiating to a certain extent, which is affirmed by the NBA as a means of protecting their brand. So, while Steve Kerr may not have been able to criticize the referees to the extent that he did, is the imposition of this rule ethical?

All sources point to no. First of all, the media acts as somewhat of a little brother to athletes and coaches in sports, in the sense that they egg their big brother on until they are forced into saying something that they will regret saying later. To contrast, a part of being a professional in the sports world is knowing how to deal with the media and not losing your cool. But at the end of the day, we are all human. It’s a complicated cycle where there is no right answer. Humans, however, have certain basic rights that continue to be denied by contractual obligations today. The freedom of speech, for one, cannot be exercised without a fine, even when the person “at fault” is asked a question that they choose to answer honestly.

The first step to fixing a discrepancy that clearly involves all three parties mention would be to either clarify or nullify the part of the contract that Kerr violated. Whether you think that sports figures should be able to say whatever they want, or that they should at least be able to honestly answer questions presented by the media, something needs to be changed. Because nothing is changing, a constant cycle is emerging where figures in sports say something that they shouldn’t have said because it is pushed out of them by the media, which forces a punishment from the league that they play or coach in. The fans then interject with their surface-level knowledge and add fuel to the fire by ostracizing that league for penalizing their favorite figures in sports – for what they see as no reason. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This cycle produces a bad look for every party involved – the media is always perpetuated as the antagonists (even though they are just doing their jobs), players and coaches are portrayed to have short fuses (even though they are only human) and the league is seen as the evil disciplinarians ((I had to look up how to spell that) even though they just want to clear their name)). And all of the criticism is generated by us, the fans.

As a response to this cycle of negativity, a certain message must be sent to each party involved.

Sports Figures – Stay calm. Stick through it. Sports figures who face adversity are (or at least were at some point) successful.
Media – Keep doing your job. Being a journalist is one of the most difficult jobs in the world because you will almost always be seen as the bad guy. And sometimes you have to be.
Fans – EDUCATE YOURSELVES. Before you share strong feelings about a certain subject in sports, understand why it happened. You may be missing an important detail that could alter your opinion on the subject.
Leagues – The fourth wheel in the love triangle. Stop limiting the free speech of athletes and coaches! Pittsburgh Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams was fined last season for sporting pink accessories in memory of his mother, who passed away due to cancer. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! Free speech should always be exercised.

Rules are meant to be broken, but some rules aren’t meant to exist in the first place.

Small Ball is Ruining the Game of Basketball

Regardless of who did end up winning the NBA Finals last season, game seven of the NBA Finals gave fans something that was seemingly nonexistent in all but one of the other six games: a show.

Last season’s NBA playoffs seemed to have a recurring theme – most games were blowouts. Whether the winners of individual games ended up winning the series or losing the series, it seemed unavoidable that most playoff games last year had been decided by double digits. The Western Conference seemed to be stronger than it had ever been, boasting the record-breaking Golden State Warriors, the star power-heavy Oklahoma City Thunder, the deep San Antonio Spurs and the unlucky but talented LA Clippers. For the first time in four years, the Eastern Conference’s playoff teams all boasted winning records, showing a considerable improvement in competition in the East, as well. Despite these landmarks, most playoff games continued to be decided before the fourth quarter.

Game 7 of the NBA Finals was only the second game in the series in which the Cavs and the Warriors actually competed with each other, and the evolving NBA strategy of small ball is to blame. In the past, when the game was based around getting to the paint and strong play from the center position, we would see games come down to the wire on a nightly basis. Today, as the three-point shot has become the go-to shot for almost every team in the NBA, we see the intensity of NBA games decrease substantially, due to the frequency of blowouts. This happens because when a team is centered around long 2s and 3s, it is easy to get into a funk. Every player has a bad shooting night here and there, which would normally prompt that team to look towards their big men for consistency in the paint. However, because they have stopped looking to big men as frequently, NBA teams have begun to focus on coming out of a funk by simply shooting through it. This results in horrendous shooting numbers, and, a blowout. Long range shots in the NBA are all about momentum; every team in the NBA has players that can hit 3s, but when they have no momentum, they will have no confidence, and when they have no confidence, their 3P% for the game will average under .300. When a game is all about momentum, it is easy to see why so many games in the NBA this season have been complete blowouts to one side.

The reason that the Warriors’ record was as good as it was could have been because of the fact that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson simply had less off-shooting games than the star shooters of other NBA teams, and when one of them had an off game, the other one shot the lights out. While small-ball is clearly the strategy that works in the NBA today, is it positive for the game of basketball as a whole?

The answer is, absolutely not.

Today, it is so much harder for a fan to get his money’s worth by going to an NBA game. Every fan of any NBA team loves to see his favorite team decimate their opponent, but not at the expense of being decimated by another team the next night. Fans want to see close, hard-fought NBA games, especially in the playoffs, when many fans find that their NBA team hasn’t made it into the postseason and they just want to see good basketball. Likewise, with every kid in America wanting to be Steph Curry, an unavoidable emerging trend in our youth will develop. Every kid who plays basketball is going to be popping 3s, nonstop, which will go well for about 5% of the nation.

The NBA has been going in a 3-pointer-centered direction for the past couple of years, and the results of this are beginning to materialize. It doesn’t take a mathematician to understand that three points are more than two, but it also doesn’t take an NBA analyst to understand that consistent blowouts are boring to watch. If the NBA hopes to retain its appeal as an exciting league where a comeback can happen at any second, NBA teams should revert back to mixing it up with post moves, rolling to the basket and high percentage shots. However, with the success of teams like the Warriors and with the early playoff exit of more old school teams like the Spurs, such a reversal of trends is unlikely to happen. Just wait until the 4-pointer is invented.