ESPN claims that the 2016-2017 NBA regular season is the greatest of all-time. I hope the person that decided to make the claim was fired during the network’s latest round of layoffs. ESPN, and to be fair, several other pundits, believe that the NBA has never had a greater regular season than the one that recently ended.
Statistically, they might be right.
Russell Westbrook’s 42 triple-doubles broke a record set in 1962. He was also one of eight players to score 50 or more points in a game. That too is a record. Teams averaged more than 105 points per game, the most in a quarter-century, and they did so at pace that hasn’t been matched since the early 1990s. Despite the gaudy statistics, my response to Bristol’s claim is to ask, “did you even watch any of the 2016-2017 NBA regular season?” If you had, you’d definitely say it’s not greatest of all-time. Sure, Russel Westbrook had a historic campaign, but his team finished with the league’s tenth best record. Triple-doubles don’t equal victories.
James Harden had an amazing season, and so did his Houston Rockets, but like always, I’d rather watch DeAndre Jordan shoot free throws than any team coached by Mike D’Antoni. The Miami Heat went 30-11 but failed to make the postseason. How do you finish 30-11 in a league that sees more than half its teams qualify for the playoffs and not qualify for the playoffs? The Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz had exciting regular seasons, but they were largely ignored by the NBA marketing department. Instead of those teams appearing on national television, we were forced to watch an unhealthy dose of New York Knicks games—but that’s a rant for another article. The Los Angeles Clippers continued to underwhelm, the novelty of no longer being irrelevant wore off in Washington D.C. and Toronto, and once again the San Antonio Spurs posted a 60-win regular season—a feat about as predictable as the sun rising.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, the league’s two best teams, sleepwalked through the regular season and that assessment is being kind to the Cavs. Cleveland’s contribution to this “greatest season” was gifting the top seed to the Boston Celtics. Lebron and company’s season-long competitive malaise was anything but great. Meanwhile, the Warriors courageously taught the world that NBA players are overworked and need plenty of days off. They weren’t the only team that felt the need to sit basketball players getting paid millions to play basketball, but the Warriors seem to be the poster boy for the phenomenon. The second after the 2016 NBA Finals ended, everyone knew the Warriors and Cavs would meet again in the 2017 edition. That realization rendered the regular season, and all its statistical achievements, meaningless.
Even if I agreed with ESPN, you can’t anoint a regular season as the greatest until it has a few years to percolate. I don’t think the 2016-2017 campaign will ever be the greatest, but let’s revisit the issue in 2020.