The end of the 2021-22 NBA season is remarkably bittersweet. The
basketball was great, with an incredible level of competitiveness,
a revamping of defense, an embracing of coverage versatility and an
impressive rookie class. Covering it was an absolute joy.
On a personal note, a massive thank you to all who read my work,
supported me, encouraged me or interacted with me during the
season. Last May, I graduated from college with roughly a
year-and-a-half of covering basketball in some part-time fashion
under my belt.
I took a bit of a leap of faith to write about basketball
full-time or go broke trying, and because of BasketballNews and a
few other platforms, I was able to stay afloat and eventually break
even for the first time in my life based on work I'm truly
passionate about. My athletic ‘career’ ended in 2018 and it took me
a long time to really find out what was next and what my purpose
was. Writing and talking about the game just does something for me
that I can’t explain, so I’ll just reiterate: thank you all again
for making this life possible. Without help from many of you and my
family, I wouldn’t be in this position. I’m an extremely lucky
person and I’m so glad to do what I do, and I'm fortunate that my
work resonates with people.
So as per usual, my main takeaway is never from the result, even
when looking at my own track through basketball. The process is 97%
of why I care and watch the games. It’s what I love to track and
decipher. Nekias Duncan exemplified that and then some with
his piece yesterday.
The seasons within each season define the process. A player
returns from injury or makes a key development that shapes a
rotation, changes a team's identity or defines a stretch of play.
Rinse and repeat, as this happens a multitude of times for each
team to varying degrees. The contention landscape is an
ever-molding horizon that whittles away as the year goes by.
A third of the way through the season, I thought the Cleveland
Cavaliers had a shot at winning a series and making a second one
raucous for their opponent. I didn’t have faith in the Golden State
Warriors’ frontcourt rotation and halfcourt offense, leading me to
think they’d be out of the playoffs before the Conference Finals
Along those lines, perhaps the biggest takeaway I have from this
season and the postseason is that it’s just really freakin' hard to
win a title. That sounds reductive, and perhaps it is in essence,
but that’s sort of the point. I think it’s a bit foolhardy and
lacking in context at times to take away any sweeping thoughts on
the ideology of basketball in such a volatile setting.
We at large don’t know the full slate of what is or isn’t going
on behind the scenes or in a locker room until it’s being broken
nationally and is about to be resolved one way or another. That’s
not an excuse for poor or underwhelming play, rather to say that
it’s hard to place and capture the magic of incredible success. I,
and many, thought that the Phoenix Suns would walk into the Western
Conference Finals. The vibes dissipated with a quickness from
immaculate to disastrous in a way I haven’t felt since the 2013-14
I can point out the poor play and roster flaws that led to their
on-court demise, but whatever happened off the court without a
doubt contributed. It would be in poor faith to say, “Because of
this they lost." But it would be just as wrong to say, “Well, they
just didn’t have that dog in them.”
The Suns did have that magic for much of the season. We’ve seen
teams find it and lose it during the course of the year time and
time again. Finding that run of play and maintaining it is so much
more difficult than we lend credence to. We tend to decry the
losers rather than pointing out the immaculate nature of those who
stood the test of four playoff series. We should change that!
Winning the NBA Finals is extremely difficult.
As Nekias pointed out in hisaforementioned
articleabout Jayson Tatum, think about all of the
fantastic moments and series that Tatum did have leading up to the
Finals. That man balled the heck out. We’re talking about how
making the Finals and losing is bad for Tatum’s legacy??? That’s
crazy to me. I understand the importance of legacy to some, but
those arguments shed 97% of what got us here and hyperfocus on a
six-game series at the highest level of play.
Basketball and sports in general are meant to be analyzed; it’s
a large part of my job. But I feel the championship series should
ultimately be much more about enjoying two incredibly good,
incredibly talented and incredibly fun teams duel for the top spot
in the league after the season tipped 240 days before.
To lead into some of the more tactical/schematic takeaways,
advantage continuation is paramount. It probably seems obvious, but
the ability to keep moving the ball, keep a play running and force
the defense to react in kind is so important, even if it doesn’t
lead to a bucket. I was routinely stricken by how often the
Warriors had first, second, third or even fourth actions sputter
out, but they routinely found a small crevice upon which to expand
and keep the advantage flowing.
I saw so many times throughout the series, “How was this Boston
defense good during the regular season?” Was I doomscrolling and
over-indexing? You bet. But it still stood out. The Celtics fought
for their lives on possessions, and the way they shut down the
Warriors time and time again in the halfcourt only to be whiplashed
by a backcut, a broken play, an impromptu DHO, a Steph Curry deep
three or a quick putback after 15 seconds of scramble felt
back-breaking. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt Steph’s shooting gravity
and never ending off-ball movement like I did in this Finals.
Even with players who weren’t shooters on volume, the Warriors
unclogged possessions due to Steph’s otherworldly play and the
quick decision-making of his teammates. Draymond flipping the
switch on his offensive aggression, adjusting the shot tendencies
like we WISH NBA 2K would even consider absolutely changed the
series. Eliminating some of the indecisiveness and unwillingness
made Golden State that much harder to guard.
As athletic and sizable as the Celtics were across the board,
they often felt a step behind and rarely dictating the dance in
defensive possessions, which felt quite polar to their first three
Prior to the final few games against the Warriors, the Celtics
toed that line of having enough of that ball movement and redrive
oomph, attacking with secondary and tertiary drives to maintain an
advantage. That, uhhh, did not hold up in the Finals, as the
Warriors played phenomenal defense, but it also felt like Boston
went away from what made them the best offense in the league in
2022. Marcus Smart has his fair share of erratic offensive
possessions, but he spurred the offense throughout the year as Ime
Udoka charged him with more primary ball-handling duties to put
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in more optimal offensive
It wasn’t that he needed to always have the ball, and he still
handled much in the postseason, but it assuredly happened less, and
penetration and kickouts became more sparse. Again though, the
point is that secondary creation juice is a large part of how they
got to the Finals.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Milwaukee Bucks both felt as though
they really lacked another secondary creator or enough of that
ability to continue the advantages of Ja Morant and Giannis
Antetokounmpo respectively. Again, not fully that dumbed down, but
the Griz dealt with the issues of too many shooters who were
hesitant and also not impacting the defense. The Bucks rarely
sniffed the paint outside of Giannis or Jrue Holiday’s forays to
the rim. Kick-outs were routinely one-and-done shots. Injuries
certainly played a factor, as Khris Middleton changes things
greatly for the Bucks, but that wasn’t the case. Even during the
regular season, Milwaukee felt short of another shot creator.
On a similar note, the use of the clock to cut down or
exacerbate your advantages on the margins is essential if you have
some semblance of halfcourt struggles or are facing a top-notch
defensive team. The Warriors absolutely bodied teams in transition
and with early offense (no stats, just vibes; this was clear while
watching). I think back to that Denver series and how masterfully
the Warriors forced cross-matches and shifted the defense before
plays started just by running like mad down the court.
Boston was on their heels for so much of the series due to how
much concerted effort the Warriors put into getting into early
sets. Running off of misses was a huge swing factor, feasting on
Boston’s at-rim misses in droves and parlaying a 4-on-3 against
them into a 4-on-3 the other way. It honestly felt devastating at
times, the basketball version of Sisyphus’ toil playing out on the
The Celtics felt on the verge of an eight-second violation every
possession coming up court. Golden State employed a good array of
pressure to slow down the Celtics; that’s one of my favorite random
things. You’d think pressure would speed things up, right? Nope, it
made the Celtics bog down and sink like a tank traversing through
mud (shout out Call of Duty 4, mission War Pig; a throwback to
seventh grade). In turn, they were sped up due to facing the shot
clock with a proverbial back against the wall. All of the
tendencies were loaded up in Golden State’s favor given how they
worked the margins.
My last point I really want to stress is my ultimate
Old-Man-Yells-at-Clouds moment. It is really, really, really,
reaaaallllllyyyy hard to be a big in the NBA. So often, there’s
this idea that's consistently projected that you can "just scoop up
a viable big for the mid-level exception" or that "teams shouldn’t
draft a big in the lottery." And sure, you can get a really
serviceable backup or spot-starter for the MLE!
But you know that defensive-coverage versatility we mentioned
earlier? It is so hard to be a big who can only play one coverage.
I’d argue being a coverage-versatile big who can make quality
decisions and continue advantages if you don’t craft them
themselves is the most lacking positional archetype in a league
that looks starved for them.
This is not my attempt to display how I think basketball should
be played; there are a ton of viable ways to win a title and
construct a roster even if there are some underscored guidelines
that set the boundaries of what a team can be at the highest
But let’s just run through some of the most important players on
the deep playoff teams (who made it to the second round or
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Deandre Ayton
- Robert Williams III
- Al Horford
- Draymond Green
- Kevon Looney (who was incredible throughout the
- Bam Adebayo
- Maxi Kleber
The NBA 5 is so pivotal upon how defenses play the game on
either side. For a defense, they need to be able to hang up in a
multitude of schemes while ideally being a backline eraser with
strong-help instincts and the athleticism to deter shots. Switch
everything is a lie, but some switchability is pretty nice too! Can
you play close to the level? Can you show and recover? Can you
display enough hand activity to add a modicum of hesitation on
pull-up twos or a guard turning the corner out of a ball screen as
your point-of-attack defender fights over to reconnect?
There are a trillion responsibilities seemingly, and ground
coverage is a must.
Offensively, the 5s routinely were the focal point of how a
defense looked to stifle an offense. While Draymond isn’t
technically a 5, he played a great deal of time there and his
improved play and aggression over the backend of the series was
paramount in attacking Boston’s defense and tipping the scale. In
the previous series, I can still hear Steve Jones Jr.’s voice
ringing out from the Dunker Spot (listen and subscribe!) about how
teams played him as a post decision-maker with Golden State’s
patented split cuts.
Al Horford broke defenses with his consistent shooting in the
playoffs, something that wasn’t there much of the regular season.
Shooting in that sweet spot of league average or slightly higher
without hesitation at the 5 spot is back-breaking. Miami and
Milwaukee routinely tried to negate Horford’s presence, but if
you’re going to shoot like that without thinking, it changes the
way a defense can play you. Much of the same should be said of Maxi
Kleber for the Mavs. His personal heater against the Suns altered
that series and forced Phoenix into a defensive bind that
restructured the way they could play defense without getting
absolutely pelted from Kleber’s above-the-break dynamism.
Being a capable two-way NBA big is freakin' hard. The game is
still shifting more and more toward size and skill, something the
next few draft classes exemplify. I don’t think it’s as drastic as
every player being 7-feet tall and taking pull-up threes out of
ball screens, but there’s real credence to acknowledging that the
first few draft classes of players that grew up playing AAU and
youth ball after the spacing revolution are coming in with skill
sets to match. A few seasons ago, I was speaking with a prominent
high school coach who mentioned that the high-school game was a
half decade behind the NBA, as players adapted to what they saw and
took in growing up. We’re seeing that start to play out and that’s
absurdly cool to witness.
What will the game look like in 2027? I don’t have the answer,
but I have a semblance of an idea of where it’s headed in the next
few years, and I’m excited.
What will the next shift be? How is the game going to bend the
court dimensions again? It continually happens over time, as
innovation and adaptation occurs.
The game is beautiful, and I’m lucky to cover it. Once again, a
heartfelt thank you to anyone who's reading and those who have
shared or interacted with my work over the last season. It’s odd to
say goodbye to 2022, but I have a good feeling about next
Who knows, maybe this is the year for the Sacramento Kings?!
Maybe the Orlando Magic are our wondrous young team that takes a
sizable step forward from fun and young to fun, young and funkily
effective. I don’t know what next year holds and I can make as many
predictions as I want, but that unknowing is part of what makes the
game so mystifying to me. I love uncovering and trying to learn
more about what the game is, and the skill sets and stories that
make up the humans who play the game. I truly loved the process and
unraveling of the 2022 season, and I hope you can say the same!
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