How the NBA Has Changed Over the Past Decade

Other than the usual NBA team expansions and player turnover, new standards and rules are introduced from time to time. And much like how the three-point shot addition of the 1980s resulted in evolved team strategies, such periodic tweaks often lead to how each basketball game is played.

1) Centres no longer dominate the court

Big men dominated NBA seasons until 2010-2011 where there were only 13 giants on the court, from East and West. The majority of the players such as Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Love would spend most of their time on the perimeter if they were to play at all. While at it, they were the traditional centres. 

Indeed, the NBA is no longer the “big” man’s league it was 10 or so years ago. Nonetheless, the average height is at 6’7” and 220 lbs. And while there are still giants on the court these days, you can see more movements and actions including blocking shots and dunking from them than their counterparts a decade ago. 

2) Perimeter players are more crucial to a game

No position is more important than others. But the contributions of each are appreciated all the more today than in the 2000s or beyond. This is especially true today wherein each game is becoming more stringent than the last one. 

Nowadays, the rage revolves around being a guard or forward or assume the role whenever the need arises. Speaking of the perimeter, the handlers, jumpers, and shooters connive to dominate the court. This means centres can become shooters too, particularly those big men with the skills of a forward or guard.

Guards and forwards, of course, are expected to have decent defensive and offensive skills as well.

3) Three-point plays are taking over

The three-point shooting has come a long way since it was introduced. Today, a team recruit based on how a player makes plays and shoots balls. So stats such as field goal percentage and long-distance shooting accuracy and matter.

All 30 NBA teams have tremendously increased in their three-point attempts. In the 2017-2018 season, an average team has 28.98 attempts per game compared with that of in the 2007-2008 season with 18.04 attempts.

4) More possessions lead to bigger performances

The high volume of three-point attempts and makes result in two things: faster and more ball possessions and more triple-doubles league-wide.

Teams speed up their games deliberately to take advantage of three-point plays. Games are not only quicker; they have possessions 10x more on average. Furthermore, since a shot happens earlier in the shot clock compared with a close-to-the-basket shot, NBA teams and players alike had a higher chance of amping up their stats. 

More and more players–from Lebron James to Ben Simmons–accumulate more points, assists, rebounds, blocks and stills. As if the triple-doubles are not enough, they also break records – their own and that of the others. Milestones are reached on a nightly game basis. 

While it would be unfair for the NBA players to be compared by generations because of these changes, there is no denying how these tweaks have influenced all the teams’ game strategy. It all boils down to turning the tables and playing on what changed. Quite literally.

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Player Feature: Kawhi Leonard

Full Name: Kawhi Anthony Leonard 

Birthdate: June 29, 1991

Birthplace: Los Angeles, California 

Current team: Los Angeles Clippers

Position: Small forward

Years active: 2011 – present

Key statistics

  • Known for his ball-hawking skills
  • A physical marvel with 6’7” height and 7’3” wingspan
  • Has won both Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year
  • With six straight 30-point performance games
  • Won the 2018-2019 NBA championship with a 4.2-second buzzer-beater
  • Scored 732 points and became the 3rd best scoring NBA player in history

Kawhi Leonard earned his moniker the “Claw” (or “Klaw” to denote the first letter of his name) because of his ball-hawking skills.

Sports Illustrated lauded Leonard’s strong work ethics as well as “physical marvel” with his 6’7” height and 7’3” wingspan. All the more, he knows how to use this to his advantage for defensive and rebounding purposes. Screening and eluding him on the court would be difficult.

One weakness of Leonard, however, was his weak offensive capabilities during his first few seasons with San Antonio Spurs. Another concern was his shooting skills, especially outside. And which he addressed by training off-season with his former San Diego State University’s strength and conditioning coach, Randy Shelton.

Anything he knows about basketball he was able to demonstrate throughout his seven-season stint with the Spurs. In 2014, he brought an NBA championship and named the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP). He was technically the third youngest NBA player to win the said award; Magic Johnson held the first two positions. 

Leonard was also the 2014-2015 season’s Defensive Player of the Year. He was the third player to win both Finals MVP and this title, next to Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.

In the next three seasons, he set new records including back-to-back Defensive of the Year award, six straight 30-point performance games, Player of the Week for the fourth time, All-NBA First Team inclusion for two years straight, All-Defensive Team First Team award for three consecutive seasons, and career-high points game after game.

The 2017-2018 season was a controversial year for Leonard’s career. He only played 27 games due to a series of injuries (right quadriceps and left shoulder). Leonard was ruled out to pursue a right quadriceps tendinopathy rehabilitation procedure. 

The Spurs medical staff, on the other hand, gave him clearance to play. Leonard sought a second opinion, and the fallout among his management, teammates and him ensued. A players-only meeting was held in March, his teammates entreating him to start playing for the team. Leonard chose not to play any more game during the season.

In 2018-2019, Leonard was traded as per his request and became the key player of the Toronto Raptors. He led the team to its first-ever NBA championship with a 4.2-second buzzer-beater show–the first in NBA history. The small forward was also named the Finals MVP.

During the playoffs, he scored 732 points and became the third best-scoring player throughout NBA history. 

To date, Leonard has played 467 games with an average 30.8 minutes per game and 17.7 points per game. About 111 of these games were playoffs.

On July 20, 2019, he signed with Los Angeles Clippers. 

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Lebron James Can’t Trade No. 23 Just Yet

As part of his big plan to welcome Anthony Davis, Lebron James is giving up his jersey number as a gift to his new Los Angeles Lakers teammate. 

Lakers confirmed the blockbuster trade last month. It took months for the team to land Davis due to the trade deadline in February. Lakers was only able to make a deal after the free agency moratorium period has ended.

James has yet to relinquish No. 23 because Nike, the official jersey manufacturer of the NBA, won’t let that happen just yet, citing potential production and financial issues to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, ESPN reported.

Nike did not comply due to volumes of inventory of the No. 23 James jerseys. Nike also had an upcoming Lebron 17 sneakers with the same jersey number imprint. Updating to No. 6 in time for selling this fall would be impractical given that design has already been signed off and production has started.

The jersey swap was planned in 2019-20 and was supposed to happen for the 2020-21 season until it met some roadblocks. James previously documented the supposed swap on his Instagram account, confirming the switch back to No. 6 as well. 

Davis has worn No. 23 during his seven-season stint with the New Orleans Pelicans. He also used it in high school and college. James had his No. 23 jersey for his eleven seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

James agreed to swap when Davis enters Lakers. James would resume using No. 6, his previous jersey number with Miami Heat, where he won two titles and making it to the NBA finals for four years straight, and in the Olympics as a part of Team USA if the swap pushed through.

The Lakers had already missed the March 15, 2019 deadline for any jersey changes. The team discovered the said deadline only after it made an inquiry with the NBA. According to the league, the number change would still be possible if it can work out a deal with Nike.

But even if they met the said deadline, the request is expected to be declined. James did not submit an official request to change his jersey number from No. 23 to No. 6 for the next season either. 

James and the team have until March 15, 2020, to make the official declarations.

For James also, he would hold off the change to consider the fans who have already purchased No. 23 James jerseys. Yahoo! Sports also reported that the Lakers star would bypass the decision so he, Davis and the entire team may focus on competing for a championship.

Since the jersey swap is not happening, Davis took to Instagram to announce that he’d be sticking with No. 3–the number he used in the last season and when he was in elementary school. The team also announced it on its official Twitter account last Saturday, July 13.

While the fans won’t be seeing No. 23 Davis jerseys, Davis was introduced to the Lakers fans through a press conference later that same day.