18 NBA Lessons We Should Have Learned in 2018, But Probably Didn’t

It’s a new year, NBA fans. Time to toss out the plastic champagne flutes, the paper “2019” tiaras and your most destructive NBA-related ideas and habits.

2018 was full of cautionary tales for owners, fans, players, coaches and media alike. So, before we begin (and give up on) those new year’s resolutions, let’s have one last look back.

1. Tank boldly

I rather hate tanking. Yet, if a team is dead-set on losing its way to the bottom of the NBA standings, then there’s no time to waste. Before the 2018 All-Star Break, the New York Knicks were ranked 22nd in the league; Orlando Magic 26th; Dallas Mavericks 28th. After the All-Star break, the teams began losing in earnest: finishing 6-17, 7-18, 6-18, respectively.

Yet, despite their best-worst efforts, none of them dropped a single spot in the standings. So let that be a lesson to you, tankers: If you’re hoping for a high lottery pick, lose early and often.

2. Keep your players close, and your injured players closer

If an injured player feels their team is mismanaging their injury, jeopardizing their body or rushing/delaying their return, it could fracture relationships—the kind of fracture that never heal.

Kawhi Leonard’s mysterious fallout with the San Antonio Spurs that led to his trade to the Toronto Raptors may have begun this way.

Sophomore Philadelphia 76ers guard Markelle Fultz may never get his career off the ground because of a split with team doctors over his shoulder. New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis posted a video of his rehab progress after his head coach made comments suggesting progress may be too slow.

Now Chandler Parsons has publicly expressed displeasure at the Memphis Grizzlies’ front office slow-pedaling his return to a struggling squad.

3. Tweet with caution

A study by sleep researchers at Stony Brook University—eleased in November and spanning 117 players’ tweets from 2009 to 2017—found that NBA players’ shooting efficiency dropped significantly after a player tweeted between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Efficiency fell by 3.6% percentage points overall.

Even worse consequences befell Bryan Colangelo. The Sixers’ former general manager lost his job after it was discovered his “wife” was reportedly leaking team secrets via burner accounts on Twitter.

4. Carmelo Anthony is destined for the Fall Guy Hall-of-Fame

Nov 3, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Houston Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony (7) shoots against Chicago Bulls forward Chandler Hutchison (15) during the second half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

While he is frequently referred to as “future Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony,” there is no guarantee that Melo will be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame (nor should there be). Yet, he is also blamed for having a far more significant impact on a team’s failure than he probably deserves.

The Oklahoma City Thunder found that he was not the perfect fit for the “Big Three” they were looking for. Then the Houston Rockets made what could barely be called a token effort to fit him into the lineup—10 games, eight off the bench during the Rockets’ 4-6 start to the season—before deciding they could not possibly survive another day with him on the roster. While the Rockets are now playing well, their problems did not immediately evaporate as soon as they banished Carmelo.

5. International draft prospects are not high-risk

If this had not yet been made clear after watching any of the other zillion European, African, Australian or other international draft prospects who have become stars, then watching Luka Doncic should convince you. He produces eye-popping Rookie of the Year stats and highlights night in and night out, proving (again) that international players are not just second-round draft-and-stash picks or development projects.

6. Kevin Durant doesn’t belong in a big market

Kevin Durant seems to think that everyone’s against him, and in so doing, he’s turning everyone against him.

Durant is correct that both fans and media can be, and often are, unfair and unkind to players. And he’s right that some seem to enjoy criticizing more than they enjoy watching the game. (I would argue that he is incorrect that people don’t like him because he’s good at basketball.)

However, the fact is that the bigger the market, the more people there will be paying attention and providing the opinions that Durant finds so offensive and distracting. The more pressure will be put on relationships with demanding teammates like Draymond Green. Durant belongs in a nice small town that’s happy to have him.

7. Players shouldn’t be hated just for wanting to play

Fans want players to have boundless confidence when it is time to take the potential buzzer-beating shot for the win. They want players to have “swagger.” Yet, when someone is distressed that they are out of the lineup, fans start griping.

There are indeed gaps between confidence and arrogance, and every player needs to recognize they’re part of a team. Yet the hateful “you knew what you were getting into when you signed the contract” attitude toward players (on whose main complaint is that they can’t contribute to their teams and have to watch losses from the bench) isn’t fair.

8. Know how much time is on the game clock

That one’s just for J.R. Smith.

9. The New York Knicks should not be discussed—At all

As someone who lives in New York City, has rooted for the Knicks since childhood and covered the team for several years, I feel justified making this demand.

The Knicks franchise has not deserved one one-thousandth of the words published about them for the past 15 years. Fan Appreciation Day tickets at Madison Square Garden should come with free diamonds, not just free hot dogs.

Players would probably have an easier time developing if we all just shut up about them. The public health of New York City would be greatly improved if we forgot the word “Knicks” until they made the playoffs.

We could all talk about something else. The Brooklyn Nets. Maybe?

10. Kemba Walker should be discussed more often

Dec 28, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) dribbles out the final seconds of the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Spectrum Center. Hornets won 100-87. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker (a free agent this year) holds franchise records in a zillion categories, surpassing the likes of Dell Curry and Larry Johnson. He was an All-Star the past two seasons (sneaking in as a replacement for the injured Kristaps Porzingis in 2018).

He was this season’s first Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week and dropped 60 points on the Sixers Nov. 17. He’s averaging 25.8 points, 6.1 assists, and his team is sixth in the East. He’s only missed six games over the past four seasons.

Yet the Hornets only have two nationally televised games this season, one of them on NBA TV. Last season, they had zero. It’s time for Walker to get the attention he’s due.

11. Old dogs can learn new tricks

Skepticism ran high when two famously ball-hungry star veteran point guards joined the same team last year. Yet, James Harden and Chris Paul proved in 2018 that they were both willing to share for the sake of winning.

Meanwhile, 30-year-old 7-foot center Brook Lopez is now scoring more from behind the arc than from the paint (over 60% of his total points). And Derrick Rose is performing so well that he’s inspiring graphic artists to design pictures of his 30-year-old Minnesota Timberwolves-jerseyed self lifting his younger, injured Chicago Bulls self off the floor.

12. The LA Clippers don’t need Blake Griffin or Chris Paul

After doing what might have seemed unspeakable, parting ways with their marque All-Stars, the Los Angeles Clippers are the Western Conference’s No. 4 squad. Kudos to mid-level players Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley, Marcin Gortat, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

13. Hiring women doesn’t have to be a big deal

The Denver Nuggets hired Hall-of-Fame shoo-in/frequent nose-breaker Sue Bird as a basketball operations associate this November, right after she capped off a 16-year pro playing career with her third WNBA championship.

Two women joined Becky Hammon and Jenny Boucek as NBA assistant coaches: Clippers assistant player development coach Natalie Nakase and Washington Wizards assistant coach Kristi Toliver (a guard for the Washington Mystics who absolutely slew during the 2018 WNBA playoffs).

Nakase and Toliver were hired with relatively little fanfare. However, Toliver’s salary (such as it is) has recently garnered attention.

As the New York Times’ Howard Megdal explained Dec. 31, while NBA assistant coaches routinely make around $100,000, Toliver is only making $10,000, due to a league rule:

Because Toliver is a player with the Mystics, owned by Ted Leonsis, under the same corporate umbrella as the [Washington] Wizards, the league determined that any pay Toliver was to get from the gig would have to come out of the $50,000 total each team has allocated to pay W.N.B.A. players for off-season work. Moreover, much of that had already been promised to Toliver’s teammate, Elena Delle Donne, who typically stays home in the off-season and promotes the Mystics.

Toliver says the learning opportunity and the physical rest (coaching means she’ll forgo the better money made playing overseas during the rest of the year) made this a difficult, but a worthwhile decision.

Here’s one woman’s opinion: Women are individuals. I think this rule is unjust, but Toliver and all women have the right to make their own decisions about what salaries they’re willing to take, and how hard to push their unions for better deals. Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you unqualified for a job leading men in the NBA, nor does it automatically make you qualified. Not every woman should need to be Sue Bird to get and keep an assistant coaching job, just like not every man should have to be Larry Bird.

It is a big deal when women get/keep these jobs (just as it is when a person of color becomes a team GM or owner); but the sooner it isn’t a big deal, the better.

14. Nothing lasts forever

Dec 31, 2018; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich reacts during the second half against the Boston Celtics at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The silvery jerseys of the San Antonio Spurs’ shimmered and shone like a unicorn’s mane. It never tarnished, never faded. Surely the legacy would last forever, spinning out from David Robinson to Tim Duncan to Kawhi Leonard seamlessly.

It wasn’t to be.

Leonard forced a trade, Manu Ginobili retired, Tony Parker signed with the Charlotte Hornets. The former powerhouse scraped just one win in the 2017-18 NBA playoffs and perches tentatively at No. 8 now.

15. Big players will accept really, really small paychecks for the right situation

True, Demarcus Cousins’ 2018 free agency value was demolished when he tore his Achilles in January. Yet, an All-Star averaging 25 points, 13 boards and exhibiting fewer “locker room issues” than ever before might nonetheless have had reason to expect better than the veteran’s minimum.

Yet, that’s what he took, a one-year, $5.3 million with a team that could be trusted to ask little and give a lot of support: the Golden State Warriors. Cousins has yet to make an appearance this season, but the team is perfectly poised for his return: high-performing, but not high enough, and missing a strong big at the center.

16. You can be an awesome big man without being a stretch 4

As I explained in great, gory detail several weeks ago, the league is starting to look a bit like the 90s again.

The wave of the future big man appeared to be all “stretch fours,” positionless basketball and no big man could hope for an NBA job without a three ball. However, several teams are having new success this season with the old-school glass-crashing, rim-protecting, paint-owning centers. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Steven Adams is the prime example, with the Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner not far behind. The Sacramento Kings’ Willie Cauley-Stein, Brooklyn Nets’ Jarrett Allen, Phoenix Suns’ Deandre Ayton, Portland Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic, and even the Clippers’ undersized Montrezl Harrell may show the future lies in the past.

17. Starting lineups don’t necessarily have to be five people

Why choose just one starting center? The Toronto Raptors’ new head coach Nick Nurse had two vying for the job. Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka did not perform as well as a duo as they did individuals. Rather than religiously sticking to just one starter, Nurse split time between the two (mostly to Ibaka), and the two almost never on the floor together. His team is 27-11 and 2nd in the East.

The Raptors have been only 4-4 since Valanciunas went down Dec. 12.

18. Arguing about Lebron James is a really bad way to spend the time you have left to watch Lebron James

I hate watching LeBron James argue calls. I hate watching LeBron James flop. I hate that every team he’s on now should change its name to “The LeBrons” because it’s more his than anyone else’s. I hate that LeBron James wouldn’t just give Jarrett Allen due credit for blocking his shot.

I want to stick my fingers in my ears, pout and sing “Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time, la, la, la I’m not listening.”

Yet, being a committed brat who looks only for James’ foibles means missing what I love watching him do: marveling, bewitched at his court vision. Watching terrified opponents scurry out of his way when he charges coast-to-coast like a whole heard of elephants. Watch him do exceptional things for his community. Watch his eyes harden as he sinks his claws into impossible victory and tears it out of the hands of certain defeat again and again and again.

And that won’t go on forever. So save the GOAT arguments for the day LeBron finally retires.