Sometimes, it’s nice to just take a big picture approach and look at the league as a whole. Welcome to “League-Wide Vibes!” This will be a monthly column where I’ll write about some of the notable trends and storylines within the NBA, while ultimately tying it all back with how it relates to the Memphis Grizzlies. Enjoy.
The big storyline dominating the NBA right now is its ratings issue. They’ve seen a 15% year-to-year overall dip in viewership across ESPN, TNT and NBA TV. The thing that’s weird is, in terms of popularity, the league is at its peak. They’ve mastered the social media game like no other sports league, which has turned the NBA season into a year-round one — given the craze generated from the regular season, playoffs, draft, Summer League, and free agency. The stars have never been more marketable, and the young talent in the NBA is going to make the post-LeBron NBA an easier transition than anticipated.
Nonetheless, the stats don’t lie, and it’s an elephant in the room. Nobody can quite pinpoint the reason behind it, or the solution that can quite fix any potential cause.
Streaming has stolen people from cable, which could play a factor in this viewership. In addition, fans are also finding other means to watch games. This isn’t going to change anytime soon though. Streaming has taken over.
There are way too many games. If people miss one game, they can wait a few days — or sometimes even the next night — to watch their favorite team or player again. Decreasing the number of games, or even stretching the season out, could alleviate that problem. However, would any party be fine leaving that much money on the table? Could they stretched out the season to have 82 games while adding an exciting “must-watch” factor, and giving teams and players — and fans, for that matter — a rest from basketball?
Load management is another aspect of the game that’s dominated storylines. Does the league mandate a policy where teams can’t load-manage stars on national TV games — if there isn’t one already?
The midseason tournament idea is being tossed around, but where’s the incentive for the players? Extra money won’t do it; they already have a boatload of money. Why play more meaningless games for a few extra bucks? The idea of an extra draft pick was tossed out, but why would players play any harder for a chance to add someone that could take their jobs? I just don’t see any reason to advocate for this midseason tournament.
One thing I’ve noticed that can be fixed with this ratings issue is the games being televised and the focus on “star power” over the quality of a team.
The Golden State Warriors (30) and New Orleans Pelicans (24) both are below .500 right now, and they all are playing 20 or more national TV games this season. I understood — and fell victim to — the enamor with these teams at the beginning of the season.
The Warriors, despite losing Kevin Durant and other valuable pieces of its system, added D’Angelo Russell next to Steph Curry, whose green light was going to be more green than the non-Grizz prospects of this 2019 draft class, and Draymond Green. However, injuries to Curry and Klay Thompson has made this team the most unwatchable on in the league. Yet, we are forced to watch them 25+ times this year.
Zion Williamson has the box-office appeal. There’s never been a physical specimen like him: he’s built like JJ Watt, explodes like LeBron James, and leaps like Derrick Rose. Watching him this season was going to be a movie, but a knee injury has forced us to watch the same young Lakers team that’s won 30 games the past few years.
Ultimately, it’s a poor return on investment. The team gambled and bet on star power, and it cost them. Nobody wants to watch Brandon Ingram’s Pelicans or the Golden State Warriors Junior Varsity team on national television.
There are two solutions to this:
1) Flexible Scheduling
I don’t know if it’s something that could happen with TV contracts, but they should be able to flex games in place for some of these matchups we’re forced to watch. In the process, the league could capitalize on hot stretches from teams or players. Furthermore, it could allow the league to highlight teams that are flying under the radar, and to create some new stars as the league shifts into a new decade.
From a team-view, it’s kind of easy to see which teams deserve more national tv time.
Dallas has 13 national TV games this year, and with Luka Doncic’s MVP campaign, the league would be smart to strike while the iron’s hot and push that number closer to 25. Luka has more star appeal than anyone not named LeBron or Giannis right now. Give the people what they want.
Brooklyn, though they’re missing Kevin Durant, is still a watchable team, one worthy of more air time. Even with Kyrie Irving out too, they’ve gotten All-Star level production from Spencer Dinwiddie and have played super well with him at the helm. Given the lack of star power or great teams in the East, why not reward the Nets with more than 12 games? It’s still a big market.
Miami has a legit star with an enigmatic personality with Jimmy Butler, but they have 6 national television games. Like Brooklyn, they could be another team that could benefit from the East’s lack of star power and consistently deliver good performances for a national audience. In the process, more awareness could be there for young players like Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, and Tyler Herro. When has Erik Spoelstra disappointed?
Even though they were the 2nd seed in the West last season, and retained most of their team, it’s weird how the Denver Nuggets got fewer national television games than the Pelicans and Blazers. Maybe, they can flex some of those Warriors or Blazers games.
Better yet, the Toronto Raptors got 11 national television games, despite winning the NBA title. Yes, they lost Kawhi Leonard, but they haven’t missed a beat. Why not shift some energy over to the Raptors and help generate some energy to Pascal Siakam — a young player has the potential to become one of the franchise’s all-time great players?
2) Shift a Tad Bit More Energy Towards “Quality of Team” and Rising Stars
There should be more of an energy towards good-to-great teams rather than teams with stars, but significantly lower floors.
They could do the same thing with young teams with rising stars to a lesser extent. Would it hurt that give Ja Morant, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Trae Young, De’Aaron Fox, or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander an extra television game or two? It’s another talking point for daily talk shows and another opportunity to generate a new star.
Will this fix this ratings problem? Probably not enitrely, but it’s surely better than a midseason tournament.
How It Relates to the Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have two rising stars, and one has undeniably box-office appeal.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has a personality that’s contagious and larger than life. He’s the kind of guy you could have in commercials or making national television appearances — like he did this summer. Meanwhile, he has that unicorn game everyone salivates over.
Meanwhile, Ja Morant’s rookie year has been a mixtape. His handles are like Kyrie, he explodes like prime Derrick Rose, he has the edge of Russell Westbrook, and he is a stone-cold killer in the 4th quarter already. You can bank on him producing a highlight play once a game in some form or fashion.
Those two guys are must-watch.
What’s important for the Grizzlies is to maintain that watchability factor in the event they’re on national TV without either one of them in the lineup.
With Jaren, it’s solved with Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson, two players that are highly-regarded within certain segments of NBA Twitter. With Ja, it comes down to finding that extra perimeter player that has flair in his game and can take over as a primary playmaker when Morant’s not on the floor.
The system is in place, and the stars are there. How they round out this team will determine not just the upside, but the popularity, of the 2020’s iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies.
National TV games per team found here.