NBA All-Star Weekend: Adam Silver is ‘pleased’ with the state of the game, but the league should showcase its full beauty

INDIANAPOLIS — NBA commissioner Adam Silver says he likes the state of the game, and Stephen Curry said as much a few hours earlier.

But somehow, the league office should know that while “more” has been the answer to virtually everything, it is near or perhaps has exceeded an inflection point about too much offense.

Everything is bigger now — All-Star Saturday Night is being held in a football stadium, and it isn’t the first time the NBA has done this. It’s a hard task for Silver to keep growing the sport, expanding its international reach and revenue, all the while keeping the essence of the game as close to pure as possible.

And he’s been pliable, switching the All-Star format back to East/West to gin up competitiveness and having the stage for the “Steph vs. Sabrina” shooting competition. The statement goes, “offense sells tickets,” you know.

The scoring has gone up well over the past decade and zooming out even more, over the past 20 years. But it feels the pendulum has swung too far in that direction, with the league average being 115 points per game.

“I want to dispel any notion that the league feels or that the league office necessarily feels that high-scoring games in the abstract are good,” Silver said at his All-Star Weekend news conference before the Saturday night events began. “I think what we want are competitive games.”

Silver tried to deftly point out scoring is up exactly one point from last year while not exactly addressing how things have gotten here, in a sly way; 10 years ago, the league average was 101 points per game.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a news conference during the NBA basketball All-Star weekend Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during a news conference on All-Star Saturday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Here’s another:

“I disagree with people who feel that teams aren’t playing defense,” Silver said. “The defensive intensity is there. Defensive players are asked to cover much larger areas of the court than they had to historically.”

That statement is true, but Silver was queried about how coaches feel defense is being legislated out of the game, not that defense isn’t being played. Silver was likely referencing the crowd of NBA critics who issue the same old tropes about running and dunking with no real defense, as opposed to the very real concern that the game has evolved to being out of balance.

“I actually am pleased with the state of the game,” Silver said. “Having said that, I know there are some coaches who feel that we’ve hampered in some ways defensive players’ ability to play defense, at least the way it used to be played in this league. In part, that’s been very intentional.

“There was a period of time in this league when people thought the game had become too physical and we’d taken away some of the aesthetic beauty from the game. I was one of those people that felt that way in the ’90s.”

Silver admitted that in changing the All-Star format from its most recent iteration, where a live draft was held pregame, the league was leaning too much into the entertainment part of the game as opposed to the game.

It wouldn’t be so bad to turn that thinking to regular season basketball. The ’90s bump-and-grind basketball was a product of several factors that likely won’t be repeated, expanding from 23 teams in 1988 to 29 by 1999 — the talent pool wasn’t catching up to the number of jobs available and the game developed into a less-aesthetically pleasing one.

But there was a diversity in styles of play and, even though the Chicago Bulls ran through the decade thanks to Michael Jordan, nightly there seemed like more competitiveness and more contention.

Silver, to his credit, understood the importance of competitive games capturing fans rather than pretty ones.

“There’s a couple rules, I think, from a defensive perspective — I know Coach (Steve Kerr) has talked about it a little bit — where you could favor the defense a little more,” Curry said earlier in the day.

“I like the brand of basketball because everybody who is out there can put the ball on the floor, for the most part, can, like I said, be a threat to shoot. You’re going to see a sway toward higher scoring, but I think the cycle of the league, it will reset itself at this point.”

That was the belief nearly 20 years ago, but the league ensured the pendulum was going to head toward a more pleasing style with rule changes favoring the offense. Now it appears the offense doesn’t need a single ounce more of help and defenses are the ones in need.

Fans are smart enough to know what they are seeing. It’s not that today’s numbers are inauthentic; they see and hear the league’s emphasis on offense daily, the league rightfully wants its deepest reservoir of talent to display their gifts every night without impeding it.

Having the 70-point games, 60-point games should be a rarity, not something we collectively yawn about. Silver understands the value in scarcity, shutting down the notion of expanding All-Star rosters from 12 to some other unnatural number simply because there’s a couple players who feel shafted and snubbed.

And the NBA should recognize its fans — the longstanding ones and ones new to the party — appreciate when they know the scores are hard-fought and earned, not having the sliders tilted all the way to one advantage.

There used to be a time where guys weren’t great shooters or scorers but did valuable things on the floor that heavily contributed to winning. One would hope the league sees value in those types and wants to highlight multiple ways to explore the game being played the right way, an effective way.

The competition committee and Silver have real work to do this offseason, hopefully they recognize it as such. The game is indeed a beautiful one, it should be allowed to show its beauty in myriad ways.

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