Are NBA Rule Changes the Cause of the Nets and the Lakers’ Woeful Starts to the Season?

It’s very rare that the sportsbooks read the room wrong with their odds, and it’s incredibly rare for them to do it twice. In the fullness of time, maybe the bookies will be proven right that the Brooklyn Nets and LA Lakers are the most likely winners of the NBA Championship… but that looks a long way off right now.

Global Dominance

First, let’s discuss the NBAs fairly recent rise to global fame. Thought to be an All-American sport for years, Europe is one of the growth areas on the organization’s radar, and Asia is another – China and the Philippines are just two such nations that have shown an appetite for watching TV games and splashing out on merchandise. In 2018 alone, an incredible 500 million fans tuned into the action in China.

Sweden is another country with a passionate football data, where the NBA – and basketball in general – has achieved remarkable levels of popularity, with nearly 12,000 packing out venues in Stockholm to watch the national team play. That’s incredible when you think that the Swedish Basketball Federation didn’t form their first domestic league until 1992.

For instance, while Miami Heat are also looking strong in the Southeast Division, they will need to be wary of the Charlotte Hornets, the former home to Swedish ace Jeffery Taylor. Another legendary Swede, Jonas Jerebko, spent the final season of his career at the Golden State Warriors, and they could now be the leading force in the Western Conference. Their .857 record is outstanding, with Steph Curry back to somewhere near his best.

Further, at the time of writing, the Nets are 2-3 in the Atlantic Division and the Lakers have the same .400 success rate in the Pacific. There’s a long old way to go in the 2021-22 season, but the signs are not great. So much so, their odds have begun to slide, while Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz – the NBA’s two remaining unbeaten sides – have begun to feature more prominently as a result.

Way Out West

Right now, it’s hard for fans of the Lakers to see the positives from their side’s performances, although there are some scraps to cling to. They held a 26-point lead against Oklahoma City Thunder, and while that was later overturned, perhaps they can look ahead to better times once LeBron James resumes fitness.

The Nets, however, appear to have fewer reasons to be optimistic. The ongoing saga of Kyrie Irving’s availability seems to be dogging his teammates on the court, with James Harden looking a shadow of his former self at the moment. Without Irving, it’s Harden that needs to show the main supporting hand to the exceptional Kevin Durant – if he doesn’t, the Nets are going to find it very difficult to live up to their pre-season billing as Championship favorites.

At least the other big guns are misfiring. The Bucks are losing games despite Giannis Antetokounmpo hitting new scoring heights, while the Philadelphia 76ers and the Phoenix Suns have hardly dazzled either. With so much basketball still to be played, it might be judged foolhardy to rush into predictions, but this is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable NBA campaigns in quite some time.

Foul Play from the Officials?

Much has been made of the rule changes in the NBA, and it’s pretty clear that officials have been given the scope not to blow up for defensive fouls where the contact is marginal. Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks spoke of his frustration at perceived ‘missed calls’ after his team lost to the Washington Wizards, and that was perhaps born out of the fact that he simply isn’t getting the free throw percentage he was the last term – Young averaged 8.7 attempts from the line per game last season, and he’s already down to 4.4 this time around.

Harden, whose career has been built around driving hard into the thick of things and picking up fouls, is another who has suffered. Averaging 11.8 free throw attempts per game in 2019-20, he’s already down to about three per game this term – it’s a clear disadvantage to him personally and the Nets as a whole if he is unable to pick up cheap points with ease. There are plenty of supporters of the new rules, with a number of pundits and experts suggesting that the balance has been in favor of offensive players ‘buying’ fouls for too long. The officiating shift could encourage stars like Harden to be more creative in the final third.

If they don’t, we might just see an unlikely name etched onto the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy come June.