It may be August, but there are still plenty of reasons to talk about the NBA.
The latest one came Monday evening, when the league released its schedule for the 2017-18 NBA season, allowing fans of all 30 teams to begin preparing when and where to see their favorite teams play in the coming months. The schedule announcement also was an opportunity to see where the NBA is headed next season and some of the ways the league will attempt to promote its product to fans.
Here are 10 things that stood out from an initial look at the schedule:
1. High-profile homecomings
Last year, there was one game every NBA watcher had circled on their calendars: the return of Kevin Durant to Oklahoma City for the first time as a member of the Warriors. This year, there will be six all-stars from last season who will play in what used to be their home arenas after changing teams in the offseason.
That will make the returns of DeMarcus Cousins (Oct. 26 in Sacramento), Paul Millsap (Oct. 27 in Atlanta), Paul George (Dec. 13 in Indianapolis), Chris Paul (Jan. 15 in Los Angeles), Jimmy Butler (Feb. 9 in Chicago) and Gordon Hayward (March 28 in Utah) fascinating to watch and a dominant theme of the upcoming season.
2. No more resting for national TV games
After multiple nationally televised games on ABC last season were marred by all-stars sitting out for resting purposes, the NBA made it a priority this season to try to prevent that from happening once again. It did so by ensuring that for all 14 games televised by ABC on either Saturday or Sunday this season, the two teams playing in those games will have a day off both before and after. This practice also carries over to the five Christmas Day games, the three Martin Luther King Jr. Day games on TNT and the eight nationally televised games during the opening week of the season.
In other words: If players are healthy, they will be playing. The league is never going to tell a hurt player that he has to play. But the point was to eliminate nationally televised games from becoming nonstop conversations about rest. This change in the schedule should do that.
3. More rest for everyone in general
In addition to ensuring its marquee nationally televised games would feature rested players, the NBA again took another step to try to protect its players. By adding an extra week to the schedule and scheduling more games in general on weekends, this year will mark the first time in NBA history that there won’t be a single set of four games in five nights for any NBA team. This is after there were 70 in 2014-15, 27 in 2015-16 and 20 last season. Also, every team has somewhere between 13 and 16 back-to-backs, and the league as a whole has reduced back-to-backs by over 11 percent since last season.
There also will be only 36 sets of five games in seven nights, which is down from 90 last season. Again, the theme here is simple: ensure players are rested and able to play as often as possible.
4. Evening the playing field
The added rest days will also further level the playing field for all 30 NBA teams. How so? By trying to make sure as many games as possible come with both teams having the same amount of rest using what the league calls a “Free/Tired/Even” metric. If the two teams playing in a game have the same amount of rest, they are even. If one team played the night before and the other didn’t, the team that didn’t play is “free” and gains a point, and the team that did is “tired” and loses one.
As recent as the 2014-15 season, the disparity between the most and least rested teams over the course of a season was plus-nine and minus-nine, meaning one team could theoretically have 18 extra days of rest by season’s end. This year, Milwaukee is the most rested team at plus-four, while Atlanta and Chicago are the least at minus-five.
5. Stars — not market size — are driving decision-making
In a league as star- and personality-driven as the NBA, it’s not surprising to see the schedule heavily slanted toward promoting the league’s biggest stars. But what is fascinating about this year’s schedule is that market size seems to have less impact than ever.
Sure, big markets like Golden State (Bay Area), Houston, Boston and Los Angeles are among the top 10 teams in nationally televised games, but that certainly isn’t the case for Cleveland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Washington and Minnesota (Minneapolis). Meanwhile, markets like Milwaukee, New Orleans, Denver and Portland all have more national television games than the New York Knicks, and Phoenix, Sacramento, Utah, Memphis and Detroit all have more than the Chicago Bulls.
6. The Los Angeles Lakers are back — at least from a television perspective
Yes, this may seem counterintuitive after the last section. But it’s clear that, at least early on, the league is betting on the curiosity factor surrounding Lonzo and LaVar Ball to drive a lot of attention to the league’s flagship franchise. Despite the fact the Lakers are coming off a fourth straight dismal season, they will be one of the most prominent teams on the national television schedule.
If the Lakers struggle to produce wins — as they almost certainly will — that could change as the year goes on. But the NBA’s schedule makers clearly are hoping LaVar Ball will continue to be a newsmaker off the court and that Lonzo Ball will dazzle like he did at times at the Las Vegas Summer League last month on it.
This was touched on in this week’s Monday Morning Post Up, but it’s clear the NBA is making a big bet on the Washington Wizards this season. The Wizards have more than twice as many nationally televised games as the Knicks and more than three times as many nationally televised games as the Toronto Raptors. Only eight teams will have more national TV games this season.
The league clearly sees Washington as worthy of its preseason status as the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. Now the Wizards have to prove they deserve it.
8. No one can get enough of the Golden State Warriors
Think people are getting tired of Durant, Stephen Curry and the rest of the Warriors? Think again. A whopping 43 games will be on national television this season — more than half of Golden State’s schedule — meaning everyone will get plenty of chances to see the league’s most popular team play whether they have NBA League Pass or not.
That will begin on opening night, when the Warriors will receive their rings and then face the team with the second-most national television games this season, the Houston Rockets, which isn’t surprising after their summer’s acquisition of Chris Paul.
9. The NBA’s attempt to copy the NFL
In an effort to try to break up the monotony of a six-month schedule, the NBA is taking a page out of the books of both the NFL and English Premier League and labeling their season by individual weeks on the league’s website, and it will be promoting the league that way, too. In doing so, the NBA is hoping to increase interest in the regular season by better highlighting smaller patches of the schedule. There’s little doubt this also is an attempt to try to make basketball more appealing from a fantasy perspective, where the sport lags far behind football.
It will take a long time for this to catch on, and there is no guarantee that it will. But it’s an intriguing idea to try to add some variety to a regular season that even the most diehard of NBA fans would agree can drag on at times due to the sheer length of it, as well as the volume of games.
10. Individual games to focus on
In addition to the six homecoming games highlighted earlier, here are a few games to watch for this season:
— The Warriors and Cavaliers will once again face off on Christmas Day and MLK Jr. Day, only this time with the former being in Oakland and the latter in Cleveland.
— With months of speculation ahead about LeBron James going to Los Angeles, his one trip to the city this season — the Cavaliers play March 9 against the Clippers and March 11 against the Lakers — will be heavily scrutinized.
— After getting routed four times by the Warriors last year, the new-look Thunder will host Durant and the Warriors for the first time Nov. 22.
— Two of the league’s most intriguing young teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks, will meet Dec. 28 and Feb. 1.
— Arguably for the first time since the early 2000s, the rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings has juice again because of the presences of Ball and De’Aaron Fox, both top-five picks as point guards. All four meetings will be worth watching because of it.
— It won’t be much of a wait for Markelle Fultz to come home and play: His first NBA game will come against John Wall and the Wizards on Oct. 18 at Capital One Arena. No pressure there, right?