Why the NBA Does in Fact Have “Parity”

Why the NBA Does in Fact Have “Parity”


Why the NBA Does in Fact Have “Parity”


A common complaint some will have in the NBA community is “the NBA has no parity.” This is a narrative that I just don’t buy into for various reasons. Before we get into the basketball reasons, we need to establish what people mean when they talk about parity in the context of NBA basketball. 

When people discuss parity in sports they are referring to whether or not talent is evenly distributed across teams. People say the sport is heavily unbalanced in favor of just a couple teams. While a few years ago that might have been true, there has been much more parity in the NBA in recent memory than it gets credit for. 

This isn’t to say that every team has an equal shot at winning a championship. There are great teams like the Lakers and Nets and terrible teams like the Pistons and Rockets. No sports league can have true league-wide parity and unpredictability. However, there have been enough teams that have exceeded or fallen short of expectations recently, and have changed preconceived narratives, to constitute parity in the NBA.

The timeframe to judge the NBA’s level of parity is tough to pin down, but the period from the start of the bubble in July 2020 to the present is a fair sample size of over six months of basketball action to look at. So let’s flashback to the bubble restart that spanned from July through October.

You want parity, the NBA bubble was parity at its apex. The five seeded Miami Heat got to the NBA Finals and beat the Bucks and Celtics, neither of which they were favored to beat. Not only that, but the Heat only lost three games in the process. Outside of Heat fans, who actually thought the Heat would beat the Bucks in the fashion they did? Nobody thought the Bucks would get embarrassed in five short games by the five seed.

Then in the next series against the Celtics, the majority of the community picked Boston but the Heat knocked them out as well. Nobody believed in the Miami Heat but they made everyone respect them by creating some parity across the NBA landscape. As a result, the Bucks were seen as this dominant regular-season team with the presumptive back-to-back MVP. They were the favorite to win the East and we know what happened in the end. So on the other side, the Bucks collapse in the playoffs resulted in defied expectations, thus parity.  

Moving to the other side of the league, the Denver Nuggets were seen as a team that would shine in due time. In round one, they made a 3-1 comeback against the Jazz with Donovan Mitchell putting up historic playoff numbers in that series. More famously, they then upset the championship favorite Clippers, again coming back from a 3-1 lead. Denver was also down by double digits in every must-win game they faced in that series.

Saying the Nuggets caused parity would be an understatement because of the narrative created around the team they beat. Make no mistake about it, before the Lakers proved they were the best, the Clippers were seen as the team to beat. Even if it wasn’t clear and decisive, the Clippers themselves acted like they were invincible. Not only did their season come down in burning flames but it was one of the more embarrassing defeats in sports history. For weeks, social media trashed them (rightfully so) for their epic collapse. If that scene wasn’t parity then I don’t know what is.

On a smaller note, a team like the Thunder wildly exceeded expectations by being the five seed in the west and pushing the Harden-led Rockets to the brink. If you don’t believe the NBA bubble was parity at its finest, then just remember the player that lit the final games on fire. It wasn’t a star player, it was TJ Warren.

As mentioned above, the 2021 NBA hasn’t been a storyline rich season, packed with drama and excitement. Injuries to stars and the uptick in non-competitive games certainly have hurt the number of excited fans on a national level. However, if you dig through the weeds a bit there is plenty of intrigue around the league that fits our definition of parity.

Look at how different the trajectory of the Sixers and Celtics is right now compared to the last playoffs. Boston and Philly matched up in the first round in Orlando and the Celtics got the better of the Sixers, sweeping them in four games. At that point, no NBA fan would suggest the Sixers were in a better spot as an organization to contend in the future, much less the very next season. The tables seemed to have turned as the Sixers are trending upwards with the two seed in the East while the Celtics are 9.5 games worse and hold the seventh seed.

Hiring Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers has done wonders for this roster. Embiid is having an MVP caliber year with more floor spacing and Tobias Harris is thriving in his natural role and position. Meanwhile, in Boston, there’s an abundance of issues interweaving together. Apart from their usual flaws of a waning interior presence and lack of depth, the Celtics defense has fallen off a cliff, and the flaws of Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge are becoming more evident. The difference in our perceived directions of these teams over just the span of a few months is fascinating.  

Another development that wasn’t expected or predicted was the hierarchy of the Western conference, particularly at the top. The Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns currently hold the top two seeds in the conference. I’m not sure what your pre-season predictions looked like but I’m confident you didn’t get that right. Personally, I had the Jazz at the eighth seed and the Suns at the sixth seed before the year started, so needless to say both teams’ emergence has been exciting to watch.

In the Suns’ case, the last time they made the playoffs was 2010. For years the national media has clamored for Devin Booker to escape a bad situation, until this offseason. The Suns front office saw the hot streak they had in the bubble and took advantage of a golden opportunity to trade for Chris Paul. Their investment is paying off right now, as not only are the Suns good enough to contend but there is little chance that Booker will want to leave anytime soon.

For the Jazz, they’ve been seen as a consistently solid team, but have never been clicking like this. They’ve been the most effective three-point shooting team in the league even without a superstar shooter. Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson’s resurgence has sparked a new level for Utah and they may be rewarded with the West’s top seed.

I would also point out that usually, the MVP race is a one or two-man race by this point in the season. Maybe it’s the injuries or lack of strong narratives but in my view, the MVP race is still wide open. We have our frontrunners, but it’s not unfathomable that one player stands out from the crowd over the next month and a half and takes home the award. 

Even though this year has been far from perfect, there are a lot of storylines that are unconventional and stand out as causing some level of parity in the NBA. Narratives and trajectories surrounding certain teams have changed for the better or worse and it’s given the league much more parity from the bubble to now.   


More The Wright Way Network