Chuck Klosterman had a nice little piece at the end of the Grantland Season Preview the other day. He basically made the argument that the regular season doesn't matter, and in many ways is detached from playoff results. I have a hard time arguing with this.
Klosterman's opinion has long been held by many smart basketball folks. In regards to the present, what makes it so striking is the amount of obsessive detail we now have focused on a regular season that is, at its core, not important. Winning in the NBA is defined by postseason success, and not the regular season.
The best teams in the league, and the best players, do not change quickly or constantly. We all are aware of this, but it is so easy to get swept up in the media furor over relatively short-term success and failure (look at this week's sensationalistic coverage of the Lakers and Knicks for example.) It is easy to forget who the best teams and players really are if you listen to the daily short-term narratives being espoused by countless analysts.
Today we also have so many complicated advanced stats, and sometimes they seem to completely contradict one another. Advanced statistics can be extremely useful, but only if one does not become obsessed with them to the point of ignoring everything else.
Overall, more than before, we have an information overload. Between the internet, league pass, and advanced stats we have a situation that is almost incomprehensible compared to twenty years ago. But the fundamental realities behind the NBA have hardly changed at all. These days we "know" too much, and the truth is that most of it is pretty useless.
Sometimes I watch a lot of regular season basketball. Sometimes I watch very little. Personally, I find it makes almost no difference in my ability to analyze the NBA effectively. I have already done my preparatory work - by watching thousands of hours of NBA games when I was younger, with little discretion. I guess this is the 10,000 hour rule in action - after watching and thinking about so many games over the years, you gradually understand the league much better than you used to. At least I do.
So for me, and many other NBA junkies, for whatever value you gain from watching regular season games, you are going to be subjected to an equal amount of delusional revelations that ultimately mean nothing. The key, to being able to analyze the game well and understand the value of particular players, is to stay calm and not overreact to the constantly wild tribulations a regular season brings.
In short, watching a lot of regular season basketball is not that important. I do it mainly for entertainment. Certainly I learn things from watching regular season games, especially about young players, but I do not learn much. I learn a great deal more about teams and players by looking at numbers (but not so many numbers that I become overwhelmed.) The important thing for me is to recognize this.
Of course, there are plenty of analysts that watch a huge number of games over the epic regular season, and base their opinions on the high volume of games they have seen. Apparently it works for them, and they hopefully are able to still separate the important information from the massive amount of flotsam they witness collaterally. It takes a huge amount of effort to watch so many games - and those who do it have final opinions that are usually no better than mine, and often far worse.
I like watching the NBA. I always have. But it is important to stay sober over what we witness and always remain aware of the big picture, especially in the regular season. That, in the end, is what understanding the league comes down to.