Dime Drop - The NBA’s hoping to make huge changes, but are they missing the point?

The NBA is looking to make huge changes, reducing the number of games and introducing two additional "competitions"

News broke last weekend about some potentially fundamental changes to the workings of the NBA season as we know it.

Several media outlets reported advanced conversations between the league and players association which would see the most radical overhaul of the game since the introduction of the shot clock in 1954. 

Let's look at the four reported suggestions and determine whether or not they would be worthwhile.


Reducing the regular season to 78 games

It’s not yet clear whether or not this could be a standalone change if implemented. It makes some sense if it’s in conjunction with either an in-season tournament or a playoff play-in tournament. However, if it is standalone, I’m not convinced it will provide any real benefit.

What is a four-game reduction really going to do? It is less than 0.5% of the NBA season! I appreciate that it will assist the schedule creators in being able to reduce back to backs which, to the league’s credit, have trended downwards for the last five years. Of course, this, in turn, reduces the chances of star players being rested for games.

I’m acutely aware that the 82 game schedule is too long and that its origins are for no real reason other than generating income during the league’s formative days, but for the asterisks that would need to go on records it seems a little pointless. 


In-season tournament

This suggestion would (allegedly) take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with all 30 teams partaking in “group play” within their respective decisions, The respective six winners would then be joined by two wildcard teams in an eight-team single-game elimination tournament.

The group stage will not create additional games, but rather the existing inter-divisional regular-season games will become dual purpose. As one of the eight qualifying teams, you’d essentially play a maximum of three additional games (quarterfinals, semifinals and finals). So in conjunction with a scheduled reduction, all teams would all play between one and three games less than at present.

The difficulty in making this tournament relevant. The timing is odd, roughly a quarter of the way into a season, but makes sense when you consider other sports competing for viewership during this time. It avoids the end of the baseball season, the NFL’s Thanksgiving slate, the Super Bowl and March Madness, whilst avoid key dates in the NBA’s diary too (Christmas day games, Trade Deadline and All-Star). 

2019 NBA All-Star Game

How do you get teams to take this seriously? Could it impact playoff standings or draft lottery odds (more on that later)? During Chicago’s (then) record-setting 72-10 season in 1995-96, Bulls guard Ron Harper famously coined the phrase (and sold t-shirts emblazoned with) “72-10 don’t mean a thing without a ring”. And it’s true. Titles are so often used as a barometer of a player’s greatness and, with so much of a player’s, coach’s and franchise’s focus is on still competing in June, will anyone really care about a spin-off in December?

I’m hoping this could just be an attempt at suggesting something far-fetched to make the other proposals less jarring.


Playoffs play-in

Essentially the seventh to tenth seeds in a conference would play for the last two spots in the Playoffs, with seeds seven and eight requiring one win to make it and seeds nine and ten requiring two wins.

It would look like this
Game 1: 7 vs 8, the winner qualifies for playoffs, loser plays in game three.
Game 2: 9 vs 10, winner plays in game three, loser eliminated.
Game 3: Loser of game one vs winner of game two, the winner qualifies for playoffs and loser is eliminated.

I really like this concept, but with some caveats.

Part of the motivation here is to deter teams from tanking, something the league has already taken steps towards lottery reform.

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers

It gives teams additional revenue opportunity and a chance at a pseudo-postseason, but is the gate receipt of one extra game (of which they’d keep 55%) enough of an incentive?

Why not offer teams the chance to earn boosts to their lottery odds? Seventh and eighth seeds, more often than not, meander through mediocrity rather than spring-boarding to success, caught between not being good enough and not having a shot at a decent rookie.

So why not also give them a chance a bolstering their squad for the next season? Smooth the odds out further, reduce the odds of the number one pick by .25% for records 19-30 and take that remaining 3% and offer up 1% as a reward for each of the three games?

Re-seeding of Conference Finalists

For years now, I’ve been a conference abolitionist and whilst I agree with the principle of re-seeding the conference finals, I don’t agree with the premise.

Essentially, at the conference finals stage, the remaining four teams (two from each conference) will be re-seeded dependent on record. Ok, great - we always want the best two teams to have a shot at matching up in the finals. With this process, last season we’d have seen Milwaukee (60 wins) host Portland (53 wins) in one match-up and Toronto (58) host Golden State (57) in the other.

In 2017, we’d probably have seen the Rockets face the Warriors. But whilst it’s one small step towards my dream of eliminating conferences, it’s a fundamentally flawed one. There is no proposal to balance the playing schedule, which is currently:

  • 30 games vs the other conference (15 teams twice) = 36.5%
  • 16 games vs division rivals (four opposing teams four times) = 19.5%
  • 36 games vs non-divisional conference rivals (10 teams three or four games each) = 44%
  • Total of 52 in conference games = 63.5% of a teams schedule

This schedule bias inflates win totals in a weaker conference (ahem, East) because simply put, you get more shots at weaker teams. Meaning you have both an increased chance of a home-court advantage.  


Conclusion

As ratings fall, the NBA’s desire to innovate and need to fight against consumers with changing preferences is welcomed, but I’m not sure these solutions really hit the nail on the head. Perhaps the league is trying to slowly adapt, with less severe consequences than simply abolishing conferences outright, and this is their hedge to try and get the owners to bite.

Ultimately these changes would require a two-thirds majority from the board of governors (the 30 team owners) before any rule changes can be implemented and it will take a very talented salesman to persuade twenty owners to potentially vote against their own self-interests.


Weekend Watchables

Friday 29 November, 5pm - Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets

GIVE THANKS, WE HAVE 5PM BASKETBALL ON A WEEKDAY! How could I not pick this - I don’t even need to get into the drama brewing following Boston’s 121 - 110 take of the Kyrie Irving-less Nets on Wednesday night and Kyrie's reaction on social media. Irving is out again for this one, but it’s still much watching for me.

Saturday 30 November, midnight (Sunday morning) - Indiana Pacers @ Philadelphia 76ers


A match-up between the fifth and sixth seeds in the Eastern Conference, with Indiana on a four-game win streak heading into this one. A battle of the bigs between Joel Embiid and Myles Turner. Indiana, still without their superstar in Victor Oladipo, continue to prove that teamwork is just as important as star talent in this league.

Sunday 1 December, 9pm - Dallas Mavericks @ LA Lakers


I had to include this, given their 110-119 overtime thriller at the start of the month. This will be their second of four match-ups this season. LeBron vs Luka. Need I say anymore?

You can hear more from Mike weekly on the Double Clutch Podcast, the UK’s leading NBA podcast.

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