Fixing the NBA season

Alright, let’s be honest. The NBA regular season was more entertaining than I expected with the Bucks taking a huge next step and the Nuggets coming out of nowhere. I definitely stand corrected on my initial take that the season was not worth watching.

That being said, there are still some major issues with the NBA regular season. It doesn’t really mean much. Between the 82 games and excessive number of playoff teams with 7 game series in the postseason, it really diminishes the value of performing well in the regular season.

Last year offers a clear example of this issue. The Rockets and Raptors earned one seeds in each conference. The Cavs entered as the 4 seed and still made it to the finals. It took 7-game series for Golden State and Cleveland in the conference finals, but the two best teams still made it through to the finals (well the two best teams that could, the Rockets and Warriors were the best two teams in the league overall).

In short, the regular season is too long. 82 games is unnecessary to determine who the best teams are. 16 teams is too many for the playoffs and history shows how little success those bottom seeds have in the postseason. The reason for the limited success is the format of a 7-game series in every round. Let’s fix that and set the league up to be even more entertaining in the future.

Cutting down regular season to 60 games

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver is considering the idea of altering the league schedule and game rules. (Wikimedia Commons)

This has been a complaint for quite a long time. The NBA regular season is far too long to hold fans interest the whole way. There are highlights to the schedule, but 16 divisional games and 62 games in the conference. It is completely unnecessary to have that many matchups between conference foes is excessive. The solution is to cut down on the regular season. Before you call me crazy, this is very possible. Adam Silver is considering shortening the season and games.

82 is an arbitrary number. 60 might sound like another random number, but it actually works really well for scheduling purposes. With 30 teams in the NBA, each team will play two games against each of the other 29 teams (English Premier League style). That only adds up to 58 games, so then each team will play against the two teams that finished in the same divisional position as them in their conference, which is exactly what the NFL does.

What does this accomplish? This almost entirely eliminates strength of schedule, which doesn’t really have much use in the NBA. It is great to see in college basketball, but not needed in the pros. A 60-game schedule also creates more incentive to win every game.

Take a look in recent years at how many teams rest their top players (now frequently dubbed Load Management to avoid league fines). Just 7 players started all 82 games this season. That speaks volumes about the length of the season. Tons of teams chose to rest their stars players throughout the regular season to maximize effort and health in the playoffs. That also underlines the issues of general wear and tear NBA players deal with. Even if players are not resting, we see so many players missing games or strings of games due to minor injuries. Blake Griffin missed a win-and-in final game of the season due to knee soreness, likely due to overuse.

There is some evidence that shorter seasons might really help keep top players on the court for more games. The 2011-12 season was shortened to 66 games due to a lockout. 15 players started in all 66 games that season. That is not a huge uptick, especially looking at the next season, which had the same number of players starting every game in an 82-game season. You have to wonder though if the previous season being shorter, possibly reduced the overall wear and tear on players. In the 2013-14, the number of players dipped back down to just 12. It has continued to drop since then, bottoming out in the 2016-17 season when only five players started every game.

Go back further to the lockout season of 1998-99 and we start to see some significant differences. 39 players started all 50 games in that regular season. The following year, back to a 82-game slate, 27 players started every game. It went down to just 20 by the 2000-01 season. There is no denying this trend, and a shorter season is likely the best way to maximize the number of top players appearing in every game. The NBA is a star-driven league and the best version of the product is when more stars are on the court.

Reducing the number of playoff teams to 12

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Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks blew out the Pistons 121-86 in Game 1 of their 1st round series. (Wikimedia Commons)

For some odd reason, the NBA has more than half the league reach the postseason. It really doesn’t make any sense. The lower-seeded teams almost never make a run to the Finals. It is rare for the bottom two seeds in each conference to even advance to the second round.

It has been seven years since a seven or eight-seed won a playoff series. Since the NBA moved to a seven-game series in the first round back in 2003, there have only been four times where the one or two seed failed to reach the second round. That means the higher seed in those series won 93.3 percent of the time. I get there is always a chance for an upset, but after watching Game 1 of the Bucks-Pistons series, I am pretty sure it isn’t worth it.

For a frame of reference, the NHL has the exact same set up, with 16 teams qualifying for the postseason, eight from each conference. They play seven games in each series. In the same time frame, the last 15 years, a bottom-two seed advanced to the next round 17 times (I considered the “wild cards” the NHL now uses 7 and 8 seeds.) Comparatively, NHL 7 and 8 seeds pulled off the upset 28.3 percent of the time, while NBA 7 and 8 seeds made it out of the first round just 6.6 percent of the time. NHL teams have a fighting chance. The NBA feels like a forgone conclusion.

With that in mind, it’s time to reformat the playoffs. Moving to a 12-team setup means the top-two seeds in each conference would receive a first-round bye. To avoid making that too much of a competitive advantage for the top-seeds, the first round should be cut to just three-game series once again. The NBA actually did this back before it expanded to 16 teams. The higher seed still has home-court advantage, hosting the first and third games. At most, this would give the top seeds a week off to get healthy, somewhat like the NFL giving it’s top two seeds in each conference a first-round bye.

This adds further incentive to the regular season, with earning a top-two seed now a priority for each team. It also would mean we trim the mediocre teams making the playoffs from the picture. Ideally, this should reduce the overall wear and tear on players as well.

Suddenly, the playoffs are much more competitive and intriguing from the start. A best-of-three series this season between the 76ers and Nets would be amazingly intense. As would Celtics-Pacers and Blazers-Thunder. The margin for error is shaved down immensely and provides an exciting introduction to the postseason, rather than the lackluster games we’ve seen so far (although that Raptors-Magic finish was pretty sweet).

After the initial three-game series, the ensuing rounds would all be best-of-seven affairs. Once we work our way down to the final 8 teams in the league, it is worth it to watch some extra basketball and see the drama unfold over a long series.

Change draft lottery odds

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Instead of playing a brutal 1st-round playoff series, the bottom seeds in each conference could have a chance to draft one of Duke’s incredible freshmen. (Wikimedia Commons)

One of the biggest issues the NBA has had to fight is teams tanking in order to secure a better draft pick. The league has the draft lottery in place to limit the incentive to lose. It even made some tweaks recently to dissuade teams even further by giving the teams with the worst three records the same odds of landing the top pick.

However, under my proposed system, there would be 18 teams in the lottery as opposed to the previous 14. That is going to require different odds to land the top pick.

The new odds would be as follows:
3 worst records – 11 percent
4th-worst record – 9 percent
5th-worst record – 8 percent
6th-worst record – 7 percent
7th, 8th, 9th-worst record – 6 percent
10th-worst record – 5 percent
11th, 12th, 13th, 14th-worst record – 3 percent
15th, 16th, 17th, 18th-worst record – 2 percent

A new lottery system would hopefully increase parity in the league by reducing the temptation to tank. It could also lead to significant playoff turnover from year-to-year if teams who came close to qualifying for the playoffs land a top-tier college player. Imagine what the expectations would be for the Clippers if they added Zion or Ja Morant.

These new odds also increase the chance for the teams who just missed the playoffs to land the top pick. In this scenario, the Spurs, represented as the last team to miss the postseason cutoff, would have a two percent chance to land Zion Williamson. The Charlotte Hornets, who were actually the last team to miss the postseason this year, only have a 0.5 percent chance. It is small, but this change is significant. That’s the difference between having 200-1 odds and 50-1 odds.

It might be a little tricky then for the teams truly lacking talent to build their way back up, but it would require shrewd drafting and smart team building, overall increasing the competitive landscape of the league.

Looking ahead

Obviously, these would be some drastic changes for the league to undertake all in one year. It would probably need to be spread out over time.

There are some obvious financial issues that would come up as well. Fewer games being played each season likely means less lucrative television contracts. However, producing a better night-to-night product could replace some of the value lost in terms of volume of games to sell. Additionally, Silver is rumored to be interested in adding some sort of midseason tournament as well, which could potentially offer another incentive for television deals.

The only thing that seems clear is that change is on the horizon for the NBA. Silver has proven to be one of the most open-minded and progressive commissioners in sports history, willing to push the envelope on what is accepted and use other sports as an inspiration for change. With the league looking to embrace the future, there is no doubt resetting the competitive format is the place to start.

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Quit Telling Me the NBA Season Doesn’t Matter

A few weeks ago, Chris posted an article claiming that NBA season should not be watched. The main rationale for the article was based off the fact that the NBA faces the inescapable reality that the Warriors will be the 2018-2019 champions. However, I think this season, like any other, has many different reasons to watch. This article appears early in the season, but my reasons still stand. Through these first few weeks, we’ve seen the NBA with higher ratings than ever, but that only scratches the surface as to why the NBA is more interesting than ever. I won’t focus on it heavily, but just keep that in mind.

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Golden State is just the latest in a long line of NBA dynasties. (Wikimedia Commons)

First, contrary to what Chris would have you believe, the dominance of Golden State is one of the main reasons why the NBA is must-watch entertainment this season. The NBA and all of the other major sports in the US are at their height in watchability when there is a dominant dynasty.

People remember eras based off those dynasties. For example, the Showtime Lakers or Jordan’s Bulls are what fans remember from the late 80’s through the 90’s. The Warriors are probably the first true dynasty since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. The “Heatles” and the Spurs were both amazing teams, but they were never truly head and shoulder above the competition for more than a year.  

Continuing on this, dynasties become must watch because fans hate watch them and to see if they will chase the ghost of previous dynasties. People love to watch dynasties lose, there is no denying it. You could go to any average sports fan and they want to see teams like the Patriots and Yankees, both dominant teams in this century, fail to get a championship. The sheer possibility that these top teams come up short is a compelling enough reason to watch in its own right.

The Warriors are no different. Go to any forum that discusses the NBA and it will be full of users who want an end to the Warriors. On the other side of this, however, fans tune in to see if records will be broken. One of the most watched games of this past decade in NBA was when the Warriors got to win number 73, becoming the new kings of the regular season. The new ghost for Golden State to chase this year is becoming the first team since Bill Russell’s Celtics to go to five straight NBA finals. Ultimately, the Warriors, the reason many people claim the NBA is pointless, is one of the most enticing parts of this season.

The other article also does not give credit to the growth of up and coming teams. Fans of bad teams only want to watch the night-to-night growth of their young players. While going through a rebuild they set aside the fact that for the next few years a run to the NBA Finals is only a pipe dream.

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The Bucks are one of the best storylines of the young NBA season as the last undefeated team in the league. (Wikimedia Commons)

Kings fans watch to see if De’Aaron Fox will go super saiyan. I am a proud Knicks fan and my reasons for watching this season is to see how Ntilikina improves in his second season and how the trio of Knicks rookies fair in their inaugural seasons to name a few. Young players attract fans, but young coaches do too. How will their new system affect the team? During the offseason, almost a third of the NBA hired new head coaches. Coach Mike Budenholzer is one coach I am most the intrigued about because I think he will make the Bucks a top four team in the East.

In the end, many fans worry that the Warriors will make the NBA unwatchable this season. However, I think Golden State should be the least of peoples worries when it comes to the watchability of the NBA. Nevertheless if dynasties are not your thing, there are too many up and coming players and new head coaches this season to not watch.

NBA has some All-Star problems

After harping on some of the issues the NFL is facing with the Pro Bowl yesterday, I figured it was time to turn my attention to another All-Star game with major issues.

The NBA All-Star game is always a fun affair and usually well-attended. Instead, the issues the NBA has with it’s showcase game center more around who is involved and how they are selected.

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Curry leads the NBA in scoring, but not in All-Star votes.

There is nothing wrong with fan voting, as long as the fans actually vote. Kobe Bryant received the most votes, (we will get into why that is an issue in a minute) barely edging out Steph Curry.

According to a NBA press release, Bryant led the way with just under 1.9 million votes. That is flat out pathetic. It is an uptick though from last season where Curry had the most votes while barely topping one million votes.

The Eastern Conference was even worse as LeBron James led the way with 1.1 million votes. Dwyane Wade was the next highest and could not even top the one million vote mark.

The NBA is a global organization. They have fans in time zones across the globe. Roughly 315 million people live in the United States and over seven billion people populate planet Earth. How is it that the NBA has players who cannot even garner two million votes?

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Brady narrowly edged out Cam Newton for the most votes for any player.

Believe it or not, these numbers are actually really impressive when you compare them to the NFL. Tom Brady led all Pro Bowl vote-getters with a meager 700,000. However, fan voting is not the only thing that decides Pro Bowl rosters. Players and coaches give their input as to who should be playing in Hawaii and the fans players and coaches all pull equal weight.

For the NBA, it is solely decided by fans. Well at least the starters. Coaches determine the rest of the roster. Neither system is perfect, both probably need to be tweak and they definitely need to find a way to increase fan voting if they want to continue to rely on it.

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Bryant announced earlier this year that he will retire at the end of the season.

Fan voting also leads to some other issues, such as selecting players who do not deserve to be playing in that game. I mentioned before that we would be getting back to Bryant, who at the age of 39 is making his final All-Star appearance. Bryant will go down as one of the great players in NBA history, but based on his stats he has no business being in this game.

The Lakers’ shooting guard is in the midst of the worst shooting season of his career. He is hitting just 34.6 percent of his shots from the field, which is the worst mark among qualified players in the league, and only 25 percent from three-point range. There are 119 qualified players who shoot the ball better than Bryant and the next lowest one is Wesley Matthews at 38.9 percent. He is also on pace to put up the worst scoring numbers of his career in a season where he started at least 10 games.

What is even more disappointing is that Bryant’s presence prevents someone more deserving, like Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum or Andrew Wiggins, from participating in the game. Those three definitely deserved some All-Star consideration.

In short, Kobe should not be in the All-Star game, much less be starting. However, his inclusion brings about an interesting question. Does the NBA care?

The league is interested in putting on a fun-filled weekend for the fans and the All-Star game is the capstone of it. Including fan favorites like Kobe, who is on his farewell tour, boosts interest in the game. That should increase ticket sales and likely television rankings as well.

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Wade is making his 12th All-Star appearance in 13 years.

This applies to Dwyane Wade as well. While he is not as bad of a culprit here as Kobe, I don’t think he deserves to be starting in the Eastern Conference. Wade is more the product of being the most well-known player on a popular team. I think Wade has played well enough this season that he should be part of the game, but the fact that he is starting over Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan is questionable at best. Both Butler and DeRozan have put up better points, rebounds and steals per game than Wade this season.

What the NBA needs to decide is which direction they want to take this in. Are they content with having the game be a spectacle for the fans, regardless of whether or not the most-deserving players are part of it? Or do they really want this to be a reward for players who are having incredible seasons and deserve recognition for their play?

Either way can work, but right now the NBA is promoting the second idea, while practicing the first.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that Tyronn Lue is coaching the Eastern Conference team. Give me a break!