A New NBA Playoff Format

So if you’ve read some of the content currently published on this site, you probably already understand that I love throwing out ideas that could potentially improve a league in terms of entertainment value.

So, while it will never happen from a financial standpoint, I bring a new NBA playoff format that logically makes all the sense in the world.

I’ve briefly mentioned within previous posts that the NBA lacks competitive balance, as the weight of one superstar holds a lot more value that of an NFL, MLB, or NHL star. This is not a matter of opinion, but pure fact that an NBA superstar makes up a little less than 10% of a roster, and 20% of the five on the floor.

No other league’s stars comes close to this statistic, and while NHL stars also make up for a little less than 20% of players on the ice, shifts only last 60-90 seconds at a time.

So, I previously threw out ideas to attempt to prevent tanking in the NBA, as well as a separate article acknowledging the league’s lack of competitive balance. This article will embrace the imbalance the NBA consistently provides, as while it’s not an ideal setup, it’s an almost unavoidable one.

Embracing the hard truth of the NBA balance leads to a proposal of cutting the NBA playoffs from 16 to 10 teams. This format essentially eliminates seeds 6-8 within each conference.

First, let’s look at the number teams seeded between 6-8 within the past decade (since 2008):

  • 6 New Orleans Pelicans (2018)
  • 6 Brooklyn Nets (2014)
  • 6 Golden State Warriors (2013)
  • 8 Philadelphia 76ers (2012)
  • 8 Memphis Grizzlies (2011)
  • 7 San Antonio Spurs (2010)
  • 6 Dallas Mavericks (2009)

Meanwhile, 5 seeds have been a bit more relevant, claiming 12 first round series since 2008, averaging more than one per season. There has only been one team within the past decade seeded lower than a 4 seed to advance to a conference finals (5 Memphis Grizzlies in 2013).

These statistics show that one could argue 5 seeds can be relevant in the postseason. Beyond that, true contenders are rare and hard to come by.

The format I suggest would see the best results would be a 10 team (top 5 teams from each conference) qualifying for the NBA postseason.

The top 3 teams in each conference receive postseason births. One would assume the league would want winning a division to mean something, so let’s say winning a division allows you to claim a top 3 seed.

The remaining 4 spots would go to the two best remaining teams in each conference for the 4 and 5 seeds. Here, they would take a page out of baseball’s playbook by having the 4/5 seeds play in a first round mini (best of 3) series; the winner of the best of 3 would advance to the conference semifinals to take on the top seed in the conference. The postseason would then play out with the final 8 teams as it usually does.

To those who may argue allowing a team to potentially play 3 extra games is unfair, it already happens, as teams who sweep their first round opponents will see 3 games less than a team who wins a series in 7 (obviously). Which is why a best of 3 (as opposed to a best of 5 or 7) is ideal for the 4/5 seed.

Keep in mind, this is an argument/idea emphasizing quality of postseason play. This idea does not address the impact it would have financially on the league, as well as the lower seeds who no longer receive postseason home games.

So while I present this interesting idea with quality first and foremost, it’s an idea that will likely never see the light of day, as losing that many potential first round playoff games would be inefficient financially, coincidingly angering many team owners in the process.

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