What would an NBA Playoff reform look like?

As an avid listener of the BS Podcast, Bill Simmons has been calling for an NBA playoff reform for years. This potential change that’s linked to in the ESPN tweet above has been thrown around for a couple of years now.  The idea is that the NBA would eliminate Conference seedings and determine playoff spots with just the 16 best teams. If we’re being honest I don’t hate the move.

Here’s what the a complete 1-16 reformat would look like if we were to apply it this year:

1. Houston Rockets 44-13 (1st in West) vs. 16. LA Clippers 30-26 (9th in West)
2. Golden State Warriors (2nd in West) vs. 15. New Orleans Pelicans 31-26 (8th in West)
3. Toronto Raptors 41-16 (1st in East) vs. 14. Philadelphia 76ers 30-25 (7th in East)
4. Boston Celtics 40-19 (2nd in East) vs. 13. Portland Trail Blazers 32-26 (7th in West)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers 34-22 (3rd in East) vs. 12. Denver Nuggets 32-26 (6th in West)
6. San Antonio Spurs 35-24 (3rd in Wast) vs. 11. Milwaukee Bucks 32-25 (6th in East)
7. Minnesota Timberwolves 36-25 (4th in West) vs. 10. OKC Thunder 33-26 (5th in West)
8. Washington Wizards 33-24 (4th in East) vs. 9. Indiana Pacers 33-25 (5th in East)

There are some obvious hurdles that the league would have to work out in order to make this happen. First of all, if you’re going to integrate the two conferences into one playoff bracket, the NBA would have to schedule more East-West regular season match-ups to get a better representation of the best 16 regular season teams. As of right now each team plays each of the 15 non-conference team twice for 30 of their 82 games. But 16 games a season are still dedicated to inter-division matchups so teams are still heavily rewarded for having weak division (i.e. the Washington Wizards play in a Southeast Division with a total winning of .427). To try and balance the East-West matchups would mean more travelling in the regular season (not to mention the playoffs) making the season much longer than it already is.

That being said the NBA needs to make this happen now. From an entertainment perspective I want to see the best teams in the playoffs. Every year we are subjected to a revolving door of miscellaneous Eastern Conference teams lining up like lambs to the Lebron slaughter. Not that the Clippers and Pelicans wouldn’t still get stomped by the Rockets and Warriors. But a switch in format would mean less sub .500 playoff teams and hopefully more madness with more teams vying for a playoff spot at the end of the season. As a Raptors fan it would definitely be tougher for Toronto to advance in the new system. But as a basketball fan it would be a lot better to see the best teams actually in the playoffs.

Also, shock of shocks, Lebron James does not want the playoffs to change. If the league does change to the 16 team playoff format next year I can guarantee Lebron will be packing up for the West Coast. What’s the point of choosing to play in Cleveland, Ohio if there isn’t an easy path to the Finals?

Another idea that’s being thrown around is potentially having the 7 and 8 seeds in each conference decided by a single elimination play-in tournament. The idea is that seeds 7 through 10 in both conferences play a win-and-you’re-in game at the end of the regular season. While this is format change is a lot less likely than the 1-16 seeding discussed above, there are real discussions about this addition to the playoffs as a way to keep more fan bases engaged.

This is what a potential play-in tournament would look like:

Eastern Conference
7. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 10. Charlotte Hornets
8. Miami Heat vs. 9. Detroit Pistons

Western Conference
7. Portland Trailblazers vs. 10. Utah Jazz
8. New Orleans Pelicans vs. 9. LA Clippers

I love this idea. Feed me more single-game knockouts. Nothing gets the juices flowing like an NBA Game 7. Anything could happen in one game. I love March Madness because of the single-game knockout format but the NBA will never leave the revenue of a 7 Game series on the table so this would be a good compromise. For whatever reason I suddenly feel the need all of the sad-sack teams and fan-bases fight tooth and nail for the chance to be swept by the Warriors. Make it happen.


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