How the NBA Should Change Its Playoff Format
In a normal NBA season, we’d be in the midst of the first round of the playoffs. This would usher in the time honored tradition of wondering how much longer until the second round begins.
It’s no secret, the first round of the playoffs isn’t the most entertaining. But what if we could tweak some stuff to make the first round more interesting? Here are three suggestions to change the playoff format and revitalize the first round.
Change the start date and move the awards show
First, let’s push the start date back a few more days to a full week after the regular season concludes. The main purpose here is to give all teams a full week of rest before the fun begins. This way, players are less likely to go on strict load management programs throughout the season, knowing they’ll get plenty at the end. Additionally, this gives teams a higher chance to get back injured players for the first round. Healthier and better rested players will always make for a better product.
What does the NBA do during this week off? The regular season awards show. MVP, DPOY, All-NBA teams, etc. The media voting is done before the playoffs start already, lets go ahead and tally it up and do the awards before the playoffs.
Once upon a time, the awards were done mid-playoffs, leading to awkward moments where already eliminated players were accepting awards while others were more focused on their current series. Now, we do the awards after the playoffs when interest is down following the newly crowned champion and the regular season is a few months removed from our memory.
Doing the awards immediately following the regular season makes the most sense - that’s when fan interest will be at its highest. Currently that’s not possible, with media submitting their votes the Friday after the NBA season and the playoffs starting the following day. With a week off that’s plenty of time to vote, tally the results, and host an awards show. It’s better timing and keeps interest in the NBA at a fever pitch while players rest.
The play-in tournament
Too many times over the years we’ve seen injuries or early season struggles tank a team's postseason odds. (As a Heat fan, I’ll forever remember the 2016-2017 campaign where Miami started 11-30 and ended 30-11, only to miss the playoffs on the very last day.) Giving that Heat team a one-time chance to break into the playoffs would have been must see TV for any NBA fan, not just those living in South Beach.
No need to get too crazy: a four team play-in bracket for the 7-10th ranked teams in each conference’s standings. While this may seem unfair to seventh and eighth seeds, they would get home court advantage for the games and a chance to prove they belong in the playoffs. We want the best teams for the playoffs; a one round play in tournament gives us an exciting way to get us closer to that ideal.
A brand new format
The last change I’d make to the playoffs would be changing the format of the first round. Bear with me, as this gets a little confusing.
The 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 series would remain the usual best of seven series. Historically these series are the ones most likely to go six or seven entertaining games deep. These series will start immediately after the play-in tournament.
For the 1 vs. 8/9 and the 2 vs. 7/10 round, these series become a best of five. Historically in the first round, these match-ups are almost always sweeps, be it clean or gentleman. A best of five means the higher seed has a smaller margin of error, but also that these series end quicker so we can focus more on the more evenly matched series.
This change still demands four wins for the seventh through tenth seeds to advance to the second round (one against one team and three against a conference leader). For the first and second seeds, take care of business and enjoy an extended break. But, slip up for two games and all of a sudden there’s a real threat of an early fishing chip. With their opponents fresh off a high-stakes, winner-take-all game, suddenly these opening series have a lot more pop.
These are the changes I’d make to the playoffs to ensure a better, more interesting product. A full week of rest leads to healthier better players while also giving the NBA the chance to cap off the regular season with an awards show. Following that, the NBA shifts towards the play in tournament, four high stakes must see games. After that, the first round begins, with the changes to the series format ensuring a little interest in every series. With these changes, seeding matters so much more as it’ll dictate play in status, amount of rest, and what kind of series teams will get in the first round. Overall, I firmly believe these changes make the NBA playoffs a more exciting product. Who’s going to say no to more exciting basketball?