clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How to reformat and revitalize the NBA Playoffs

Sometimes, more is less, as is the case with the long, slow slog that is the NBA Playoffs. Here's my idea to add excitement and urgency to both the playoffs and regular season.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 NBA Playoffs started on April 19th, and ended June 15th. Had the Heat been more competitive instead of getting rolled by the Spurs in five games, the postseason would have lasted a full two months.

All of us here love NBA basketball, so yay, playoff basketball! The problem is that the more you have of something, the less special it becomes. With all of the series being best of 7, and over half the league making the playoffs, there's also an air of inevitably to many of the series, which makes them tedious. The first round especially feels like a grind, with little being decided that wasn't already clear from regular season results.

Anyone watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament now can easily see that the quality of play is much lower than NBA basketball, yet the Tournament generates great excitement and draws a huge audience. There are several reasons for this (Gambling is one of the biggest. Everybody and their grandmother fills out a bracket.), but one of them is the "one and done" format. A team's fortunes come down to one game, sometimes one shot.

The NBA's 7 game series format makes it more likely the best teams will win, but also reduces the excitement, the immediacy, the thrill of it all coming down to 40 minutes of play. I'm not advocating for the NBA to go to "one and done", but I do think the first round can be condensed, the selection of teams more balanced, and the regular season rendered more important by implementing the following system:

  • 12 teams make the playoffs rather than 16.
  • The 12 teams are those with the 12 best records, regardless of conference.
  • Teams with the top 4 records in the league earn a first round bye.
  • Seeds 5-12 play 5 game series for the right to advance to play the top 4 in round 2.
  • First round 5 game series will be #5 vs. #12, #6 vs. #11, and so on.
There are many things I like about this. First, 16 teams is simply too many. It's over half the league. If a team can't prove that they are one of the top 12 over 82 games, they don't deserve to be in the playoffs. The top teams have already proven they're superior through the course of the season.

This season, the Hawks have won 22 more games than the Celtics so far. Why do they have to beat them four times in a potential first round playoff matchup? We know the Hawks are better over the full 82 games, by a lot.

5 game series in the first round will make that round more intense and focused. Teams won't be able to slip up with only three losses to elimination. Also, a briefer first round will mean the bye teams have time to rest, but not so much idle time that it should throw them out of rhythm.

The regular season will be more meaningful because a playoff spot will be rarer, and the competition for a top 4 spot and first round bye will be fierce. This would make it less likely that coaches of playoff contenders would pull shenanigans like Gregg Popovich resting starters due to being "old." Teams want rest? Then earn a bye, and there you'll have it.

Of all these changes, the one that many here have been clamoring for is the one I'm least excited about: qualifying teams by record regardless of conference. If the NBA does that, what's the point of having conferences at all? Besides, I think it's a permanent change to address a temporary problem. The imbalance between East and West won't continue forever. These things go in cycles.

Had my proposed system been in place last season, a tiebreaker would have had to settle a three-way tie at 48-34 among the Suns, Bulls and Raptors, for the right to play the Heat, Rockets or Blazers in the first round. The Spurs, Thunder, Pacers and Clippers would have earned byes.

Before you tell me this idea will never work because games equal revenue, and no way will owners and players be willing to reduce their earnings, realize that I completely understand that already. I'm looking at this from a completely selfish, "If I ruled the world..." viewpoint and, for me, this would make the playoffs more exciting.

Or maybe you think the NBA postseason is fine as it is. While I see it as bloated and overweight, maybe you think that just means there's more of it to love. That's fair. It's a matter of opinion.

For me, two months is too long. It's like Christmas season. Christmas is great: We get time off work and school, visit with friends and family, eat, drink and are merry, give each other cool stuff. But when Christmas decorations are up and carols played for two full months, it becomes a little annoying. More is less.

This idea would also mean 18 teams in the NBA Draft Lottery instead of the current 14. My next piece later this week will feature my "pie in the sky, never gonna happen"  idea to revise the lottery.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun