Tuck: Would Expanding Or Shrinking NBA Playoffs Eliminate Tanking?
16 teams make the NBA playoffs. More than half the league. The NHL has the exact same configuration, but in that sport we tend to see more upsets and making the playoffs can be the beginning of something great.
MLB sends 10/30 teams. The NFL sends 12/32.
Neither league has an issue with teams stinking on purpose. There are clear divisions. A few teams are bad, most teams are competitive, and a few teams are great.
The NBA needs to find a way to copy that formula.
I love the idea of making the NBA lottery a complete even-odds lottery. I admit though that it could lead to even more tanking as teams that in that 6-7-8-9-10 area of the standings may prefer the lottery to a first round elimination against an elite team.
So the other way to address the issue is to tinker with the playoffs. I think the NBA could go either way. Make more teams playoff-bound.
Put 24 teams in the playoffs. The bottom 16 teams play best 2/3 while the top 8 teams sit back and wait. Even inserting one-n-done games would be interesting to rip off the March Madness concept.
Biggest issue is it devalues the regular season some with so many teams making the playoffs. It does create excitement though and makes it harder to not make the playoffs, and therefore harder to tank. A lottery may not even be necessary with this kind of setup.
Or, you could make it harder to make the playoffs. The even odds lottery makes it so there is no value in having the worst record. Only the top 5 teams in each conference (or top 10 in the league…that is a difference discussion for a different day) make the playoffs. The top 3 each sit and wait while the 4-5 seeds play a best of 5.
Biggest issue is it makes it so more teams have little hope to start the season. It is defensible in that even now teams in the East who could get those last few spots don’t feel like they have a chance to win the title, and that is the point of the playoffs, to make it and give yourself a chance to win a title. That happens in the other 3 major sports. In basketball, if we reduced the field, it would make the regular season matter a little more, and the playoffs would be more compelling filled with teams who all felt like they could make a run.
Clearly, the NBA has an issue. Too many teams don’t want to make the playoffs and find benefit from not making them. The draft, and the lottery can be addressed, and/or the playoffs themselves can be looked at. I’d suggest both. The league is entertaining. The games are fun to attend. The players are terrific. But the competitive balance is out-of-whack compared to the other major pro sports in this country. Adam Silver needs to take a look at adjusting that I believe.