New NBA Playoffs and a Bold Draft Lottery

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With the coronavirus pandemic forcing a months-long hiatus and a recalibrated 2020 postseason, now is the perfect opportunity for the National Basketball Association to reconsider foundational structures.  The NBA Playoffs and Draft Lottery should be on the table.

Adam Silver and others have long and openly desired for changes to the NBA.  Their primary goals appear to be increasing global popularity and maximizing revenue.  To some extent, the reformers envision a process where the past is mostly cast aside and the future is shaped based on the current reality.  Travel, on-demand viewing, and a deeper talent pool create circumstances vastly different than those that existed when the NBA was established decades ago.

This author’s proposal would expand the NBA by two teams, realign the divisions, reform the postseason, and dramatically alter the draft lottery.  In this second of a two-part series, we invite the reader to comment with their thoughts on dramatic changes to the postseason and lottery.

Playoffs Currently

Players, and increasingly fans, do not value the regular season.  They have good reason.  Unlike MLB and the NFL, more than half of NBA teams qualify for the playoffs.  That means truly mediocre teams compete in the NBA postseason, whereas only the top third of baseball and football clubs do so in their respective leagues.

Despite the NBA’s best efforts to increase the popularity of the regular season (think NBA on Christmas), overwhelming and disproportionate influence remains with the playoffs.  Of course, one solution is to allow fewer teams to qualify for the postseason.  However, neither the players nor management are likely to reduce the number of playoff teams.  Instead, consensus seems to be forming around reducing the regular season and changing the playoffs.

Under the current format, the NBA Finals are not necessarily contested by the two best teams.  Through accidents of geography, conference placement, and seeding, a team from the east and one from the west fight it out in the last round.  And the beginning stages are rarely interesting. Very few eight seeds have beaten the first, and none have since the first round expanded to a best-of-seven series.

New Postseason

So how should the postseason be reformed to maximize competition and entertainment?

The large number of qualifying teams and a reduced regular season grind provide the opportunity for serious changes.  However, out of the many ideas proposed, moving toward Soccer World Cup-style pools is the most interesting and entertaining.

Pools will replace the first round.  In a made-for-live-streaming event, the commissioner will draw teams out of groups.  The first group features the top team in each of the revamped four divisions. Each team will be assigned to a different pool.  This rule rewards teams for competing through the regular season for the top division spot.

The tension will build as the commissioner begins drawing again.  The second group includes the next four best teams, regardless of conference or division.  Each one will be assigned to a pool with one of the top four teams.  Repeat twice more, and the pools are set.  Imagine the reactions from players, coaches, and management as teams are announced.  Viewers will see excitement, relief, and involuntary dread!

Pool play will feature each team playing each other team in its pool four times.  The top two teams from each pool advance to the best-of-seven Elite Eight, with regular season standings dictating seeding.  Four winners advance to compete in the best-of-seven Final Four.  The victors of which compete in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.

The average number of games in the regular and post seasons remain roughly the same in the old and new format.  However, the NBA will now feature more playoff games.

2020 Postseason Pools

A hypothetical pool matchup based on random drawings and 2019-2020 regular season standings.

A PoolB PoolC PoolD Pool
BucksLakersRaptorsHeat
JazzCelticsNuggetsClippers
Thunder76ersRocketsPacers
NetsMagicGrizzliesMavericks

Lottery

With a reduced regular season, what to do with the 16 teams that do not make the playoffs?

The current lottery has grown a little stale.  Moreover, teams are increasingly tanking to increase their odds of a top pick.  To correct for this and bring more meaningful games (and revenue) to the bottom half of the association, the NBA should implement an NIT-style lottery tournament.  Winning teams would be rewarded with higher draft picks.  The champion of this bracket would receive the prized top draft pick.

Like the playoffs tournament, teams would be grouped into pools.  Moreover, the ping pong ball selection process could be saved and retooled to fit this selection process.  Teams would be placed in four groups based on regular season standings, regardless of conference or division.  The commissioner would draw a name from each group, forming the four pools.

Tournament play would consist of each team playing a single contest against each team in its pool.  The top two in each pool advance to a single-elimination Surviving Eight.  Meanwhile, losers will draw for draft picks 9 through 16.  Surviving Eight winners advance to the Lottery Four.  The defeated draw for picks 5 through 8.  Lottery Four losers draw for picks 3 and 4.  The two remaining team compete in the Top Pick Game for the coveted draft selection.

Lottery Tournament

A hypothetical pool matchup based on random drawings and 2019-2020 regular season standings.

One PoolTwo PoolThree PoolFour Pool
PelicansSpursTrail BlazersKings
WizardsBullsSunsHornets
TimberwolvesKnicksPistonsHawks
WarriorsSuperSonicsCavaliersCaptains

Conclusion

The movement for reform is here.  Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?  What would you change?  Or would you fight to keep the status quo?

Comment and tweet this article to your followers, and let the debate commence!


Also, follow me on Twitter at @BBGoldenHall and follow us @OT_Heroics for more great content!

Also, be sure to check out the Overtime Heroics Forums page to join in on the discussion!

NBA Playoffs and Draft Lottery

Moreover, follow me on Twitter at @BBGoldenHall and follow us @OT_Heroics for more great content!

NBA Playoffs and Draft Lottery

Also, be sure to check out the Overtime Heroics Forums page to join in on the discussion!

Editors Note: Display picture courtesy of nba.com

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