Thursday, February 22, 2018

NBA Play-Ins

Bill Simmons has been blabbing about the "Exciting As Hell Tournament" for years, and now there's actually a chance some version of it might happen.  The NBA is reportedly actually considering a play-in tournament (between the seventh-eighth-ninth-tenth teams in each conference) to determine the final two seeds in each conference's bracket.

For those of you who aren't readers or listeners of Simmons, he proposed this idea over a decade ago as a way to help the league curb the idea of tanking, as his version had EVERY non-playoff team in a March Madness-style single-knockout tourney.  I believe some version of his idea also had the four winning teams also earning the top four picks in the NBA Draft, which would've definitely provided incentive for every team to try hard.

My biggest issue with the idea is simple --- the last thing we need is 'more' NBA playoff rounds.  This is already the most predictable tournament in sports.  There is no such thing as a true Cinderella run in the modern NBA.  You can get an upset in a single matchup, sure, but you never get a low seed actually making a run at a title.  The closest you get is something like the 2011 Mavericks or the 2003 Pistons, but those were high seeds that just surprisingly beat bigger favorites, rather than true "wait, how is this happening" teams on a miracle run.  I think the Houston Rockets' second NBA title team from the mid-90's was also kind of a low seed but they were hardly an "upset" given that they were the defending champs who seemingly just took it easy in the regular season.  You can make a better case that the NBA should eliminate a playoff round before they should expand their bracket.

Looking at today's standings, the proposed play-in tournament would give us matchups of Trail Blazers/Jazz and Pelicans/Clippers in the West, and 76ers/Hornets and Heat/Pistons.  Frankly....who cares?  Seeing the likes of Dame Lillard, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, and Philly's young stars in, ahem, "big" games may appeal to basketball junkies like Simmons, but ultimately, why go to all this extra effort to determine the teams that will surely get waxed by the Warriors, Rockets, Raptors*, and Celtics in the first round?

* = assuming Kyle Lowry doesn't again forget how to play basketball come playoff time

In regards to the anti-tanking element, I'm also not sure tying high draft picks to this tournament would be the best way to solve the problem of teams throwing seasons.  Simmons and others had made the reasonable point that it doesn't help the league to have its future stars getting drafted by consistently incompetent franchises, though you never know.  Today's incompetent franchise is tomorrow's NBA champion, given that it can sometimes take just one major star to turn a team around.  Also, if this idea was in place for this year, just imagine the hilarious outrage if the 76ers (the poster children for "the Process") ended up with another top pick just for being okay enough to squeak into the playoffs.

Also, I'm against the idea in no small part because it would raise Simmons' already-high smugness quotient to completely unbearable levels.  I'd only get on board with the plan if we could arrange to have the lower seed upset the Celtics for the next decade. 

No comments: