There has been a ton of talk over the years from sports fans and analysts on whether or not NBA commissioner David Stern should/will switch the league’s playoff format from 8 teams per conference getting in to 6. I, for one, am all for the latter proposal, and here’s why.
Poor lower seeded teams
First and foremost, and most importantly, the reason why I’m in favor of switching the format again, this time filing it down a bit from eight teams to six, is because most of the time the 7 and 8 seeds in each conference are horrible teams with below .500 records. Thus, due to their win-loss records, team rosters and the way their team is constructed, they’re not realistically a playoff team in any sense of the term. When I think of an NBA playoff team, I think of at least 42/43 wins, at worst, with a balanced lineup, or at least one superstar on the team. Most teams either have a Lebron, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe or Tim Duncan on their team, but some have more well balanced lineups with or without a superstar at the helm, like Portland. Of course, there’s one problem/flaw that presents itself logically within my first point, and that’s conference depth.
Some years, in any sport- but especially within the NBA (at least currently), one conference/league within a sport is significantly better on and off paper than the other league. This year thus far, for the NBA, is a perfect example of that. To shed some more light on that, for example, if the playoffs started today (with my ideal format in mind, not under the current one), in the West, Phoenix with a 24-18 record, and Dallas with a 25-20 record, respectively, would miss the playoffs as #7 and 8 seeds. Compare that to the bottom two teams in the East, and it’s drastically different. Among the conference standings, the Nets are the seventh best team at just 19-22, even though they’ve been hot as of late, while Charlotte rounds out the top eight with a record of 19-27. Two winning teams in the West wouldn’t, and the same outcome would occur for the East, except with two teams under .500 at the moment. To give you an idea of the West’s dominance this season, overall this season, the Western Conference has an incredible 74 more total wins (363 to 289) than the East does (as of Sunday, Jan. 27th), in four more total games played (654 to 650).
Last year, in the East, Milwaukee made the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, despite a record of 38-44. Eliminating the eight seed especially would get rid of the dead weight weak link playoff team(s), in either conference, in the league. Indiana in 2010 (37-45), Detroit in 2008 (39-43) and Atlanta in 2007 (37-45) (along with Philadelphia, who was a seventh seed at 40-42) were all recent, eighth-seeded (minus Philadelphia) teams in the East that had below-.500 records. Thus, proving my point, eliminating the eighth seed would, for the most part, yearly do away with the abysmal teams that barely made it in with sub-par records. Unfortunately, on the flip side, this format would be unfair to the superior conference per season — in this case the West — but then again it would give any of the teams within the superior conference that much more incentive, especially at the end of the year, to step it up a notch, with hopes of making the playoffs.
The reason for the East’s struggles on paper this season are, for the vast majority, due to a lack of depth. Outside of the top tier teams that dominate in Indiana and Miami, there aren’t any strong teams, whereas in the West you have Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Portland, the Clippers and Houston. Golden State is a fairly strong team as well with tons of speed, shooting ability and youth. Even Dallas has depth, and Phoenix is a young, up-and-coming team that’s learning to successfully play together as a unit as well. Currently, in the East there are only two teams with at least ten more wins than losses this season, compared to five teams in the West with that accomplishment under their belts.
Not only are the eighth seeded teams (for the most part) poor teams with below average records, but a good amount of seventh seeded teams, especially in the inferior conference, are as well. Some times age and injuries, as it’s done for Brooklyn thus far this season, can catch up with a team and lead to a poor record, but it’s the nature of the sport- injuries will occur. That’s where team depth comes into play, alongside secondary superstars on teams as well, when a player or players within the starting lineup sustain injuries.
Not only do I respect and agree with the NFL’s playoff format, but if I were Stern I would implement the system/format into my own league come April of every year. The NFL has 12 total playoff teams that can make it, six per conference, in which the top two teams, that not only had the best records but won their respective division, in each conference automatically qualify for the next round, and do so by skipping the first round of playoff action with a bye week to rest. The remaining four seeds in each conference would play each other in a best-of-five round, with the higher two seeds earning home court advantage due to better win-loss records, with the schedule as followed: # 3 seed vs. # 6 seed, # 4 seed vs. the # 5 seed (just like in the NFL).
If I were commissioner, the same would go for my proposed NBA playoff format change. In this case, if the playoffs began today, in the East, Indy and Miami would get bye weeks, while # 3 seed Atlanta would face # 6 seeded Washington, with # 4 seeded Toronto facing off against # 5 seed Chicago. After the first two seeds, who won and who didn’t win the division wouldn’t matter. For example, even though Toronto would be crowned the Atlantic Division winner with a 22-21 record, I would still make Atlanta a higher seed, because Atlanta had a better win-loss record than Toronto (23-20), even though Atlanta didn’t win their division like Toronto did. I formulated the seedings this way because I feel like, past the top two seeds, it’s unfair for a team with a better record (albeit slightly) to suffer with a lower seeding just because they had a superior division that season than the other team did. Thus, Atlanta gets the # 3 seed, and Toronto the # 4.
In the West, if the playoffs began today, Oklahoma City (35-10) and San Antonio (33-11) would get first round byes as # 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, while # 3 seed Portland would face # 6 seed Golden State, and # 4 seeded Los Angeles facing off against # 5 seed Houston. After the first round ends, the remaining three rounds would all be seven game series.
The eight game playoff system makes teams work, especially the top teams, a little bit harder, for fear of taking the foot off the pedal and letting an inferior team defeat you, as well as it allowing four more total teams the chance to win it all, but due to the fact that, for the majority of the time at least, most of the 7th and 8th seeded teams in each conference barely make it past the first round anyway, it’s almost a waste. Now, with more teams eliminated from playoff contention within my format, teams can focus more time and energy on the three harder, more important playoff rounds, given they get that far. It also eliminates the dead weight and weak teams from the playoffs as well that, for the most part, don’t even belong there in the first place.