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NBA Group Stage // Let's take this all the way


tyst13
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This recent Ringer article prosing the NBA return with a 20 team group stage that leads directly into the 8 team second round of the playoffs has me thinking. I'm not sure if it is a good idea, but it is definitely exciting. So I was thinking what if that just became a permanent fixture going forward? What if the NBA playoffs replaced the first round with a 20 team group stage? While it would add 4 more teams (which I don't think is a good thing in isolation), it would result in a more interesting round of basketball than the first round normally produces with only 2 or so exciting series and several 4 or 5 game series. It would also guarantee every playoff team plays 8 games (assuming it is a round robin format with each team playing a home and away with the other teams in the group, like the article suggests). That would add up to a total of 80 meaningful basketball games instead of 44 or so (guesstimating each 1st round series lasts an average of 5.5 games).

 

Now here is were I start brainstorming some new ideas. The NBA season is long enough anyways, and I'm sure star players don't want to give up the potential of a 4 game sweep and rest in the first round, so let's shorten the season to 72 or 74 games. Now we're down 114 games (if we cut 10 per team), which I know will cause problems with tv deals, revenue sharing, etc. From a fan standpoint though, we probably don't lose too many meaningful games. To balance it out, let's throw the 5 teams from each conference that missed the playoffs into their own groups to play another 8 games each. From there, the top 2 teams from each group advance and are joined by the 12 teams eliminated from the playoff groups for a 16 team, single elimination tournament. What are all these teams playing for? Well, the number 1 overall pick (maybe a draft lottery still exists for picks 2-5 while the rest slot in order of record, or something like that). Now, this tournament for the number 1 pick adds another 55 meaningful games (40 from group play and 15 from the tournament). We're still down 63 games, but every team gets to end their season with 8 or so meaningful games.

 

There are some obvious criticisms, like the worst team would probably never get the number 1 pick and would have a challenge improving. We're still losing games. The best teams might feel group play is less fair than giving them a number 1 seed and home court advantage against a lower seed. There could also be a scenario where a top team gets upset in group play and then routes the teams in the consolation bracket for the number 1 pick (I'd call this a feature, not a bug, but you might not like it). It probably also favors mid-tier playoff teams getting the top draft pick. Though only 1 team can actually win the number 1 pick while the rest still draft based on record, and a single elimination tournament is more open to chaos that could allow a weaker team to upset a better team.

 

Anyways, this was just an idea I wanted to put out there. For this season, I like the group stage idea (in a vacuum where we aren't really debating whether or not the NBA should even return), and it made me think about what could happen permanently. If you think this is the dumbest idea you've ever read, I won't take it personally. If you have some tweaks or suggestions, share them! I don't think it is realistic to expect this kind of change, but it is a fun thought experiment and we don't have sports right now to have real discussion about.

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