Monday, May 08, 2006

NBA playoffs

It is time for the NBA to seed the playoffs according to team records - period. No more regard to conferences or division winners. Let's see the best teams play each other.

Straight seeding will not only make the playoffs more interesting (due to interconference match-ups just like in the NCAAs or interleague play in baseball) and also make the resulting basketball that much more watchable (since it will include the 16 best teams properly seeded) but it will go a long way towards eliminating much of the current playoff and conference imbalances.

Plus you have a much, much better chance of having the Finals feature the two best teams. Doesn't that make the change worth it right there? No more NJ versus LA 'finals' circa 2001-02 may help ensure the Finals are the marquee matchup and crowning event they are supposed to be. After all, what made that Boston-LA rivalry so great in the 80s? Was it the fact that the best two teams or the fact that they were a continent apart? Of those two factors, which is more important? Which do we want to maximize year-in and year-out?

It should be obvious that the key factor was that they were the two best teams - their geographic location was an interesting quick, but nothing more. So the league is making a mistake by ensuring that the 'geographic factor' is the constant in the Finals matchup and the 'two-best-teams factor' is hit-and-miss. The playoffs should be designed so that it is the other way around: struture the playoffs so the two best teams always have the best chance of meeting in the Finals and leave the geographic factor to be hit-and-miss. It will make for better drama, better TV, and better basketball.

For those that think this will violate league tradition: eliminating the jump ball after a made shot went against NBA history... introducing the shot clock went against NBA history... allowing dunks went against NBA history... the three-point shot, the elimination of illegal defense, et cetera et cetera.

NBA history has been about presenting the best basketball possible. Sometimes mistakes were made but the goal has always been presenting the sport in a way that has the most potential for being the most entertaining and exciting brand of basketball there is. Seeding the playoffs so that the best 16 teams play and the best teams have the opportunity to play in the Finals is well within NBA tradition.

Perhaps the best thing about this proposed reform, however, is that you can do implement interconference seeding right now. No need to change anything but the seeding. There is no need to change the way the regular season is scheduled (2 games agains teams in opposing conference, 3-4 games against teams in same conference.

As for potential imbalance in strength of schedules, at worst, maybe one team from the weaker conference may beef up its record so that it may edge out a slightly better team from the stronger conference. But contrast that with the way the system is now: already we witness teams with worse records from the weaker conference making the playoffs at the expense of teams with better records from the stronger conference. So, in actuality, interconference seeding will actually ameliorate some of the existing conference seeding imbalance problem. Also, as the weaker conference will end up getting more lottery picks (currently split 7-7 despite team records), the interconference imbalance should even out that much more quickly.

Let the NBA be the best that it can be, Commish Stern! Seed the playoff match-up according to record and record alone. After a few years people will wonder why it was ever done any other way.