A Few Ways to Improve the NBA
The Sixers are on their way to earning(?) the league’s worst losing streak of 26 consecutive games in what has been a truly fabulous tank job. It’s an effort so pure and fantastic that it’s like if Andrew Bynum decided to take a shot from wherever he first touched the ball on the court. Wait, he what?…Then it is the perfect season! For us at least.
The rest of the league has some pretty wet pants over this one, though, and has sparked a discussion of what it would take to avoid a future such mockery of competitive sport.
One model, which is an interesting concept is the draft wheel. The wheel is intended to literally rotate the the draft order one slot at a time. Therefore teams would draft 28, 29, 30, 1, 2, 3 and so on. The problem with this idea is that well, it sucks.
As I said in the podcast, if you’re a bad team from a small market and you’re stuck picking in the middle rounds for the next 20 years you’re screwed. In fact, I think it’s the type of disaster that could cause teams to fold over time as they get stuck in the middle.
So if the wheel concept and the current system need to be improved, what exactly should be done? I have a couple of ideas.
1. The NBA should cut playoff teams.
In the current system, 16 teams make the playoffs…out of 30. If we’re going to talk about mockery an integrity of the game, not allowing a team that’s literally in the bottom half of your league into the playoffs is a good start. Now the problem is that with a seven game series format the breaks are too long to justify a bye, which would mean either shortening opening series again with 6 teams per conference (not likely with half the playoff cash already coming in). The other option is only eight total playoff teams make it in total.
What does this accomplish?
The ultimate goal comes down to mobility. Most agree that being an average team is a death sentence in the NBA. Therefore, by limiting the number of playoff teams franchises will be inclined to make bigger, bolder moves more consistently in order to earn a postseason appearance.
On the flip side, the teams who give up on the season are provided with the opportunity to rebuild faster. Part of it comes down to demand. Most teams who are fifth and sixth seeds aren’t so desperate to make a move. With limited playoff spots, however, players on average squads gain value by virtue of increased demand in the market. This means that not only would the value of superstars increase, but bench players as well.
That’s where mobility comes into play. As the top teams gain talent, they’re sacrificing future assets at an increased fee and frequency allowing the lower two thirds of the league to improve more rapidly.
While this process is partially conducive to tanking, reduced playoff seeds would also allow for a faster rebuilding process. The more picks, the quicker you rebuild. Also, with more teams in the lottery the odds of being awarded a top pick would be reduced–thus creating more risk in an outright tank job.
2. Allowing first round playoff losers into the lottery.
If the NBA isn’t going to reduce the number of playoff teams for revenue reasons, then they should give the undeserving playoff teams the opportunity for a better pick. This would similarly increase movement within the league as teams with little to lose will be more likely to make a run at the playoffs while maintaining their odds of a good pick.
In this case, the bottom feeders would still benefit from more picks and the regular season becomes more competitive down the stretch.
3. Move the trade deadline back.
This is a bit of an opposite idea from the previous two, but could be effective. By making the deadline earlier teams would be less willing to part with assets with so much of the season remaining. This would cause a staler product, but create a larger middle of the road subset.
4. Improving the D-League
One issue that’s been proposed is increasing the age at which players can enter into the NBA draft. While it’s unfair for teams to prevent capable players from starting their careers, the D-league could evolve into a reasonable middle ground over time.
Part of the problem is exposure, though. Playing college ball puts players in the media limelight infinitely better than the D-League, which is huge for rookies. If the NBA were to compete they would need to gain a share of the TV market. How would they do this? Stealing from the NCAA, of course!
The NBA could raise the NBA age limit, yet invite top underage prospects to play in the D-league instead of college. The benefits would be:
- Top prospects play against each other regularly, thus eliminating some of the stink of playing against lesser competition. Better competition for prospects = less misses in the draft.
- Players could transition to the professional lifestyle over time under NBA guidance.
- International players could gain more exposure and provide scouts with more tape (Dante Exum, anyone?)
- Doug Collins would be a perfect fit.
- More money for the owners!
While these suggestions don’t entirely fix the problem, they provide a starting point for picking apart a seemingly unfixable issue in tanking. Since I always enjoy outside the box theories feel free to share some of your own in the comments!