Why the NBA Playoffs Need to be Fixed

The NBA playoffs start today. Other than basketball die-hards, most people have probably not been paying much attention to the NBA since the conclusion of last year’s championship. Due to a flaw in the NBA’s playoff system, the end of the season featured a bevy of mediocre teams fighting each other for the final playoffs spots while championship contenders like Cleveland and Golden State have been on cruise control since January. This leads to a schedule full of meaningless games and a slew of first round playoffs matches with little suspense.

Under the current system, over half the league makes the playoffs. This means that no truly great team is worried about missing the playoffs (as in the case of Cleveland, who finished 4th place in the Eastern Conference), and therefore not incentivized to perform at the highest level throughout the season. Many NBA stars such as James Harden, have earned reputations for their lack of defensive effort during the regular season. However, most regular season games have little to know impact on the playoffs so this kind of attitude is distressingly common.

Furthermore, since so many teams make the playoffs, most, if not all first-round matchups feature teams with no chance of advancing to the second round. This leads to a first round that is little more than a formality before the real playoffs start. In the league’s history only five 8 seeds have advanced past the first round. The real drama of the playoffs usually doesn’t start until the conference semifinals.

In order to improve playoff competition, the league should reduce the size of the playoffs. Instead of taking eight teams from each conference they should take six. The top two seeds in each conference would get byes and teams three through six would play single elimination games to determine who advances to the conference semifinals. This would shorten the playoffs but increase the excitement as we would now have four do or die games featuring teams with realistic championship aspirations.

Additionally, this would increase the quality of play during the regular season. Playoff seeding would become much more critical as teams would fight hard to get a top two seed and avoid playing a single elimination game. Farther down the standings the league would be more competitive as well as the sixth and seventh best teams in the conference fight for a playoff spot rather than the eighth and ninth best teams.

This would result in less teams making the playoffs and fewer fan bases holding onto the hope of a title. However, since the playoffs are currently open to any team capable of achieving mediocrity, being a playoff team doesn’t matter much. By restricting it, the league could make the playoffs more exciting as they reward excellence instead of mediocrity.