If the NBA Schedule Was More Like the Premier League

For years now the NBAPA and, more importantly, the players themselves have been advocating for a shorter NBA season. The truth is, it will never happen until the ratings fall off and the average attendance takes a dive. Fortunately for the league, its owners, and the players who enjoy their current salaries, that day isn’t coming any time soon.

I know it sounds sac-religious to be arguing in favor of less games, but I think most smart fans know that it would be for the better of the overall product. Less games means less fatigue for the players and the audience. Less fatigued players means less injuries and a better effort night-in and night-out (especially come playoff time).

The magic number that you hear most often suggested by players and pundits alike is somewhere in the mid-60’s range. This solution I am about to describe would cut the regular season down to 58 games per team.

In the English Premier League, all 20 of the teams in the league play each other twice–once at home and once on the road. The 30 teams in the NBA already do this, but with additional games in their division and conference to fill out the remaining 24 games. Personally, I believe that playing each team only once also creates an intensity and an urgency that is lacking when you play a team for the third or fourth time of the season.

So for the sake of this exercise, I have re-scored each teams record using the score from their FIRST home and away game against each team in the 2015-16 NBA season. For the tie-breaker in playoff seeding, I first used the season series. If it was 1-1, I used the cumulative score of both the home and away games.

Scroll to the bottom of the page for the full league standings, in case you want to see how your team fared specifically!

Playoff Picture

As you will see, there weren’t any huge, landscape-altering changes to the seeding based on this, but there were some minor changes (most notably in the Eastern Conference seeding). Arguably the biggest change here is the Boston Celtics dropping from the 5th seed to the 8th seed. This is pretty easily explained by the Celtics underperforming early in the season. Though they finished strong, they played their first home and away games against many of these teams (Detroit, Charlotte, etc.) early on in the season.

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Original 2015-16 Eastern Conference Standings
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Revised 2015-16 Eastern Conference Standings

The Celtics problem embodies an issue that would likely be recurring under this style of scheduling. Teams like the Celtics, who thrive on team fitness/motor and superior coaching would be at a disadvantage to teams with better talent. You can see a similar thing happening in the Western Conference standings:

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Original 2015-16 Western Conference Standings
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Revised 2015-16 Western Conference Standings

Again, a young, fit team that is well-coached like the Portland Trail Blazers is seen dropping in the standings. Well-coached teams get better as the season goes on, and especially as they get more head-to-head and more tape on their opponents. This is not necessarily a bad thing. These same qualities (fitness, youth, coaching, etc.) that may hurt the team during the regular season would be rewarded in the playoffs as the coaches and their staff get the opportunity for an expanded look and game plan against their opponents who appeared to be superior during the regular season.

I did use the same criteria for the playoff bracket below, but there were not any particularly exciting changes to come from it.

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Original 2016 Playoff Bracket (from wikipedia.com)
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Revised 2016 Playoff Bracket

One matchup that stands out here is the San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors western conference finals. Obviously, this is a result of the Spurs looking dominant during the regular season, but semi-petering out in the playoffs. It is interesting that, even without factoring in the injury problems that struck the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs, the Clippers still got bounced in the first round under this model.

Additional Tournaments

Another fun idea–which directly contradicts the main benefits of there being less games–would be English soccer-style tournaments. In addition to the English Premier League games, and excluding European competitions, EPL teams also compete in separate English football tournaments. There is the League Cup and the Football Association (FA) Cup that each yield their own prestigious trophies.

Often times teams who know they have no chance of winning the league (i.e. any team who isn’t in the very top tier of talent) will choose to put all of their ducks in to one of these tournaments’ baskets. This way the lesser teams still have an opportunity to get some respect and some silverware. On the other hand, the teams with a chance of winning the main prize–the NBA title–may choose not to prioritize these tournament games, and may even only use their role players.

I think something in the vein of the FA Cup would be phenomenal for basketball in the United States. In England, the FA Cup is an open-enrollment knockout round tournament with over 700 teams annually. Admittedly, I don’t have a full grasp on how the seeding works, but I know that the teams in the higher leagues (Championship League, Premier League, etc.) aren’t bothered to compete until the later rounds of the competition.

For the basketball tournament, this could include D-League teams, College teams, and other professional or semi-professional teams who want to compete. We could finally get answers to the age-old question of whether or not a good college team could beat a bad NBA team.

NBA fans could learn the beauty of what is known as “Giant-Killers” in the FA Cup–the tiny teams from the no-name towns and cities of England who can go in and knock-off one of the multi-million dollar clubs like Chelsea, or Manchester United. You may not see the Erie Bay Hawks going up against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena and winning any time soon, but you have to admit it would be fun.

As promised, see below the full team standings. Again, there aren’t any major changes to the final standings. So while the research may seem uneventful (to conduct or to read!) I believe it’s an argument in favor of this style schedule. This model could reduce fatigue in players and audience, and also increase intensity and watchability of both the regular season and the playoffs. Come on NBA, take a note from the English Premier League.

Full Team Standings

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