What tweaks should be coming to the In-Season Tournament next year?
The In-Season Tournament will return next season, but it won’t look the same.
“People are tired of hearing the word ‘tweak,’ so we’ll come up with another synonym for that,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said — then he talked about possible tweaks to the system for next season. The league has been clear from the start this process would evolve and change (much like the format of the All-Star Game).
Let’s break down the changes on the table.
• Should there be an incentive for the organizations that win the tournament? This has been the most discussed thing in league circles. The Lakers players and coaches got some extra cash in their pockets (and a trip to Vegas during the season), but what did the fans and organization get outside of watching the team win?
There has been talk of possibly guaranteeing a play-in spot at least for the winner (hypothetically, the Lakers in this scenario could finish no worse than the No. 7 or 8 seed). However, the idea of messing with the playoff seeding from the regular season has generally not set well around the league. The idea of giving the winner an extra draft pick — hypothetically the 31st pick in the draft or something — didn’t sit well with players and agents. “Hey, play hard in these games and we’ll reward the team with a way to replace you” is not a strong motivator.
Other ideas have been floated, such as adding one win to the champion’s total or giving them the ultimate tiebreaker for any playoff seeding. One way or another, expect the league to add something to the prize pool next season for the organization and fans to get behind.
• Those courts that burned the rods and cones in your eyes will be back in some form. Accept it.
“I’m a big advocate of the colorful courts,” Silver said. “Obviously, we want it make sure the players have confidence in them and the type of paint used isn’t more slippery. I think we dealt with those issues, incidentally, but want to make sure they are not a distraction.”
Players thought some of the courts were slippery and that has to be the No. 1 priority — a major injury because the court isn’t right would hang over the tournament for years. That said, the league very much liked the idea that the courts stood out and were different, a mental cue to fans that this game was different. And special.
Color-wise, the league seemed to accept the red-heavy courts were a bad look, on broadcasts and in person. Expect the colors to get tweaked, but the concept will be back.
• What separated this tournament from the regular season was the one-and-done knockout round games (even if those counted toward the regular season, too). That’s what grabbed fans’ attention. Should the league expand the knockout from eight to 16 teams?
• Point differential as a tiebreaker is standard around the world but did not sit well with some coaches and players around the league, who thought it led to poor sportsmanship and teams running up the score.
“I’m not ready necessarily to move away from it, but if ultimately there’s going to be a sense, particularly from our American fans, that somehow it is an indication of poor sportsmanship, that’s not a good idea for us to be doing it,” Silver said.
There are a couple of possible tweaks here for a tiebreaker. One is to cap the point differential a team can accrue in a game at 15 — there’s no value in winning by 44 instead of 16. Another option is to use points allowed as the tiebreaker, encouraging teams to play defense for the full 48 minutes but giving no value to running up the score (the problem with this plan is opponent quality factors in, a team that faces Indiana is at a clear disadvantage to another team that faces Detroit).
This also may be a short-term problem if the tournament sticks long term. In four or five years when expansion brings two new teams to the league (and it will), there will be 32 teams making eight groups of four teams possible, and just the winner (or top two of each group, if they expand to 16 in the knockout round) advance. The tiebreakers in the group don’t need to involve point differential.
• Look for changes to the scheduling. Maybe a lot of changes.
Expect the teams in each group to play all their games on the same night next season. The biggest example of an issue here was Orlando, which was done at 3-1 with a +22 point differential, while 2-1 Boston had one game left against Chicago — Boston entered the game knowing exactly how much they had to score to advance to the knockout round, and they hit that target. That was unfair to Orlando, so expect changes.
The other complaint on scheduling was from the 22 teams that did not make the knockout round: The lightning-quick turnaround to the two games they had added to the schedule to get to 82 (one was at home).
“This doesn’t get as much attention, but it’s something my teams are very focused on,” Silver said. “That for the teams that did not advance to the knockout stage, then have to essentially schedule games at the last minute. I want to make sure we are being fair to them, their season-ticket holders. In some cases, the ability to sell tickets on short turnaround.”
Also, does having group play nights intermixed with the rest of the regular season work for casual fans or confuse them?
• There also has been some discussion of moving it to another part of the NBA calendar — maybe between New Year’s Day and the All-Star Game — but that could be dependent on whether the league can sell the broadcast rights of the tournament as a separate package, and what said broadcaster would want. (That sale is up in the air, the ratings for the tournament games were up over regular season games a year ago at this time, but they also were not at NBA playoff levels. How interested streaming services might be in this package of games remains to be seen and is part of the league’s new broadcast rights negotiations.)