Many players outside of the playoffs have been calling for a play-in tournament for the eight-seed, but fan have pointed out how that’s unfair to current eighth seeds like the Memphis Grizzlies. But is there a fair format?
Soon after the NBA season was suspended, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard threw out the idea of the NBA canceling the rest of its regular season, and instead having an NCAA-style play-in tournament for the bottom seed of the postseason:
When the season does come back, I feel like it’s only right that teams get a chance to make a playoff push, like ourselves, give us a chance to get in…maybe they should do something that has never been done. Or something that is going to make this year very unique like it already has been.
Many, however, were quick to point out that this system creates an unfair disadvantage towards current eighth seeds, such as the Memphis Grizzlies.
Now, before any criticism is leveled at Lillard for his suggestion, it is worth noting that this has been an idea that Adam Silver has been tossing around for the last few seasons, and that Lillard did suggest adding a 1-on-1 tournament to All-Star Weekend; so this idea probably wasn’t just birthed out of the hiatus. Though, on the other side, I have not found anything where Lillard talked about wanting a tournament before the hiatus.
Still, we know with the fire that the young Grizzlies like Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. bring every night that they’d be ok with it. Not only that, but Lillard’s point–that non-playoff teams should have one more chance for a push–is at least semi-valid. That begs the question: is there a fair tournament format?
Well, first off, let’s say what’s not fair. A strict NCAA-style tournament would not be fair. Anything can happen in a single-game elimination tournament, and if the Grizzlies got left out of the playoffs based on one bad performance then there would be reason for Memphis fans and players to be upset. So how could this work?
Simple, take the three teams most likely for that eighth seed push–the eighth, ninth, and tenth seeds–and put them in a tournament, with the eighth seed getting a first round bye. Then, when the eighth seed faces their opponent, give them an extra point advantage by rounding up the number of games they were up on their opponent, and doubling it.
Here’s how it would work. Start one week before the playoffs, on that Monday, the ninth seed plays the tenth seed for a chance to advance to the next round, where they would take on the eighth seed on that Thursday. Then, start the playoffs on a Monday.
For this example, let’s take the Western Conference. That first week, the New Orleans Pelicans and Trail Blazers would face each other. Then, and let’s say that the Pelicans won, they would face the Grizzlies on that Thursday. Since the Grizzlies had a 3.5 game lead on New Orleans, when the game begins they would already have eight points on the board.
This way, teams who were outside the playoffs do still have a chance to make a last minute playoff push, but the team in the eighth seed is protected from just losing a fluke game.
It’s unlikely that this system, or any system for that matter, would be implemented in the NBA this season. Whichever way you go, at least one team and their fanbase would cry foul, and not only that, but NBA executives are remaining optimistic about resuming the season. Still, if the NBA is looking into making a play-in tournament a reality, they need to consider the team that worked all season to get to the spot they had.