Friday, April 04, 2008

Playoff Re-Seeding: Bad for Rivalries

With the imbalance between NBA conferences, there seems to be an increasing sentiment to do away with conference breakdowns in the postseason and just seed the entire playoff pool 1-16.

Count me among those very strongly in opposition, and my argument against can be summed up in one word:


Other than a surpassing individual player like a Jordan, there is nothing more compelling in NBA basketball than a fierce rivalry. How do NBA rivalries develop? Almost always through hotly contested playoff series, and usually through multiple postseason meetings over the course of a few years. Certainly, the best ones develop that way.

For example, here are what I consider to be the best NBA rivalries since 1980, with playoff meetings in parentheses:

- Celtics-Sixers, early 80s (4 playoff series - 80, 81, 82, 85)

- Celtics-Lakers, 80s (3 - 84, 85, 87)

- Celtics-Pistons, late 80s (5 - 85, 87, 88, 89, 91)

- Pistons-Bulls, 80s-90s (4 - 88, 89, 90, 91)

- Bulls-Knicks, 90s (5 - 91, 92, 93, 94, 96)

- Lakers-Kings, early 00s (3 - 00, 01, 02)

These are the creme de la creme - in every case, the rivalry was built upon multiple playoff series, and in five out of six cases, the rivalry was within the same conference.

Here's what I have as some of the next tier of NBA rivalries since 1980: Lakers-Sixers (3 - 80, 82, 83), Knicks-Heat (4 - 97, 98, 99, 00), Kings-Mavs (3 - 02, 03, 04), Spurs-Lakers (5 - 99, 01, 02, 03, 04). In all cases multiple playoff series, and in 3 of 4, it's intraconference.

Am I forgetting a particular rivalry that is more dear to you? I'll bet it was based on multiple playoff series, and also that it was likely an intraconference rivalry.

But if you have one big pool of 16, there is a much lower probability that two particular teams will be matched up then if you divide teams into two distinct pools of eight, as it is now. Of course, there's also a much lower probability that teams will meet up multiple times.

And if there's a much lower probability that teams will meet multiple times in the playoffs, then quite simply there is much lower chance that rivalries will form.

I think that any potential gains by shifting to a 1-16 seed format are minimal compared to what would be lost by reducing the chances of developing great NBA rivalries.


At 7:21 AM, Anonymous Olexiy said...

The fact that most of the rivalries are inter-conferencial (if there is such a word :) is just a consequence of the playoff format. Rivalries develop when several good teams keep at the highest level for several years - so their meetings are decisive. If you'll look at the rivalries of the 21 century, they are all inter-conferencial just because the Eastern Conference didn't have any more or less stable (in a positive sence :) team other than Detroit. I think that, for example, Spurs - LAL rivalry in early 00-s would have developed under any PO system, including random seeding - just because there weren't any other team comparable to those two.

I am not sure 1-16 seeding is the best solution, but keeping the current situation is even more harmful - why anybody except Raptors'-Wizards'-76s' fans should be really interested in their play-off "race", if it is much closer to DNBA PO race than to real basketball happening on the West?

At 7:38 AM, OpenID olexiy said...

>> The fact that most of the rivalries are inter-conferencial (if there is such a word :) is just a consequence of the playoff format.

let me correct myself

I think that the number of rivalries won't change if we'll change the format of the PO, just more of them will be inter-conferencial. For example, having NBA played last 5 years with 1-16 seeding, I am pretty sure we'd had at least one Detroit_vs_Western_Contender rivalry.

Please pardon my grammar.

At 5:32 AM, Anonymous Matt said...

I totally agree.

In addition to what you've said, one of the reasons this season has been so great is how closely contested the Western Conference is, not only with teams not only fighting for home court advantage, but also just for their post-season lives. If we were to subject ourselves to this alternative formate the regular season would have lost its fizz weeks ago.

At 4:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

they do open seeding and do 1-12 instead of 1-16 to make it more dramatic.

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