Community Shootaround: Play-In Pool Format

As the NBA considers how to resume its 2019/20 season, one of the many scenarios the league has discussed is a play-in pool format similar to one used by soccer’s World Cup and other international competitions. This concept was first reported over the weekend by Shams Charania of The Athletic, but Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer took a deeper dive on the idea today, observing that it has some support within the league office.

As O’Connor explains, the idea would be to bring back 20 of the league’s 30 teams — the 16 current playoff clubs and the four with the next-best records (the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs).

Those teams would then be split into four groups of five teams each, based on regular season records, and would play each other two times apiece. The two teams in each group with the best records after those eight games would then advance to an eight-team playoff that would look more like the NBA’s traditional second round.

According to O’Connor, a survey sent to NBA general managers about the idea noted that groups would be determined by splitting teams into five tiers based on their records, then forming groups consisting of one team from each tier. For instance, the tiers would look something like this:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, Sixers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

From there, groups could be determined in a couple different ways, per O’Connor. One option would be to conduct a random drawing, perhaps with measures in place to avoid having any one group of five teams become a “group of death.” Such a drawing could be televised. The other option, as O’Connor details, would be to have the four teams in the top tier draft their own groups based on preferred opponents.

Either way, the end result would be four groups of five teams, one from each tier. One group could include the Bucks, Jazz, Rockets, Nets, and Pelicans, for instance — or the Clippers, Nuggets, Sixers, Grizzlies, and Kings. Those groups would play eight round-robin games – two against each opponent – and, as noted above, the top two teams in each group would advance to a more traditional postseason. In the event of a tie in a group’s standings, the clubs’ regular-season records could potentially be used a tiebreaker, says O’Connor.

As O’Connor outlines, there are reasons why this concept would appeal to the NBA over a typical best-of-seven first round, with commissioner Adam Silver exploring experimental formats in the hopes of increasing interest in the league’s return.

A play-in pool would help generate constantly-changing, entertaining “first-round” matchups over the span of two or three weeks and would help keep casual fans entertained, avoiding locking in four or more games of a potentially one-sided first round series such as Bucks vs. Magic. And the outcome of each game would be of the utmost importance as teams jockeyed for position within their groups.

A play-in pool would also guarantee the NBA more games — eight first-round series would result in no more than 56 total games, and likely closer to 40 or 45. Having 20 teams play eight games apiece would mean 80 total contests, O’Connor notes. He acknowledges it’s not clear how those games might count toward existing agreements with the NBA’s regional or national broadcast television partners, but suggests a tweaked deal with those networks could probably be reached fairly painlessly.

Finally, a play-in pool would give fringe contenders like Portland and New Orleans the chance to extend their seasons while not requiring lottery-bound clubs like Golden State to resume play. Additionally, this format wouldn’t require those fringe teams like the Blazers and Pelicans to conduct a multi-week training camp and report to a “bubble” location (likely Orlando), only to be eliminated after a single game or two in a play-in tournament.

Still, that’s not to say that the play-in pool idea is the frontrunner at this point. O’Connor acknowledges that some Eastern Conference teams have pushed back against the idea, and ESPN’s Zach Lowe hears from sources that a number of current playoff teams weren’t “initially enthusiastic” about the idea.

The play-in pool format would also mean jumping directly to the postseason, creating financial complications. Players hoping to earn as much of their full 2019/20 salaries as possible may push back against the idea of essentially canceling the rest of the regular season. On top of that, the league’s annual playoff pool ($24MM) would have to be increased to account for additional teams and games, so the NBA and NBPA would need to figure out where that money comes from.

What do you think? Are you intrigued by the idea of a play-in pool replacing the first round for 2020, or does it sound a little too off-the-wall to seriously consider?

Head to the comment section below to share your two cents!

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17 thoughts on “Community Shootaround: Play-In Pool Format

  1. nentwigs

    Should be interesting,

    playing NBA basketball in a SWIMMING POOL.
    Hopefully plenty of chlorine is used…
    If players dribble, nobody will know.

  2. Sillivan

    East owners and fans would never agree with this format

    76ers won’t go far

    They hope to win the East in October

  3. Boston2AZ

    “Commissioner Adam Silver (is) exploring experimental formats in the hopes of increasing interest in the league’s return.” Know what would increase my interest? Restarting the playoffs the same way that they’ve done for years. No funky groupings, no reseeding – just NBA basketball, like always.

    • The Human Rain Delay

      Spot On !!!!!

      Dont overthink this….. anything that feels normal will feel great!! This well….will make us feel like… somethings not quite right in the World

      Normal playoffs= highest ratings you will ever see/amazing success

  4. So long as they’re all in Orlando, I think it’s a fun idea. West teams would probably all be ok with it.

    As for East teams… I’m sure the Bucks, Raptors, and probably Celtics would be ok with it. The Heat, Pacers, Sixers, Nets, and Magic probably won’t be. But with 30 teams are voting on this, then the Warriors and Pistons of the world might cancel out those dissenting voices if they like their lottery position right now.

  5. natsfan3437

    Instead of a play in tournament add in 6 reg season games as warmups / record padders. As in each team plays one another two times within the group so it adds some standings fluctuation, and added tv revenue to help the cap issues next season.

    Group 1: Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz
    Group 2: Thunder, Houston, Dallas, Memphis
    Group 3: Portland, NOLA, SAC, SA

    Group 1: Bucks, Toronto, Boston, Miami
    Group 2: Indiana, Philly, Brooklyn, Orlando
    Group 3: Washington, Charolette, Chicago, Knicks

    This doesn’t really help group 3 of the east with the exception of Washington if they were to go undefeated and Orlando fully defeated. This is for struck revenue adding purposes.

    Also I don’t think this will ever work but all teams that do not make the playoffs will be added into a single elimination tournament to decide the #1 pick and #2 pick. Winner of tourney gets #1 the team that’s plays them in the finals gets #2 this is to punish tanking for in the future. The rest of tourney gets added back into lottery and new odds since two teams will no longer be in said lottery.

    • natsfan3437

      This isn’t something I don’t think they will use but just something I thought about and wanted to see what other thought about it.

      • x%sure

        In that plan, 6 of 30 teams would be eliminated from the getgo.

        Groups should be organized by 1)even tier distribution, and 2) maintaining divisional rivalries, for ratings.

        It should be set up for 30, with rules set forth, and then players & coaches vote on accepting. They’re the ones taking the risks.

        • natsfan3437

          Main reason why I didn’t include them is they have no real shot at making it. Also I heard this on one of the ringer podcasts is they need 8 games to keep the Regional broadcast contracts active (70 games).

          Main reason for this was just the dramatics of teams with very similar records playing one another. 4 to 7 in west is separated by like 3 games total so if a team gets hot or cold it can really swing playoff matchups.

          But I do really like the World Cup style format the wanted to do.

  6. Sillivan

    If Rockets defeat Celtics in the first round, Celtics would lose tons of money.

  7. Sillivan

    If Clippers and Rockets defeat 76ers in the first round, 76ers would lose a lot of money.

  8. hiflew

    I want actual NBA basketball as I have always recognized it back, not some variation of it. If actual NBA basketball is not coming back, then I don’t care what they do because I won’t be watching.

  9. x%sure

    These are straw man days.
    Plans are being argued, saying, this is better than plan x, even if plan x was never put in play, but gets assigned to opponents who actually wanted something else.

    TV ratings will be high regardless. That should not be a decider. The main thing that will not help ratings are weird impositions, causing “casual fans” to say the fix is in, or it’s not real, or whatever. The presence of covid19 can only excuse so much.

  10. Simmons>Russ

    It definitely is good for the teams outside the playoffs in the west but other than that and creating more games it doesn’t help any of the other teams. Also the top teams like the Bucks and Lakers would have harder “first round” match ups having to be a top 2 team in a tough pool of 5 “playoff teams”.

    For example Bucks would’ve had the Magic in the first round and easy 4-0 sweep in the second round would be expected, now they have to probably play the Jazz Rockets Nets and Pelicans twice each and be in the top 2.

    Personally I like the idea of giving teams the chance and also having a tournament style series and creating more games. But this would favour the tier 5 teams and be harder for the tier 1 teams, plus middle teams in the east would they want to play 8 tough games and finish inside the top 2 or take on 1 team in a seven game series.
    Like Sixers vs Celtics at 4v5 in the east, both teams probably fancy their chances on winning that series. Plus coaches and players plan ahead to match ups knowing they have the same opponent over and over. If your the Sixers maybe you have to play the Rockets twice and take on Harden and Russ with no centre to playing the Lakers with a Bron and AD to another team and so on. They would probably favour a 7 game series against the Celtics more.

    I like the idea but I think there needs to be more incentive for the best teams to get through and more work needed from the bottom teams to get through.

    Maybe a 3 tier system with the top 2 tiers of this system automatically through to the first round of the playoffs and have the bottom 3 tiers have to play themselves into the playoffs.

    Then you have groups of
    Sixers Magic Spurs
    Pacers Nets Kings etc
    5 groups of 3 teams, 5 winners join the 10 teams with automatic entry and then you have 1 wildcard spot to make 16 teams for the best second places team with tie breakers decided by regular season record.
    Then start the playoffs as 1v16, 2v15 as so on

  11. ThePeople'sElbow

    all these ideas are straight trash. due to extenuating circumstances the regular season is over. If you’re not one of the top 8 in your respective conference, well you should’ve played harder in the 65 games you had this season and now it’s wait til next year.

    I mean doesn’t everyone want to see Bucks vs LAL/LAC? FFS!

    • x%sure

      Sure. I also want to see the Cavs & Bulls. And realistically, any game on ABC or TNT.

      Also I think covid19 identifying is something that could be done in a timely way by a reasonably experienced person with a couple weeks training, and that training and the machines to do it can be afforded.

      However I have no proof of that, just a suspicious mentality. Silver just needs to announce an appropriately inclusive schedule, or get sued by the spurned.

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