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The NBA Playoffs need a selection committee

Using college football’s playoff process to determine the rightful playoff participants in the NBA

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We had a sample platter of games since last Saturday, but college football truly begins this Labor Day weekend.

College football has had a lot of change over the past 10 years. The realignment and offensive scheme changes alone are enough to consider it a new era. But the crown jewel of college football is its three year old College Football Playoff, doing away with the old BCS National Championship.

If you aren’t familiar, the BCS Championship was decided on a set of computer rankings, where the top two in the rankings face off in the national championship game. The College Football Playoff is now 4 teams, and instead of relying on computer rankings, it is decided by a selection committee.

The NCAA isn’t exactly well run, but the selection committee is a great idea. It’s obviously a lot more subjective since, especially with so many teams in the FBS, a lot of teams are going to have similar win-loss records. So the CFP selection committee considers quality of wins, bad losses, and generally how well a team performs and how impressive their entire season was as a whole.

I suggest we bring this to the NBA.

The NBA playoff is flawed. The uneven conferences has made deserving teams miss out on the playoffs and bad teams to make the playoffs (this bad team is perpetually the Pacers). With a selection committee, the playoffs will have trimmed fat. Only the top teams will enter, and W-L records won’t be the only determining factor. Instead of a 38-win team sneaking into the postseason because they stunk less than the rest of their conference, all of those spots will be ideally filled with the most deserving.

Let’s take a look at how the 2017 postseason would have filled out with selection committee criteria.

The Process

Instead of the current system where the top-8 teams based on W-L record in each conference get a playoff berth, we’re setting a few ground rules:

  • The top 14 teams are in, regardless of conference. This new number also allows for first-round byes for 2 teams while also getting rid of some playoff spots that might be a stretch to fill. As a lifelong NBA fan I’m surprised I’ve never heard anyone ask this: why does more than half the league make the playoffs??? The CFP has 4, which may be too small, but it makes it exclusive. That’s what the playoffs should be.
  • W-L record will count, but Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating will also be used to help the process. All three will be helpful in determining who’s in and who’s out, but they will especially be helpful for seeding.
  • Every round is still a best-of-7 series to ensure the best team wins
  • Average margin of victory (MOV) is going to arguably be the biggest factor in determining a playoff berth and seeding. Unlike college football, all NBA teams play each other. So there isn’t much room to stand out with “impressive wins” when 15+ teams also have that win. Even if it is against a good team. Margin of victory also is a better determinant of future success. Close games are coin-flips. Success based off of tight victories often regresses back to the mean, where games within 5 points are basically just a 50-50 shot. Margin of victory gives greater context to both the wins and losses

And now, to the new NBA Playoff field from last season using this hypothetical model.

The Field

Seeds and Why

1. Golden State Warriors (Bye)

2. San Antonio Spurs (Bye)

3. Houston Rockets

4. Toronto Raptors

The top 2 teams are fairly obvious and Golden State was far and away the best team and deserves the #1 seed and the bye. San Antonio is head-and-shoulders above the rest of their competition too. The Spurs and Warriors are the only two teams in the NBA with a top-10 offense and defense. They deserve those byes more than anyone.

Where it became tough for me was the 3rd seed. Houston had the 3rd best record in the league, an elite offense, but a bad defense. But the machine Mike D’Antoni and James Harden created was so overwhelming against teams that their below-average defense didn’t really matter much. No need to deviate from the standings until the 4th seed.

I chose the Toronto Raptors because I believe two things: (1) that they were better than the Boston Celtics and (2) they are not better than the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they played better than them during the season (more on both of those teams below). The Raptors compared to the Celtics had a better margin of victory, a better defense, and won the season series against them 3-1. They get the nod here.

Western Conference Resumes

Team M.O.V Rank Off. Rating Rank Def. Rating Rank Average Rank
Team M.O.V Rank Off. Rating Rank Def. Rating Rank Average Rank
Dallas 23 25 15 21
Denver 12 4 29 15
Golden State 1 1 2 1.33
Houston 3 2 18 7.67
L.A. Clippers 4 5 12 7
L.A. Lakers 30 24 30 28
Memphis 13 18 8 13
Minnesota 20 10 20 16.67
New Orleans 22 26 22 23.33
Oklahoma City 11 16 11 12.67
Phoenix 25 22 26 24.33
Portland 18 11 18 15.67
Sacramento 26 21 25 24
San Antonio 2 9 1 4
Utah 6 12 3 7
Western Conference Tournament Resume

5. Cleveland Cavaliers

6. Boston Celtics

7. L.A. Clippers

8. Utah Jazz

Bumping Cleveland down to the 5th seed knowing full damn well that LeBron’s teams always succeed in the playoffs is probably going to be an error on my part. But the regular season is the only season that matters in terms of seeding. Cleveland might know that they can go 75% during the regular season and flip a switch during the playoffs, as is their prerogative. But it’s going to cost them seeding and home-court advantage, as the 5th seed does not come with any prolonged advantage.

9. Washington Wizards

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

11. Miami Heat

12. Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies are the exact type of coin-flip team I mentioned while discussing close wins and losses. Memphis played in 22(!) games decided by 5 points or fewer and their record was 12-10 (coin-flip). Memphis played well in a lot of games and their defense kept up all season. They even beat the Warriors on the road after an incredible comeback. But those tight games and their inability to put away bad teams is what puts the Grizz a little lower and gives them and inter-conference series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Eastern Conference Resumes

Team M.O.V. Rank Off. Rating Rank Def. Rating Rank Average Rank
Team M.O.V. Rank Off. Rating Rank Def. Rating Rank Average Rank
Atlanta 19 27 4 16.67
Boston 8 7 13 9.33
Brooklyn 29 28 23 26.67
Charlotte 15 14 14 14.33
Chicago 14 20 6 13.33
Cleveland 7 3 21 10.33
Detroit 21 23 7 17
Indiana 17 15 16 16
Miami 10 17 5 10.67
Milwaukee 16 13 19 16
New York 24 19 26 23
Orlando 27 29 22 26
Philadelphia 28 30 17 25
Toronto 5 6 11 7.33
Washington 9 8 20 12.33
Eastern Conference Tournament Resumes

13. Chicago Bulls

14. Denver Nuggets

I should have KNOWN that when I made a snarky comment about the Bulls sneaking into the playoffs that they would end up sneaking into this. Truthfully, Chicago feels right at 13. Atlanta, Indiana, and Milwaukee all had better win-loss records, but Chicago had the better margin of victory and better consistency throughout the year. Taking the 14th spot are the Denver Nuggets, who were incredibly entertaining last year. They had the 12th best margin of victory and the 4th best offense in the NBA! The defense was atrocious, as is the case with young teams, but they were better than their record and more importantly, better than the available options.

I think this playoff would be a huge step up from the current version. Even though it is steeped with tradition and the possibility of Golden State going 16-0 through the playoffs couldn’t happen in this new edition. HOWEVER, it provides more stringent conditions while having the conditions be subjective and up to the committee. Teams aren’t rewarded for skating by on 3-point wins, teams aren’t punished for falling on the wrong side of 3-point losses if they’ve already proven themselves.

Also, *this* playoff doesn’t have an issue with paying its players, so at least you’ll feel better watching it.

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