The NBA’s return appears imminent and while the details of a return to play proposal remain unknown, two new possibilities have emerged; seeding the playoffs teams without conferences and a World Cup style group stage. It appears that everything is on the table and the league is embracing the idea of using an unprecedented season to experiment with the playoff format. There is no scenario that will satisfy everyone, but the NBA prides itself on being a progressive league and I anticipate that when the NBA resumes it will not be the standard playoff format fans are used to. GBBs own Justin Lewis has already done an excellent job running down the different return to play scenarios, so I will focus on the recent rumors of non-conference playoff seeding and a group stage and the implications for the Grizzlies.
There is already support for eliminating conference seeding for the playoffs. The West has been the significantly stronger conference for some time and reseeding the sixteen playoff teams offers some intriguing first round match ups and could be a push toward getting rid of conferences entirely. If the NBA resumes straight to the playoffs with the standings as they currently are the Grizzlies would have a dream matchup against the Toronto Raptors and Marc Gasol. Beyond the obvious emotional implications of that series, this would offer the Grizzlies the best chance to advance to the second round. They won’t, but it will certainly be better than watching the Grizzlies get stomped by the Lakers. The Grizzlies front court is just as deep as Toronto’s and Ja will be ready to make a statement. This series could easily go six with a few one or two possession games.
The main argument against non-conference playoff seeding is that if it becomes permanent, it will eliminate regional rivalries. Perhaps, but that is a reasonable sacrifice for the opportunity to get the sixteen best teams in the playoffs and more entertaining first round matchups. Regional rivalries also aren’t as intense in the NBA as other leagues and most rivalries are born in the playoffs and can disappear as soon as there is roster turn over. Most Grizzlies fans hate for the Clippers cooled as soon as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin changed teams. This is an ideal time to try a new format and see how it goes.
A group stage for the playoffs might be tougher for fans to get behind but it does potentially allow for the most meaningful games in the first round for all teams brought back. The Ringers Kevin O’Connor wrote a fantastic article breaking down how a group stage would work. The top twenty teams would be divided into five tiers based on record and there would be a random drawing with one team from each tier making up the groups. Each team would play twice against the other four teams in their group guaranteeing at least eight games for each team and the teams with the two best records in each group would advance to the second round.
Like eliminating conference seeding, this option allows for some interesting potential matchups and depending on which group the Grizzlies end up in could provide a path to the second round of the playoffs. If the Grizzlies end up in a group with say the Spurs, Pacers, Jazz and Raptors there is a viable path to the next round. That said, this is a pretty radical idea and I would be surprised if the NBA implements it. The idea of a random drawing determining playoff opponents rather than a teams record rightfully alienates many fans.
Likely, there will be at least multiple scenarios and frameworks for basketball’s return after this afternoon’s NBA Governors meeting and all the Twitter speculation will end. There are obviously more important things going on in the world than sports right now but there is value in anything that can provide some semblance of normalcy and I look forward to rooting for the Grizzlies in whatever form that takes.