How to fix the NBA In-Season Tournament in four steps

The NBA’s first In-Season Tournament has come up with a bunch of gimmicks to try and get fans to buy into the experience. They’ve rolled out special courts for the games, a regular schedule of games on Tuesdays and Fridays in November, and the Hawks tried to drum up interest with a creepy tweet.

All of these marketing ideas have worked to some extent. People are talking about the games. I’m a believer that it’s eventually going to be a big win for the league once they iron out some of the kinks.

The league is right in thinking that regular season games are largely ignored by a huge section of fans. Giving a handful of them extra importance makes sense. But there are still some things I would do differently to give the tournament more prestige and make players care more.

Here are a few ideas. 

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There have been various suggestions thrown around to make the players care about the results of the tournament. The financial incentive is already a good one — winning teams and coaching staffs that win get a nice payday at the end. Another popular suggestion made by media and players, such as Tyrese Haliburton, is to guarantee the winner of the tournament a playoff spot.

There are some problems with this idea, though. Getting the sixth seed of the playoffs isn’t exactly a stellar prize, and if a team near the bottom of the standings ever did win the tournament, it would make the rest of their regular season games meaningless if they were too far behind to realistically make a run at a playoff seed higher than sixth. 

I’d fix that by artificially adding a 10-game bump in the wins column at the end of the year solely for the purposes of determining seeding by overall winning percentage. Based on last year’s standings, that would bump the winner one or two seeds up while also having a disproportionately positive result if a team near the bottom of the standings ever pulled off the miracle.

The second and third-place teams could also have smaller bumps in wins, allowing the league to host a more exciting version of what is usually a dull consolation game between third and fourth-place teams in knockout-style tournaments.

Everybody loves a knockout tournament. The drama and added luck factor of playing one bad game and being out make events like the NCAA tournament a must-watch affair. The In-Season Tournament will get there during its eight-team knockout round, but not before it concludes its ultra-confusing group play stage that nobody is really following. 

The issue, of course, is that in order to have an NCAA-style tournament, the NBA needs to add two teams to its 30-team league. This solution may be fixed if the league ever expands to 32 teams, which may be coming in the future. Until then, it would make sense to invite some other teams to fill out the stage.

The tournament could be a good opportunity for the G League Ignite, which always has a handful of premier draft prospects on its roster. The league could also invite some international teams to both broaden its audience base and have a Cinderella squad out there for fans to root for. 

If you think that the teams in the groups seem random, you would be correct. They were established by random draw, and not even the most in-the-weeds fans know which team is in which group. 

The group stage play is problematic for many different reasons, but the confusion about groups is first and foremost. Why not simply use divisions? There are already six well-established divisions that are reasonably close geographically for scheduling purposes. It would help build in-division rivalries as well, which would help the overall product. And more fans would know who is in their group. 

If the NBA really wants to treat the tournament like a marquee event, then they need to put their money where their mouth is. It doesn’t make sense to host the tournament so early in the season when fans don’t even have time to digest who is on each roster.

Hosting the tournament closer to the middle of the year would make more sense, and there’s a date that lines up well with that idea — Christmas.

Christmas Day and the NBA have been synonymous for years. It’s the regular season event that has the most eyeballs on it. Hosting a runner-up match for third place, along with the tournament championship game, would ensure that the event gets as much publicity as possible. 

How to fix the NBA In-Season Tournament in four steps: Christmas Day championship, wins incentive and more

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