NBA.com and other sports news sources recently reported that likely beginning next year, division champions will no longer have any guaranteed seed in the playoffs. Instead the NBA playoff seeding will simply go by conference records from teams ranked 1-8. This change stems from large criticism over the past few years about injustices in the NBA particularly centered around the Western conference in general and the Southwest Division specifically (5 of the 8 playoff teams last year were from this division, while the NBA consists of 6 division of 5 teams each) Last year the Grizzlies and Spurs ended up 5th and 6th seeds respectively while the Trail Blazers had 5 less wins and had the 4th seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
What does this mean for the NBA season next year?
Well, I recently posted my Predictions for next years ranking and awards and assuming these changes do indeed come into effect, the Toronto Raptors go from almost certainly getting the 4th seed in the East with little to no competition in the Atlantic division, to likely battling for the 6th or 5th seed. It also may mean the same for the Thunder in the west who will be taking their time getting adjusted after a plethora of injuries last season. I had the Thunder pegged as the 4th seed being the clear best team in the Northwest Division while I had the Rockets and Memphis at 5th and 6th due to competing with the Spurs.
Is this a good change?
I’d personally say yes, the Raptors and Thunder were all but guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs despite probably not being top 4 teams in their conferences next year (Though the Raptors did surprise a lot of people last year, and with good health the Thunder still have a lot of potential). Having a more accurate seeding based on team skill will fix the short-term problem of most of the best teams being in the Southwest while the Atlantic and Northeast divisions are not contested at all, with only one realistically competitive team in each.
The only potential benefit to the current format that may be lost, is it may geographically spread out a little bit of team success/home games to make the NBA more universally popular. The NBA game is becoming more and more of a spectacle in Texas and LA, but teams elsewhere are getting less competitive. This may be something that is cyclical, or may have to do with paying no State tax in Texas and players being able to have more opportunity outside of the basketball court in LA.
That being said, this change may be unnecessary, the Portland Trail Blazers are the only team last year that would have lost out on their home-court advantage had these rules been in effect, they quickly lost the series to Memphis 4-1. Home advantage also is statistically less pronounced in the playoffs.
Another change mentioned include adding larger “escape routes” on each side of the court to allow the players to run/jump/fall off the court without running into cameramen or fans. After witnessing Lebron’s fall in the playoffs and Paul George’s horrific injury a year ago, this change seems necessary.