Pros and Cons of an NBA return featuring World Cup-style group play.
The LA Clippers along the rest of the basketball world patiently awaits the return of NBA action. While the league likely won’t make a final decision until tomorrow, they have been putting in the work to figure out what that return and the rest of the 2019-20 NBA season will look like. The Athletic recently reported that a survey conducted with all 30 General Managers asked their input on potential competition formats.
It’s not an enviable position for the league to be in. Even though they have asked for every team’s input, and are evaluating each scenario, ultimately they will have to make a decision that doesn’t please everyone.
One of those potential formats is a World Cup-style tournament in which the top 20 teams would return to action in a pre-playoff group play scenario. The twenty teams would be comprised of the top eight seeds from each conference, plus the teams with the next four best records in the NBA (who all happen to be from the Western Conference). The teams would be split into four groups of five teams each, with each team playing two games against the other teams in their group. The top two teams in each group at the end of the eight-game run would advance to “Round Two” of the new-look playoff format.
This scenario would obviously lead to some pros and cons for both the league and the LA Clippers.
On the positive side of things, the NBA would be able to return to action while somewhat limiting the number of teams involved in the closed-off campus environment. In the interest of safety for the players, staff, and personnel involved in the bubble, this would help by limiting the sheer number of people involved. It would also do away with teams who are eliminated from playoff contention having to return to a closed-off environment for what would amount to meaningless games. That situation is something with which stars such as Damian Lillard have already said they would not be happy.
This scenario would also allow the NBA to return to action with meaningful games immediately. Since all teams involved would be playing for the playoff lives, no game would be treated as a mere “tune-up” for the upcoming playoffs. It would create more competition from the moment action resumes.
The NBA would also get to test a new tournament-style of play, something they have been rumored to be interested in for quite some time. The unique situation of this season would allow them to test a format for a potential future mid-season tournament.
For the Clippers, one positive aspect is that they would most likely avoid being placed in a group with the Bucks, Lakers, or Raptors. The teams with the top four records in the league would in all likelihood be given top position in each of the four brackets, meaning they would not have to face each other until the league was down to their final eight or fewer teams.
The team would also get to play in competitive basketball games before diving into a playoff series, rather than playing games that just amount to tune-ups. This would require them to be sharper and compete, bringing more playoff intensity to their group-play games. The Clippers boast the depth and talent to handle the additional challenge.
But it’s not all positive…
The league would have to deal with the potential that some of the ten franchises left out of group play would not be happy about their season ending early. It’s unfortunate, but any decision the league makes will not make 100 percent of teams and players happy. But they need to do what they think is best (and safest) for the league and players going forward.
The NBA would also have to figure out how they would place each team into the four groups. They could draw them randomly, running the risk of a “group of death” which often happens in World Cup Soccer play. Another option would be to assign them based on position, with the top-ranked team getting the 20th ranked team in their division, the second-place team getting to play with the 19th ranked team, and so forth. Another option, with the potential to create juicy storylines and rivalries, would be to allow the top four seeds to “draft” which teams they would like to face off against in group play.
The NBA would also have to deal with the idea that a new-look format to determine the champion would create a less-than-ideal circumstance where the history books would throw a dreaded asterisk on the record. In an unprecedented, global pandemic situation, this should be the least of their worries.
The main negative aspect of this situation for the Clippers would be that their spot in the playoffs was not “guaranteed.” They could look at it as the group-play round featuring 20 teams is the “first round” of the playoffs, but it just would not be the same as returning to a best-of-seven series where they would face off against the Mavericks. Their eight group play games would matter, and a bad run of a couple of games could cost them making the second round when teams would play in more traditional seven-game series.
The Clippers are one of the most talented teams in the NBA and match up well against any team in a seven-game series. In one-off games, things become more of a crapshoot, and the team would face the real possibility of not moving forward if they did not bring it every night.
Ultimately, the LA Clippers have the talent, depth, leadership, and experience to handle whatever scenario is thrown their way. No matter what the NBA looks like when the action returns, they should remain one of the favorites to win this season’s championship.