The play-in tournament announced by the NBA for the 2020-21 campaign has most certainly increased the excitement for fans, with the regular season about to conclude in a few weeks. If the latest NBA Rumors are anything to go by, the format could now be made permanent for future seasons, per Howard Beck of Sports Illustrated.
NBA Rumors: What are the pros and cons of the play-in tournament
The play-in tournament is a pre-playoff tournament that will give two more teams a chance to secure a spot for the playoff tournament at the end of the regular NBA season. In this case, it will be the ninth and 10th seeded teams from the two conferences that will have a shot at claiming the final playoff berth. For more in-depth details on how the play-in tournament works, you can click here.
Teams seeded seventh to 12th in both conferences are currently vying to either get into the reckoning for the play-in tournament, strengthening their hold on their current positioning, or aiming for the sixth seed. The sixth seed would guarantee a playoff spot for the team.
Because of this, the regular NBA season could be in for an enticing finish, which has encouraged NBA executives to make the play-in tournament permanent, as mentioned by Howard Beck. Here's what the full report stated:
"The results are clear, and encouraging. In the Eastern Conference, six teams are vying for a play-in slot, including three—the Wizards, Bulls and Raptors—who might have given up in past years, given how far they are from eighth place, the old cutoff point. The West also has six teams scrapping to make the play-in, including four—the Warriors, Spurs, Pelicans and Kings—who might have folded if eighth place were still the cutoff point."
Every decision and move has its own pros and cons, though, and the NBA's play-in tournament is no different. On that note, we analyze the impact of the play-in tournament and discuss why it may or may not be a great idea to move forward with in the future.
The case for the play-in tournament being made permanent in the future
The NBA play-in tournament has definitely given fans a new wave of excitement throughout the entirety of the season. With 24 teams still competing for something or the other, it could be said that the league's decision to hold a play-in tournament has worked just fine.
Additionally, it has given multiple playoff-contending teams outside the top eight seeds a chance to show that they deserve to be in the playoffs. A great example of a disappointing end to a regular-season campaign would be the Phoenix Suns in last season's Orlando Bubble. They won each of the eight games they were slated to play in that stretch and still failed to reach the NBA playoffs.
The Suns finished as the 10th seed with the same record as the ninth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies (34-39). Assuming the current structure of the play-in tournament was played during that time as well, the possibility of the Suns making it to the NBA playoffs would have been significant given how well they performed overall in the Bubble.
Generally, teams outside the top eight at this stage (if the play-in tournament wasn't introduced) would have already switched their attention to gaining better odds on the draft lottery picks, as mentioned by Beck in his report.
"In 2019 they flattened the draft lottery odds, reducing the incentive to be horrifically bad. This season, they added the play-in tournament, providing a new incentive for middling teams to keep trying, rather than pulling the plug with a month to play," Beck reported.
With competitive basketball still being played at this stage, the NBA play-in tournament is certainly looking like a positive change that was required to keep teams motivated in the league until the end of the regular season.
The case against the play-in tournament being made permanent
With increased competitiveness and an added incentive to fight for a playoff spot, it is obvious that teams and players, especially, will feel overwhelmed with the workload they will have to bear. Additionally, the COVID 19 pandemic and stacked schedule is also something that has led to players exhausting themselves out this NBA season.
The risk of injury has never been this high and will be something that will have to be looked at in the future as well. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, recently expressed his thoughts on the same. In an interview with ESPN, Cuban mentioned:
"It doubles the stress of the compressed schedule. Rather than playing for a playoff spot and being able to rest players as the standings become clearer, teams have to approach every game as a playoff game."
With every team looking to either enter the top six or fight for a play-in tournament spot, the level of intensity in each game will rise subsequently. The team's key players will have to play extra minutes, which will increase the risk of fatigue and injuries by the end of the regular season.
The NBA should be mindful of this. The league will eventually have to develop a plan that can help teams navigate the aforementioned problems if the play-in tournament is made permanent in the future.