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Want To Stop The “DNP-Rest” Problem? Make Playoff Seeding More Important

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If the NBA won’t shorten its regular season, there needs to be an incentive for teams to play their best guys every game.

Over the past few seasons, the NBA has had a “major” problem with teams resting their players for no reason other than the players simply being tired. For example, in a December matchup vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, Tyronn Lue and the Cleveland Cavaliers decided to rest LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. The players didn’t even have to take the team flight to Memphis. More recently in March against the San Antonio Spurs, Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors rested Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodola. Ironically, many analysts blame Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for starting the “DNP-Rest” trend. So what makes this truly a major issue? Simply put, fans and television networks are paying absurd amounts of money to either go to or televise these games and aren’t getting the value they paid for. While the average ticket price on the resale market is $89.00 this season, the league is is in the first season of its 9-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports. The NBA must figure out a way to stop this.

Unless the NBA is going to completely eliminate back-to-backs (which would cause the regular season to extend to almost 5 and a half months), severely penalize teams who rest players for no injury-reason, or dare I say shorten the number of games played, an option to consider is the redistribution of conferences and divisions leading to a change in the current playoff format. Let’s take a look.


Redistribution of Teams

The first part of the plan is to scrap the currently constituted divisions and conferences. Rather, the league will be divided into three conferences that are shown below. 

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As you can see, the new conferences are based on the old conferences and divisions, with the Eastern and Western featuring all teams currently in those conferences. In the East, the Atlantic and Southeast divisions merge and in the West, the Pacific and Northwest merge. The new Central Conference merges together the Central and Southwest divisions.  

Schedule Breakdown

The purpose for the new conferences is because of the new regular season scheduling format. Nearly 20% of the schedule will be based on the team’s regular season the previous season. Below the listed points is an example. Each team will play every other team in their conference three times, to total 27 games against conference opponents. 


Each team will play every team in each of the other conferences two times, to total 40 games against non-conference opponents. 


Here is where it gets interesting for an additional 14 games. The conferences are split in half: the top five teams and the bottom five teams based on the prior regular season’s standings. Depending where you are seeded, you play an additional game against the top five teams in the other two conferences and the other top four in your conference, or if you are in the bottom five of your conference you play against the bottom five teams in the other conferences and the other bottom four in yours. This is similar to how the NFL completes its schedule each season. Each season, an NFL team plays two games against teams that finished in the same slot as that team did during the prior season. For example, a team that finished the previous year in third place in its division will play the third-place teams from the two other divisions in its conference. Since this is the NBA and there are 82 games as opposed to 16, this scale needs to widen a bit, so a top five team will play all the other top five teams and the bottom five teams will play all the other bottom five teams. 

As you can see, this schedule equates to an 81 games. To complete the season and make the schedule 82, the entire NBA is ranked 1-30 based on their regular season record from the previous season. The NBA team with the best record will play an additional game against the team with the worst record, the second best team will play the second worst team, and so on. This would equate to the Golden State Warriors playing an (extra) game against the Brooklyn Nets next season. 

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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports


Example: Dallas Mavericks 

-27 Games: Play every Central Conference team three times (nine other teams in the conference, with three match-ups with each team) equals 27 games. 

-40 Games: Play every Eastern and Western Conference team two times (20 other teams in the conferences combined, with two match-ups with each team) equals 40 games.  

-14 Games: Play the four worst teams in the Central Conference, along with the five worst teams in the Eastern and Western Conference (since they finished with one of the five worst records in their conference, they play the other 14 worse teams one time) equals 14 games. 

-1 Game: Play the team that they match up with based on last seasons record. As it currently stands the Mavericks are the 22nd ranked team in the NBA, and will therefore play against the Washington Wizards, the 9th ranked team in the NBA

Note that by playing an additional 10 games against non-Conference opponents, it creates another chance for fans to see the star players live in person. Part of why there was such an outcry when Cleveland’s Big Three didn’t travel to Memphis was because the Cavs only played in Memphis only one time this season. Now, they could end up playing there more than once. 


Playoff Format

NBA teams will be more cautious when deciding whether or not to rest their players based on the fact that instead of the top eight teams in each conference making the postseason, the top 16 teams in the entire NBA will be headed to the playoffs. Conferences disappear with this playoff format, and you can say are essentially strictly for regular season scheduling. In theory, a conference can have zero playoff teams depending if the top 16 teams come from the other two conferences. Teams are no longer competing with half of the NBA to make the playoffs and for seeding but are now up against the entire NBA

To create the two brackets that culminate with The Finals, the teams are listed 1-16 based on their regular season records. The brackets are then filled similar to a two-man fantasy snake draft based on the rankings. The best team is placed in one bracket (ex. currently Golden State) and the second best team is placed in the other bracket (ex. currently San Antonio). Then, rather than the third best team be placed with the overall best team, they are placed with the second best team. And then the fourth and fifth best teams are placed with the Warriors. Here is how it works: 

Adam Silver Bracket: Teams Ranked: 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16

David Stern Bracket: Teams Ranked: 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15 

With the top 16 teams all vying for positioning, the race for the seeding becomes much more prevalent than currently constituted. The Cavaliers are content to rest their players partly because they have less competition for the top seed in the Eastern Conference (which is currently backfiring on them). Now imagine that the top 16 teams made the postseason, and where the Cavaliers currently are slotted is 5th. Instead of playing the team that finishes seventh or eighth in the East, depending whether they finish first or second, they would now have to face a higher quality team. Continuing on with this year as an example, instead of playing against the up and down Chicago Bulls, they would have to face off with the Atlanta Hawks. This is obviously a much more difficult first round match-up, and creates more incentive for the Cavaliers to play all 82 games hard so that they can finish higher in the overall standings. 

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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Can This Really Work?

Unfortunately, there is no true perfect solution to the overarching problem of NBA teams resting their players for no reason other than to rest them. Honestly, the easiest way to mitigate rest is to eliminate back-to-backs, but then the NBA would only be played three or four days each week (with rest days every other day) and every team would have to play on the same night. The regular season would also have to be extended to an even longer amount of time. 

This plan obviously has its flaws. For starters, there is a potential for a team to play another five times during the season, but this is very rare unless teams in similar conferences are bunched up in the middle of the pack of 30 for 82nd game that finishes the schedule. Additionally, much work will need to be done to sit down to figure out how each team can play 41 games at home and 41 games on the road as it is currently constructed. Lastly and most importantly, travel might be slightly increased even with Conference teams being closer than they currently are as a whole. I really don’t see that being much of a problem and canceling itself out. 

However, the simple fact is that the new seeding affecting the regular season schedule and most importantly, the playoffs, gives teams more of a reason to always do anything possible to win each game. As it is today the higher seeds are more rewarded, but now on a scale of 30 instead of 15. Another point that I previously touched upon, teams will now have the opportunity to play teams in other conferences more than they currently do, so fans and TV networks will have more chances to see star players and intriguing match-ups. 

Whatever the NBA decides to do, as a fan I hope that they really can limit the “DNP-Rest”. Players sitting out just makes the game less exciting, and makes it seem as if the fans truly care more about the product than the players and teams themselves. 

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Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports



*Please note that what you have read is contingent on the NBA keeping an 82-game regular season and that the league is constructed with 30 teams.*


Edited by Kat Johansen, Vincent Choy.

SQuiz
Which of these players has played in every game this season?
Created 4/10/17
  1. Russell Westbrook
  2. Chris Paul
  3. LeBron James
  4. Stephen Curry

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