When NBA commissioner Adam Silver officially announced the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament this past summer, it was met with a mix of cheers, groans, and eye rolls. For a league as immensely popular as the NBA, why would there be a need for such an addition to keep the attention of both players and fans?
Although there was some skepticism and confusion (despite the best efforts of Richard Jefferson to educate the fans), the first games of the In-Season Tournament kicked off on Friday, November 3, changing the league as we once knew it, for better or worse.
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- The most apparent positive point about the In-Season Tournament has been the participation by the NBA’s elite. From Anthony Davis to Kawhi Leonard to Kyrie Irving, players known to spend more time in street clothes on the sidelines have been suiting up for games that, in their minds, may not mean that much at this point in the season.
- While it may have only been five games for 22 of the league’s 30 teams, players such as LeBron James and Draymond Green have had positive feedback on the tournament. The Lakers star forward acknowledged the increased competitiveness of the in-season tournament games, while the Golden State Warriors star noted that many games had a playoff-like feel. As TNT color commentator and former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy noticed, “NBA basketball has never been more fun in November and December.”
- The tournament has also brought attention to some teams and players that may otherwise go unnoticed, like the Indiana Pacers (Tyrese Haliburton), Houston Rockets (Alperen Sengun), and the Orlando Magic (Franz Wagner).
- The design team behind the In-Season Tournament championship trophy and individual awards (MVP, All-Tournament Team) hit it out of the park, providing some of the nicest-looking pieces of hardware in sports. And then there is the financial kickback, which will be spent differently for some players. Like with online casino bonuses, players advancing to the championship game will receive a bonus of $500,000 paycheck (quarter-final earn $50,000 and semi-finalists earn $100,000), equating to $7.5 million for the entire team of fully contracted players.
- For those who prefer analytics to the eye test, the Group Play games brought in an average of 1.5 million viewers on ESPN and TNT, a 26% increase compared to regular season games shown last year. Positive numbers are essential with the league looking to lock in a new broadcast deal.
- The need for creativity behind naming the event is alarming. For all the glitz and glamour that the NBA puts into their product, they could have come up with a better name than the In-Season Tournament. Was no sponsor willing to throw in a few million for naming rights?
- If the beverage remnants on the ball weren’t a sign of things to come, the incorrectly called time-out granted to the LA Lakers during the dying seconds of their quarter-final matchup against the Phoenix Suns was undoubtedly a stain on the In-Season Tournament.
Tuesday’s officials’ blunder wasn’t the only negative thing about the tournament, as many players disagreed with the point differential acting as a tiebreaker between potential tournament playoff-bound teams.
- As per an unwritten rule (no matter what level you play on), teams are not supposed to run up the score in the dying minutes of a lopsided game. However, due to the nature of the rule, Raptors forward Pascal Siakam found himself hoisting up a three-pointer in the final few seconds of a twelve-point victory over the Chicago Bulls. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time the struggling Bulls dealt with the issue as the Boston Celtics played “hack-a-Drummond” on Bulls reserve big man Andre Drummond; even though Boston held a 32-point advantage, but needed the points to help advance to the next round.
- It is baffling why the NBA decided to schedule the first of the two semi-final games to start at 2 pm PST, as one would think the league would want as many viewers as possible. The early start time impacts the West Coast viewers who would still be at the office, and it does no favors to the East Coast fans who just punched out of work.
- While it is nice that the NBA decided to spice some things up by adding some color to the courts, there were a lot of courts that were downright hideous, for lack of a better descriptive term. From the bright red courts of the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat to the purple monster that was the New Orleans Pelicans home court.
- But the worst of the worst had to be the Dallas Mavericks court, which, due to a manufacturing error, benefitted the home team by allowing them to play on their traditional home court flooring. This wasn’t the only problem that the Mavericks encountered with the alternate flooring, as before their first tournament game against the Denver Nuggets, it was pointed out that the three-point line was measured at the wrong distance.
Overall, the inaugural In-Season Tournament was a resounding success. Yes, there will be some tinkering between now and next season, but like with the Play-In Tournament, the new addition to the NBA schedule is here to stay.