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Important Things You Need To Know About The NBA In-Season Tournament

If you happened to tune in to the Grizzlies game this past Tuesday, you most likely noticed something. Nothing huge really… Except everything was different. No big deal, right?

Wrong. So, so wrong.

The reason everything was different on Tuesday—and the Friday before—wasn’t a mistake. Although, that would be awesome. If the league decided to change the courts on random days and… Not tell us? Am I the only one who thinks that would be hilarious?

…I am… Cool…

The courts weren’t signaling humor, though. See, the reason for all the recent changes is the unveiling of the NBA’s newest addition. The most recent adjustment to the league’s… Schedule? Format? I’m not sure of the best way to classify it. A season edit? There. I like that.

First, it was the Play-In tournament. And now? The league is debuting its inaugural In-Season Tournament this year…

Wow. Is that an inspiring name for something we’re supposed to care about, or what?

I’m kidding. In all seriousness… That name is plain awful. There’s no pizzaz, no panache. It’s simple and boring. And fails to peak my interest even in the slightest.

I mean it says exactly what the damn thing is… I guess that’s cool. But even calling it the “Mid-Season Tournament” excites me more than it’s actual title. And that only changes two letters when we get down to it.

I’m sorry, I’ll digress. The purpose of this piece isn’t to disparage the thing even more than its own name already has. No, the purpose here is to offer insight into the In-Season Tournament itself.

The rules. The grouping. The schedule. The price for winning. The courts. Everything.

The only bit of that list the NBA has conveyed in adequate measures would be the various courts. And that only happened because… Well, you’d have to be blind to miss the variance of the hardwood.

Look, I’m all for more hoops. I’m actually not sure I’ve ever been “all for” anything more except breakfast food. I’m for breakfast all day, every day, and the same goes for basketball.

If—and this is a big if—the product is good, similar to when the Play-In Tournament debuted in the Bubble, then those are games I will sign up for.

But we need to understand it first. If we don’t understand what it is we’re seeing, we can never hope to enjoy it. Here’s clarification on this whole dog and pony show from a ginger. Something about that SPF 100 sunscreen must make weird tournaments easier to grasp… Or something like that.

The Idea

This always feels like a piss poor way to refer to something with grand ideals, but… In theory, the idea of the In-Season Tournament is not only A) admirable but B) a pretty solid idea, too. The basis for the tournament is understandable. How do you get more people to care about the NBA pre-playoffs?

It’s an honest question and one the league has attempted to answer for years. By creating and adding the In-Season tournament as a climax for the first half of the season, in theory… Well, in theory, you’re accomplishing several things…

You’re increasing the competition in the game but incentivizing winning for players. You’re also growing fan engagement through the product itself, as well as through special edition jersey sales. The ultimate goal, of course, is to push global interest in the early part of the season.

The thing is… each of the things listed above is contingent on several factors. Should they meet them, there’s no reason the In-Season Tournament won’t be a big win for the league. And a resounding success over time.

The Schedule

So, In-Season Tournament games will be taking place on “Tournament Nights.” Man. The league sure isn’t into embellishment when naming things, huh? A real straight shooter they are.

These Tournament Nights began on Nov. 3rd. They will continue every Tuesday and Friday until Nov. 28th, at which point Group Play finishes. There will be no other games played on Tournament Nights except these Group Play games. Period.

Each team will have four total games that they play on Tournament Nights. Each team in their Group once. It is worth noting that every game played on a Tournament Night will also be counted towards the regular season. So, teams planning on phoning in any of these performances better think twice.

The Format

The formatting for this particular tournament splits the games up into two phases. Group Play and Knockout Rounds. Huh? Am I wrong to think that ‘two phases’ implies they stem from the same base? Or two parts of a whole, correct?

If you were introducing a tournament to your fanbase… And if drumming up interest in said tournament was already an issue that worried you… And if said interest was tough in part due to the poor naming involved in the entire thing’s conception…

Wouldn’t you want to—I don’t know—try and make the two phases sound like the same sport? Hear me out… Why not call them Group Rounds and Knockout Rounds? Or substitute Play for Rounds and go that route? Instead of making them different and, thus, harder to remember?

Listen, I appreciate all you do, Mr. Silver, but you’re giving me way too much credit. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast today.

Lord, I’ve not even mentioned what happens in the phases yet, have I? That’s what they call a tangent. Anyway, Group Play involves—you guessed it—groups of teams that play. More on the specifics of the groups later. Each team will play four games in Group Play, with two each home and away.

Following Group Play, there will be eight teams that advance to the Knockout Rounds. The teams ranked first in the six different groups and two more ‘wild cards.’ The two extra teams will be the second-place finishers in Group Play from each conference. Of the six second-place teams, the two with the best records will make up the ‘wild cards.’

Knockout Round games are… You guessed it. Single-elimination as the name would imply. Not sure what else they would be. Look, based on how obvious everything’s named I’m surpised the tournament wasn’t called:

“The NBA Tournament That Breaks the Season Up In Half To Incentivize Players To Try Harder in the First Half.” (Don’t lie, you like it. Admit it. It’s got a ring to it.)

The Groups

All right. If you’re like me, you look at the various Groups and the teams disbursed therein and think… “Uhh, what the hell? Why—why? Now my brain noggin hurts.”

Even if you’re not like me I’d wager to say that you were a bit confused by these groupings. The league selected the Groups via random drawing. Which would account for the—you know—randomness, I guess.

It tends to get a bit more “A Beautiful Mind” after that. The league put teams in ‘pools’ based on last season’s records. Five total pools split up as follows:

  • Pool 1 – per conference, teams having the 1st through 3rd best ’22-’23 season records.
  • Pool 2 – per conference, teams having the 4th through 6th best ’22-’23 season records
  • Pool 3 – per conference, teams having the 7th through 9th best ’22-’23 season records.
  • Pool 4 – per conference, teams having the 10th through 12th best ’22-’23 season records.
  • Pool 5 – per conference, teams having the 13th through 15th best ’22-’23 season records.

From there, the league drew a team from each pool placing each in three separate groups. Five teams from each conference in three groups. This determines who plays who during the first phase of the tournament. Got that? No? Don’t worry. All you need to know is Memphis got a bad beat.

The Prize

Now, for the part that I imagine the players—at least some of them—care about most: the winnings. What are they exactly? Well, it came as a bit of a surprise to me, but… Not that much, to be honest. At least not to the likes of someone who plays professional basketball.

To you or I? Hell, yes, it’s a lot of money. And not everyone competing in the tournament will get it, either. Only teams who reach the Knockout Round are eligible for any sort of monetary prize.

Teams losing in the quarterfinals will receive $50,000 per player. The ones losing in the semifinals $100,000. The ones losing in the finals $200,000. And the winning players and coach of the In-Season Tournament will each receive $500,000.

Like I said, it’s a great deal for us. But that amounts to next to nothing for guys making tens of millions per year. What incentive do they have? The NBA Cup—the name of the trophy awarded to the winners? Doubtful.

Where I see this having the biggest effect is with guys filling the back halves of rotations. Your bench units, your two ways, dudes like that. That could amount to a pretty chunk of cheddar for some of these guys. Despite the absurdity—and based on the sample size we’ve gotten—I expect these games to remain close.

The Courts

The league debuted official In-Season Tournament courts for every team. The goal here is to differentiate them from the normal courts. Well. Mission accomplished, NBA. Below are the In-Season tourney courts for each of the teams.

For a guy with Protanomaly (red/green color blindness) let’s say this image as whole is very unappealing and leave it at that…

And though I wish they would’ve incorporated Beale St. Blue somewhere in Memphis’ design… This joint is pretty dang slick. Watching the guys hoop on it resulted in a more attractive product for most of these teams, as well.

Hey, if, at the end of the day, the courts drum up the most interest for the league? I’m chalking that up as a win if I’m Adam Silver. And you know what? I’m not quite ready to declare the In-Season Tournament such a success.

At least not yet. Not until the Knockout Round. But so far? Any In-Season basketball has been all right by me.

That’s one gray—er…green?—maybe grayish green or greenish gray? That’s it. Talk about a greenish gray court, right?

Photo Credit: (Nikki Boertman/AP Photo)

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