A Perfect Storm? NBA Play-In Tournament is threatened by a confluence of factors
Commissioner Adam Silver spearheaded the NBA Play-In Tournament (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
A storm is brewing in the background of this offseason, and it’s projected to strike the NBA Play-In Tournament at the end of the 2023 regular season.
This story was developed and co-authored through a collaborative effort between Dylan Hunter Carter of Hoops Habit and Ray LeBov of Basketball Intelligence.
The first contributing factor is next year’s NBA Draft lottery, which most analysts consider one of the strongest lotteries in recent memory. Headlined by French sensation Victor Wembanyama and G League Ignite star Scoot Henderson, there are at least a dozen players at the top of the class who are considered potential difference-makers for rebuilding teams.
Next, consider that the league’s Board Of Governors recently made the postseason NBA Play-In Tournament permanent. Only the top six finishers in each conference are guaranteed to make the playoffs. Teams that finish 9th and 10th join the 7th and 8th place finishers in the Play-In round with each eligible to win their way into the playoffs.
ESPN Sources: NBA’s Board of Governors is expected on Tuesday to approve the Play-In Tournament as a regular part of future league seasons. The Play-In had been voted on a year-to-year basis in past two seasons, but support exists to turn it into annual element of NBA structure.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 11, 2022
The competitive nature of the NBA Play-In Tournament faces a new threat.
These two circumstances will combine to set up an unusual and potentially troubling storyline for the NBA in 2023. Depending on the state of each eligible team’s rebuild, we could see a nightmare scenario ensue for the league. A team that finishes 7th or 8 might recognize that being in the lottery in such a powerful draft year is far better than the certainty of getting crushed in the first round of the playoffs.
That creates a highly unusual tanking situation. A regular season finish that, prior to the 2020 season, would have certainly secured a playoff appearance no longer does so, making a late-season tank more appealing to some teams than a 7th or 8th seed finish. If that happens, we could see a record number of ‘injured’ starters held out of the NBA Play-In Tournament.
While this possibility may already be on the league’s radar, a PR disaster may ensue to end the regular season.