Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Author: Isaac Weiss
It is official, the NBA is coming back on July 30thwith a drastically different playoff scenario than earlier years. 22 teams will travel to Disney World in Orlando, FL, including 13 teams from the Western Conference and nine teams from the East.
Zion Williamson, the newest star of the NBA after his return from injury, had such an impact on viewership, the league office was looking for a way to make sure the New Orleans Pelicans are in the postseason, according to Brian Windhorst.
To make this possibility a reality, the NBA needed to expand the playoff format to the top 22 teams, allowing the Pelicans a trip to Orlando by ½ a game (3.5 games back). With the attention that Zion receives on and off the court, the potential revenue Zion would bring to the league is too much to pass up.
And the play-in format adjustments made for Zion’s benefit do not stop here. The Memphis Grizzlies who currently hold the eighth seed in the Western Conference, have a more difficult schedule than the Pelicans, playing four teams currently ahead of the sixth seed while the Pelicans play only two teams with such seeding.
The fringe playoff bubble allows a team four games behind the eighth seed to trigger a play-in tournament, leading to more games, more visibility for future stars of the league, and more revenue to make up for the lost regular season.
Zion played in 19 games and averaged 23.6 points, 2.2 assists, and 6.8 rebounds before the NBA season shutdown. For a number one draft pick coming off an injury, the hype surrounding his potential is larger than any number one pick in the past few years.
Adam Zagoria of Forbes explained the effect on viewership of Zion in his debut, “The Spurs-Pelicans game on Wednesday night drew an average of 2.357 million viewers to the ESPN telecast, with a peak viewership of 2.777 million. Those numbers are up 88 percent from the comparable game a year ago.”
The final stretch of the season could have drastically changed playoff seedings, with the Grizzlies missing out on possibly their hardest stretch of the season, and for the Pelicans a chance to move up to the eighth seed.
The NBA is taking a huge risk announcing the season’s return with Covid-19 cases continuing to increase and pushback from players such as Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard stating they are against the return-to-play but would stand with players if they decide to play.
Regional sports networks are owed at least 70 games in their deals with most teams having played at least 60. NBA players have already taken 25% pay cuts, but the impact of no postseason could have had an impact on salaries and the salary cap for years to come, accelerating the decision to restart the season.
Small market teams have always been an issue in the NBA with stars opting for pay cuts to play in larger market cities, and this year’s playoff scenario seems like another opportunity to show off their already marketable superstar leaving off rising star Ja Morant.
Nick Wright said, “I would argue … that it is better for the NBA or Ja Morant to get some publicity this year than Zion. Zion is going to be a star and a media sensation no matter what. A lot of America has never watched Ja Morant play and seeing him in the first round against the Lakers may raise his star quality enough to where the NBA has another young, marketable superstar.”
Zion is going to be a superstar. There is no doubt about his talent and future in the league so why not focus this postseason on the potential rookie of the year who led his team to the 8thseed and exceeded expectations?