In-Season Tournament MVP LeBron James and his Los Angeles Lakers have made history by recently becoming the first winners of this newly introduced quest for the NBA Cup. They maintained a perfect record through group play and the knockout rounds, ultimately defeating a spunky and frantically-paced Pacers squad in the championship 123-109.
Marketed as one of the biggest changes to the NBA regular season in recent memory, the In-Season Tournament provided a reason to watch early season action; for most fans, the prevailing trend has been that the professional basketball season doesn’t really start until the Christmas Day games, which occur a good two months after opening night. Historically, this has made a bit of sense. During these early months, teams are still getting their feet under them and adjusting to the new season and potentially new rosters. By Christmas, most of these kinks have been addressed to various extents, and the conversations surrounding All Star appearances and awards begin to heat up, so the addition of the In-Season Tournament provides a greater level of meaning and interest to the infancy of the new basketball year. Here are five takeaways surrounding the Tournament.
1: Single Elimination is Fun
Structured similarly to the World Cup, it did at times feel like it took forever for the group stages to play out. The games were spaced out on Tuesdays and Fridays, with a couple broadcast nationally on TV each night. It was a long and occasionally arduous task, especially considering that the knockout rounds only took five days to complete (December 4-9). That being said, the single elimination style was a fun one. None of the teams had faced each other in this context before, and it lacked the same benefit of a seven game series in that there was no room for error. All adjustments had to be figured out quickly, which made the atmosphere much more intense. The single elimination style definitely helped with the pacing of the tournament and the games themselves, which kept everything intriguing.
2: The Fans Cared
The tournament did exactly what it was supposed to: get people to watch NBA basketball before Christmas. There was a chance this whole thing could have been perceived as a gimmick and written off by casual fans, but the NBA’s risk paid off. The inaugural championship game was the most-watched non-Christmas regular season game in nearly six years, seeing a 64% increase from regular Saturday night primetime matchups. Based on the ratings, I feel that the In-Season Tournament is definitely here to stay.
3: Incentivizing Players to Care Is a Net Positive
One of the biggest things the In-Season Tournament had going for it, beyond the NBA Cup and bragging rights until the playoffs, was the stipend that the winning team was to receive. Each player on the championship roster was to receive a $500,000 bonus for contributing to their team’s success. What we ended up seeing as a result was less players taking rest days during tournament game nights and an overall boost in competitive spirit. As mentioned before, the days before Christmas and after the All Star Break are the dog days of the NBA season, so the players having something to compete for and therefore giving their all, not only for the fans, but for themselves is an overall net positive.
4: The Court Designs Need Some Work
One of the most common complaints surrounding the tournament was the floor designs. While the city edition jerseys that were unveiled during the preseason received a tremendous amount of deserved flak, the courts were…something. Played on alternate flooring, featuring odd and often putrid alternate coloring, made to somewhat match the teams’ primary colors, rather than the traditional hardwood, the In-Season Tournament courts were, frankly, eyesores at absolute best. While I was able to adjust over time to the floors, they still have some work to be done. I’m all for special courts for the tournament games, but redesigns are of paramount importance.
5: Anthony Davis Will Never Win an Award Playing With LeBron
While he was selected to the All-Tournament team, it feels sort of criminal that Anthony Davis wasn’t voted the inaugural In-Season Tournament MVP, the award having gone to his teammate and future first-ballot Hall of Famer, LeBron James. Obviously, LeBron’s legacy is one of the greatest in the history of the NBA, and his overall public perception definitely played into the voting, but…Anthony Davis had a 41 point, 20 rebound double on 67% shooting to close out the red hot Indiana Pacers. LeBron was great in the championship, but trailed Davis in every counting and advanced efficiency statistic. It shouldn’t be LeBron’s trophy.