NBA PM: Assessing the Schedule Change


Assessing the Schedule Change

Heading into the 2015-16 season, the NBA made significant changes to the schedule for each team. The league wanted to address player safety and opted to make a dramatic change in how frequently teams played.

Since taking over as commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has publicly expressed a desire to make a number of tweaks to the league. Silver has mentioned cutting down the length of preseason, readdressing the lottery system and possibly changing the current playoff format.

However, one of the biggest areas of concern for Silver was player health and safety. The league heard concerns from the players and cut down the amount of back-to-back games teams played in, as well as stretches of four games in five nights.

As a result, teams are playing all-time lows in back-to-back games and four games in five nights scenarios. The total number of four games in five nights are down from 70 last season to a total of 27 such instances this season. No team will play more than two stretches of four games in five nights, which is down a staggering 61 percent from last season.

Back-to-back games are down from an average of 19.3 per team last season to 17.8 this season. Several teams will play in a league-low 14 back-to-back sets, while no team has more than 20 such situations.

The idea to change the schedule was first brought up in the Board of Governors meeting last April. Given all of the factors that play into creating an 82-game schedule for every team, instituting such a dramatic change in such a short period of time is the result of hard work from the league.

“I think all teams are taking precautionary measures,” Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap told Basketball Insiders. “They invest a lot of money into their players, so I think it’s in their best interest. I think they’re smart enough to understand that and to take care of players’ bodies and be aware of fatigue or health issues.

“There’s been changes. I think [the schedule is] spaced out a little bit more, but the schedule is still what it is. There are still 82 games, including the preseason. It’s a long season, regardless of back-to-backs or no back-to-backs.”

The rise in four games in five nights last season was said to be from the league extending the All-Star break to a full week. Prior to the change, the All-Star break lasted only about four days long. In order to accommodate the change this season, more games are being played on Thursdays and Sundays.

In addition to playing more games on Thursday and Saturday, Silver has also talked about shortening the preseason in order to help with easing the regular schedule. Currently, teams play eight preseason games each.

An exact plan has yet to be unveiled regarding the preseason, but Silver has said the league and players will meet to discuss their options. The league operates on a 170-day schedule, so shortening or extending the regular season will have financial implications that will need to be ironed out during bargaining sessions with players.

Changing the schedule around will ultimately help keep a fresh product on the floor, which will translate to a more entertaining game for fans. Teams are traveling more efficiently this season as back-to-back games that cross a time zone have been cut by 18 percent, while long distance back-to-backs have been reduced by 25 percent.

“The back-to-backs aren’t as bad, but the four in five nights can be tough sometimes,” Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I think product-wise, if you want a good product out there, you want to make sure guys are fresh and maybe it saves injuries – you never know.

“The fans are paying their money and they want that product to be good. Mr. Silver has done a lot of great things and I’m sure will look at everything. It’s all about growing the game and protecting the product out there and making sure guys are healthy and the best they can be.”

Following the change to the regular season schedule, the league also tweaked the format for the Finals to allow more recovery time. Teams playing in the Finals will now receive two days off in between games in which travel is required. Prior to the change, Finals games were only played on Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday.

With the first season underway in the new schedule format, some players and teams really haven’t noticed too much change yet. They remain locked into playing and taking the season one game at a time.

“I don’t really pay attention to the schedule other than to see how many days you’ll be home for or how long you’ll be on the road for and how long you need to pack,” Washington Wizards guard John Wall told Basketball Insiders.

“Other than that, we just go out there and compete. If it’s back-to-backs or if it’s not, we just know we got to go out there and compete for every game. That’s all you can do is put your hard hat on and go compete.”

Other teams, such as the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic, may not have noticed the change given their overseas game last month. The two teams played each other in London on January 14 as a part of the NBA Global Games 2015-16.

Given the long-distance travel and the time change associated with playing in London, both teams played just one game in a nine-day span, which further compressed the rest of their schedule. The Magic will face 19 sets of back-to-back games this season, while the Raptors will play in 17 such sets.

“For us, it seems like back-to-backs get more and more consistent just because we had that London trip,” Magic center Jason Smith told Basketball Insiders. “Overall, they’ve tried to extend the season and extend All-Star break to give us more time to try and recover. It’s a grueling schedule and you just got to keep on going.

“It gives you that sense of they’re trying to make sure the product stays [high quality] out there. You want to give the fans as best product out there as you can and try to eliminate those back-to-backs. Hopefully, us as players, taking care of our bodies, eating right and getting rest helps that.”

It seems as though most players are appreciative of the measures the NBA has taken in protecting its product. They have praised Commissioner Silver and the steps the league has taken in addressing health concerns.

The NBA season is a long and grueling process, and it’s only further complicated when factoring in preseason and playoff games. Player health has become a hot-button issue across all American sports and it seems like the NBA has been proactive in their approach, rather than being reactive. 

Knicks Looking to Make Deadline Deal

At a press conference on Monday, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said the team will be looking to improve with the trade deadline looming next Thursday. Jackson spoke regarding the firing of head coach Derek Fisher, while also addressing the improvements he would like to make.

“We’re looking to improve this ballclub, there’s no doubt,” Jackson said, according to ESPN. “We know that we have some good guys. The chemistry is pretty good. The talent can still be better. It always can, so we’re looking.

“Like any team looking to improve themselves, we are open to discussion. We have to be. That is just the way of the nature of the game.”

While Jackson wouldn’t specify what the team is looking to acquire, the Knicks have been said to be seeking to upgrade the point guard position. The team has been linked with Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings as potential targets.

Jackson acknowledged the team doesn’t have many attractive assets they’d be able to offer in a potential deal, but added that they are weighing all of their options.

It would also seem likely that the team will be cautious when discussing their options. Jackson said that after Carmelo Anthony (no-trade clause), the team likely wouldn’t part ways with rookie Kristaps Porzingis.

Depending on how some player options pan out, the Knicks could be looking at having as much as $31.4 million in cap space this summer. If they miss out on a trade this season, they can also look at bringing in some players through free agency.

Notable point guards like Rajon Rondo, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson and Jordan Clarkson could all be free agents this summer, if the Knicks are seeking a point guard.

Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.

About Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.