Sunday Readin': Bill James On The NBA
In the NBA, the element of predetermination is simply too high. Simply stated, the best team wins too often. If the best team always wins, then the sequence of events leading to victory is meaningless. Who fights for the rebound, who sacrifices his body to keep the ball from rolling out of bounds doesn't matter. The greater team is going to come out on top anyway.
A fan can look at the standings in December, pick the teams that will make the playoffs, and might get them all. This has a horrific effect on the game. Everybody knows who's going to win. Why do the players seem to stand around on offense? Why is showboating tolerated? Because it doesn't matter. Why don't teams play as teams? Because they can win without doing so (although teams like these may crumble when they run up against the Pistons or Spurs).
So how should the NBA correct this? Lengthen the shot clock. Shorten the games. Move in the 3-point line. Shorten the playoffs.
If you reduce the number of possessions in a game by giving teams more time to hold the ball, you make it more likely that the underdog can win - for the same reason that Bubba Watson is a lot more likely to beat Tiger Woods at golf over three days than he is over four. It's simple math. The longer the contest lasts, the more certain the better team is to win. If the NBA went back to shorter playoff series - for example from best-of-seven games to best-of-three - an upset in that series would become a much more realistic possibility. A three-game series would make the homecourt advantage much more important, which, in turn, would make the regular season games much more important. The importance of each game is inversely related to the frequency with which the best team wins.
The best of 5 1st round is sorely missed, but a 3 game series? I agree with James that there's room for improvement, but the 24 second shot clock is one of the few things no one watching closely gripes about. That would seem to give an advantage to the already slow paced top of the league as well. A longer shot clock, and the resulting fewer possessions are changes less likely than a shorter playoff series.