North America

Should “Openers” Be Used in the NBA Playoffs?  

Last year the bold (and desperate) Tampa Bay Rays shook up the MLB by playing an “opener”: a relief-style pitcher who plays the first inning of the game.

A somewhat similar, even bolder experiment should perhaps be tried in the NBA playoffs.

Instead of teams saving their best players’ heavy-minute performances for games late in a series – Lebron James, for example, played all 48 minutes in Game 7 of the semi-finals last year; it was the 339th time since 1984 that a player had played an entire game — why not instead have them play big minutes early in the series?

It is true, teams employing this strategy would risk their star players running out of gas late in the series (not unlike how the Tampa Bay Rays risk blowing leads late in games because they have already used up one of their best relievers in the first inning).  Yet they would also increase the odds of getting to play in a long series in the first place. Even better, they would increase the odds of their team winning a series quickly, which would actually allow their stars to play far fewer minutes overall than they otherwise would.

An extreme illustration of this: 45 minutes per game in a 4-game sweep = 180 minutes total; 40 minutes per game in 7 games: 280 minutes total (plus two or three more airplanes). As is often the case in life, if you work hard early on you might save yourself work overall.

It’s a simple set of questions: Is it better to concentrate, rather than spread out, your best players’ minutes on the court during a series? The obvious risk to concentrating minutes is that tired players could become less effective or more prone to injury. Nevertheless if it is better to concentrate them, why not do so as early as possible, rather than wait until late in the series to do so?

 

 

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