The NBA’s grand experiment this season has been the In Season Tournament. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the advertising, the courts, and the tie breakers are the talking points of the league.
Box office games like Indiana’s win over Boston and Milwaukee’s bout against New York in the quarter finals are putting a stamp on the perceived success of the tournament. The “single elimination” framework is injecting a March Madness-like zest and interest from players, coaches, and fans.
Part of that interest is what tournament results may indicate about your team. For example, in a recent The Bill Simmons Podcast where former coach Doc Rivers discussed the IST, he argued that coaches may leverage the unique situation of the tournament to test lineups, roles, etc.
You can see the appeal. If you’re uncomfortable playing 8 guys in the IST, that may indicate a hesitancy to do so when the playoffs role around. Rivers largely discussed such tactics as a reason coaches were gearing up for the event.
I think it may be tipping the hand for how organizations will adapt. How that will be manifested long term is likely to be the trade market.
Trade season officially kicks off in December as it generally holds the first date of several wherein players who signed in free agency may be traded. That only coincided with 30 or so games under the belt—relatively nothing when teams may have just come off a summer wherein their roster underwent a major shakeup.
The trade market really heats up in late January. Now the sample of games is reaching 50+. The trade deadline is 2-3 weeks away and even more players are eligible to be traded.
The In Season Tournament is going to usher in a new level of urgency for the trade market to get started sooner. This is because front offices and coaching staffs will have a perfect petri dish in which to experiment where high stakes games will show them what the team is made of.
If you’re the Sacramento Kings, for example, where you fell at home to the New Orleans Pelicans, you may learn far more from that data point than what the next 20 games of regular season play may tell you.
Or if you’re the Indiana Pacers, who took down the Boston Celtics in the quarterfinals, you may wish to lean into your strengths or address targeted weaknesses because this team with Haliburton at the helm is ready.
Additionally, making a roster alteration sooner may yield better results come playoff time than at the deadline as the assimilation process needn’t be sped up. In fact, teams may benefit from yet another test period over the next 20 or so games before the actual deadline.
Such changes aren’t an overnight occurrence but teams adapt quickly. The league has injected a powerful tool to check a team’s competitive pulse early in the season, something never before seen. Teams will prioritize making the IST and value insights derived from its results.
Short term for the Utah Jazz this season, they may find themselves in trade talks weeks earlier than normal should teams in the IST wish to act on findings therefrom.