“NBA Countdown”: Creating a New Scoring System for the League

Despite spending my younger years as an avid fan of the NBA, over the last decade my interest in the league’s product has waned, having been replaced by basketball’s college ranks. Now, as the Association embarks a new season, I’ve found myself pondering what happened to my fandom.

To get remedial for a moment, the object of basketball is to score more points than the opponent before time expires. In the modern NBA, the players are so offensively skilled and lightning quick that team possessions (Pace) and points (PTS) have rapidly increased, creating an end result where final scores that used to require multiple overtimes to achieve are now the norm in regulation.

Points and Pace averages are steadily trending higher.

In short, scoring the ball in the NBA isn’t noteworthy anymore. It literally happens all the time. For some, this high-octane game is exactly why they tune in; for me, the constant scoring gets dull after a while.

In my eyes, in a league where defense was already optional, a vicious cycle has emerged: the faster the game gets, the less any one possession matters on the outcome of the game, which further depletes motivation to make stops, and drives up pace and points even more.

Now to be fair, the college ranks aren’t immune from this scoring inflation era, but it’s counter-acted by the players being, on average, less offensively skilled, and, on average, more beholden to running a half-court offense, which consumes more of the game clock and thereby limits the number of possessions. As a result of fewer total possessions, each one assumes a greater importance in the outcome of the game, allowing for a defensive stop to sometimes feels as good as a made basket. Simply put, I prefer this more balanced version of the game.

Now obviously I’m far from the first person to subjectively identify a problem in the NBA, but what differentiates me is that I’m going the extra mile and following it up with a solution. So, without further ado, here’s my fix for the NBA’s runaway scoring issue:

Instead of the two opposing teams racing to an unspecified highest score, reconfigure the game so that both sides start with the same X number of points (say, 120), and then have them race down to 0 to determine the winner.

The contest would be played without a game clock (but with a shot clock), and quarter and halftime breaks would occur when key numbers are crossed. For example, in the 120-point model, the first quarter break would take place when the leading team’s score hits 90 points, and the following quarter breaks would continue every 30 points until a team reached 0 and won the game.

I’ll pause here for a moment to address a question I can already hear coming: It seems unnecessarily complicated to start the two teams with X number of points and have them play the game down to 0 when they could just as easily start at 0 and play the game up to a target score, which is more consistent with how basketball is played now. Rest assured, there’s a very good reason for choosing this format, and it’s as follows: I’ve already landed on NBA Countdown as the name for this variant of the game, and the scoring system needs to reflect the title’s implication or else people will be confused. Okay, unpause.

As for how the lines are drawn on the court, as well as the 1, 2, and 3-point shot values, it’s fine to leave everything as is. That being said, I might support further radical change with both of these topics: there’s merit to the idea of re-drawing certain areas to better fit the size and skill level of professionals, and altering the scoring system and adding a 4-point shot is something to at least consider.

Ultimately, my supposition is that by shifting professional basketball into a game that’s played with a target number as opposed to a game clock, a sense of urgency and focus would become inherent in each possession, keeping players and fans more deeply engaged with the game.

It’s appropriate to point out that there is already precedent for playing untimed basketball using target scores, as The Basketball Tournament (TBT) has demonstrated with its Elam Ending, which essentially works as follows: the game is played conventionally until the first whistle with under four minutes remaining, at which point the game clock is turned off and 8 points are added to the score of the team in the lead, creating a game-winning target number that both teams are aiming to hit, instead of playing the game out until the buzzer sounds. When play then resumes, it’s untimed (but with a shot clock), and it ends when one team lands on or crosses the newly established target score and wins the game.

The most obvious benefits of the Elam Ending are that it guarantees the game concludes on a made basket, and it disincentives intentional fouling down the stretch in favor of playing good defense, two things that would also feature in NBA Countdown, and two things that would improve the NBA product.

Though the NBA Countdown concept needs to be fleshed out s’more, in a world with attention spans shrinking and options for content growing, a goal-oriented game may just be the pivot that preserves the future of the league. As for anyone who wants to kick around the idea, my inbox is open, and, between you and me, I could probably be talked into NBA Count Up.

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