Bleacher Report's 2013 NBA Playoffs Consolation Bracket

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2013

Bleacher Report's 2013 NBA Playoffs Consolation Bracket

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    Okay, there's a pretty good chance (read: a 100 percent chance) that this idea never happens. But honestly, how cool would a consolation NBA playoffs be?

    The idea is exactly how it sounds. The 14 teams that lost in the real NBA playoffs would be thrown into an entirely new bracket in which they competed for a secondary prize.

    The prize would be something valuable, making it worthwhile for each organization to participate (more on that later) and from a fan's perspective, it just means more time watching basketball.

    The tournament could be held at any neutral site and would take place just a few days after the NBA Finals matchup was decided. And the best part about it is that the better teams (the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies this year) have a short amount of time to rest and prepare for games whereas teams like the Bucks have been waiting for just about forever.

    So fatigue plays a factor in balancing the competition as well. 

    Sounds awesome, right? Exactly.  

The Incentive

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    It's important to have a tangible incentive for participating in the consolation tournament, otherwise teams would essentially be risking injury for nothing. And finding a good reward is a bit tricky.

    Something like a second-round pick isn't valuable enough to interest anyone in the tournament. But on the flip side, it's important to make sure the prize doesn't ruin the league's competitive balance. Determining draft order from the results or even instituting a second lottery for picks 15 through 28 would be completely unfair for the teams that don't have a great shot at winning the tournament.

    Which means that the most suitable prize would be something like...the 15th pick in the NBA draft. Just hear me out.

    Obviously, the 15th pick can't just be given away since it belongs to an actual team. At least, it does right now.

    What I'm proposing is a rule change in which the 15th pick would always belong to the winner of the consolation tournament. The NBA draft would expand to 61 total picks rather than 60, and everyone below the 15th pick would be bumped down one spot.

    So if say, the New York Knicks won the consolation tournament, they'd receive the 15th pick, the Milwaukee Bucks (slated to pick 15th under the current rules) would be bumped down to 16th, the Boston Celtics would slide to 17th and so on and so forth.

    This kind of thing works because it doesn't really penalize the losers of the tournament (other than knocking them down one draft slot), and it's something that teams would legitimately covet.

    The hardest jump to make in the NBA is the jump from a good team to a great team. A lot of mid-level playoff teams don't have much room to improve outside of free agency and hoping to strike gold with a late draft pick. A near-lottery pick would go a long way towards changing that.

    It's not like the 15th pick has a long history of producing superstars, but it's not impossible (Steve Nash was the 15th overall pick in the 1996 draft), and there are definitely great starters to be found at that point in the draft (Larry Sanders and Kawhi Leonard were two of the last three selections at No. 15).

    Not at all a bad consolation for getting booted from the playoffs.

The Format

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    Alright, now that we've got the basics down, it's time to figure out what the bracket would look like.

    The obvious choice would just be to reseed the East and West based on record and replay the playoffs as if the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat never existed. But that would run the risk of a similar playoffs to what had just occurred, which wouldn't be much fun for anyone.

    So instead, let's ignore the conferences and create new ones based on each team's regular season record. The tiebreaker, however, will still follow standard NBA tiebreaking scenarios. Here's what we're looking at:

    No. 1: Oklahoma City Thunder

    No. 2: Denver Nuggets

    No. 3: Los Angeles Clippers

    No. 4: Memphis Grizzlies

    No. 5: New York Knicks

    No. 6: Indiana Pacers

    No. 7: Brooklyn Nets

    No. 8: Golden State Warriors

    No. 9: Chicago Bulls

    No. 10: Los Angeles Lakers

    No. 11: Houston Rockets

    No. 12 Atlanta Hawks

    No. 13: Boston Celtics

    No. 14: Milwaukee Bucks

    From there, it's easiest to simply pick in an alternating fashion to create our new conferences (putting No's. 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. together) and giving the top seed in each conference a first-round bye to account for a 14-team playoff. Here's how it would shake out this year:

    Conference A

    No. 1: Oklahoma City Thunder (Bye)

    No. 2: Los Angeles Clippers

    No. 3: New York Knicks

    No. 4: Brooklyn Nets

    No. 5: Chicago Bulls

    No. 6: Houston Rockets

    No. 7: Boston Celtics

    Conference B

    No. 1: Denver Nuggets (Bye)

    No. 2: Memphis Grizzlies

    No. 3: Indiana Pacers

    No. 4: Golden State Warriors

    No. 5: Los Angeles Lakers

    No. 6 Atlanta Hawks

    No. 7: Milwaukee Bucks

    Pretty cool, right? The final thing to consider is the game count. Doing more seven-game series' would be far too much, so we'll shorten each series to a best of three with the consolation finals being a best of five.

    Now that the logistics are all taken care of, let's do a quick rundown of what this year's consolation tournament might look like.

Conference A: First Round

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    Los Angeles Clippers vs. Boston Celtics

    The Celtics can play anyone tough, but it's hard to imagine them getting past the Clippers.

    One of Boston's biggest weaknesses is its lack of a true point guard—there were times against the New York Knicks where the Celts struggled to even bring the ball past half court—and that's something that Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe can absolutely feast on in this series.

    The Clippers are also significantly more athletic in the frontcourt (assuming that then-coach Vinny Del Negro plays DeAndre Jordan more than Lamar Odom, which can't really be counted on), and after watching Avery Bradley get torched by Raymond Felton in the playoffs, Boston doesn't seem to have anyone to keep Chris Paul in check.

    The Celtics have a few things going for them—they still play great defense, and Paul Pierce and Jeff Green can both go off against any Clippers wing not named Matt Barnes. But it's tough to win any series when the other squad has the best two players. Even if they do have Del Negro coaching them.

    Clippers in 2

     

    New York Knicks vs. Houston Rockets

    Now this is an intriguing matchup. Honestly, these teams are almost total mirrors of each other. They both jack up a ton of threes, love to play small and live in the pick-and-roll.

    Regardless of who wins, this would be the most fun series of the first round. But in this case, the Rockets have to be favored. (Don't freak out, Knicks fans, you'll get through this.)

    The problem with the Knicks is that three of their players—J.R. Smith, Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler—were either awful or invisible in the playoffs. Are we really supposed to expect them to make a complete 180 just a short time afterwards?

    Of the three, Smith probably has the best chance of turning it around—the Rockets have no elite wing defenders, and so long as he's aggressive, he'll get his. It's Chandler who's the biggest concern.

    The Knicks center averaged just six points and six rebounds per game against the Indiana Pacers, was never active in the pick-and-roll and was relatively negligible defensively as well. Against a team that gets to the rim as often as the Rockets (third in the league in attempts from less than five feet via NBA.com), that's a huge problem.

    Throw in the fact that Houston handily won both matchups in the regular season, and the Knicks are ripe to be upset.

    Rockets in 3

     

    Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls

    So much for avoiding a repeat playoff series. You could make the case for the Nets since the Bulls might be without Luol Deng, but considering the way the Bulls fought against the Miami Heat and how good Jimmy Butler looked in Deng's absence, the Bulls still take it.

    Bulls in 3

Conference B: First Round

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    Memphis Grizzlies vs. Milwaukee Bucks

    This is not at all a good look for the Bucks. Milwaukee generates most of its points by throwing its score-first guards (Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis) into pick-and-rolls and having them create for themselves and others.

    The problem here is that Memphis has two elite perimeter defenders (including quite possibly the best in Tony Allen) and can use whoever is assigned to Milwaukee's punch-less wings to disrupt everything the Bucks try to do offensively.

    Milwaukee put up an anemic 91.5 offensive rating (per NBA.com) against the Miami Heat for that very reason, and things would only get worse against the Grizzlies. And while Larry Sanders is potent enough inside to limit Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph for a bit, asking him to prop up the Milwaukee defense for an entire series is too much.

    Grizzlies in 2

     

    Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks

    Pretty obvious.

    Pacers in 3

     

    Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Lakers

    There are a few bright spots in this matchup for the Lakers. Dwight Howard can essentially do what he wants when Andrew Bogut isn't on the floor, and Pau Gasol was playing some great basketball by the end of the season.

    But without Kobe Bryant—and with the litany of injuries the Lakers were facing by the end of their series against the San Antonio Spurs—they don't have it in them to take on the Warriors.

    The Lakers were torched at the point guard position for the entire season (they were a minus-five in PER at the point via 82games.com), and that spells trouble against a Warriors team that seemed to figure out how best to use Stephen Curry in the middle of the postseason.

    The Spurs were eventually able to slow down Curry with lengthy defenders like Danny Green and by limiting him in the pick-and-roll. Not only are the Lakers lacking a wing stopper, they're a mess on defense in general. A banged-up Los Angeles roster doesn't have a real shot in this series.

    Warriors in 2

Conference A: Second Round

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    Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets

    We saw four games of what this series would look like without Russell Westbrook, and it's a close one.

    The two teams split those four games, and though the Thunder came out with the series win, they only outscored the Rockets by less than two points per 100 possessions without Westbrook (per NBA.com). That's about as close as it gets.

    The Rockets—not known as a defensive team—were able to clamp down on the Thunder's basic offensive sets, and on the other end they blitzed OKC to the tune of a whopping 13 threes per game (via NBA.com). But with that being said, the Thunder took the series (and take it again in the consolation tournament) because Kevin Durant is just that good.

    With Westbrook out, Durant nearly averaged 32 points, 10 rebounds and six assists per game, numbers only two players ever, LeBron James and Oscar Robertson, have approached in the playoffs (per Basketball-Reference). And five of those games were against a murderous Memphis Grizzlies defense that was literally sending three or four guys at Durant at a time.

    The Rockets just can't stop Durant—not even over the course of a three-game series. He's too good, even despite OKC's rather simple sets.

    Thunder in 3

     

    Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles Clippers

    This one's closer than you might think, but the Bulls just don't have the weapons to keep up.

    The Bulls can generally score against mediocre defenses thanks to their sharp passing, but the Clippers smothered them in the regular season, holding them to an offensive rating of just 91.4 (per NBA.com). And on the flip side, the Clippers were able to score at a decent clip thanks to transition opportunities and general success in isolation (per Synergy Sports Technology).

    Chicago proved it can beat more talented teams when it took out the Brooklyn Nets. But Deron Williams is no Chris Paul, Blake Griffin has historically murdered the Bulls (averaging 29 points, 12 rebounds and four assists against them for his career via Basketball-Reference), and it took an all-time scoring outburst from Nate Robinson for Chicago to top Brooklyn.

    That's a lot of stuff going against the Bulls.

    You can never count Chicago out of a series because of its top-notch defense, and because the team just seems to want it more. But the Clippers are a deeper, more talented team, and it would take something special to completely overcome that.

    Clippers in 3

Conference B: Second Round

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    Denver Nuggets vs. Indiana Pacers

    The Nuggets can't score in the half court (not without Danilo Gallinari, anyways), and that's essentially a death knell against a team like the Pacers.

    All year, the Nuggets relied on getting out in transition and getting easy shots at the rim. But stuff like that rarely works against the Pacers, who were tops in the league at limiting points in transition and points in the paint (per NBA.com).

    That forces Denver to score a fair amount of its points in the half court, which isn't its strong suit. To make matters worse, the Nuggets are one of the league's worst three-point shooting teams and can't stretch the floor against a defense like the Pacers.

    The Nuggets instead thrive on their ability to get to the rim, which is a problem against a Pacers squad that held opponents to just 52 percent shooting from within five feet, tops in the league (per NBA.com).

    With Danilo Gallinari healthy and all the Nuggets' smallball lineups fully intact, Denver would have a decent shot in this series. But without Gallinari, Denver just doesn't have the offense to keep up with an Indiana squad that scored at near a top-ten rate in the second half of the season (per NBA.com).

    Pacers in 2

     

    Memphis Grizzlies vs. Golden State Warriors

    This matchup is really problematic for the Warriors, who lost all three regular season games against the Grizzlies.

    The Warriors won in the playoffs by going small a ton, letting Stephen Curry launch tons of threes out of the pick-and-roll and trusting Andrew Bogut to protect the rim and clean up any mistakes on the defensive end. And that worked pretty well. But not against Memphis.

    Offensively, Memphis can really punish the Warriors when they go small. Harrison Barnes has no shot at defending Zach Randolph down low, and though Draymond Green has a better chance, playing him or going bigger with Carl Landry too much would really handicap the Golden State offense.

    On the other end, you really couldn't think of a better guy to throw at Stephen Curry than Tony Allen. Allen, when recently asked by Grantland's Zach Lowe how he fights through screens, replied, “You just have to do it,” and then proceeded to do just that against Kevin Durant.

    The Warriors' offense was at its best when Curry was free to fire coming off of picks, and Allen could stop him from doing that (similar to the way Danny Green did).

    The Warriors obviously have other ways to attack the Grizzlies. Harrison Barnes could do a lot of damage if he can hit threes and keep Randolph on the perimeter, and Golden State's a smart enough passing team to exploit some holes in the Memphis defense.

    However, only the Indiana Pacers were better than Memphis at preventing the longball this season (per NBA.com), and Golden State's best lineups give up a ton defensively in this series. That'll make it too tough on the Warriors.

    Grizzlies in 3

Conference Finals

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    Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

    As much as I went on about Kevin Durant's excellence earlier, it's hard to picture him carrying the Thunder over the Clippers, who once again get the benefit of facing a banged-up team.

    This is a series in which the Thunder badly miss Russell Westbrook—though probably not for the reason you'd think. Westbrook has shot very poorly against the Clippers over the course of his career (per Basketball-Reference), but his defense against Chris Paul has generally been outstanding, particularly this season.

    Westbrook's always seemed to take defending Paul as a personal challenge, and in Paul's two games against OKC this season, he shot just 29 percent from the field, including 11 percent from three (per Basketball-Reference).

    The chances of Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha doing the same to Paul are pretty slim. This really hurts the Thunder, especially since Blake Griffin usually proves to be handful down low, particularly against Serge Ibaka (who he fools with pump fakes) and Kendrick Perkins (who he just blows by).

    Matt Barnes is a pesky defender who could take up the challenge of guarding Durant (though the Clippers will no doubt send constant help), and with Westbrook gone, the Clippers' depth is well beyond OKC's.

    The Thunder could do some damage if they go small and Sefolosha, Kevin Martin and Derek Fisher are hitting from outside, but it'd take a mammoth Durant performance to pull off a series win.

    Clippers in 3

     

    Memphis Grizzlies vs. Indiana Pacers

    The two best defenses in the league squaring off in a series? Sounds like a blast.

    Both the Pacers and Grizzlies play the same way. They grind out every game, pound the ball down low and suffocate opponents defensively thanks to an elite big man and great wing stoppers. To be honest, this one could go either way. It's as close to 50/50 as it gets.

    But the Pacers have a slight edge. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince either can't or won't shoot. That's Indiana's advantage.

    Allen shot just 13 percent from three this season and Prince, though he shot 37 percent, took barely a single three per game. Neither player commands much respect from defenses and as a result, their men often leave them and act as free safeties for the defense (especially Allen's man). You could see it all through the postseason, and it crippled the Memphis offense.

    That's not something that can be done against the Pacers' wings, who are all at least willing to shoot. And the problem for Memphis is that Allen is such a key cog to its defense that it hurts to take him out even for a shooter like Quincy Pondexter.

    It's a small edge, but a really important one, especially since Allen figures to be the best player to throw at Paul George. In a series that could go either way, that could be what tips the scales.

    Pacers in 3

Consolation Tournament Finals: Indiana Pacers vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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    It's in this series that the Los Angeles Clippers' whacky defensive schemes and juggling of DeAndre Jordan and Lamar Odom will finally come back to haunt them.

    It's a pick-your-poison type of situation for the Clippers. Odom is by far the better defender in the Clippers' scheme, which calls for big men to hedge hard on pick-and-rolls. But at the same time, Odom doesn't stand a chance against the Indiana Pacers' bigs defensively, especially Roy Hibbert.

    On the other hand, put Jordan in and he'll be eaten alive by Paul George pick-and-rolls. So what to do? There's no right answer.

    Obviously, it's not going to be a cakewalk for the Pacers. The Clippers are the deeper team (even Frank Vogel looks terrified every time D.J. Augustin checks into a game), and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are capable of putting the team on their back. It's more than likely a very close series.

    But the Pacers have a ton of wing defenders to throw at Paul, and Hibbert and George are playing the best basketball of their careers. It was (probably) a fun run for the Clippers, but it ends in the consolation finals.

    Pacers in 5

Conclusion

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    So that's it. The Indiana Pacers win the consolation championship, bragging rights for eternity and the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Not a bad haul after a tough Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat.

    And who knows, maybe that pick turns out to be the missing piece to take the Pacers past the Heat and into the real Finals. That's the kind of stuff that would make a consolation tournament so fun. It's about time for David Stern to get on this.