by Andrew Fossett (@heyfossett)
The NNFBA (National Non-Finalist Basketball Association), is a 28-team league that doesn’t include the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors.
Well, only two months until the NBA declares a champion for the 2016-2017 season. That's the meaning behind the start of the most inefficient playoff system in professional sports. The structure already loses value when you realize that more teams make the NBA playoffs than miss them. There are certainly good games and exciting matchups, but their significance suffers. For example, a Western Conference first round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets features arguably the top two candidates for MVP. As exciting as it is to see Russell Westbrook and James Harden go against each other, is there any doubt that both teams would be annihilated in a series against the Warriors? Those two combined for a 1-7 record against Golden State during the regular season and neither MVP-hopeful has the supporting cast necessary to change things in the playoffs.
This is why the NNFBA exists. The two best matches for the NBA's defending conference champions have already been determined. So much time could be saved. Players could have longer careers. A champion could be declared before June. Baseball fans would be less irritated.
At the end of the NNFBA season, only six teams failed to achieve a single victory. Between off days and inconsistent play, the Cavaliers were heavily involved in the charitable giving that allowed teams to boost their status in these power rankings. The Warriors were more stingy, especially towards the end of the season when they won 15 out of 16. Don't be fooled by Cleveland's 2nd-seed birth into this year's playoffs. Most likely, we'll be seeing round three of LeBron James versus Steph Curry. Two NNFBA teams are best suited to thwart destiny. One is a lot less obvious than the other.
Let's start with the Spurs.
San Antonio is the most Patriot-like NBA team. Arguably, they're better off because they've already transitioned from one era to another between Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard. A combination of top-quality talent and unsurpassed depth makes the Spurs the most challenging matchup for either the Cavs or the Warriors. Experience shouldn't be forgotten, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are still around and Pau Gasol has a couple rings of his own. Leonard has obviously increased his scoring capabilities, averaging 25.5 points per game this past season, but it's his defensive abilities that will be paramount to the Spurs' success against Golden State as he'll be facing Kevin Durant once again. LaMarcus Aldridge gives the Spurs have an advantage in the post, and their shooters can at least combat Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on the perimeter. With the NBA's best roster and with its best coach, Greg Popovich, the Spurs are obviously the single greatest threat to the Warriors.
In the east, the Chicago Bulls are a less obvious choice.
It's been a dramatic season for Chicago, especially considering they needed the last day of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. A lot of time was wasted when Fred Hoiberg decided to put his point guards on a merry-go-round. As it turns out, Rajon Rondo actually is their best one. Figuring that out and getting Dwyane Wade back from injury salvaged their postseason hopes. A lack of depth makes it necessary for the Bulls to put their best foot forward every night in order to stand a chance. Still, the starting lineup absolutely has what it takes to challenge the Cavaliers. As the playoffs proceed, Wade's presence will become more and more important to help the Bulls win without needing a monster game from Jimmy Butler. Bobby Portis is becoming a big piece of the team's success, even though he's temporarily lost a starting job to Nikola Mirotic. One of those two needs to contribute on a nightly basis in order to counter Kevin Love. Robin Lopez's toughness on the interior will be important and he'll actually have a more preferable matchup against Tristan Thompson than he does currently against Al Horford of the Boston Celtics. One thing the Bulls can't abide is the Cavaliers three-point shooting. If Cleveland gets hot beyond the arc, Chicago doesn't stand a chance. It's a good thing the Bulls were 6th in the league in opponents' 3-point percentage.
Take a final look at the NNFBA rankings to see who came close to representing a challenge.
Final Rankings | 2016-2017 Season
- San Antonio Spurs (4-1) | 2-0 vs CLE | 2-1 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = -14.2
- Chicago Bulls (5-1) | 4-0 vs CLE | 1-1 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = -3.0
- Memphis Grizzlies (3-3) | 1-1 vs CLE | 2-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = -1
- Miami Heat (4-2) | 3-1 vs CLE | 1-1 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 0
- Atlanta Hawks (3-3) | 3-1 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 0
- Toronto Raptors (1-5) | 1-3 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 2
- Denver Nuggets (2-3) | 1-1 vs CLE | 1-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 2.6
- Washington Wizards (2-3) | 1-2 vs CLE | 1-1 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 4.8
- Houston Rockets (2-4) | 1-1 vs CLE | 1-3 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 5.2
- Boston Celtics (2-4) | 1-3 vs CLE | 1-1 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 5.7
- Milwaukee Bucks (1-5) | 1-3 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 5.8
- Los Angeles Clippers (2-4) | 2-0 vs CLE | 0-4 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 6.2
- Utah Jazz (2-3) | 1-1 vs CLE | 1-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 6.2
- New Orleans Pelicans (1-5) | 1-1 vs CLE | 0-4 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 8.7
- Sacramento Kings (2-4) | 1-1 vs CLE | 1-3 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 8.8
- Detroit Pistons (2-4) | 2-2 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 11
- Minnesota Timberwolves (1-5) | 0-2 vs CLE | 1-3 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 11.7
- Portland Trail Blazers (1-5) | 1-1 vs CLE | 0-4 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 11.7
- Los Angeles Lakers (1-5) | 0-2 vs CLE | 1-3 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 13
- Oklahoma City Thunder (1-5) | 1-1 vs CLE| 0-4 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 14.3
- Indiana Pacers (1-5) | 1-3 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 15.3
- Dallas Mavericks (1-4) | 1-1 vs CLE | 0-3 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 17.2
- Philadelphia 76ers (0-5) | 0-3 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 7
- Charlotte Hornets (0-6) | 0-4 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 10.3
- Phoenix Suns (0-6) | 0-2 vs CLE | 0-4 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 12.7
- Brooklyn Nets (0-5) | 0-3 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 13.8
- New York Knicks (0-6) | 0-4 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 17.2
- Orlando Magic (0-5) | 0-3 vs CLE | 0-2 vs GS | AVG Margin of Defeat = 17.6
I deserve praise for making predictions days in advance of spreads being determined or player availability being confirmed.
Final Record (ATS): 26-17
"LAST WEEK" (4/3):
Cleveland Cavaliers versus:
Orlando Magic | Margin of Defeat = 10 (L)
@ Boston Celtics | Margin of Defeat = 1 (W)
Atlanta Hawks | Margin of Defeat = 5 (W)
@ Atlanta Hawks | Margin of Defeat = 4 (W)
Golden State Warriors versus:
Minnesota Timberwolves | Margin of Defeat = 6 (L)
@ Phoenix Suns | Margin of Defeat = 13 (W)
New Orleans Pelicans | Margin of Defeat = 4 (L)