The National Basketball Association (NBA) is the premiere Basketball league in the world, and one of the biggest attractions in American sports. Here’s the basics of how it all works
Conference and Divisions
There are thirty teams in the NBA, divided into two conferences; the Western conference and the Eastern conference. The fifteen teams in each conference are further divided into three divisions; Northwest division, Pacific division and South-West division in the Western conference, and Atlantic division, Central division and Southeast Division in the Eastern conference.
The teams are divided into their conferences and divisions based on their geographical location. Each team plays four games (two home, two away) against every team in its division and two games (one home, one away) against every team in the other conference.
Each team will play 82 games during the regular-season, with the purpose of qualifying for the end-of-season play-offs; which ultimately decide the champion for that year. Each team vie to become champions of their division, and sixteen teams qualify for the play-offs, eight from each conference, with a team’s record throughout the regular-season determining their play-off seeding.
The top four seeds in each conference are made up of the three division winners and the team with the next best regular-season record. The remaining four seeds in each conference are determined simply by regular-season records.
The play-offs then become a process of elimination, with the first seed in a conference playing against the eight seed in the same conference, the second seed playing against the seventh seed, the third seed playing against the sixth seed and the fourth seed playing against the fifth seed.
These match-ups take place via a best-of-seven game series, with the first two games being played at the higher seed’s home stadium, the second two games being played at the lower seed’s stadium, the fifth and sixth games played alternately between stadium’s and if there is a seventh game, it is played at the higher seed’s stadium, as reward for their better regular season record.
This takes place in each conference at the same time, and as a team progresses through a series, the process is repeated until there is one winner from the Western conference and one winner from the Eastern conference. These two teams then play a best-of-seven final series to determine who will become the NBA champions of that season.
Once a champion has been decided, the NBA enters the off-season. The first stage in an off-season occurs with the opening of free-agency. If a player’s contract with a team has run out, and that player chooses not to re-sign a new contract, they become a ‘free-agent’; effectively meaning he is available to the highest bidder. Teams can offer a free-agent a contract, and the power lies with that player to choose who to sign with. Players without a team will remain on the free-agency list, available to sign by NBA teams throughout the off-season and into the new season.
Each year, there is an NBA draft; this is the process in which NBA teams can acquire new, young talent. Player’s that have left college in the US, and players from around the world, can declare themselves for the draft.
These players have their basketball careers to date analysed, and go through interviews and structured work-outs before teams take it in turns to select which player they wish to pick. The order in which teams can select players, works in reverse order of the regular-season records. Meaning the team with the worst record for that season, gets the first pick in the draft and so on and so on.
(This is put simply, teams can trade their picks to another team and so the order is not always in sync with the last season’s standings.)
The draft has two rounds, with 30 players selected in each round. All players who aren’t drafted, become free-agents and have to look at other ways to get an opportunity.
The NBA D-League
One way players who aren’t drafted can get an opportunity is through the D-League. This is a league in which NBA teams put out an affiliate team, who all compete in the same way as the NBA. Players who play for a D-League team can be signed by an NBA team during the season and often teams will send players to the D-League to gain some playing experience. You can also find veteran players who are without a team, playing in the D-League to try and prove that they deserve another shot.
At the mid-point in a season, the NBA takes part in an All-Star weekend. This is a weekend in which a number of events take place to put on a show for the fans. Events include; a Skills competition in which NBA players compete around a course, a three-point shooting competition in which an invited number of players compete to shoot the most three-pointers in a set time, a slam-dunk competition in which an invited group of players compete with dunks that are judged by a panel, a game which includes a set of first and second year players selected for their performance in the first half of the season;
(This format has been tweaked throughout the years and currently matches up a team of American first and second year players, against a ‘rest of the world’ team of first and second year players.)
The main event sees an Eastern Conference All-Star team go up against a Western Conference All-Star team, with the players from each team voted for by the fans and selected by coaches from the league.
The Summer League
As part of the pre-season preparations, teams will compete in a summer league before the new season starts. This is a chance for teams to include their latest draft additions and any young players they might want to sign that weren’t selected in the draft, and see how they react in a competitive environment. It would be unusual to see any established names compete in the summer league but it is a good chance to see who might be a good addition for a team.