What is the NBA Cup? Format, schedule and other FAQS
The 2023-24 NBA season tips off in just over a month and there will be one major change to this year’s regular season schedule with the introduction of the NBA Cup.
The league’s inaugural in-season tournament involving all 30 teams gets started on Nov. 3 and runs as part of the regular-season schedule until a champion is crowned in Las Vegas on Dec. 9. The NBA is the first of the major men’s professional North American sports leagues in the modern era to enact an in-season tournament.
As anticipation builds toward training camps and the start of the pre-season on Oct. 5, here is a guide to help you make sense of what the NBA Cup is, why it’s happening, and how it will work.
Why is the NBA Cup happening?
According to ESPN, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has long been interested in the concept of running a tournament concurrent to the regular season, similar to many European soccer leagues.
The league hopes that introducing an in-season tournament will bring extra revenue and help increased fan interest in what is widely regarded as the most uninteresting part of the league’s schedule once the buzz of opening night fades.
The league says the tournament “will provide players and teams with another competition to win, engage fans in a new way and drive additional interest in the early portion” of the regular season.
How does the NBA Cup work?
Each of the league’s 30 teams will play four group-stage games that are also part of the NBA’s regular season. Teams will be split into six five-team groups against opponents from their conference. Groups are arranged based on teams’ records during the 2022-23 season.
Round-robin play will take place on Tuesdays and Fridays throughout November and consists of a team playing each squad in their group once, with two of the games coming on the road and two at home.
Eight teams will advance to the knockout round: the six group winners and two wild cards (the team in each conference with the best group stage record that did not win their group). The single elimination knockout round will then determine the NBA Cup champion, beginning with the quarter-finals (Monday Dec. 4, Tuesday Dec. 5), semifinals (Thursday Dec. 7) and championship (Saturday Dec. 9).
The group stage and quarter-finals will take place in NBA team markets, while the semis and championship will go from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Click here for the full NBA Cup Schedule.
How does this affect the regular-season schedule?
All 30 teams will still play 82 regular-season games, regardless of how far they advance in the NBA Cup.
Currently, each team has 80 regular-season games on their schedule, including tournament group play. Teams that do not advance to the knockout round will have two games added to the end of their 80-game schedules, while teams that advance will play their full regular-season schedule in the span of tournament play and will not have games added. The East and West teams that lose in the quarter-finals will play each other on Dec. 7 to round out their 82-game slate.
The championship game does not count toward a team’s regular-season schedule, nor are players’ individual stats applied to their regular-season stats. All other player stats from every game except the championship will count toward a player’s regular-season numbers.
What is the incentive for teams to take this seriously?
Any new competition raises the all-important question for fans and players alike: Why is this important?
By making the tournament games part of the regular-season schedule, there is just as much incentive for teams to win games as there is in any regular-season game.
But there are also financial incentives as the players on the winning NBA Cup team will each receive $500,000. The runners-up will get $200,000, the semifinalists $100,000 and quarter-finalists $50,000 apiece. The league will also award a tournament Most Valuable Player Award and nominate an all-tournament team.
ESPN reported that while the league did consider granting an automatic playoff berth to the in-season tournament champion, ultimately it decided against that. Only wins and losses tallied during tournament play will count toward playoff qualification.
What group are the Raptors in?
The Toronto Raptors were drawn into Group C alongside the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic.
The Raptors finished 41-41 last season and head into 2023-24 with a different after the hiring of new head coach Darko Rajakovic. The Raptors struggled against their group opponents last regular season, going 0-4 against both the Celtics and Nets, 2-2 against the Magic and 2-1 against the Bulls, though they did fall to Chicago in the play-in game.
The Raptors will open their regular-season schedule on Oct. 25 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and play their first NBA Cup game on Friday, Nov. 17 against Boston.
Here is Toronto’s group stage schedule:
Nov. 17: Boston vs. Toronto
Nov. 21: Toronto vs. Orlando
Nov. 24: Chicago vs. Toronto
Nov. 28: Toronto vs. Brooklyn
Here are all the groups:
Group A: Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons
Group B: Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets
Group C: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic
Group D: Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers
Group E: Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets
Group F: Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs
A full broadcast schedule will be announced soon.