The Golden State Warriors will likely be the 1 seed in the Western Conference come playoff time. They will likely use the 8 seed and whoever they face in the second round as warm up rounds before advancing to the Conference Finals and likely defeating whoever they face there. For fringe playoff contenders like the Denver Nuggets, the prospect of making the playoffs, even as the 8 seed, should be exciting. Not because of a likelihood of winning in the playoffs, but because history says that the 8 seed is an important mile marker for many teams.
Below are each of the 8 seeds since the 2000-01 season from the Western Conference, along with their conference position the following year:
|Year||8 seed that year||Result the following year||Change|
|2000-01||Minnesota Timberwolves||5th seed||+3|
|2001-02||Utah Jazz||7th seed||+1|
|2002-03||Phoenix Suns||13th seed||-5|
|2003-04||Denver Nuggets||7th seed||+1|
|2004-05||Memphis Grizzlies||5th seed||+3|
|2005-06||Sacramento Kings||11th seed||-3|
|2006-07||Golden State||9th seed||-1|
|2007-08||Denver Nuggets||2nd seed||+6|
|2008-09||Utah Jazz||5th seed||+3|
|2009-10||Oklahoma City Thunder||4th seed||+4|
|2010-11||Memphis Grizzlies||4th seed||+4|
|2011-12||Utah Jazz||9th seed||-1|
|2012-13||Houston Rockets||4th seed||+4|
|2013-14||Dallas Mavericks||7th seed||+1|
|2014-15||New Orleans Pelicans||12th seed||-4|
10 out of the 15 teams that capture the 8 seed improved their playoff standing the following year. Seven out of the 15 jumped at least to a 5 seed as well. Based on recent history, grabbing the 8 seed would give the Nuggets the inside track at not only participating in the playoffs next season, but about a 50/50 shot to drastically improve their standing.
Many of the “young” teams that found their way to an 8 seed were able to use that experience to propel them further the following year. The Minnesota Timberwolves claimed the 8 seed with a 24-year-old Kevin Garnett and a 23-year-old Wally Szczerbiak heading the charge. After that, they were the 5 seed, the 4 seed, then the 1 seed in successive years. The Oklahoma City Thunder claimed an 8 seed with a 21-year-old Kevin Durant, a 21-year-old Russell Westbrook, a 20-year-old Serge Ibaka, and a 20-year-old James Harden. After that, they were the 4 seed, then the 2 seed, then the 1 seed.
The Nuggets find themselves in a bit of a bind. Do they look to add another piece in the 2017 NBA Draft before going hard at the playoffs next year? Do they gun for the playoffs this year? If the answer to the second answer is yes, is the current roster enough to get them there?
Whatever the case may be, the playoff atmosphere provides a young team with experience that they simply wouldn’t find in the regular season. If given the opportunity, I recommend that the Nuggets pursue the 8 seed. Recent history says they fair well if they do.