NBA League Pass Calculator

October 19 2014

The 2014-2015 NBA season is about to begin and I’m in the process of choosing my five league pass teams. I’ve been doing some thinking on how to optimize the league pass experience and I thought I’d share my thinking.

The NBA offers two pricing packages for its broadband league pass service, which is online streaming for live NBA games and full-game replays afterwards. For $199, you get access to games for all 30 NBA teams. For $149, you choose five teams and get access to all the games for those five teams. I’m happy paying less for the latter option as even five teams is more than enough to keep me busy.

The interesting thing about choosing five teams is that the NBA plays an unbalanced schedule, both for team matchups and for scheduling. Every western conference team plays every eastern conference team twice. Every team plays its divisional opponents four times. Those are the hard and set rules. The unbalanced part comes in with non-divisional, same-conference opponents. For instance, Minnesota plays the Los Angeles Lakers four times this season but only play the Los Angeles Clippers three times. As far as I know, there’s no rule here - just that each team will play those non-divisional, same-conference opponents at least three times but not more than four times.

The timing of the games is also unbalanced. Traditionally, Wednesday and Friday nights are the heavy days for the NBA, where upwards of fourteen games can take place (Friday 2/27/2015 and Wednesday 4/15/2015 are those heavy nights this season). In contrast, Thursday night is usually reserved for marquee matchups on TNT, where usually just two games are on. What this means is if you choose five non-glamour teams, you might have a steady diet of Thursdays where there’s no basketball from league pass.

There are some other important restrictions to league pass. First of all, any game that is broadcast on national TV cannot be streamed live. This is not a big deal for me, as I rarely will watch games live anyway (I prefer to zip through the commercial wait times after the fact). However, for those people that have purchased cable TV (which I haven’t), league pass can seem redundant if you can just watch the game on TV (or DVR it). That’s why it’s important to know how many national TV games your five teams play.

League pass also blacks out any game that is considered local to you. I live in Seattle, which is "local" to the Portland market ("local" forever in quotes because you know why). My experience last year was that most Blazers game I wasn’t able to watch at all, even the recorded replays. Luckily for me, my favorite team (Minnesota Timberwolves) is not my "local" team (Portland Trail Blazers).

Ok, so with all that in mind, how do you choose five teams that will maximize the amount of games you get access to, maximize the amount of days where games are on, and (optionally) minimize the amount of national TV games?

On maximizing the amount of games, first we should figure out what range we’re working with.

The minimum amount of games would occur when you choose five teams that are all in the same division. The number of games you get for this situation is 370: the total possible games played (82 * 5 = 410) minus the head-to-head matchups between your five teams (5 * 4 * 2 = 40).

The maximum amount of games would occur when you choose three teams from one conference and two teams from the other conference. They must all be from different divisions. And, the teams must be chosen such that the number of matchups they have with their intra-conference matchups is only three, not four. One example of this is Minnesota, Dallas, Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. With this combination, you get access to 386 games.

So, the range between minimum to maximum is 16 games, from 370 to 386.

It’s too difficult to list out every possible combination of five-team choices (using the n choose k formula, 30 choose 5 gets us 142,506 possible combinations). So, to make it easy to see the impact of choosing any five teams, I built a simple Excel model. Thanks to for their easily downloadable CSV of the NBA schedule! I also used ESPN’s schedule to find the national TV games.

These are the five league pass teams I'm leaning toward choosing...

In addition to showing how many games you get access to, the Excel model also calculates how many days you get at least one game and how many national TV games your five teams take part in.

You can download the Excel file here:

Give the thing a try. I hope this will help the process for those that are still choosing teams.

If I had more time, I would’ve written a web app for this instead of Excel. I also would’ve simulated all 142,506 possible combinations to figure out what the maximum number of days actually is for a five-team combination. Projects for next year, I guess :-).

As for my own five teams, I’m leaning toward these teams: Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Chicago Bulls. Minnesota I’m choosing because that’s my default favorite team (I grew up in Minnesota and feel obliged to stay loyal to them…plus, they have Ricky!). Cleveland I’m choosing for obvious reasons: LeBron, Kevin Love, super team, LeBron again. The Clippers play an entertaining style and look like they could have a “put all the pieces together” season. New Orleans is purely a pick for Anthony Davis: I don’t really know his game, but everyone generally agree’s he’s the next great player, so I’d like to educate myself. Finally, I’m undecided on the last team but leaning Chicago. I found out last year that it’s better to bias toward good teams, as it means you end up watching better basketball. Chicago is truly intriguing, with their huge and talented frontline (Noah, Gasol, Gibson, Mirotic) and the (hopefully) return of Derrick Rose.

Topics: Basketball

comments powered by Disqus