Fixing the NBA Draft Lottery Via a History Lesson

I know not everyone on CH lives in Minnesota, but it's the 4th of July here - and we celebrate our nation's independence. It was a poigniant touch by EiM to entitle the 4th of July front page article "Timberwolves Notes: Barnes on Radar, Barea Back to Dallas?" to boost the awareness of our countries infantile resistance and eventual victory over British tyranny at the Alamo.

Obviously this holiday stirs up some strong emotions. This year these emotions seem to have manifested themselves in a similar revolutionary outcry against the status quo from a series of posts railing against the current NBA Lottery system in place. This is the kind of patriotic spirit that gave the Pilgrims, led by Christopher Columbus the strength to fight the British and win against nearly insurmountable odds.

Think about that for a second - would you sign up to fight a Redcoat army that had 19 soldiers for every Pilgrim warrior? The victory was so impressive that in addition to Independence Day, President Jimmy Carter declared a SECOND holiday on the 6th month anniversary of the USA's victory, Thanksgiving.

But enough glorifying Jimmy Carter.

Let's move on to the proverbial greasy dark meat in the cornucopia of goodness that is the NBA Draft Lottery. The current system rewards "Tanking" to the degree that it has become a viable strategy toward NBA future success.

When a team realizes that it has no immediate prospects for winning the title, the GM may elect to make a series of moves that weakens the roster so badly that the team has virtually no chance to win. In today's NBA, the cunning GM may do things like sign Ryan Hollins, Ramon Sessions, Sasha Pavlovic, Jason Hart, Alonzo Gee, Devin Green, Brian Cardinal, Greg Stiemsma, Anthony Tolliver, Luke Ridnour, Maurice Ager, Jason Hart, Sundiata Gaines, Bonzi Wells, Brandon Roy, Greg Stiemsma, Louis Amundson, Will Conroy, Jermaine Taylor, Mike Harris, Chris Johnson, Josh Howard, Lazar Hayward and Mickael Gelabale to Kahntracts.

This clever ploy gives the illusion that the franchise is attempting to win games, when the opposite is true. They are actually intentionally throwing games to improve their chances at getting more ping pong balls in the Draft Lotto.

Here is how to incentivize the NBA teams to NOT tank, while also boosting revenue from additional gripping programming.

Step one - Take the 14 non playoff teams and seed them by W/L record #1 seed to best record, #14 to worst. Give the #1 and #2 seeds a first round bye.

Step two: Play games #3 vs. #14, #4 vs. 13, #5 vs 12, #6 vs. 11, #7 vs. #10 and #8 vs.#9

Step three: Let's imagine all of the lower seeds lost. Assign the #9 overall draft pick to the lowest seeded losing team - in this case the #14 seed gets the #9 pick and the #13 seed gets the #10 pick and so on.

Step four: Play games #1 vs. #8, #2 vs. #7, #3 vs. #6, and #4 vs. #5.

Step five: Again, assume all low seeds lose. Assign the #5 overall draft pick to the lowest seeded losing team - in this case the #8 seed gets the #5 pick, the #7 seed gets the #6 pick, the #6 seed gets the #7 pick and the #5 seed receives the #8 pick.

Step six: Play games #1 vs. #4 and #2 vs. #3

Step seven: Again, assume all low seeds lose. Award the #3 pick to the #4 seed and the #4 pick to the #3 seed.

Step eight: Play #1 vs. #2. Winner gets the #1 overall, the loser gets the #2.


This de-incentivizes tanking in the regular season. By having the worst record it punishes you by being forced to play the best non-playoff team in the first round of the "Draft Tournament".

This model does show some modicum of compassion to the team with the worst records as they are awarded the best draft pick of the tiers being awarded. The absolute worst record can do no worse that #9. Again, the first tier of draft picks awarded would be #9 thru #14 to the losers of the first round of games. This further incentivizes winning in the regular season because the best two non playoff teams are guaranteed no worse that #8 in the NBA Draft, while the other non playoff teams are faced with the possibility of getting a low pick if they lose in the 1st round.

This model further incentivizes teams to maintain a competitive roster and continually trying to improve their roster throughout the season. Any idiot can see that you want to have your best roster possible at the end of the season to potentially win a "Draft Tournament" game. By just winning in round one, you jump up to the next tier of picks awarded to the round two losers, #5-#8. This means there are huge stakes at play for even the first round of this tourney. As a fan of the team with even a mediocre NBA record, say the #3 seed in this tourney - how excited would you be to watch the first round game? Knowing that your team if they won beat the obviously inferior #14 seed they would receive no worse than the #8 pick but if they lost they would get the #14 pick. Yikes!

This is the best possible way I can think of to reward winning in the regular season, and also to reward constantly trying to improve your roster. Tanking basketball = horrible product. If this was implemented, it would raise the excitement of the draft order exponentially and add value to the season by generating a bunch more high stakes games for the bottom half of the league.

I also see some inherent drawbacks. This format leaves a lot to chance with just a one game situation. I would respond to that criticism by saying - the ping pong balls leave the HIGHEST amount of your fate up to chance no? Also, if you are a good GM, you leverage your odds of winning in round one by creating a superior roster. Yes, you could lose in a one game crapshoot to a lower seed, but doesn't this weight the draft order process correctly? Giving the teams with a better record higher odds to gain a better draft pick, while still giving the absolute worst teams a fair chance at winning their way towards a top pick? All of this while giving the absolute worst team a safety net of receiving at worst the #9 pick overall, the second worst the #10 and so on.

I would fully expect after Mr. Silver gets done doing his daily read of Canis Hoopus, he immediately contacts me and offers me Rod Thorn's job. Or at worst - at least gives me naming rights to the tournament.

Thanks for stopping, and let me know what you think of this idea in the comments.

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