The Draft Lottery, and Why the Wheel is the Only Option

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Not enough votes were in favor of a reform to the current draft lottery process at a NBA Board of Governor’s meeting this afternoon. Even though the final vote was in favor of the new lottery system, 17-13, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe 23 votes were needed for the change to take place.

The new draft lottery system would have brought the odds to get the first overall pick for everyone in the lottery (teams who missed the playoffs) closer together. The worst four teams would have the same odds of getting the No. 1-overall pick (around 11 percent), while the current system gives the team with the worst record a 25 percent chance and the second worst team a 19.9 percent chance. 

The proposed reform would have brought the odds to get the top pick for all 14 teams in the lottery closer together, ultimately with the hope to discourage teams from tanking. There will always be some incentive for teams to tank as long as a lottery exists. I like the idea of going to a lottery wheel as unrealistic as that is (if you have no idea what “wheel” I’m talking about take the 3 minutes and read about it here. The Wheel would make things so interesting).

The funny part about trying to change the lottery system is that the current one actually does sort of discourage tanking because the team with the worst record, even with the best odds, rarely gets the top pick. Since 1985 when the current lottery system was put in place only four teams with the worst record actually got the No. 1 pick.

Let’s also not forget no matter who has what odds or how the lottery actually plays out the teams still have to draft the right player. Take 2013 for example. Remember, the “down year” draft that had a lot of good players but no great ones? The one where no one even actually wanted the first pick because there was no clear best player and general managers felt they were in a lose-lose situation?

I know most drafts aren’t as “bad” as the 2013 one was, but the best player out of the draft could very well be “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo (try and fit that on the back of a NBA jersey) who will 20 this December and is now 6-foot-11 after he grew a couple inches this past summer. I use quotes on the word bad because its only bad in the sense it had no clear potential superstars, but it was a deep draft of potentially solid NBA players.

The 2014 Draft was also an outlier when it comes to the amount of potential talent, as it was touted to be one of the best drafts in decades. That might not even be as obvious as people once thought simply because as more and more kids leave college after one year no one really knows who will survive at the professional level (this is exactly why I am 100 percent in favor of a 2-and-done rule for college basketball).

The draft lottery will stay the same for now, but change is definitely coming as the league cannot stand what team Philadelphia is running out on the court night in and night out. I like what Philly is doing and think it will ultimately work (here we go again – as long as they draft the right players), but sports are and always will be about money.

This could be why the new reformed lottery system didn’t get enough votes today to pass. Some small market teams had to of felt giving everyone in the lottery just about the same odds hurts their chances to compete. Some large markets teams (and I use the word some on purpose) can already more easily attract free agents and this new lottery would also give them more of an advantage in the draft.

While I hate having this large and small market team conversation (because honestly look at Oklahoma City: if you draft correctly and pay [most of] your players you can compete with any team in the league), but the draft is all that some small market teams have to live off of. Milwaukee is a great example of a team who has been terrible, not because they play in a small market, but because they have mismanaged their team. Things are starting to turn around there with players like The Greek Freak, Jabari Parker and Larry Sanders just in time for them to be moved to Seattle.

Regardless of market size the draft gives teams and fan bases a sense of hope about the future, and because of this tanking is nearly avoidable. So unless the NBA plans on implementing the wheel idea in 2024, the league should just embrace tanking until one teams finds out the hard way that it is actually harder than people currently think to win a championship by taking that route.

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