2015-12-21

Fixing the NBA Draft Lottery

Fixing the NBA Draft Lottery

Without further ado, here's what I would change to "fix" the NBA Draft Lottery: put a cap on how often teams can win a top-three lottery pick. There. That's it. Pretty simple, eh? Under my proposal, no team would be allowed to have the first pick more than once every 14 years. The same goes for the second and third picks. So each team in the league, whether they make the playoffs or not, would be eligible for a first, a second, and a third overall pick every 14 years. Why 14? Because currently there are 14 teams each season that don't qualify for the playoffs. (Although extremely unlikely, if the same 14 teams missed the playoffs 14 years in a row, there would always be teams eligible for each of the top three picks.) Let's assume the lottery continues in its current format and go through some scenarios.

Scenario A

Team A wins the top pick in 2016, the second pick in 2017, and the third pick in 2018.
  1. Team A wouldn't be eligible for the first pick again until 2030.
  2. Team A wouldn't be eligible for the second pick again until 2031.
  3. Team A wouldn't be eligible for the third pick again until 2032.
  4. If Team A were to "win" any of the top three lottery picks in any draft year from 2019 to 2029, they would not move up into the top three.

Scenario B

Team B wins the top pick in the lottery in 2016. In 2017, Team B does not make the playoffs and is a lottery participant again.
  1. If Team B gets drawn for the first pick, they would not receive it--they are not eligible because they won the first pick the previous year. However, if Team B is eligible for either the second or third pick, they will automatically receive the higher of the two picks. The league would continue to draw for the first pick until an eligible team is selected.
  2. If Team B gets drawn for the second pick, they would receive it since they are eligible.
  3. If Team B gets drawn for the third pick, they would receive it since they are eligible.

Scenario C

Team C wins the second pick in the lottery in 2016. In 2017, Team C does not make the playoffs and is a lottery participant again.
  1. If Team C gets drawn for the first pick, they would receive it since they are eligible.
  2. If Team C gets drawn for the second pick, they would not receive it--they are not eligible because they won the second pick the previous year. However, if Team C is eligible for the third pick, they will automatically receive it. The league would continue to draw for the second pick until an eligible team is selected.
  3. If Team C gets drawn for the third pick, they would receive it since they are eligible.

Scenario D

Team D wins the third pick in the lottery in 2016. In 2017, Team D does not make the playoffs and is a lottery participant again.
  1. If Team D gets drawn for the first pick, they would receive it since they are eligible.
  2. If Team D gets drawn for the second pick, they would receive it since they are eligible.
  3. If Team D gets drawn for the third pick, they would not receive it--they are not eligible because they won the third pick the previous year. Team C would not "move up".

Trades

You can't gain (or lose) lottery eligibility via trade.
  1. If Team X unconditionally owns Team Y's first round pick before the lottery and Team X wins a lottery pick by virtue of the lottery odds assigned to Team Y's pre-lottery draft "slot", the lottery win counts toward Team X.
  2. Let's say Team X conditionally owns Team Y's first round pick before the lottery (top one protected, top seven protected, etc.). A lottery pick is won by Team Y's pre-lottery draft "slot". The lottery win counts toward the team that receives the pick, based on the conditions of the trade.
  3. If Team X wins a lottery pick and trades the pick to another team after the lottery, the lottery win counts toward Team X.


But Why?

My "Lottery Cap" proposal is largely born from "The Wheel" proposal, which is so compelling. One of its ramifications however, is the likelihood of powerhouse teams getting high draft picks and downtrodden organizations getting late first round picks. I would imagine the owners find this outcome distasteful. Because of this, I tend to think NBA draft order in general will always be tied directly or indirectly to won-lost records and the draft order for non-playoff teams will never be based strictly on team records. Translation: the lottery isn't going away.


What About Tanking?

The lottery can't prevent tanking, no matter what format is used. It can (and does) lower the incentive to tank, but that's it. That being said, tanking shouldn't be viewed as detestable. Many teams have done it, including my Celtics. Some are more obvious than others. In recent seasons, some have been downright brazenly unapologetic (looking at you, Philly!) So why fight it? When you look at the history of each franchise, it's common for teams go through cyclical stages as they try to contend. Who cares if tanking is part of that process?

What's bothersome is when the same teams seem to get the top draft talent year in and year out. I fully support a crappy team getting a top pick in the draft. But crappy teams shouldn't be rewarded year after year after year for their ineptitude. The same handful of teams should not be permitted to monopolize the lottery.



Further Analysis

If implemented, the Lottery Cap would carry with it the glaring weakness of the current system: namely, tanking would not be eliminated. In one way, there might be less tanking if bad teams aren't eligible for some or all of the top three picks. In another way, there might be new incentive to tank for middle-of-the-pack teams that are cognizant of other ineligible lottery teams. The Lottery Cap wouldn't make the current model better or worse with regard to tanking and incentive. Just different. C'est la vie.

The strengths of the current system would remain intact: tanking, though not eradicated, would still be disincentivized; the teams with the worst records would still generally have access to the top draft talent (worst record would pick no lower than fourth); the league would get the benefit of the media exposure that comes with the buildup leading to the lottery; etc.


Other Links

History of the NBA Draft Lottery Format
History of the NBA Draft Lottery Results

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