The NBA Draft Lottery, for all its noble intentions, is as scrutinized and denigrated an entity as any person who dares sit in the Oval Office. It does not prevent tanking, and in drafts with multiple potential superstars, it creates an atmosphere of suckage not unlike the testing rooms at Dirt Devil Inc.
However, I still am a sucker for the pageantry of the lottery, with all the giant envelopes, the lucky charms, the uncomfortable team representatives randomly chosen to sit in front of the cameras, and those cursed ping-pong balls. (Unless you’re Cleveland)
(Damn you Cleveland!)
The only way to attack the problem of tanking is to incentivize winning at all costs, no matter your current record. The best teams want homecourt advantage, the middling teams want to make the playoffs, and now we can get the dregs of the league to compete at their highest level as well. It could actually make an end of season game between Milwaukee and Philadelphia must-see TV, an exciting contest where the losers would be heartbroken instead of slyly patting themselves on the back for out-tanking their “rival.”
And with this fiercely competitive race for either the top of the league or the top of the bowels of the league, we can in fact still keep the grand spectacle of the lottery alive, with all the intrigue and mystery of where a team will pick. Except this mystery could be more inclusive of all the lottery teams, instead of just the top 3 picks.
In my proposal, there will still be a lottery drawing for the top 3 positions, except instead of basing it on pure luck, it shall instead be based on the hard work and success of the teams who don’t make the playoffs.
How does a team qualify for a top 3 chance in the draft? On the day that a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they are then officially on the lottery clock to win as many games as possible until the end of the season. At the end of the year, you just tally up all the wins of the non-playoff teams, with the 3 winningest teams put in a lottery drawing with even, 33% odds to determine the 1st pick. Then there will be a draw between the remaining two teams for the 2nd pick, with the last team getting the 3rd.
As for the rest of the non-playoff teams, their wins still count to determine the draft positions. The team with the next most wins will get the 4th position, and then 5th position, and so on until all 14 positions are filled. Where this can get exciting and mysterious is when there is a tie between teams. To keep this process as simple as possible, whenever there is a tie in the amount of wins (whether it is 2, 3, 4, or more teams), each of the tied teams are put in their own small drawing with even odds to determine the next picks, until all of those tied teams are placed. After the last of the tied teams are placed, the process will then continue with the placement of the next winningest team, with there being another mini drawing for every tie that exists.
(If there is a tie amongst the top 3 winningest teams – such as if 4 teams tie for the most wins, or perhaps 3 teams tied for 3rd place – then we would include each of these teams in the drawing, but for the top 3 picks only, with the remainder of the teams being placed as described above.)
This system will completely change the competitiveness of the league from top to bottom, from mid season to the end. If you’re eliminated early and don’t win, then you will end up with a much lower pick. This is also the most fair system to every team, as the worst teams will be eliminated first and have more chances and opportunities to collect wins, while the better teams who compete for the playoffs until the last day will not be able to get many wins, and thus placed near the bottom of the lottery (where they were likely to end up in the old system anyway).
To best illustrate this new lottery system, lets just look at this past season to see how the teams would rank. Here are each of the lottery teams, with their date of elimination and how many wins they achieved afterwards. (If a team is eliminated for any reason on a particular day, but still wins their game that day, then this counts for their final total.)
Lakers (3/14): 5
Milwaukee (3/15): 2
Utah (3/15): 3
Sacramento (3/16): 5
Philadelphia (3/18): 4
Orlando (3/25): 4
Denver (3/26): 4
New Orleans (3/24): 5
Boston (3/31): 2
Minnesota (4/4): 3
Detroit (4/6): 1
Cleveland (4/9): 2
New York (4/12): 3
Phoenix (4/14): 1
5 win teams: Lakers, Sacramento, New Orleans
4 win teams: Philadelphia, Orlando, Denver
3 win teams: Utah, Minnesota, New York
2 win teams: Milwaukee, Boston, Cleveland
1 win teams: Detroit, Phoenix
Because the Lakers, Sacramento, and New Orleans won the most games after elimination, then only these 3 teams are eligible for the top 3 picks. The first drawing will involve an even, 33% chance of getting the first pick. If Sacramento wins the drawing for #1, then there will be another drawing for the second pick. If New Orleans gets drawn next, then the Lakers will automatically be awarded the #3 pick. This justly rewards the teams that actually tried to win the most games at the end of the year, instead of trying to pile up losses to get the most ping pong balls. If you want to join this 1st Drawing Club, just win baby!
The 4th pick will then be determined by the team that won the next most games. However, there is a tie between Philadelphia, Orlando, and Denver for this honor. Thus, there will be another drawing between these 3 teams, again with even, 33% odds. If Denver is pulled 1st, they will get the #4 pick, and the drawing for #5 will be between Orlando and Philadelphia. If Orlando is drawn, then the #6 pick will go to Philadelphia.
Picks #7, #8, and #9 will be determined by another 3 team drawing between Utah, Minnesota and New York. Likewise, picks #10, #11, and #12 will be determined by a 3 team drawing between Milwaukee, Boston, and Cleveland (who finally won’t be able to “luck” their way to another #1 pick).
As for pick #13, since there is yet another tie, then there will be one last drawing with even, 50% odds between Detroit and Phoenix.
I assume going forward that there will be much more winning amongst the non playoff teams, and there likely will be less ties as well. However, the new lottery system will be able to place teams appropriately into their relative draft slot based on pure, competitive wins, and nothing more. There still is a little luck involved with the top 3 winning teams and any other tie breakers, and this will still create a lot of fun on lottery night in seeing who falls where.
And while I’m sure there are probably a few flaws that may be pointed out in the future, it will never be as flawed as the current system (or the crazy wheel system, or a straight NFL style draft). Tanking will finally end, conspiracy theories will end, competitiveness will be raised, winning will be rewarded, cats and dogs will play together, the Middle East will be peaceful at last, and eternal youth will finally be achieved. Why wouldn’t the NBA want eternal youth?