Rant: Time To Unfix The NBA Draft

In what was almost certainly a direct response to the Philadelphia 76ers‘ now infamous “Process”, effective with the 2019 NBA draft, new odds were instituted that would update the odds as follows:

 

  1. 140 combinations, 14.0% chance of receiving the No. 1 pick
  2. 140 combinations, 14.0% chance
  3. 140 combinations, 14.0% chance
  4. 125 combinations, 12.5% chance
  5. 105 combinations, 10.5% chance
  6. 90 combinations, 9.0% chance
  7. 75 combinations, 7.5% chance
  8. 60 combinations, 6.0% chance
  9. 45 combinations, 4.5% chance
  10. 30 combinations, 3.0% chance
  11. 20 combinations, 2.0% chance
  12. 15 combinations, 1.5% chance
  13. 10 combinations, 1.0% chance
  14. 5 combinations, 0.5% chance

 

Prior to this change, the odds were previously:

 

  1. 250 combinations, 25.0% chance of receiving the No. 1 pick
  2. 199 combinations, 19.9% chance
  3. 156 combinations, 15.6% chance
  4. 119 combinations, 11.9% chance
  5. 88 combinations, 8.8% chance
  6. 63 combinations, 6.3% chance
  7. 43 combinations, 4.3% chance
  8. 28 combinations, 2.8% chance
  9. 17 combinations, 1.7% chance
  10. 11 combinations, 1.1% chance
  11. 8 combinations, 0.8% chance
  12. 7 combinations, 0.7% chance
  13. 6 combinations, 0.6% chance
  14. 5 combinations, 0.5% chance

 

The obvious logic and goal behind this logic is to dis-incentivize teams from intentionally tanking in order to procure top draft picks. Taking the view that tanking is a problem was actually a flawed perspective to begin with. Tanking is/was a clever means of working within the rules to accomplish a long-term goal.

Rookies, even exceptionally talented ones, are rarely good enough to immediately turn a franchise around singularly. In fact, even in the case of teams getting multiple lottery picks in close succession, they still have to draft well. Draft picks, are a tool like anything else.

They are by no means a guarantee knock-out punch to instantly turn a franchise’s poor fortunes around. However, if you are a small market team, the draft is usually your best tool to build your roster.

Spreading the odds more evenly across teams merely increases the odds for a decent team, that had a bad year to get yet another piece to put them over the top.

Rather than punish losing, the league could have, and I argue should have taken the mindset of providing additional incentives to teams that show marginal improvement. The problem wasn’t in the fact that bad teams were trying to increase their odds of winning the top pick, that is a natural expectation for a team that is already struggling. The league could have simply taken the creative approach of adding incentives for teams to continue winning even if their ceiling is to be a 9th seed.

Creative solutions could include cap space exceptions of some kind; such as an additional Mid-Level Exception, allow one player’s salary or part of their salary to count count against their cap space, or any other number of options that would communicate the message that racking up wins is not a wasted endeavor. Reducing the odds of grabbing the number one pick does not reduce the incentive to tank per se, it merely reduces the odds that any given team employing that tactic will succeed.

From the league’s perspective, I understand their motives and even can be somewhat sympathetic to their position. Teams intentionally trying to rack up losses does inherently devalue the overall value of the brand in the short-term. Not many people would find a game entertaining if one, or especially both teams are playing to lose.

So, it was an issue that warranted a correction, they just “corrected” they wrong issue. There is currently no incentive to keep pushing for wins when your team is definitely not good enough to win it all, nor bad enough to naturally be at the bottom of the league. With this being the case, of course it is logical for a team to “cut their losses” so to speak and chase the long-term improvement of their franchise over a few empty “moral victories” where a few additional wins are chased and even attained, with no true benefit to the team in the long or short-term.

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