Skip to main content

10 Best Ways How To Fix The Broken NBA Lottery

Fadeaway World

Fadeaway World

“Wait, Lottery reforms? I thought this year the TV broadcast hit record highs!” Well, hypothetical reader, that is true. But as Woj reported the other day, “NBA evaluating draft lottery reform to discourage tanking.” Ah, so this is a tanking issue then. Well, as it appears Hinkie’s arch-nemesis-es (nemesis?) have infiltrated the League Offices in Secaucus.

This is an issue, because- aww, who am I kidding. This could potentially eliminate all the dread of having to watch a late-season Knicks/Magic game! Unfortunately, as with any big corporation or organization, there is, of course, the fear of messing up the entire system. Will they accidentally incentivize, say, being the third-worst team? Or remove all the mystery and intrigue? Or perhaps actually incentivize tanking? Adam Silver has had a great overall track record, but his last attempt at a lottery reform flamed out. The proposition included a few fairly drastic changes, including but not limited to:

- The four worst teams have identical (~11%) odds of the #1 pick
- Slow decline after that

- #5 has 10% chance of getting the #1 pick

- The team with the best record would have a 2% chance of getting the 1st pick

- Top 6 picks are drawn via the Ping-Pong ball

This was no pipe dream either- Zach Lowe wrote an article on Grantland (RIP) entitled “NBA Lottery Reform is Coming”. So as you can see, this seemed like an inevitability at that point. Silver couldn’t get it done. Now, with tanking as the single-largest problem facing the NBA, Silver has to prove that he can be a closer and actually finish the deal. So, what is being proposed? Well, Woj’s report was more than a bit confusing, so I’ll break down the major points.

- De-incentivize tanking by lowering #1 pick odds for the worst teams

- “Increases the chances of better teams making the jump into the lottery.” [Implying playoff teams in the lottery. 8th seeds with the #1 pick??!!?]

- NBA Competition Committee (Made of several GMs and coaches) will vote next week on whether or not to formally recommend the league office’s proposals. The NBACC has “significant latitude” to challenge and amend the league office’s proposals, and thus could recommend anywhere between none, part, or all of the proposals

- If recommended by the NBACC, the proposal will be voted on in the September Board of Governors in New York in late September.
- Team with #1 odds can now drop to #5, #2 odds all the way to #6, #3 to #7, etc

- The odds of a team with the 5th odds getting the #1 pick are now only a few percentage points lower than EQUAL odds among the top three

- NBACC is also voting on the new don’t-rest-players-anymore-especially-on-national-TV initiative [Punishments for resting players on National TV games, or multiple key players for road games], which they believe could influence bad teams to play starters down the stretch, as well as influence the public perception of tanking

So this is the NBA’s plan. This is what they *will* do. But what should they do? Well, our team of experts (aka me) compiled a few ideas of what we think a new lottery system would look like. Looking at the odds, there is a 65.667% chance that you continue reading this. Under the new reforms we will introduce, that number will be bumped up to 100%. And with the first pick in the 2017 (NBA Lotto Reform Ideas) Draft is…

1. Spin The Wheel

It’s DEFINITELY the Cavs selecting here because this pick is likely a Bennett-level bust. A lot of well-respected basketball people (a cough, Kevin O’Connor, couch) think that the wheel is the only way. This would either be a weighted wheel, not physically weighted but space-on-the-wheel wise.

There are numerous issues with this, not the least of which the possibility of corruption. Conspiracy theories are always prevalent, and when the Deputy Commissioner of a league based out of the New York area starts with the Knicks on top of the wheel and makes exactly three rotations, fan outrage would be INSANE. And if the wheel was electronic? Cries of “You animated it!” “Boo!” “Adam Silver has a shiny head!” and “East Coast bias!” would rain down upon the league’s Secaucus HQ. It’s also way less suspenseful than Ping-Pong balls, and it seems too much like an attraction at a carnival. This idea is a no-go.

2. No Top-Three Picks in Successive Years

This would stop teams like the Hinkie Sixers and the ’11-’12 Bobcats from making the worst team possible. However, this totally neglects teams like the Suns, who are actually bad. Or how about the Hawks? Let’s say they get Bagley next year. Are Dennis Shröder and rookie Marvin Bagley III going to get them out of the bottom three? I doubt it. And they specifically tried not to tank- their star left as a free agent! If the goal is to stop teams from tanking- which it is- you cannot justify punishing the bad teams for what slightly less-bad teams do. This solution is heavy-handed and ignorant and doesn’t do anything to stop tanking. You’d still rather have a 1/4 rotation than pick 9 or 10 every year, right? The Kings tried the second option for Boogie’s entire career, and now he’s gone.

This not only doesn’t de-incentivize tanking but also punishes pure incompetence. If killing blatant incompetence is the goal, go after guys like Dolan and Mr. Comic Sans, AKA He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Don’t go after the team, and the players who try so hard to win, but can’t due to unfair league-mandated punishments. This, if completed, is a serious display of ignorance and flat-out laziness.

3. Relegation

This wouldn’t really stop tanking, but it would be an interesting novelty/wrinkle. The worst team, as in European soccer, would switch leagues with the best team in the lower level. In this case, the G-League. It’s worth a passing mention, but only when accompanied by a chuckle. Between revenue, stashed players, and pure talent level- even between the worst good team and the best bad team- it simply wouldn’t be feasible or a good idea.

Scroll to Continue


4. Flattened Odds

This obviously doesn’t mean completely flattened odds. Whether or not they include some low-seeded playoff teams, that would be a disaster that would inspire a lot of late-season tanking for the better teams. And which is a bigger loss, bad teams being bad or decent teams being bad? No, this would be slightly flattened odds, perhaps a Robin Hood-ian take-from-the-rich, give-to-the-poor concept. Because in all honesty, do you want everyone from the Nets to the Nuggets having a 7.14285714 chance at the first pick? No. Of course not. Because as exciting as it would be, it would create a few complications.

First off, mock drafts would be impossible. Furthermore, the incentives for making the 8th seed in the West would be pretty even to having a 21.4285714% chance at a top-three pick, especially with Golden State as pretty much a guaranteed four game out. Hurting small market teams even more than they already are, as well as helping the better teams. There’s just too much downside here.

5. All of the Picks are Chosen, Live, Via Ping-Pong Balls


6. Bottom Three Teams Have the Same Odds

Teams would try to tank into the top three, so teams that normally wouldn’t tank (Because they’re too far ahead of the first pick) now have a better chance at being able to sneak into the best odds. This would backfire in a major way.

7. The Teams with the Worst End-Of-Year Records have less Ping-Pong Balls

This seems like a great idea… until you think of teams like last year’s Sixers, who were actually in playoff contention until their star player got injured. Tim Duncan is synonymous with the Spurs. But with this system in place, San Antonio wouldn’t even have that pick! Timmy would play out his career in Boston! Okay, so they decide to account for injuries. How do you judge objectively how valuable that player is? Starter? Because Joakim Noah wasn’t exactly buoying New York, but he was a starter when he got injured, should that make an impact?

What if Eric Gordon gets injured and it just absolutely levels the whole team? He isn’t a starter, so is he really that valuable? Objectively valuing players and correlating that to wins is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, and would always result in widespread outrage. That isn’t a battle Silver should try to fight.

8. Keep the Same System (For Now)

The CBA just recently changed, and with a flurry of moves by small-market teams to attempt to recuperate some value for their presumed-gone stars, there are more bad teams than ever, meaning that “tanking,” “playing young guys,” and “rebuilding” are as close as they’ve been in years. We could wait a bit to fix the problem… or not, and change is exciting.

This system isn’t exactly perfected either; maybe change is needed. Should we do it now? Sure, why not? I mean, if it’s inevitable, just set the new system up to start in three years or so, and let the bad teams rebuild for a few years. That seems like a pretty fair compromise, and though the ideas before have been subpar at best, these next two have a legitimate shot at fixing the lottery.

9. Lottery Odds are Based On Record Post-Playoff Elimination

So what does this mean? Well, adjustments would have to be made based on the league’s priorities regarding time before/after elimination, injuries, which stat (Win %, W-L, W, PtDiff, etc) to use, as well as other numerous complications, but the gist is that the teams that try down the stretch get rewarded. Good in theory, but the concept is better than the execution.

If Team 1 is removed from contention with 4 games left and goes 3-1, and if Team 2 is eliminated with one game left and goes 1-0, who has higher odds? What if the one win was against Team 1? The concept is good, but it would be too hard to viable carry out as a legitimate option.

10. Three-Team Rotation

Now, this one is complicated, but bear with me. Imagine every team bunched with two others, possibly rivals, or just geographically similar ones. Rotate those “capsules” through, with group one going from picks 1-3 in year one to 4-6 in year two, etc. The capsule with 28-30 would move up to 1-3 the next year. The exception: Playoff teams are removed. So if, say, GSW, SAC, and LAL are in Group One, then Group Two will move up to 2-4, so on and so forth. A team within the 1-3 group that misses the playoffs (or has the worst record of all playoff teams, in order to arrive at a round multiple of 3) would be guaranteed a top-three pick, whereas if you were an average playoff team you would be subject to the regular draft seeding that we currently have.

So, what happens if, say, the 28-30 group has no playoff teams? Well, of those outside the top 15 who miss the playoffs, they will be tacked on to the end of the lotto, arranged by the standard drawing of the Ping-Pong balls, used in every applicable scenario within the Capsules. This would have profound influence on the league, and thus would likely have to wait until the 2020s. I propose the all-Ping-Pong ball route until 20204. 2023 is the last year in which anyone could trade draft picks last year, and as no one has traded a 2024
pick yet, you wouldn’t have any major complaints from trigger-happy GMs with loaded war chests. So, what are the givens here?

- The “lottery” would expand to 15

- Every team would be part of a 3-team “Capsule”

- You will be guaranteed a top-15 pick if you miss the playoffs

- Tanking would only work if you went for a worse/no playoff seed

- It is incredibly confusing, but would prevent tanking

If the league can swallow the pill that is an even more complicated rule book, especially before most analysts even know the new CBA, then their big issue would be solved. Like real life #10 picks Paul Pierce and Jimmer Fredette, this idea is a winner. Literally and metaphorically, because it would de-incentivize losing.

Well, I can’t keep going with this article. I mean, we found the answer, and I kind of ran out of gas. No more gas in the bucket, you know?

Why did I say bucket, you ask? Well, no one has gas in tanks anymore, because tanking got shut down by Pick 10.