The Washington Post

NBA looking to change draft lottery in order to prevent tanking

(Associated Press)

The NBA has been considering changes to its draft lottery to combat the long-held perception that teams are tanking in order to secure a greater chance of a high pick. According to Grantland’s Zach Lowe, the league submitted an official proposal to its competition committee this week that lays out the proposed changes.

As it stands now, the NBA team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of securing the top pick in the lottery. The team with the second-worst record has a 19.9 percent chance of landing the top pick, while the third-worst team has a 15.6 percent chance. After that, each team’s odds get progressively worse, and the lottery teams with the five best records each have, at best, a 1.1 percent chance of winning the lottery.

In other words, bad NBA teams have an incentive to stay bad or get worse, because it gives them a better shot at getting the No. 1 pick.

Here’s Lowe with an explanation of the league’s proposed changes, which would give a number of the worst teams the same chance of landing the top pick:

The league’s proposal gives at least the four worst teams the same chance at winning the no. 1 pick: approximately an identical 11 percent shot for each club. The odds decline slowly from there, with the team in the next spot holding a 10 percent chance. The lottery team with the best record will have a 2 percent chance of leaping to the no. 1 pick, up from the the minuscule 0.5 percent chance it has under the current system.

The proposal also calls for the drawing of the first six picks via the Ping-Pong ball lottery, sources say. The current lottery system actually involves the drawing of only the top three selections. The rest of the lottery goes in order of record, from worst to best, after the top-three drawing is over.

The league thinks this proposal will accomplish two things: It would give bad teams less incentive to tank, because their odds wouldn’t be any better than similarly bad teams, yet would also give merely mediocre teams (those with the best records, near the bottom of the lottery) less incentive to tank out of a possible playoff spot, because their odds of winning the No. 1 pick would still be fairly low.

Lowe points out two possible criticisms of the proposal. Some teams that have already undertaken short-term rebuilding plans, he writes, would have an issue if the NBA decides to implement its new rules right away. And some feel that this new plan would encourage tanking at the lower end of the lottery, with teams destined for a late lottery pick — in other words, teams that also conceivably also make a run at a playoff berth — giving up to improve their chances.

The “wheel” idea, “in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years,” has apparently fallen out of favor, Lowe writes.

After spending the first 17 years of his Post career writing and editing, Matt and the printed paper had an amicable divorce in 2014. He's now blogging and editing for the Early Lead and the Post's other Web-based products.



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Matt Bonesteel · July 17, 2014