In the aftermath of the NBA Draft Lottery, there is bound to be more disappointment and bitterness than anything else, save for mostly just one team.

Teams like the Raptors face the disappointment of having to pick behind teams that blatantly tanked down the stretch (Warriors, Nets (which became Portland’s pick), Cavs). Raptors fans are left wondering if purposely losing would have served the franchise better. The answer is no, by the way. As Scott sarcastically pointed out last night, Dwane “Casey and the rest of the Raptors organization should have known that they’d win the lottery if they finished tied for exactly the third-worst record and then lost the tiebreaker coin toss,” which is how the Hornets “lucked” into the No. 1 pick.

Then there are teams like the Nets, who tanked hard (did you see their last game of the season in Toronto?!) and yet because of poor management, now face an off-season that sees them without a lottery pick, and if you believe the majority of reports out there, probably without their star point guard as well.

The bitterness comes from the inevitable conspiracy theories that are bound to emerge year in and year out, though admittedly, rival executives may have a legitimate beef this year considering that one of the most highly sought talents of the last seven or eight years just landed in the lap of a league-run franchise.

While it’s impossible to avoid the disappointment that most lottery teams inevitably feel on lottery night, it is possible to make the lottery itself seem more legitimate, and a hell of a lot more understandable to the average NBA fan out there. Because right now, the NBA’s Draft Lottery feels like one of those machinations that is complicated for the sake of being complicated.

Four-digit combinations? One thousand total combinations to sort through? Why in God’s name so complex? And most of all, why behind closed doors? Yes, I’m aware that team representatives are present during the actual draw, but if you want to ease more minds and make an already increasingly popular television event even better and even clearer, it should be pretty damn simple, if you ask me.

Forget the combinations, forget the Papal-like behind closed doors draw that turns NBA fans into the equivalent of loyals in Rome waiting for the white smoke to billow out of a chimney in The Vatican.

Here’s a simple procedure to fix the NBA lottery once and for all:

- 105 lottery balls are placed in a lottery drawing machine

- Each ball is marked with one of the 14 lottery teams’ logos

- The team with the worst record gets 14 balls in the pot, the second worst team gets 13 balls, the third worst team gets 12 balls, and so on, until the 14th-worst team, or the best of the non-playoff teams, gets one ball with their logo placed in the pot.

- The machine is then run, and whichever team’s logo ball comes out first wins the NBA Draft Lottery. The process is then repeated to determine the second and third picks (Obviously if the same team’s ball comes out, the draw is done again until a new logo emerges) with picks four-to-14 then being determined in reverse of the standings, the same way those picks are determined now.

- In addition, the placing of the 105 balls (with logos shown to the camera) and the draw itself is filmed LIVE on television. Someone will still probably proclaim that the balls are weighted to help certain teams, because conspiracy theories never die, but this process would be much better than the current format. Plus, I dare you to tell me that watching and waiting to see which logo comes shooting up through that chute isn’t more exciting that waiting for an envelope to be opened.

Based on my process, the lottery odds would then look like this, according to the NBA standings:

30th place – 13.3% chance to win lottery (as opposed to current 25%)

29th place – 12.4% (as opposed to 19.9%)

28th place – 11.4% (as opposed to 15.6%)

27th place – 10.5% (as opposed to 11.9%)

26th place – 9.5% (as opposed to 8.8%)

25th place – 8.6% (as opposed to 6.3%)

24th place – 7.6% (as opposed to 4.3%)

23rd place – 6.7% (as opposed to 2.8%)

22nd place – 5.7% (as opposed to 1.7%)

21st place – 4.8% (as opposed to 1.1%)

20th place – 3.8% (as opposed to 0.8%)

19th place – 2.9% (as opposed to 0.7%)

18th place – 1.9% (as opposed to 0.6%)

17th place – 0.9% (as opposed to 0.5%)

You’ll notice that the teams with the absolute worst records don’t get as much of an advantage in my system, which would hopefully curtail tanking. In addition, the odds are just tighter in general, and the best non-playoff teams still have some reason to believe, as opposed to the current system that sees 17th-to-19th place receive only a 0.5%-0.7% share of the combinations.


Comments (20)

  1. This makes so much sense that it almost ensures that they’ll never do it

  2. In his chat earlier this week, Chad Ford proposed an idea where a team’s lottery chances be determined by their record over the past 3 years, rather over just the past season. This would truly give the worst teams the best chance to win and help to curtail year-to-year tanking as it would be much more dangerous to tank for three straight years just to get the chance to win a single lottery. Of course, if a team has already been bad for two years, nothings going to stop them from full-on tanking in year three, but I think it’s an idea that might be worth exploring.

  3. Your idea and/or Fords idea is infinitively better than the current debacle.

  4. Definitely a good idea, I would love to see it change.
    Even if we received number one last night, I would still welcome a new system.

  5. I agree that this makes far, far too much sense. Unfortunately, even if this had been implemented before this lottery, the Raptors chances wouldn’t have improved, but at least it doesn’t reward the worst teams nearly as much.

  6. The problem with these types of ideas is that they are too hard to rig. The truth is that the lottery is fixed when it comes to players that matter.You have to be stupid to not notice the 1st round fixes over the past years with Rose to Chicago who had the 9th spot that yr, Lebron to Cleveland, and when a “top euro” prospect comes around, Raptors win it. The NBA and its top executives still see the NBA as a growing league and marketing wise they are still looking to create bigger brands thus more attention to their games.

  7. but then the team that the league is trying to sell wouldn’t have won. This doesn’t work at all

  8. Another more radical theory proposed by Adam Gold at the MIT Sloan Sports Conference is “The NBA, and other sports leagues, should determine draft order based on how many games a team wins after it is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The team that gets the most wins earns the first overall pick, and you go down from there.”

  9. The best case scenario would just be to scrap the lottery entirely. It makes for an entertaining half hour but if you want to ensure that the worst teams in your league get the best amateur talents then that’s the only way to do it (like in the NFL and MLB).

    Tanking will happen either way so I don’t get why combating tanking is so important that you’re willing to kind of throw the bottom 14 of your league into flux every year and indirectly help to maintain that imbalance that exists in your league.

    If they insist on keeping a lottery format around then it should be something that is similar to the one the NHL currently uses where teams can only move up 4 slots max so only the Top 5 worst teams have a chance to win the lottery and the most anyone can fall is one spot. This way, the team with the worst record has nearly a 50% chance to win the lottery.

  10. There was an idea thrown out on ESPN, I think by Henry Abbott who proposed that all of the 14 lottery teams all have equal odds to getting the #1 pick.

    I think it’s a good idea. Though, I don’t like the thought of the 14th worst team getting the #1 pick, but it would sure as hell keep games competitive all the way through to the end of the season. Of course, it does have it’s downsides.. i.e. there’s a chance that teams may never get better.

    • That’s the way it used to be. That changed in 1990, I believe, to give the lower teams a better chance at winning. DOn’t you remember when the NBA just stuck 7 (or 9 after expansion) envelopes with the team’s logos inside and drew them out?

  11. Only four teams who had the worst record have gotten the #1 pick since 1985. That’s about 15% of the time. As it stands with a 25% chance of the worst team getting the 1st pick, this idea would make that already absurd 15% number even worse. The number of combinations needs to be higher for the worst teams and lower for the best of the worst. People would be complaining much less if the worst team got the #1 pick more often – as it should.

  12. The NBA lottery used to be more equally weighted. And then Orlando got the No. 1 pick two years in a row and the NBA owners said “screw that.”

    I quite like Gary’s idea (via Adam Gold, wins after mathematical elimination) and Bill Simmons’ Entertaining as Hell tournament idea — you could probably combine them in some form, too.

    When you have only one or two franchise turnaround players a year (or that perception), and 14 non-playoff teams, there really is no “good” way to distribute those new players. Especially considering how many of the top NBA players were not top 3 picks — Nash, Dirk, Stoudamire, Kobe, Tony Parker, Ginobli, etc. Getting Tim Duncan is huge, but team management and culture matter at least as much, in terms of keeping your Duncans, developing them, getting the right pieces around them. Obsessing about the lottery is fun, but how much of winning is really about the top draft pick?

  13. Draft Spot Playoff Format
    Once your team is eliminated mathematically from the playoffs, you start earning points with wins. So a team that is eliminated early has a reason to win games at the end of the season. There are obviously more details that would need to be addressed, but it brings back a culture of winning.

  14. No matter how you do the odds, the current system is broken because that bottom spot guarantees a top 4 pick. To fix that, you have to use the lottery for all 14 slots.

    The flaw with the “wins after elimination” idea is that it just promotes unconventional “early tanking” where teams try to lose as many games as possible as soon as possible, likely sitting players with “injuries” at the beginning of the year instead of the end, and only in the last 20 or 30 games do they try to win. You`ll see lots of minimum contract vets signed for the end of the year to provide some wins, and the young players will lose playing time, setting teams back and just encouraging a losing environment long term.

  15. Just for fun, I tried putting together a rough chart of what a “Win After Elimination” ranking might look like (not exact because I might have had a couple of teams’ elimination date slightly off, but close enough):
    1. New Orleans – 8-5
    2. Washington – 8-7
    3. Detroit – 4-5
    4. Cleveland – 4-10
    5. Toronto – 3-6
    6. Sacramento – 3-9
    7. New Jersey – 1-6
    8. Golden State – 1-7
    9. Minnesota – 1-7
    10. Houston – 1-0
    11. Milwaukee – 0-2
    12. Phoenix – 0-3
    13. Portland – 0-4
    14. Charlotte – 0-18

    Now, obviously some of those teams would have tried harder and had better records if there were a reason to win. But in general, I think that would be a fair draft order to pick in.

    As for DanH’s criticism — no system is going to be perfect. But I think it is much harder for teams to tank earlier in the season, when their fan bases are still optimistic for the year. But I’m sure there are a few simple tweaks that could be done to prevent the worst excesses (most wins from elimination, starting Apr. 1 at the earliest, for example).

    • Oops. Houston should have been 7th (assuming ties are broken by least number of losses).

      Anyhow, nice to see NO would have won by this system, too.

  16. A friend suggested that the NBA should at the very least post the ping-pong selections on their website post lotttery.

    Fine if they absolutely want it closed door live, no reason to hide the process once the selection is complete.

  17. Already done:

    1990–present: Weighted lottery system
    In 1990, the NBA changed the format of the lottery to give the team with the worst record the best chance of landing the first pick. For the 11 non-playoff teams that season, the team with the worst record would have 11 chances (out of 66) to obtain the first pick, the second worst would have 10 chances, and so on. Similarly to the previous system, this weighted lottery system was also used only to determine the first three picks, while the rest of the teams selected in reverse order of their win-loss records.
    Despite the weighted odds, the Orlando Magic managed to win the lottery in 1993 with only 1 chance to obtain the first pick as they were the best non-playoff team in the previous season. In October 1993, the NBA modified the lottery system to give the team with the worst record a higher chance to win the draft lottery and to decrease the better teams’ chances to win. The new system increased the chances of the worst team obtaining the first pick in the draft from 16.7 percent to 25 percent, while decreasing the chances of the best non-playoff team from 1.5 percent to 0.5 percent.
    In the new system, 14 numbered ping-pong balls were used. Then, a four-digit combination from the 14 balls were drawn to determine the lottery winner. Prior to the draft, the NBA assigned 1000 possible combinations to the non-playoff teams. The process was then repeated to determine the second and third pick.[1] The table below shows the lottery chances and the probabilities for each team to win the first pick in the weighted lottery system in 1993 and 1994 Draft.[7]
    1993 Draft Lottery 1994 Draft Lottery
    Team 1992–1993
    record Chances
    (out of 66) Probability Team 1993–1994
    record Chances
    (out of 1000) Probability
    1 Dallas 11–71 11 16.67% Dallas 13–69 250 25.00%
    2 Minnesota 19–63 10 15.15% Detroit 20–62 164 16.40%
    3 Washington 22–60 9 13.64% Minnesota 20–62 164 16.40%
    4 Sacramento 25–57 8 12.12% Milwaukee 20–62 163 16.30%
    5 Philadelphia 26–56 7 10.61% Washington 24–58 94 9.40%
    6 Milwaukee 28–54 6 9.09% Philadelphia 25–57 66 6.60%
    7 Golden State 34–48 5 7.58% L.A. Clippers 27–55 44 4.40%
    8 Denver 36–46 4 6.06% Sacramento 28–54 27 2.70%
    9 Miami 36–46 3 4.55% Boston 32–50 15 1.50%
    10 Detroit 40–42 2 3.03% L.A. Lakers 33–49 8 0.80%
    11 Orlando 41–41 1 1.52% Charlotte 41–41 5 0.50%
    In 1995, the NBA had an agreement with the two expansion franchises, the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies. The agreement stated that both teams would not be eligible to obtain the first overall pick in the 1996, 1997 and 1998 Draft, even if they won the lottery. The Raptors won the 1996 lottery but were forced to settle for the second pick. Another combination was drawn and resulted in the Philadelphia 76ers getting the first pick.[8] A similar situation occurred in 1998 when the Grizzlies won the lottery but had to select second in the draft while the L.A. Clippers obtained the first pick.[9]

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