Fixing the NBA Draft Lottery Requires Rewarding Winning

If the NBA really wants to restructure the draft lottery process to eliminate tanking, the league should look to reward winning.


Time for the NBA to do away with this system.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about revising the NBA Draft lottery to avoid a team like Cleveland being able to win the number one pick three times in four years, and keep teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers from purposely losing 55 to 60 plus games in back to back seasons to get a top five pick.

Just within the last week, the NBA submitted an official proposal to the competition committee to reform the draft lottery. While no new plan has been chosen, one solution that has been tossed around is giving the four teams with the worse records an 11 percent chance to win the number one pick, with the fifth worse team getting a 10 percent chance. I believe this will still encourage tanking as more teams will dump salaries and quality players in an attempt to beat each other out to be in the bottom five in the overall standings.

Under the current system, the team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance at the top pick, the second-worst team has a 19.9 percent chance with the third-worst team having a 15.6 percent chance.

So here’s my thought, reward winning. I’m not talking where the rich get richer like in 1982 when the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Championship, then drafted James Worthy number one overall a couple weeks later. I propose the draft selection should start with the team with the best record to miss the playoffs and continue as followed until all thirty teams are slotted.

For Example, based on the 2013-2014 season, under my draft system the number one pick in this past June’s draft would’ve went to the 48-34 Phoenix Suns, followed by the Minnesota Timberwolves at 40-42. The third selection would’ve been made by the 36-46 Denver Nuggets, fourth would’ve been the New York Knicks at 37-45—their pick would’ve went to the Orlando Magic via the Denver Nuggets as a result of several past trades, since it was the lesser of Denver’s first round picks it goes to the Magic—and the fifth pick would’ve been made by the New Orleans Pelicans (34-48)—if it hadn’t been in the top 5 it would’ve went to Philadelphia as a result of the Jrue Holiday/Nerlens Noel trade from Draft night 2013—followed by the 33-49 Cleveland Cavaliers. The rest of the lottery would’ve played out as below:

7.) Detroit Pistons (29-53) which keeps it 1st round pick from the 2012 Corey Magette/Ben Gordon since it was in the top 8. Anything out of the top 8 would’ve went to Charlotte as it did under the current draft format when the Ping pong balls landed Detroit at number 9.

8.) Sacramento Kings (28-54)
9.) LA Lakers (27-55)
10.) Winner of coin flip or head to head matchup between Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz (25-57)
11.) Loser of coin flip or head to head matchup between Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz (25-57)
12.) Orlando Magic (23-59)
13.) Philadelphia 76ers (19-63)
14.) Milwaukee Bucks (15-67)

My reasoning is simple, force management to field competitive teams that when it comes draft time, the selection they make will actually make a difference in the up coming season. As is, teams draft the best player and it’s still three to four years before their impact is felt in the standings. But, if a team or two that just missed out on the playoffs can add a talent worthy of the number one pick or top five, that player could be the missing link to get them into the playoffs and build an instant contender. The goal is also to increase parity across the league.

Look at the Portland Trailblazers. They hit it big when they drafted Damian Lilliard at number 6 In 2012. The Blazers were 28-38 that season during the lockout shortened season. While they were fortunate Lilliard fell to them, being only 10 games under .500 shows management was focused on building a successful team, even though they missed the playoffs. It’s clear they were one player away, it happened to be Lillard, the eventual rookie of the year who became an All Star in his second season and teamed up with another All Star in LaMarcus Aldridge to make it to the second round of the playoff this past spring. I think we can all agree the Blazers are well on their way to being a staple in the Western Conference.

I’m thinking of the fans as well. Who wants to consistently pay top dollar to see a team of guys play who very well couldn’t make a D-League roster? Hell in the case of Philly fans, they’re not even getting a chance to see their top draft pick play because management is sitting their top prospects in hopes it will lead to another top pick—see Nerlens Noel in 2013, now Joel Embiid in 2014. They’ll use injuries as the reason, but we all know what they’re doing.

Everyone from commissioner Silver to the fans sitting in the nose bleed seats are in agreement it’s time to move away from the current process that’s been in place since 1985. I’m here today to throw my solution into the ring. I’m not saying it’s the best, but it’s a start.

JUST FOR FUN, below is a hypothetical look at the teams the top fourteen picks would’ve been on had my system been in place. This is assuming the players were picked in the same order as the real draft. I didn’t consider team need, which would drastically change these selection. Case in point, I don’t think the Pelicans or Cavs would’ve drafted a PG/SG considering they already have franchise players in those positions. Just as well, I don’t see the Nuggets drafting Embiid with their army of post players led by Kenneth Faried.

1.) Phoenix Suns: Andrew Wiggins
2.) Minnesota Timberwolves: Jabari Parker
3.) Denver Nuggets: Joel Embiid
4.) Orlando Magic (from Denver via New York): Aaron Gordon
5.) New Orleans Pelicans (protected top 5): Dante Exum
6.) Cleveland Cavaliers: Marcus Smart
7.) Detroit Pistons: Julius Randle
8.) Sacramento Kings: Nik Stauskas
9.) LA Lakers: Noah Vonleh
10.) Boston Celtics or Utah Jazz: Elfrid Payton
11.) Boston Celtics or Utah Jazz: Doug McDermott
12.) Orlando Magic: Dario Saric
13.) Philadelphia 76ers: Zach Levin
14.) Milwaukee Bucks: T.J. Warren

Could you imagine Andrew Wiggins on that young athletic Suns squad? Or the T-wolves with Jabari Parker, Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio? Those teams would instantly be in the hunt to make the western conference playoffs in 2015 and isn’t that what the draft is meant for? To help teams gain a competitive boost, not languish in the lottery for half a decade like Cleveland and Philadelphia.

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