A lot of talk has been made recently about changes to the draft lottery process. The newest proposal being tossed around is the wheel system in which each team would get one pick each of slots 1-30 over a 30-year period. Thus only one first overall pick, second overall pick, etc., etc. I’m not too keen on this method for a few reasons including the fact that big market teams still make out better in free agency and could stack their teams leading up to the years when they have a top 5 pick. This method does take away the incentive to tank but it is not ideal in respect to any future possibility of expansion or contraction. 30 years is a long time to be locked into a specific system. What happens if 7 or 8 years down the road the NBA realizes this system isn’t working properly and a change needs to be made? What happens to the teams due top 5 picks the following year? It just doesn’t seem practical in my mind.
Other people have talked about getting rid of the current weighted lottery system and allowing all 14 lottery teams an equal chance at the number one pick as was the case in years past. This just promotes tanking in a different way. Why push for the 8th seed in the playoffs and a probable first round exit when you could try to lose your last few games and have a shot at the number one pick? This doesn’t remove the current hot button issue of tanking teams, it just promotes it among better quality teams. Many other proposals have been made over the years including non-playoff teams playing a tournament to determine draft order and, the one I’m going to be focusing on today, a 3-year weighted system that factors in each team’s previous 3 seasons’ win totals into determining their draft position.
First off, let me begin by saying I am certainly not the person who came up with this idea. I've just always thought this one made the most sense of all of the many ideas I have seen over the years. This proposal makes it harder for teams to tank as you have to be really bad over a 3-year period to increase your odds at the number one overall pick. A 3-year tank likely hurts attendance and the attention of the fan base overall and would be a tough sell in most markets. Also, this takes away the possibility of a contending team that suffered a major injury to one of their superstars to trade away productive players in hopes of scoring a high pick (think this year’s Chicago Bulls). While this method, like every other, isn’t 100% perfect or full-proof I still think certain rules can be put into place to offset issues that may arise.
First, let’s look at how this system would work in a nutshell. The chart below shows every NBA teams’ win totals since the 2004-05 season (the first year Charlotte entered the league).
Basically, we would add win totals from the 2004-05, 2005-06 & 2006-07 seasons to determine the 2007 draft order of non-playoff teams. So the worst team over that 3-year period would get the number one pick while the best team (not in the 2006-07 playoffs) would receive the 14th overall pick. This could be altered to include the current weighted lottery system after the top 14 spots are determined to keep alive the excitement of draft lottery night if desired. Below, the first chart shows the 3-year cumulative win totals for each team. The second chart shows where each team ranks in each 3-year period.
This would create some of the excitement that makes the NCAA tournament so much fun. Upsets are more fun to root for as a casual fan and the possibility of a 14, 15 or 16 seed moving on to the next round creates the Cinderella effect. It also allows for two teams in one conference to play for a title in any given season, an added bonus that could provide some interesting storylines. Below is how playoff matchups would have looked over the last 10 years. Just like in the NCAA tournament the winner of the 1-16 series would play the winner of the 8-9 series with the highest seeded team maintaining home court advantage through each round.
As mentioned before, the earliest possible draft this system could have occurred would have been 2007, 3 years after the Bobcats had entered the league. Below is how each draft order would have looked implementing the proposed system not taking into account any traded picks in each given year.
Obviously, the ramifications would have been huge in nearly every single draft. In 2007, Kevin Durant would have ended up on either the Hawks or Bobcats. In 2008, the Knicks would have been able to draft Derrick Rose. Blake Griffin would have went to Memphis in 2009 while John Wall would be running point for the Timberwolves after the 2010 draft. The obvious problem when looking at those draft orders is that Minnesota runs away with 3 straight number one picks followed by two years of Bobcats number ones. This is where something would have to be put in place that says one team couldn’t have back to back top picks or even top 3 or 5 picks. Say we went with no team could have back to back top 5 picks. Minnesota would get the 1st overall pick in 2010 and then the 6th overall in 2011. The other solution is, as mentioned before, the order in the charts above could just be used as the basis for the current weighted lottery system that is in place. So, for example, in the 2007 draft, Atlanta would have a 25% chance at the number one pick instead of owning it outright. Another possibility is changing the weighting system altogether to favor teams with terrible 3-year runs but again that determination of percentages would have to be made by someone smarter than myself.
In conclusion, I would propose the 3-year cumulative wins system in determining drafting position for non-playoff teams, either alone or in combination with the current or tweaked lottery system, along with the overhaul of the playoff seeding structure to allow the best 16 teams to play for a championship, instead of rewarding bad teams in bad conferences, as the best way to counteract year to year tanking while also infusing the NBA with more excitement come playoff time. These subtle but significant changes could be implemented relatively quickly and the league would have the opportunity to see the effects over a period of a few years without being locked into a long-term change as proposed by the wheel system. It may not be perfect but it sure was fun putting this together and thinking about how the current state of the NBA would be if this system had been in place since the mid-2000’s.
*2013-14 win totals & 2014 draft order in this article are based upon the current NBA standings after all games that were played on January 10th.