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NBA Saturday: Reforming The Lottery Won’t Add Parity to The NBA

The NBA is considering a reform of the draft lottery to disincentivize tanking, but it won’t add parity.

Dennis Chambers profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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With one simple WojBomb Thursday afternoon, the league’s intentions to overhaul the draft lottery system became known once again.

Adrian Wojnarowski, of ESPN, reported that the NBA is aggressively pursuing draft lottery reform that could be voted into legislation and instituted by the 2019 draft.”

In its current construct, the NBA lottery is comprised of every team in the league that fails to make the playoffs. Those teams then have a specific percentage chance to win the lottery based off of their record. The team that finishes with the worst record in a given season is awarded a 25 percent chance at the top pick, while the second and third worst teams have 19.9 and 15.6 percent chances, respectively.

What the NBA’s competition committee, comprised of league general managers and coaches, is proposing is making the percentage to win the lottery even among the teams with the three worst records in the league.

Essentially, this move is being brought forth as another attempt to extinguish reward for losing — and more importantly, tanking.

The main reason the NBA would look to rid the league of tanking franchises is obviously to keep competition at its highest level. If teams are outright losing on purpose, or doing so with a “wink wink” mentality like the Philadelphia 76ers have employed in recent years, the league’s overall product becomes watered down.

But changing the lottery system doesn’t help prevent disparity in the NBA. In fact, it encourages it.

Throughout the entirety of the league’s existence, team’s have ridden the backs of star players to NBA championships. In order to get that elusive ring, having a franchise player — or multiple franchise players — is a team’s best bet. However, getting players of that caliber on your team is easier said than done. There are few routes to acquiring a locked in franchise talents. First, a team could draft a player that becomes a star (their best bet at landing that player would come at the top of the draft, naturally). A team could also trade for an already established star (though that takes assets, usually draft pick compensation — the higher the pick, the more value it has). Finally, a team could sign a star player in free agency (although, small market teams usually don’t have the appeal to sign a star player outright).

In order for everyone, small market teams and poorly constructed teams included, to have a shot at landing star players, getting a top pick as compensation for a bad season seems to be the most logical way of spreading stars throughout the league.

For Major League Baseball and the National Football League, the worst teams get the highest draft pick in that year’s following draft. You win 59 out of 162 games like the Minnesota Twins did last season? Guess what, you get your chance at picking the best player available. Or how about the Cleveland Browns, who won just one of their 16 football games last year? Guess what, they got their choice of all every eligible player in the draft.

It isn’t a guarantee that players picked first overall in a draft ultimately turn into stars, but it’s the option that the worst team in the entire league has their pick of the litter that is so valuable. If a team is perpetually bad, but can’t win the draft lottery and continues to miss out on their franchise player, how does that create parity in the NBA? Short answer: it doesn’t.

By keeping the struggling teams at an arm’s distance from what could be viewed as their own first-aid kit in the form of a top overall pick, the NBA allows less of a chance for a franchise to rise of from the bottom of their league and challenge the Golden State’s and San Antonio’s of the world for a prolonged period of time.

In Wojnarowski’s report, he also makes mention that a varied structure of the reform could involve a potential clause that wouldn’t allow a team to draft within the top three picks in consecutive years. While this stipulation isn’t directly proposed in the reform’s current structure, it is expected to be discussed at the board of governors meeting, Wojnarowski said.

With the current stranglehold the Golden State Warriors have on the NBA and the trend of super teams the NBA is experiencing, clubs with one good player being able to compete for a championship is a thing of the past. Barring a team from being able to select within the top three in consecutive years potentially stops that team from throwing away a handful of wins the season after they draft in a high slot, but it doesn’t allow that team the opportunity to build a contender and add another franchise into the mix for a championship.

Through their words and their actions, dating back to the 2014 attempt the league made on a lottery reform, it’s clear that the NBA wants to make it harder for bad teams to become contenders.

As the 2017-18 gets ready to tip off, with another Warriors-Cavaliers NBA finals seeming imminent, parity is certainly becoming an issue throughout the league. However, reforming the lottery and cutting down the fractional chances bad teams already have at landing their star player isn’t going to fix that problem.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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