The intent of the NBA draft was to give the poorest (as in record) team a chance to make itself better. Then the next, the next, and so on. The worse a team did, the earlier it got to select from the draft-eligible players. But then teams got slick. They figured, heck, we’re pretty bad this year, but with Player X (usually the best collegiate player) on our squad, we could dominate. For years. Why not lose a few on purpose so we can get his draft rights? Since that logic isn’t exactly out of the Einstein School of Thought, the idea crossed the minds of the collective braintrusts of other bad teams and, well, you can see how convoluted things got when only a few games remained in the season and two or three teams were falling all over themselves to finish first. In the Player X sweepstakes. Or last in the NBA. Beyond just screwing the ticket-paying public, it kinda messed with something that’s called the integrity of the game.The NBA powers-that-be came up with a lottery system which gave ping pong balls to the lottery teams, i.e. the bottom 14 of the 30 NBA teams that don’t make the playoffs. The number of chances to win were given in reverse order of how the teams finished. Different methods of deciding who got what have occurred throughout the years from 1985 until the present. In 1993, real smart guys were called in to decide the “fairest” way to decide how the selection should be for the ‘94 draft. When real smart guys and basketball guys get together, worlds collide. Basketball guys score in ones, twos and threes (and it took a reeeeeal long time before threes were allowed. If smart guys were in charge of scoring, there would be square roots and decimal points involved and it would be a week after the game was played before we’d know who won. Suffice to say this lottery system gives the team with the worst record a greater chance to win it than any other team. 25%. That is technically true. But while the last place team has a better chance to win than any other team, it has a much less chance to win the lottery!
Without going into all the permutations and combinations (I was a math major in college but definitely not one of the “smart guys”), the team with the worst record has the greatest opportunity to “win” the lottery. It’s just that those odds aren’t very good. For example, last year’s worst team was the Charlotte Bobcats. They had the best chance to win the #1 pick who, even the youngest of NBA fans knew, was going to be Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. Whoever got Davis was getting a franchise player. The Bobcats faithful had suffered through a dismal season but that would be old news if they could only start fresh with AD. Then, the lottery came and they lost again. And the reason was that, although Charlotte had a better chance of winning the lottery than any other NBA team, they still had a 75% chance of NOT winning it!
It’s easy to say something’s broken without giving a way to fix it but the lottery needs a different formula, mainly because the worst team hardly ever gets the pick. Face it, last year the Bobcats were so bad that if they had tried to throw a game, they would have missed. The season was dreadful and then they get sand kicked in their face when they got third in the lottery.
This year, whoever has the worst record (Charlotte or Orlando) will have that same 25% chance of winning. Except the lottery will be composed of guys who, other than foreign players, are looked down upon by NBA scouts. Then why would they leave college? Three reasons: 1) it’s supposedly a weak lottery field and 2) next year’s draft is supposedly better. Combining 1) and 2) we get 3) somebody has to get selected. And going in the first round means guaranteed money.
To steal a memorable line from the late, great Jim Murray (who did not direct it toward the NBA draft), the description this year’s lottery could be:
“Never have so many done so little for so much.”