In case you missed it, the NBA Board of Governors is scheduled to meet in coming days to discuss updating the NBA Lottery system. The NBA Lottery system as it exists now basically states that the worst teams in the league have a higher chance to get a high draft pick in the upcoming NBA draft. This is designed to put the rising stars out of college and internationally on bad teams to ultimately change the trajectory of the franchise.
This system and its perceived benefits has created what we all know today as “tanking”. This new term for intentionally losing games after a team’s season is a wash is not just an NBA problem. The Indianapolis Colts did it in 2012 to have the chance to draft Andrew Luck, they coined the season “Suck for Luck”.
The Philadelphia 76ers have trusted #TheProcess of the draft system to rebuild into a competitive team. And are the NBA’s first example of why the system is broken.
Essentially the NBA is trying to prevent teams from intentionally losing games, which diminishes the on-court product and angers fan bases.
According to the current lottery system, the worst team in the league (based on previous season’s record) has the highest chance (25%) of getting the number one pick. The chances lessen as the records get better. The only teams that are given a chance at the number one pick are the 14 teams that do not make the playoffs.
- 250 combinations, 25.0% chance of receiving the No. 1 pick
- 199 combinations, 19.9% chance
- 156 combinations, 15.6% chance
- 119 combinations, 11.9% chance
- 88 combinations, 8.8% chance
- 63 combinations, 6.3% chance
- 43 combinations, 4.3% chance
- 28 combinations, 2.8% chance
- 17 combinations, 1.7% chance
- 11 combinations, 1.1% chance
- 8 combinations, 0.8% chance
- 7 combinations, 0.7% chance
- 6 combinations, 0.6% chance
- 5 combinations, 0.5% chance
In the suggestions that have leaked to the media, the proposed lottery changes would include the worst three teams having an equal percent chance (14%) to get the top pick. Across the playoff-less 14 teams the chances would significantly tighten between all teams to receive the number one pick.
Another suggestion that has been released is the idea that the team that no team could pick in the top three spots for consecutive years. The aforementioned teams would not be allowed to pick higher than the number four pick the next year.
Before I discuss why this new proposed system would be detrimental to small-market teams, namely the Memphis Grizzlies, there’s one fact that needs to be said regarding the lottery system change.
Since the Philadelphia 76ers have become the flagship team to push the NBA into considerations, let’s take a look at their last five top picks, starting in 2013.
2013 – 6th pick (from New Orleans): Nerlens Noel
2014 – 3rd pick: Joel Embiid
2015 – 3rd pick: Jahlil Okafor
2016 – 1st pick: Ben Simmons
2017 – 1st pick: Markelle Fultz
Looking at those names, they were all hyped coming out of college, but none have changed the 76ers into a winning team, or even competitive. And yes, I’m aware that there were significant injuries to many of those listed, but woe is the chance you take on top talent.
In other words, tanking hasn’t worked...yet. There is no real argument that tanking is a truly sound strategy, at least as of yet, but it happens every year. Perhaps the 76ers could be competitive this year in the pitiful Eastern Conference, but that means it will have taken them five years to turn the franchise around. That doesn’t seem to be a terrible timeline that is jeopardizing the NBA’s status or talent level.
Of the last 10 number one picks in the NBA draft, only one player has won an NBA Championship, Kyrie Irving. The Cleveland Cavaliers were at best 16 games under .500 before Lebron James came back to play with Kyrie, so that pick didn’t change this franchise without help outside the draft.
Now, in regards to how this new system would affect small market teams, it all revolves around the wonderful organized chaos that we call free agency.
It’s no secret that small market teams (Memphis, Indiana, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Utah, etc.) struggle to attract free agents. In some cases they actually repel them, i.e. OKC and Indiana. So the only realistic way to build these franchise into winning programs is drafting and developing young talent.
Think about the teams I mentioned. Aside from New Orleans, they have all been competitive in recent years, and because of their draft choices for the most part. Memphis – Mike Conley, Indiana – Paul George, OKC – Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Utah – Gordon Hayward.
If the odds of landing tops picks decreases for these small market teams, regardless if they had a bad season, the struggle will only increase to create a competitive team through the draft. On the other hand, markets that can land free agents because of what the locale offers, not always the success of the team, now have the same chances as teams that struggle in free agency.
Look at it this way, the Golden State Warriors could have a fraction less chance than the Grizzlies to land a top prospect. That just doesn’t seem fair.
Or look at a program that seems to be on the up and up exclusively because of free agency, the LA Lakers. Rumors have it that PG, Lebron, maybe Westbrook, and handful of tier-2 players could be headed West. That team could have a higher chance than the Grizzlies to draft a top prospect to play with those free agents.
The suggestion that teams can’t draft in the top three in consecutive years wouldn’t have much effect on the Grizzlies if they stay out of the bottom seven or eight teams in the league. That doesn’t seem to be an issue in the immediate future, though looking at the young talent the Grizzlies have, they are largely unproven and questionable.
But on the off chance that the Grizzlies find themselves in rough patch of two or three years, the consecutive rule could benefit Memphis by giving them a higher chance to land a top three spot.
Of course, all this is just speculative if the Board of Governors doesn’t make a decision to change, that is to be determined in the upcoming weeks. On top of that, if implemented, these changes wouldn’t be implemented until the 2019 NBA Draft.
But the best way to ensure the success of the Grizzlies is to win games to attract free agents based on performance, and to make smart, educated draft choices no matter what pick it is.
On another exciting note, the NBA season tips off in one month.