Originally when proposing NBA draft reform, proposals were focused on making wholesale changes to the draft system, mostly because the 76ers exposed the warped incentive structure a worst-to-first draft combined with a star-thirsty sport causes. Remember the “lottery wheel” and how people thought that idea was fair and not ludicrous? If you’re going to employ a talent distribution draft, it needs to be executed so that it increases competitive balance rather than randomizing it.
The NBA temporarily solved The Sixers Problem by intervening in the team’s operations and installing the Colangelos, and in doing so the league has seemingly warded off extreme tanking for the time being. But now that some big-market tankers are on the up-and-up (except the Chicago Bulls, who are just depressing) the league’s competition committee is planning to make it a bit more difficult to follow in their footsteps by smoothing draft lottery odds.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (that’s still weird to type) has been the go-to source for NBA draft reform updates, and confirmed today that reform is going to the NBA’s Board of Governors for a vote.
The NBA's proposed changes to the system would begin with the 2019 NBA Draft, and include a smoothing out of odds among the league's worst teams, league sources said.
For example, the three worst teams currently have a 25 percent, 19.9 and 15.6 percent chances at winning the No. 1 overall pick. Under the new plan, those teams would share a 14 percent chance, league sources said, and odds of ensuing teams would drop incrementally by a percentage point or two, league sources said.
Also, the league's three worst teams could fall further in the lottery than currently constituted, league sources said. The worst team could drop to fifth under the new plan, down from fourth. The second worst record could move to sixth, down from fifth.
At the apex of the Philadelphia 76ers tanking saga, the board of governors voted down a somewhat more liberal proposal on lottery reform in 2014.
The details in the report were the same as predicted in Woj’s latest podcast with Zach Lowe. The limited unveiled changes included in the proposal should result in the following effects:
- Introduce a larger element of luck into a team’s fortunes, especially a middling team’s. Running in place like the mid-aught’s Sixers will be even more incentivized, as the odds of escaping mediocrity via sheer dumb luck will increase.
- Increase the difficulty of strategic rebuilding. It will become more difficult to rebuild via the draft, or need to last a longer period of time on average, due to the lesser chances at top picks.
- Change the inflection point at which to tank, which could result in more teams fighting for the worst three records. Aside from the Nets embracing the KG ethos that anything is possible including sheer morbidity, teams in the bottom three will be strategically managed to ensure they stay only there, while more teams have a chance at the highest draft lottery odds. Ultimately tanking for third has no incremental impact compared to previous drafts, but the benefits along the way to third could be greater due to odds smoothing.
There will be other ripple effects, but at this point, be thankful that previous lottery reform efforts that targeted the Sixers failed. Even these smaller changes will make replicating the Process much, much harder. As Kyle Neubeck mentioned previously, this may in the end help the Sixers in the post-rebuild era, but it seems like a reactionary not-at-all fix to a competitive balance problem that the league has no interest in addressing.