Column: NBA’s lottery changes are not for the best

The NBA’s board of governors voted to reform the NBA’s draft lottery last week by making it harder for the team with the worst record to land the first pick. (AP/Julia Jacobson)

The NBA’s board of governors voted to reform the NBA’s draft lottery last week by making it harder for the team with the worst record to land the first pick. The hope is to end tanking and all future “Processes” for good.

Starting in 2019, the three worst teams in the league will all have a 14 percent chance to land the number one pick.

At first glance, the thought process makes sense. If these new rules were put in place last season, teams like the 76ers and Lakers wouldn’t have to compete to see who can put out the worst product out on the court. There’s no use winning the race if you have to share the trophy with second and the third place.

But while the lottery reform makes it harder for the worst team to get the first pick, it makes it easier for just about everyone else.  

Bad teams will still try to exchange wins for more ping-pong balls on draft night. The chance to land a potential franchise player is worth far more to a team than 30 wins will ever be. By making the three worst teams all have the shot, the NBA has made the first overall pick an attainable goal for everyone. All a team has to do is get to at least third and they will have as good a chance as any to land the next superstar.

By lowering the odds for the absolute worst teams, the lottery reform has also increased the odds for every team that was merely mediocre. Every lottery slot lower than five will see their expected pick increase under the new rules. For instance, the eighth worst team in league would now have a 25 percent chance to land within the top five, up from a mere 10 percent under the old system.

At the beginning of 2017 the Heat looked dead in the water. Sitting at an 11-30 record on Jan. 13, it looked like Miami was bound for a top pick. The Heat went on to win 16 of their next 18 games. As good of a story as it was at the time, Miami didn’t end up making the playoffs and ended up with the 14th pick. Under these new rules, we’re much more likely to see teams holding players out with phantom injuries instead of making a playoff push. Every loss is just more ping pong balls in your favor on lottery night.

If all the eighth seed is going to get you is a swift kick in the teeth from the Warriors, why bother? Even the teams on the fringe of the lottery have an increased chance of landing the first pick, as slim as the chances are.

There have been convoluted ideas like a rotating wheel of picks floated in the past, but there is never going to an easy solution to the problem of tanking. As long as teams can get better players by losing more games, there will always be tanking. But by devaluing the very top of the draft, the NBA might have created a new problem for itself.  By eliminating the need for historic tanks like Philadelphia just finished, we might see almost half the NBA jostling to be just a little bit worse than everybody else.   


Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at bryan.lambert@uconn.edu. He tweets @OfficialBrett.