I’m not being biased. I realize that the Cleveland Cavaliers won four NBA Draft Lotteries between 2003-14.1 Cleveland’s had their fair share of good fortune in the NBA Draft Lottery over the years, I’m not here to argue that.
The reason I am here is to explain that the new-look NBA Draft Lottery — which debuted this year— either shouldn’t have been changed at all or needs to be updated and fixed again because, well, this past lottery proved that it’s messed up now more than ever. When the Cavs landed the fifth pick, much of Cleveland realized that as well. Tom, Travis, and Nom did an excellent job discussing it all on the latest The Nail in the Coffin podcast, in case you haven’t listened to it yet.
Less than three weeks ago, the NBA debuted their new-look draft lottery. It featured giving the three worst records the same odds to be awarded picks 1-4. That somewhat makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the way they went about each of the odds thereafter.
Let’s compare that to what the odds chart looked like prior to 2019:
Well, now let’s examine the key differences:
Do I need to continue? I mean, just look at the charts above if you’d like. Each of the last four lotteries from 2015-18 had the worst record winning the No. 1 pick. Given the odds with the new lottery, that will likely no longer happen. How does that help the bottom-tier teams of the NBA? It doesn’t.
When the Philadelphia 76ers made tanking socially acceptable with “The Process”, it made the NBA want to change the entire process. Yet, they seemingly made things much, much worse. The worst teams in the NBA are still going to be the worst teams. Now, the new-look lottery just makes it easier for other teams to join in on the party. You could argue that a team like the Cavaliers tanked at times this past season, whether it be not bringing players back from their respective injuries as quickly as they should, but let’s be honest, they lost LeBron. The Cavs were going to be one of the worst teams in the NBA whether they “rested” players at times or not. Then there’s the Lakers and Pelicans. Los Angeles shut down LeBron for the latter part of the season while New Orleans did the same with Anthony Davis. Yet, they were rewarded by getting the No. 1 and No. 4 picks, respectively. Let’s keep in mind that the Pelicans had the seventh-best odds to win the top-overall pick while the Lakers had the 11th-best odds.
But wait, I thought this new lottery system was supposed to discourage teams from tanking, right? Funny how that works.
As New Orleans and Los Angeles both proved, the new lottery system encourages teams to tank even more now than it did before, essentially doing the exact opposite result than what the NBA wanted. Just barely going to miss the playoffs? Might as well lose as many games as possible and give yourself decent odds to land a top-4 pick. Don’t want to be the No. 8 seed in the postseason and would rather tank the rest of the season? Might as well simply because of the odds you have to land a top-4 pick. Instead of the worst teams in the NBA tanking, this new-look system now encourages mid-tier teams to tank, ones that would either barely make the playoffs or barely miss out on them.
I somewhat understand the reason the NBA is the only one that has a draft lottery, rather than just using team records to select the draft order as every other major sports league does. There are probably multiple reasons, but the most glaring is that it would be easy to tank and finish with the worst record in any particular season, meaning that said team would always have the No. 1 pick. With that said, it seems as though the lottery can (and would) work much better if they actually were smart about it rather than giving more teams a chance at the best picks.
Here are some suggestions:
The NBA thought they were stopping teams from tanking by “fixing” the new-look NBA Draft Lottery that debuted earlier in May, but all they did was made it so that more teams would tank. It literally makes no sense and it needs to be changed (again) sooner rather than later before it gets even more out of hand. Bad teams will continue to still be bad, it’s the other teams (such as the Pelicans and Lakers) that will continue to take advantage of the new lottery system if it continues to be the same.