Change is coming to the NBA draft lottery system, and it could be sooner rather than later.
The NBA submitted an initial proposal to tweak the lottery weighting system, Zach Lowe of Grantland reported Wednesday, citing several sources. The league’s proposal to the competition committee would reportedly install more balanced odds of the 14 lottery teams winning the No. 1 overall pick.
In the proposal, the four or five worst teams would each have an 11-percent chance at winning the No. 1 pick, down from 25 percent for the team with the worst record under the current system. The odds would decline from there, although it’s fuzzy as to how the back end of the lottery would work.
“The goal of this initial proposal is obvious: to prevent out-and-out tanking among the league’s very worst teams for the No. 1 pick,” Lowe writes. “Equalizing the odds for the five worst teams, and giving the next few clubs odds very close to that 11 percent chance, goes a long way toward removing the incentive to race toward the bottom.”
Whether tanking is an issue in reality is open to debate — of the 14 teams that missed the playoffs last season, eight went into the season clearly trying to win, and the Suns altered their strategy to make a playoff push after a surprising start — but even if it is an imaginary problem, it’s a problem commissioner Adam Silver is determined to fix.
Under any system, it is vital that the handful of teams with the best records in the lottery have low odds of landing the No. 1 pick, to keep a team in the hunt for the eighth seed from intentionally fading down the stretch. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who finished within five games of a playoff spot last season, lucked out by winning the No. 1 pick despite just 1.1 percent odds.
This is far from the beginning of the draft lottery debate. A “wheel” proposal gained popularity last winter, but was clearly polarizing, as it would have eliminated team record entirely from the draft process and cycled the No. 1 pick through all 30 teams every three decades. But this is also far from the end of the lottery reform talk.
“The discussion is still in its early stages, and there are more proposals floating around from team officials,” Lowe writes. “Those ideas could get more air time, and the league could always tweak its own proposal or put forth another. But it’s clear that Adam Silver is serious about tweaking the lottery system, possibly as early as next season. It’s important that the league examine all unintended consequences before instituting a revamped lottery. This is gonna get interesting, fast.”