NBA Draft Lottery in Need of Change


On Tuesday night, the draft lottery took place and, surprisingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers will have the top pick during the June 26 draft. This marks the third time in four years, and the fourth time in 10 years that the Cavaliers will be given the top choice. Considering the frequency of Cleveland obtaining the top spot in the NBA draft lottery, it appears something is not working; as such, the league may need a change in their draft order process.

Currently, the process allows for the teams with the worst records the largest chance to win the draft lottery. There are 1000 possible lottery combinations of ping pong ball numbers. Milwaukee, who was the worst team in the league, had a total of 250 combinations, Philadelphia had 199, Orlando had 156 and so on and so on.

Cleveland were ninth in total combinations with 11. Due to this, they only had a 1.7 percent chance of winning the whole thing. However, as luck would have it, they would defy all odds and win the top pick. Despite the odds, it does not appear that it should be allowed for Cleveland to continue to win the draft lottery 75 percent of the time. As such, a new process needs to take place, or the draft itself, at least, needs to be altered.

There are a couple of ways this can be accomplished. The simplest is to put a ban on a team winning more than once in five-year span. How does this work? Simply put, if a team has won recently, their combination is null and void during the first drawing.

Another idea is to completely do away with the lottery system. Many have stated that it encourages teams to tank, despite the fact that Cleveland was nowhere near tanking this past season. In fact, it has been 10 years since the team with the worst record has won the lottery. Regardless, one method is for the NBA is to do a wheel system. In this process, each team simply will have a different spot in the draft every year. For instance, a team that would get the top pick one year, would get the 30th the next, followed by 19th and so on and so forth.

Unlike the lottery system, the wheel would completely eliminate teams tanking. Instead, every team in the league would know what their spot would be for the next 30 years. Because of this, it would mix up the order every year. This would allow teams to be on the same playing field in terms of draft picks.

The wheel system does not come without its fair share of flaws though. In a league that is currently having problems of competitiveness, especially in the Eastern Conference, this system could potentially result in even larger gaps of talent among teams. Because the numbers are picked 30 years in advance, it is more than possible that the team winning a championship could technically pull the top pick. This will only stack the deck, and it could be a potentially dangerous strategy.

All things considered, the NBA would probably be safest by continuing with the lottery. In order to do so though, there needs to be safeguards in place, i.e. the same team unable to obtain the top spot year after year. Whether this happens or not will remain a mystery until something happens. One thing is for sure though; after Cleveland’s incredible luck, the NBA needs to adjust its draft lottery in order to change its winners.

Commentary by Simon Mounsey

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