24 May 2007
On Tuesday this past week was the NBA draft lottery. Many sports pundits have bashed this system recently due to the fact that (1) the three teams with the worst record will not get a top three pick and more importantly (2) big market teams like Boston will have to settle for second rate goods. I take the position that the lottery is a good thing and in fact I think that it should have an even better percentage of winning for all teams that not make the playoffs.
Let's look at a political equivalent first. Way back in the year 2000 many were up in arms when the candidate with the slim majority in the popular vote (Gore) lost to the electoral college vote (G.W. Bush). People were irate as to how this could happen, but historically this is the way the system was set up. You play by the rules that are set up (see benching of Amare and Diaw). The reason that our government has an electoral college is to encourage campaigning in "swing states" so that a candidate doesn't spend all his time in the 20 most populous cities in the country. This sentiment of giving everyone a chance is exactly what basketball is trying to do, give each team a chance.
I do not think however that each pick (1-14) should be based on lottery, only the top three. There is not much separation between any five teams based on record, however some of the worst teams and teams that just miss the playoffs have a much wider margin. Having a lottery system prevents teams from tanking. It is ridiculous that people will shell out their hard earned dollars to see bench players at the end of a season. Every season it is obvious that a handful of teams are just trying to stack some extra ping pong balls in their favor, hoping for the top pick.
My solution is make the lottery more equitable for every team. If we base the percentage of winning on the number of losses a team has, there would only be a maximum 5% difference between the top team and the bottom (8% for worst team and 3% for best team in lottery). Of course this could make a team on the edge push their way into the playoffs, but historically this has happened even with bad teams. Some examples that come to mind are Patrick Ewing and Lebron James. Even if a team has the top pick doesn't mean it is always for the best, for example Sam Bowie to Portland instead of Michael Jordan.
I do not like this year how the western conference got the top two picks this year, but that is how the ping-pong balls bounce. This is a good system and although I propose more radical change in the opposite direction, keeping it this way is perfectly fine.