Revisiting the Seeding of the Draft Lottery

I’m supposed to write about the NBA Draft we just had Thursday night – and I will.  I’m doing the research, crunching #’s, racking my brain.  But at the moment, I was inspired (by a question on the APBRmetrics board) to address how the NBA comes up with the seeding of the draft.  The whole idea of “tanking” drives everyone crazy – so I think the obvious solution to get the #1 pick in the draft is simple….

Have them play for it and EARN it.

Yes, I am on board with a NBA lottery tourney (we won’t call it playoff to avoid confusion with the “real” playoff).  Yes, I know it seems counter-intuitive to award the #1 pick to a team that wins a tourney, when it should go to the “worst” team.  But, as we have it now – the #1 pick RARELY goes to the worst team.  There’s just dumb luck that lands many teams the #1 pick.

So, I say TOURNEY.  We can easily set the tourney up to FAVOR the worst teams.  I’m thinking best of 3 game series, 2 home games for the worse record team.  Seed the worst teams together every round (thus also making the better teams knock each other out early).  It doesn’t really matter to me HOW it’s done, just so that I – and the fans of bad teams – can enjoy watching these teams that have languished for months actually  have, finally,  something REAL to play for.  Teams that maybe have been “tanking” better get their best team on the court and start “playing”.  All the extra games would earn the non playoff teams and the NBA some extra $$ to boot!

Based on this last season, I’d maybe set it up like so (top team gets 2 home games, bottom 1):

Bye 1 Bucks
Bye 2 Sizers W1/2
3 Magic > W 1-6
4 Jazz W 3/4 I I
> W 3-6 I
5 Celtics W 5/6 I
6 Lakers I
> Champ
7 Kings I
8 Pistons W 7/8 I
> W 7-10 I
9 Cavs W 9/10 I I
10 Pelicans I I
> W 7-14
11 Nuggets I
12 Knicks W 11/12 I
> W 11-14
13 Wolves W 13/14
14 Suns

When it’s all said and done – I’d probably re-seed each bracket (top 1-6) & (bottom 7-14) separately based on results after #1 pick is rewarded to the champ to get the final draft seeding.  So, 1-6 will get shuffled a bit, as well as 7-14 – based on how far the teams get in their bracket (initial seeding obvious tie breaker).  The very worst (and 2nd worst) team going into this tourney would end up – at the very WORST if they lose their first series – the 5th pick.  If they win that first series (again, that game is against the OTHER worst team), the worst pick they’d get is the 3rd pick.

At first glance, maybe it would seem unfair that a “better” team will end up in the finals (seeded 7-14) – BUT they will have a much harder road to get there, AND they will have to WIN the finals to get that #1 pick, otherwise they will end up pick #7 (when we seed the draft from the two brackets separately).  Still a nice reward if the team (say, the Suns last season) went into the tourney at #14.  If the runner up is from the weaker bracket (1-6), they’ll still will have earned the #2 pick – again, not too shabby.

Anyway – only two teams could drop more than 3 spots based on results (#1 could end up with the #5 pick if they lose their first series and a team in the better bracket wins it all, #7 will end up #11 if they lose the 1st round).  No other teams will drop more than 3 spots.

Of course, all future traded draft picks would have to be lottery protected unless the lottery playoff for the pick (ie, that very offseason before that draft) has already been played.  I don’t care how it may complicate trading of future draft picks, I just want the playoff – less talk of “tanking”, more talk of “earning”.

I know the NBA probably will never implement something like this – but man, how great would it be if they did.  How progressive as a pro league would the NBA look if they did something so radically different to “decide” winner of that coveted #1 draft pick – and to give fans of the “lesser” teams something fun to root for after the regular season ends.


5 thoughts on “Revisiting the Seeding of the Draft Lottery

  1. Love the idea but I feel like the seeding is a little off. 2 starts on the road while 7 gets home-court advantage all the way to the finals. I think there’d be some way to balance it out properly, but you’d need to give the high seeds tougher assignments. Given that they’d get home court advantage the matchups would be pretty even, and I think exciting as well.

    1. #7 seed may get home court advantage all the way to the finals in my scenerio – but they will have to play through better or much better teams for 3 rounds while the 6 “worse” teams have a MUCH easier bracket. #2 seed just needs to win its first series against the WORST team to have home court the rest of the way. #7 also is in the only spot where they would definitely drop 4 picks (to #11) after losing in the first round, which is also .

      I actually think a double elimination (like the college baseball world series) might even be a better idea – adding tons of drama for each game and different match ups every round. I think the only way you could tip the scales to the worse record teams is to have the “worse” team get home court every match up (as well as the “worst” remaining team getting a bye when a bye is needed). You’d also have the very worst team play the next very worst team in each round of their winner or loser’s bracket, and seed on up from there. There’d be less games, and so less $$ for the NBA than my original set up, so it’s even be more unlikely than the 0.00001% chance my original idea had to be enacted.

  2. Why exactly is it so unlikely though? Itd be excoting and highly profitable. It ensures every team plays meaningful games at the end of the year. The players wouldnt be worked any harder than players on playoff teams. There’d be no incentive to make your roster worse, as youd want a strong team for the tourney. The only downside is borderline playoff teams tanking to make the tourney, but I dont get why this system should be so unrealistic.

    1. Hey, preaching to the choir Brendan – I proposed such a thing because I think it could be extremely fun for fans and quite profitable. Actual GOOD memories for even mediocre/bad teams could be created for their fans. But, it seems most that have responded to my idea elsewhere think that there is absolutely no way the NBA would do this. The reason why – well, no professional league has ever done such a thing before.

      I think the NBA could REALLY show how willing they really are to do things different than the old norm with something that wouldn’t be hard at all to enact. How cool – after these few years of all this “tanking” talk – would it be to see some team EARN that #1 pick. How great would it be for their fans. How great would it be for their (often young) players to get a chance to play for “something” – maybe make their mark that could continue the following year(s). Non-playoff teams could actually MAKE more $$.

      Something like this seems so obvious to me as a solution to the mediocre/bad team doldrums and talk of “tanking” – as well as a solution to the pure randomness of the lottery. But – people have told me it’s too “crazy”. As far as I’m concerned, just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t necessarily mean it’s crazy – it very well may mean it’s innovative and ahead of it’s time.

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