By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Thursday afternoon, by a 28-1-1 vote (Oklahoma City voted against and Dallas abstained), the league passed a lottery reform measure that basically amounts to shifting the deck chairs on the Tanktanic. The league also passed guidelines to try and curb the recent DNP-rest trend. In this blogger’s humble opinion, both moves do more to combat the NBA’s perception of its problems than actually make positive changes to the league.
First, let’s look at the new lottery system, which Adam Silver has seemed determined to overhaul ever since Sam Hinkie was too honest and forthright about his intentions for the commissioner’s liking. The new lottery odds are outlined in the chart below:
Here is an ESPN graphic on how NBA Draft lottery odds change in 2019 pic.twitter.com/Jk8X7q0J3Z
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 28, 2017
Starting with the 2019 draft, the major changes include the bottom-three teams all having a 14% chance at the first overall pick, with higher, flatter odds throughout the rest of the lottery. The top four picks are now selected via lottery, as opposed to the top three picks previously, meaning the team with the worst overall record can now fall as far as 5th.
Rather than doing something drastic to actually enhance the competitive balance issue, the league just wanted to appear like it was stopping the tanking “epidemic”. All this change will do is alter where the inflection points are to tank. There will absolutely be teams that gun for the best possible odds of 14%, even if it’s not 25%, because it’s still their best hope at obtaining a franchise-level talent. Now, more teams will feel they have a chance at those “best odds” because you only have to be in the bottom three to obtain them. This reform could actually lead to more tanking!
More drastically, some teams who are in the playoff hunt in April will definitely take a hard look at whether it’s worth it to get stomped by the 1-seed in the first round, versus maybe falling to the 10th-worst record and having a 14% chance at a top-5 pick. I really hope that happens and all the members of the older generation clutch their pearls about the integrity of the game.
For the Sixers, it’s funny that with lottery reform mainly targeted at what they did with the Process, this new system could stand to benefit them. If the Lakers pick falls within 2-5 next summer, Philadelphia would retain Sacramento’s 2019 first-round pick. The Kings are unlikely to be making the playoffs anytime soon in the battle royale that is the Western Conference, but you also wouldn’t expect them to be among the very worst teams in the league.
Therefore, the flatter odds at the back half of the lottery could stand to help the Sixers. For example, if Sacramento ends up with the 8th-worst record, the Sixers would have a 6.0% chance at the first overall pick and a 26% chance at a top-5 selection, versus 2.8% and 10% under the current system. One more lottery gift from Sam Hinkie because the league changed the system due to him would be sweet justice.
As for the new resting policy, it will give Adam Silver license to fine teams at least $100k for resting multiple players for a game or sitting healthy players for nationally televised games. Like tanking, the idea of resting players has caused more of a problem in the court of public opinion than harmed the actual foundation of the game. This new legislation is pointless; if teams want to rest guys, they’re going to rest guys. Now, we’ll just see a lot more cases of flu-like symptoms than before. At least DNP-rest was honest.
Ultimately, whether it’s maximizing lottery odds or keeping players fresh for a postseason run, smart teams are always going to find ways to work around the fringes of the rulebook. These reforms are largely ineffective in stopping what the league perceives as major problems to the game. Tanking has been going on for decades; the shuffling around of odds isn’t going to put an end to it.