Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers have clearly benefitted from tanking in recent seasons, but it appears as though the NBA’s most recent rule changes will prevent future clubs from mimicking them.
The league office announced the official changes to the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery on Thursday, and they will undoubtedly make struggling teams think twice about purposely losing in the hopes of immediately re-tooling with a top pick.
It’s worth noting that the current system will stay in place for the 2018 Lottery.
Under the new system in 2019, the worst three teams in the league (by record) will have identical 14 percent odds. From there, the fourth-worst will have a 12.5 percent shot, the fifth-worst will have a 10.5 percent shot and descending odds continue from there to the 14th seed.
After drawings for the first four picks are conducted, the other lottery teams will continue to pick in inverse order of their regular-season record, per the release.
Currently, the top seed has a 25 percent chance to earn the top pick, the second seed has a 19.9 percent shot and the third seed has a 15.6 percent chance. Therefore, the incentive to tank is much more obvious right now.
“NBA Draft Lottery reform is a meaningful step in our continuous effort to enhance the quality of our games,” said NBA President, League Operations Byron Spruell. “These changes were necessary to improve the competitive incentives for our teams.”
Commissioner Adam Silver explained his thought process behind changing the rules.
Speaking of tanking, Silver said, “I don’t necessarily agree that that’s the optimal strategy to create a great team, but it became currency in this league, so much so that there were situations in many of our team communities where the team felt under pressure to engage in that strategy… even when they didn’t think that was the best strategy to build their team.”
Shortly after the news was announced, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey sarcastically tweeted at former Sixers executive Sam Hinkie, one of the original architects of the “Trust The Process” tanking movement in Philadelphia.
Silver made it a point to note that the new system is far from perfect, but it’s a start.
Rebuilding will remain a viable strategy for team building. Despite the flattening of odds in the top three, struggling teams will still have an incentive to lose due to a reverse-order draft. Additionally, perhaps more than any other sport, the NBA is absolutely a star-driven league, thus creating a craving to land a top draft pick.
Some of the Association’s most iconic players have been No. 1 overall picks.
Perhaps in the future, the league will consider a radical change like a completely random lottery, but in the meantime, it is focused on limiting overt displays of tanking which the changes appear to address.