NBA Draft Lottery Reform: What you need to know

Changes to the draft lottery format and player resting policy have been approved by NBA’s board of governors. Here's what you need to know.


Looking to disincentivize tanking and limit teams’ deliberate attempts to boost their draft picks, NBA owners have approved changes to the much-debated NBA Draft Lottery.

In pursuing lottery reform, the NBA is trying to balance the odds of the worst teams in the league landing the top pick. In doing so, the league is hoping to stamp out tanking, the much-maligned tactic that sees teams deliberately under-perform to boost their chances of gaining the best draft picks available. The revamped lottery, which was recommended by the NBA’s Competition Committee, will be first implemented in the 2019 NBA Draft.

NBA Draft Lottery changes

The new lottery format grants a top-five pick for the team with the worst record in the league. That’s a change from the current lottery system, which ensures the team with the worst regular-season record picks no lower than fourth. The current system will continue to be used in next year’s draft.

The changes also level the odds at the top of the lottery, giving the three teams with the worst win-loss records an equal chance of winning the top pick. That chance now stands at 14% for these teams, whereas under the current system the lottery odds favor the top seed with 25 percent, while the second and third seeds have a 19.9 and 15.6 percent chance respectively.

Here’s a breakdown of the odds each team is assigned under the revamped NBA Draft Lottery format.

New lottery odds

   Team                                    No. 1 Pick                          Top 3                              Top 5

Team 114.0%40.0%100.0%
Team 214.0%40.0%80.0%
Team 314.0%40.0%67.0%
Team 412.5%37.0%55.0%
Team 510.5%32.0%44.0%
Team 69.0%28.0%37.0%
Team 77.5%23.0%32.0%
Team 86.0%19.0%26.0%
Team 94.5%15.0%20.0%
Team 103.0%10.0%14.0%
Team 112.0%7.0%9.0%
Team 121.5%5.0%7.0%
Team 131.0%3.0%5.0%
Team 140.5%2.0%2.0%

Will the changes work?

Tanking represents everything professional sports should rally against. It has been the league’s worst-kept secret in recent years as numerous franchises, most notably the Philadelphia 76ers, deliberately bottom out to earn high draft picks. The end product of years of tanking, provided the top picks live up to their billing, is a revamped roster that should push for NBA championship honors. While that hasn’t quite panned out in Philadelphia, the 76ers do, finally, boast a compelling roster that could soon push for a postseason berth, seemingly vindicating the tricky method used to get there.

It’s exactly that “race to the bottom” mentality, however, that league commissioner Adam Silver wants to stamp out. By allowing the worst team to drop further in the lottery and balancing the odds, the NBA Draft Lottery reform reduces the offseason rewards offered to non-playoff teams. The NBA is hoping that will convince the lower-ranked sides to pursue other methods of rebuilding their rosters, rather than relying solely on high draft picks and using tanking to get them.

While they won’t completely eradicate teams that shoot for the bottom, these changes will have an impact. The league’s lowest-ranked outfits may still be primed to get the top picks, yet blowing it all up no longer assures them a near-automatic shot of securing the most prized assets in the NBA Draft. The full effects won’t be on display for years to come, yet no one can blame the NBA as it seeks to encourage franchises to run more productively during their roster rebuilds. Let’s hope this helps ensure the get-rich quick mentality that underpins tanking becomes a thing of the past.

New player resting policy

Besides the lottery reform, the NBA Board of Governors also passed a new policy on resting healthy players. The policy, effective for the 2017/18 season, will prohibit teams from resting healthy players for high-profile, nationally televised games. Teams that fail to abide by this new rule will receive a fine of at least $100,000.

Additionally, unless there are “unusual circumstances”, teams are now banned from resting multiple healthy players for the same game, or resting healthy players when playing on the road. When teams decide to rest healthy players, the NBA is demanding that these players be made visible and available to interact with fans. The league has not yet specified the disciplinary action it will take against team violating this aspect of the new player resting policy.

What they said

Adam Silver, NBA commissioner

“Lottery reform was important because there was a perception in many of our communities that the best path to rebuilding their teams was to race to the bottom. 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.”

Byron Spruell, NBA president of league operations

NBA Draft Lottery reform is a meaningful step in our continuous effort to enhance the quality of our games. These changes were necessary to improve the competitive incentives for our teams.”

Ryan McDonough, Phoenix Suns GM

“Personally, I think it’s a positive step for the league. You never want a team to have an incentive, even a marginal incentive, to lose games and not put their best team on the court and not try to do as well as they can. The way the odds were set up I think you can make an argument that, I don’t want to say that behavior was encouraged, but it had the potential to be rewarded. The way the new, smoother odds look, I think and hope teams will compete and try to win as many games as they can because the odds are more balanced.”

Ending the "race to the bottom"

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Wojciech Galon

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Wojciech is the NBA editor at RealSport. He has covered a smorgasbord of sports across the editorial and video space for the past 10 years, covering some of the largest sports events in the world during that time.

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