No More Tanking: NBA Commissioner Aggressively Pursuing Draft Lottery Reform

The end of the season has become a standing joke for cellar-dwelling NBA teams, chiefly the Philadelphia 76ers. For the uninitiated, the Sixers had the first overall pick this year (Markelle Fultz), the first overall pick last year (Ben Simmons), the third overall pick in 2015 (Jahil Okafor), and the third and tenth overall picks in 2014 (Joel Embiid and Elfrid Payton); all courtesy of putting a terrible product out on the court. But that could be about to change, as the NBA, led by forward-thinking Commissioner Adam Silver, is aggressively pushing for measure that would change the arithmetic that goes into the draft lottery.

Currently, the team with the worst record has the best chance of getting the first overall pick. Originally instituted to maintain parity in the league, the draft lottery has become an eyesore for the entire league. Teams that aren’t making the playoffs are literally de-incentivized to win as the regular season wanes, and though coaches and GMs around the league will be loathe to admit, tanking has become a legitimate and popular strategy.

Under the current system, the NBA’s worst team has a 25% chance of getting the first overall pick, the second-worst team has a 19.9% chance, and the third-worst team has a 15.6% chance. The difference between finishing dead last and fifth-worst in the NBA is a 25% chance of getting the first overall pick to an 8.8% chance of getting it.

You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to understand that 25 is bigger than 8, so for a team that’s not making the playoffs anyway, why not try and lose a few extra games to secure the first overall pick?

Ethics, integrity, sportsmanship; those are just words, and words don’t fuel the NBA — money does.

What Adam Silver & Co. have in mind may seem like minutia, but their proposed changes should render tanking obsolete. They propose that the worst team, which currently cannot receive a pick lower than fourth overall, be eligible to draft as low as fifth overall, which would create a domino effect that reverberates throughout the draft.

In layman’s terms, the proposed changes would mean that the league’s bottom three teams all have an equal chance of landing the first overall pick, removing any incentive to lose games on purpose.

Before the changes become law, the NBA’s Competition Committee has to give it the OK, at which point it would go to the board of governors for a final vote.

Though it’s unlikely any team would have the audacity to replicate the 76ers’ “process” of tanking for four years to stockpile draft picks, it certainly looks like the league is going to step in and make sure it never happens again.