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NBA shifts the goal posts with Draft Lottery Reform

Now it’s better to just be sorta bad than really bad.

NBA: NBA Draft Lottery Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA today passed their first NBA Draft Lottery form in years in an attempt to disincentivize the kind of blatant tanking a team like the Philadelpiha 76ers was doing in recent years. More aggressive reform was never able to pass the NBA’s Board of Governors, but the desire for reform remained strong within the league. Unfortunately this latest reform doesn’t seem to solve the underlying problem and merely shifts it somewhere else.

Under the NBA’s new reform (which won’t take place until the 2019 draft lottery in order to give teams time to prepare), the bottom three teams will all share the same odds (14%) of getting the top pick. Additionally, the top four picks of the draft will now be up for lottery rather than just the top three.

Here’s a complete breakdown of the percentage changes among lottery teams with the new rules and the change from the current odds:

Note that with the new rules, the team with the worst record in the league has an almost 50% chance to fall all the way to 5th in the draft. The addition of an extra pick up for grabs in the lottery really helps the teams that aren’t exactly the worst but are still bad (like the Kings have been plenty of times over the last decade). For example, last year the Kings had the 8th best odds with basically a 10% chance of landing in the top three (which they did). Under the new rules those odds for a top three pick essentially double to 19.08% and they get an additional 7.22% chance at landing the fourth pick. That’s a big boon for those middling bad teams.

So sure, this rule might prevent a team from trying to win just 12 games. But now there’s simply going to be more jockeying to be in the bottom three rather than just bottom overall. This reform is going to cause a bit more randomness in the lottery, but it isn’t going to solve tanking. There’s still incentive to get the best chances you can even if those incentives aren’t quite as good anymore.