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Fixing the NBA draft lottery with tournament-style playoffs

Jarrod Castillo
NBA Draft Lottery
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of having the NBA draft lottery, the league should implement a tournament to see which team truly deserves the No. 1 pick.

The big picture: As more and more teams realize that the draft may not be the best way to go for improvement, here is a new way to potentially fix that system.

How it would work: Sometime after the end of the NBA playoffs and before the NBA draft in June, lottery-bound teams will head to a neutral arena such as the Thomas and Mack Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada to play the games.

Very simply, this is how things would work:

  • The teams with the worst record would get higher seeds while the teams with better records would get low seeds.
  • Teams with the best record of the lottery teams get “byes”.
  • Once there are eight teams left, the two “bye” teams are introduced back into the competition.
  • Then, it becomes a standard bracket with the final four teams and then a championship game for the No. 1 pick.
  • If two or more teams have the same record, the team with the best “away” record would get a “bye”.
  • In the event that two or more teams have the same “away” record, teams will then be selected based on the best plus/minus rating.

This is how it would work with current teams:

  • The Charlotte Hornets and the Sacramento Kings (39-43), would get “byes”.
  • Then the New York Knicks (1) would play the Miami Heat (12).
  • After the first round, the Hornets and Kings will be introduced back into play and the brackets will compete until there is one team left.

This should give teams more incentive to improve in the offseason. Currently, teams are willing to spend years in the cellar of the NBA, amassing draft picks. Although “The Process” appears to have worked with the Philadelphia 76ers, not all fan bases are willing to trust such an approach.

“Never tell me the odds”: There are some potential drawbacks to this concept.

  • Most notably, teams might never win the No. 1 pick, even if they’re bad. In the instance above, the Knicks could end up losing to the Heat, thus automatically disqualifying them from the No. 1 pick.
  • The hope is that this would eliminate “tanking” in the NBA. “Tanking” refers to when a team intentionally loses games in order to gain the best chance of winning the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
  • Another possible drawback is “strategic tanking.” What that means is that teams that are in the playoff hunt but are projected to be a low seed might end up losing a handful of games.
  • By losing these games, the team would fall out of the NBA playoffs and turn into a “bye” team in the NBA draft playoffs. To combat this, lottery-bound teams will be forced to spend more money to stay competitive and to get a better shot at getting the No. 1 pick.

Conversely, as teams get more competitive, that should increase revenue as more fans will watch games because their team isn’t as bad. Additionally, the NBA Draft playoff would bring in more revenue as well for the city in which the neutral arena is located.

The bottom line: Although NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is beginning to curb “tanking” throughout the league, this new system would further lower the odds that teams would tank in the regular season.

Along with adding a more competitive atmosphere, this will allow fans the opportunity to watch more basketball during the doldrums of the NBA offseason. With more fans watching more basketball, the league and the host cities will make more revenue with which they can use in order to make more competitive teams.