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No Tanks: The NBA Passes Draft Lottery Reform

NBA commissioner Adam Silver puts his foot down on bottoming out by scaling back draft-day incentives for the worst teams

2017 NBA Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Just as trusting the Process goes mainstream, the process itself has become more difficult. The NBA Board of Governors passed draft lottery reform on Thursday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported, beginning with the 2019 draft.

Per ESPN, the team that finishes with the worst record in the league will lose its big ping-pong ball advantage. Before, that franchise had a 25 percent chance at the no. 1 overall pick; now, it will be a 14 percent chance. The same odds will be given to the second-worst record and the third-worst record, giving all three the same shrunken chance at no. 1.

Those organizations’ odds at getting a pick in the top three dip, as well: The bottom three teams will all have a 40 percent chance at a top-three pick, as opposed to 64 percent, 56 percent, and 47 percent, respectively, from the current model. So a team could be the absolute worst in the entire league—we’re talking last season Brooklyn Nets bad—and it will have less than a 50 percent chance at cracking the top three. The team that finishes second-worst is not even fully guaranteed to hit within the top five anymore; now there’s a 20 percent chance it does not.

And so, here lies tanking. (Or as Houston GM Daryl Morey tweeted, “@samhinkie tanking is solved.”) Without a significant promise of winding up at the top, the league’s hope is that teams decide that the return for a season of sad, losing basketball will no longer be worthwhile. Maybe some teams will still play for the bottom, even with worse odds of a payoff, but the reality is that blowing it up no longer means a near-automatic chance at drafting your Luka Doncics, Michael Porters, or Marvin Bagley IIIs. (Don’t worry, Chicago. This doesn’t kick in until 2019. You’re safe.)

The franchises that would seemingly benefit the most are the ones on the playoff fringes two seasons from now (where the Sixers, ironically enough, may end up this season). With the odds leveled, the chances of landing a top-three pick for teams drafting between eight and 11 have more than doubled compared to the old breakdown. Maybe the sly way to rebuild going forward will be signing fat one-year deals (hey, like the Sixers again!) to be just good enough to still reap increased odds at a high pick without tying up your cap. We’ll see.

Either way, the NBA got what it wanted: It will be easier to hide the PR black eye of teams bottoming out to move from eighth-worst to 10th-worst in the conference than it is to trot out Tony Wroten as your leading scorer.

But the teams hoping to cash in on an elite prospect like a get-rich-quick scheme will no longer have that power. Tanks for nothing.