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Last Lottery Post

Before we put the lottery topic completely to bed I'm taking my best shot at a revised system.  Having listened to all the comments (including my own) I used the following criteria in development:

  1.  The system must not encourage tanking any more than the current system does.  (Reminder:  the current system is hardly foolproof in that area.)
  2.  The system must preserve the sense of excitement and drama inherent in the current process.  
  3.  The system should strengthen the link between game-related criteria and reward/result.  The two possible criteria are need and achievement.  I have chosen the former since it is already assumed in the current structure. (Besides, going by achievement you wouldn't have a lottery at all. Just give the best picks to the best teams.)
  4.  The system shouldn't be overly complicated.  (I tried my best and I think this is doable.  There's no trigonometry or obscure stats involved.)
Here's what I came up with:

The Participants

The fourteen non-playoff teams are the lottery participants, just as it is now.

The Seeding

The fourteen teams will be seeded by cumulative record, from worst to best.  Cumulative record will include results from the current season plus the previous two.  They will be calculated thusly:

--The prior two seasons' records will be averaged (the result rounded up to the nearest whole number if necessary).

--That average record will be added to the current season's record to come up with a total cumulative record.

Example:  A team that finished the last three seasons 50-32, 40-42, and 20-62 would have a cumulative record of 65-99.  (The average of the first two seasons was 45-37 plus 20-62 this year equals 65-99.)  A team that finished the last three seasons 30-52 each year would end up with a cumulative record of 60-104.  The second team would get a better seed despite the first team's worse record this season.

In essence the two prior seasons count as ¼ of the cumulative record each while the current season counts as ½.

The Split

Once the teams are seeded 1-14 using these cumulative records the field will be split into two groups: 1-7 and 8-14.  The 1-7 seeds will draw ping pong balls for the first three picks.  The 8-14 seeds will draw ping pong balls for the 8th and 9th picks.  After the drawing non-winners will be seeded in reverse order of (cumulative) record, just like the current system.

The Percentages

The percentage of total combinations for each seeding would be as follows.  (Remember the 8th-14th seeds are drawing for the 8th and 9th picks, not the 1st-3rd.)

1st/8th       35%
2nd/9th    27%
3rd/10th   18%
4th/11th   10%
5th/12th   5%
6th/13th   3%
7th/14th   2%

The No-Repeat Rule

A team cannot get the Overall #1 Pick two drafts in a row.  If the result would indicate a repeat winner the balls are re-drawn.


--Restricting the lottery to non-playoff teams is the same as now and needs no justification.

--Determining seeding order by cumulative record from the last three seasons is a protection against tanking, a function shouldered (unsuccessfully if the talk is to be believed) by percentage distribution in the existing system.  The current season is still the biggest factor in determining seeding but it's balanced one-for-one with recent history.  Teams have trouble forecasting the success of even their best plans three years down the road.  It would be virtually impossible and monumentally undesirable to tank three years in advance to obtain a player even if you knew he was coming.

An important point: this disincentive is hard-wired into the system and works every time. In the current system the disincentive depends on the bounce of a ping poing ball and tankers are as apt to get rewarded as punished. (Just because it worked out this year doesn't mean it will every year. Boston could just as well have drawn that first pick and in most cases would.)

--Because most of the burden of tanking prevention now lies on cumulative record, you don't have to worry so much about using the percentages as a deterrent.  You are free to re-distribute them to give the truly bad teams a better chance at obtaining the best players (linking them to some kind of on-court standard).  The longer a team has been bad the better chance they have of getting a higher pick.

--Notice that results still aren't iron-clad.  You have preserved the randomness and the excitement of the drawing.  Even the first seed only has a 35% chance of getting any given pick.  But 80% of the time the top pick will go to one of the three worst teams.  (Note the listed percentages are off the top of my head and aren't set in stone.  You can monkey with them a little bit if they bother you but the idea is that it's OK now to give higher seeds a better shot because those are almost certainly your needy teams, not your tankers.)

--The split reinforces the fairness aspect without taking away the randomness entirely.  A 14th seed (and keep in mind that this is cumulative over three years...we're probably talking a team that spent 1-2 years in the playoffs and maybe just missed this year) doesn't need a shot at the #1 overall pick.  In the current system the chances of such a team advancing are near-infinitesimal anyway but if it DID happen (think Lakers) there would be screaming from coast to coast.  It's a no-win situation.  99.5% of the time their presence is meaningless and .5% of the time they're system-breakers.  It's like a ticking time bomb in your hall closet.  Chances are small that it'll go off but what's it doing there in the first place?  This way the bottom-seeded teams get an increased chance of moving somewhere but they only move half as far and thus aren't as damaging when they do move.  You have more excitement and drama, but fewer potential bad consequences.

--The "No-Repeat Rule" clears up the loophole in using cumulative record, namely that a team that's been bad for a couple seasons can get the #1 pick and get better immediately but those stinko seasons are still weighing them down enough that they have a reasonable chance of winning again, in essence getting two for the price of one.  You can't clear it up entirely but this at least takes away the biggest potential consequence.


Overall this system preserves and probably even strengthens the positive aspects of the current system:  the excitement of the drawing/shuffling and the disincentive to tank.  But it does it in such a way that you can also weight reward more towards performance-based criteria (namely that the teams with the worst performances should get the first shot at the most helpful players) and thus more towards a definition of fairness.

In case anybody is wondering, here's how the seeding would have worked out this year under this system:

Rank/Name/Record/Odds for 1-3 Drawing

  1.  Memphis  22-60  25%
  2.  Boston  24-58  19.9%
  3.  Milwaukee  28-54  15.6%
  4.  Atlanta  30-52  11.9%
  5.  Seattle  31-51  8.8%
  6.  Portland 32-50  5.3%
  7.  Minnesota  32-50  5.3%
  8.  Charlotte  33-49  1.9%
  9.  New York  33-49  1.9%
  10. Sacramento  33-49  1.8%
  11. Indiana  35-47  .8%
  12. Philadelphia  35-47  .7%
  13.  New Orleans  39-43  .6%
  14.  L.A. Clippers  40-42  .5%
Rank/Name/Cumulative Record/Odds for Drawing (either 1-3 or 8-9 depending on tier)
  1.  Atlanta  50-124  35%
  2.  Charlotte  55-109  27%
  3.  Portland  56-108  18%
  4.  New York  61-103  10%
  5. (tie)  Boston  63-101  4%
  6. (tie)  Milwaukee 63-101  4%  
  7.  New Orleans  67-97  2%
  1.  Memphis  69-95  35%
  2.  Minnesota  71-93  27%
  3.  Seattle  75-89  18%
  4.  Philadelphia  76-88  10%
  5.  Indiana  78-86  5%
  6.  Sacramento  80-84  3%
  7.  L.A. Clippers  82-82   2%
All in all I don't think it worked out too poorly.  The teams with the best shot at the top overall picks were indeed the poorest of the poor in recent years and among the worst this year.  However the teams that were seriously suspected of tanking were not among them.  Memphis, Boston,  Milwaukee, and Seattle all took huge hits to their position and percentages.  The system obviously favors those who have been struggling for a long period of time over those that nosedived quickly.  The second tier of teams have all been relatively good in recent years and might be expected to do fine with their lower lottery picks.  If they don't they'll almost certainly move up next year.  

The one thing that nags at me is the team in the 8th position gets hurt by having a good chance of moving down which was definitely not present in the old system.  But given the wave of comments about how shuffling is good and one or two positions shouldn't make a difference I wouldn't expect that to bother folks much.  Given the higher percentage awarded to the teams at the top of each tier and the fact that you only draw for two positions in the lower tier they probably won't move down too much.  However I would be perfectly fine just letting the second tier go by seeding without drawing.  I'm just trying to preserve the excitement with the second tier drawing because I know that's important to many, including the league.

That's my best shot, folks.  I suspect it would work pretty well and most people would be happy with the results.

--Dave (