Steve Kerr wrote an article on nba.com yesterday that detailed several of his ideas to change the lottery in order to discourage tanking. The article can be found here.
To comment briefly on each of his proposed changes:
1/14 odds for each lottery team - taken on its own, this suggestion might make tanking even more problematic than it is currently. It would eliminate the teams who are very bad year after year, since there's little advantage to finishing 30th instead of 17th. However, it'll cause big problems for teams in the 7th-10th seeds in each conference, since the 9th seed gets a 5/14 chance at a top-5 pick, while the 8th seed gets the 16th pick and a likely sweep courtesy of the 1st seed. This plan would need some adjustment for the borderline teams, or some serious incentives for making the playoffs. Needs work.
- Give picks 31-38 to first-round playoff exits - well, here's one way to reward playoff teams. I kind of like this idea. If added to our current system, it becomes even better to place 8th instead of 9th, which is good. However, if we were using idea #1 (balanced probabilities), it would not be enough to encourage teams to place 8th instead of 9th.
- Exclude three worst teams from top-3 picks - this would create some competition among the very worst teams to not be in the bottom three. The other lottery teams would have a 1/11 chance at every pick. However, it only exacerbates the 8/9 tanking, since the best lottery team has about a 27% chance at a top-3 pick and around a 40% chance at a top-5 pick. I'm not sure whether I prefer this scheme or idea #1, but both need work.
- Weight lottery odds by record against other lottery teams - I don't know what kind of weighting might be employed, but this sounds like it would basically reverse the seeding of current lottery teams, since the 17th seed likely did better against lottery teams than the 30th seed. Not a fan.
Adopt a version of Bill Simmons's suggestion (from 2007) for a tourney for the last playoff spots - with the modification that the tournament winner gets a bump in lottery odds. So the worst teams still have a chance to get into the playoffs and are motivated to do so by draft incentives. I think in most cases, though, this won't end up changing much. The eventual 8th seeds will likely come from the 7-10 seed range, and it'll just give a bad playoff team a lottery boost. On the other hand, this increases the competition for low playoff spots. However, one a team wins this tournament, that's their championship. They go on to lose to the well-rested 1st seed in a series they don't care much about. I'm kind of ambivalent about this idea.
- Rotating draft order - set a predetermined draft order so that each team gets every pick 1-30 over a 30-year span. The pick order would have to be random, not just 1st pick one year, 2nd pick next year, 3rd pick year after that. Something more like 2nd pick one year, 24th pick next year, 11th pick year after that. This would eliminate all tanking for the worst record in the league, but that's because it eliminates any draft help for bad teams. Sure, there could be some strategy for which years to plan for, but basically the draft is no more help to Charlotte than it is to Miami in the long run. Bad teams are forced to improve through trades and mainly free agency, which makes it even tougher on small-market teams that aren't big free-agent draws. I don't think I like this system.
While there are a few good ideas here, I don't think any of them really solves the problem of tanking. I suppose I can offer a few of my own suggestions:
- Include first-round playoff exits in the lottery - this makes the 5th seed only slightly worse than 9th in terms of draft position, which is good. Some years, a middling playoff team will get a good pick, and that can push them into the top 4, instead of year after year of first-round exit and then a low draft pick. It won't happen often enough to make tanking a few playoff spots a viable strategy, though.
Smooth out draft odds distribution a bit - Not to the point where it's an even chance for every team, but maybe the worst team only has a 10% chance of the top pick instead of 25%. The 5-7th seed playoff-lottery teams would have a very low chance of getting the top pick, but maybe around 8-10 the probability is 2-3% instead of the current 0.5-1%.
- Reverse pick protection? - Meaning, if you get a top-3 pick one year, you can't get a top-3 pick the next year, and if you still get a pick in the 4-6 range the next year, you can't get a top-6 pick the year after that. This will mean that a team can't get more than two picks in the top 6 every three years, and no more than one top-3 pick every two years. It seems like it would reduce the incentive to be very bad for very long.
I welcome suggestions and improvements on both Kerr's and my proposals.