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Why the NBA draft system still needs an overhaul

Posted on | May 6, 2020 | No Comments

Every year the NBA draft is followed by millions of eager basketball fans around the world, as the most promising international and college prospects are chosen. The first picks typically go to the worst teams from the previous season, within a system that is aimed at making the NBA competitive. Nevertheless, it’s also a system with some glaring flaws, which includes encouraging teams to underperform and tank, in order to get better picks.

Perhaps the best example of a team tanking during the 2019-20 season is the Golden State Warriors. This is the same franchise which has dominated the NBA in recent years, reaching five consecutive NBA Finals since 2015 and winning the championship three times. Now they are completely unrecognizable, rock-bottom of the Western Conference and the first team to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

The Milwaukee Bucks convincingly top the Eastern Conference and the Los Angeles Lakers dominate in the Western Conference, with both tipped as favorites to reach the Finals prior to the enforced break, according to the NBA betting on bet365, yet casual observers are unable to understand why the Golden State Warriors aren’t up there competing with them. The answer is quite simple – the Warriors are tanking to ensure they get better draft options.

In the world of competitive professional sports, it might be hard to comprehend a situation whereby losing can be regarded as ultimately more rewarding than winning. However, this is the paradox created by the NBA draft system. The aim of the draft is noble, for sure, because it gives the worst teams each season a chance to improve.

Nevertheless, it also creates a situation whereby franchises can exploit that noble aim. Since the introduction of the NBA draft Lottery, the odds are stacked heavily in favor of the worst teams for the first four picks. This means they will get the best new players entering the NBA. Ahead of the next NBA draft, the Golden State Warriors are the worst team in either conference, which means they have the joint-best odds of landing the highest-ranked players.

As this 2012 article published by Bleacher Report highlights, it’s not the first time the Warriors have looked ahead to the draft, rather than focus on winning. Back then, the way they concluded the season was called into question, apparently valuing better draft options above the prestige of competing to finish higher in the league rankings. 2019-20 results have been so bad, it seems like the Warriors are taking the same approach to a new extreme.

In some regards, this has created a race to the bottom where GM’s value first picks in the draft, along with the chance to sign a potential All-Star player, ahead of team performance during a season that isn’t going so well. For this reason alone, it’s clear that the draft system needs to be constantly reviewed and revised.

Some have suggested a completely open lottery, with no preferential order amongst teams in the draft system based around conference positions from the previous season. Perhaps this approach would discourage teams from tanking, and restore the purity of competition to the NBA, with teams aiming to perform within the best of their capabilities; rather than keep one eye on what the next draft might offer instead. However, that could take away the parity across the league that the draft seeks to enforce, so there is no clear solution, but the current system is certainly flawed.



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