The creation of ping pong can be traced back to 1901 England from the manufacturer J. Jaques & Son Ltd who trademarked the game. Before that it was just a parlor game that British soldiers brought back home with them from India. Since its inception, ping pong hasn’t made a lot of noise besides being Forrest Gump’s favorite sport and branching off into the stereotypical drinking game for college kids. Despite its lackluster popularity there’s one sporting event where fans pray almost religiously and teams lay all their hopes on the outcome of simple ping pong balls: the NBA Lottery.
On May 16th the NBA will announce the order of the lottery picks in the NBA draft. The 14 non-playoff teams will be sitting on pins and needles eagerly awaiting to see if the ping pong balls have chosen them to hold the almighty #1 draft pick. It’s almost comical that in 2017 a professional sports league uses a ping pong-based lottery system to determine the draft order, especially one that has been exposed to scrutiny.
Ever since its beginnings in 1985 the lottery has always been criticized for its flaws and its influence on teams to tank an entire season just to have a shot at a good pick. Even the very first lottery in 1985, which was done with envelopes in a hopper, was riddled in conspiracy rumors that the NBA froze the envelope so that the Knicks received the #1 pick which they used to select Patrick Ewing. Despite conspiracies from scorned fans, myself included, the league hasn’t tried to improve the draft system in decades but one logical idea from an unexpected voice could change everything.
Shane Doan has played in the NHL for 21 years so he’s not exactly the NBA draft revolutionist you imagine, but he has an idea that would eliminate tanking from the NHL and NBA. The idea is that when a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs then it is eligible for a new set of standings. In these new standings teams accumulate points for wins and whatever team has the most points at the end of the regular season has earned the #1 pick. It forces losing teams to focus on winning games and makes every game in the regular season meaningful. Instead of franchises tanking an entire season or multiple seasons which is just as likely they have to adapt and become competitive. To see how the system works lets apply to the past season.
The Brooklyn Nets hold the worst record in the NBA and to make matters worse their pick belongs to the Boston Celtics. The Nets were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on March 6th, at that point they had 20 games remaining in the season. In those 20 games they were 9-11 overall and 3-6 in games against playoff caliber teams. In the Doan system let’s make it simple and say it’s 1 point for a win against non-playoff teams and 2 points for wins against playoff teams. At the end of the season the Nets would have a total of 12 points.
Following the system for the rest of the lottery teams here is what the draft order would look like:
- Nets/Celtics (12 points)
- Lakers (8 points)
- Knicks (4 points)
- Mavericks (4 points)
- Nuggets (3 points)
- Kings (3 points)
- Suns (3 points)
- Pistons (2 points)
- Pelicans (2 points)
- Timberwolves (2 points)
- Magic (2 points)
- Heat (0 points)
- Hornets (0 points)
- 76ers (0 points)
The major flaw in this example is that this past season teams were tanking and not playing under the proposed system but it was just to show how it would work. Teams that lack promising talent like the Nets have the advantage of more available games but still have to win unlike the 76ers who lost all of their games after being eliminated. It’s a system where teams are rewarded for winning instead of making a bet by losing.
There would be finer details that would have to be discussed such as trading draft picks, tie breakers, and how schedules would be affected. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has stated that the draft process will not change, citing the increase in the salary cap and the inflow of new television deal money. That changes the way teams can build their rosters but ultimately still forces struggling teams to tank. Shane Doan perfectly summarizes the irony of the current system: “The second you start convincing someone to cheer against you, you’re one step closer to losing them as a fan”. It’s time teams stop losing and begin to win fans back.