Everyone and everything wants to have something that makes them special. That’s fine, as long as it isn’t detrimental. Enter the NBA Draft Lottery. It’s unique, no other major sports league has a lottery to determine the top picks, but that isn’t a bad thing.
Here’s my thing: I just don’t understand the need. What is so wrong with a normal draft order based on record? I’m biased because I love the NFL Draft, as you may have noticed from some earlier posts, but it’s a great system. When you ignore trades and compensatory picks in later rounds, the worst team drafts first, the champion drafts last and the rest of the order is based on how you finished overall. What is wrong with that system? To me, it seems like the best system. But in the NBA, only teams 15-30 are placed in the draft order by their season finish. The other 14 teams are placed in the draft lottery.
Each team has a chance to win the first pick in the draft if you’re in the draft lottery. The worse your team was, the better chance you have of winning. However, it has gotten to a point where it doesn’t really matter if you finish with the worst record, because that does anything but guarantee you the first pick. 2004, the year that the Magic drafted Dwight Howard, was the last time that the worst team in the league received the first pick. Including this year, the Cleveland Cavaliers, on the other hand, have gotten the first pick five times in the lottery era (since 1985), four of them since 2003 when they drafted LeBron James. 2003 was the only year in which the Cavs even tied for the worst record, otherwise their worst finish that resulted in the top overall pick was 3rd worst last year.
Basketball is unlike any other sport in the sense that one player can completely change the fortunes of your team. In football, while a good quarterback can take you from a middling team to a contender, you need to have pieces around them (for example, when Tom Brady won his three Super Bowls without much offensive firepower, he had great defenses, and recently, Peyton Manning has made Denver into a Super Bowl contender, yet he has plenty of weapons around him). In basketball though, one player can take you from a bottom-feeder to a contender, and all you have to do is look at Cleveland in the 2007 NBA Finals, where LeBron carried the whole team (granted, he’s one of the greatest ever, but the point remains). This makes me ask the question. why would you not give the worst team in the league the best chance to change their fortunes right away and increase the competition. Of course all drafts are based on potential, but a top overall pick should be able to be an immediate big impact player (Of course, this is not always true; see Anthony Bennett and Kwame Brown).
The team who wins the lottery often does not deserve it. I love the team and I love the player, but the Bulls getting the chance to draft Derrick Rose with the first overall pick in 2008 was insane. The ninth-worst team should not get to pick first, the worst team should. The Bulls had a 1.7% chance of earning the top pick, so it sounds like a fluke, yet when Cleveland won the lottery last night, they had the same odds. To me, it just seems so unnecessary. Why would you give a team that (theoretically, mind you) does not need the star power exactly as much as the worst team a chance to pick first. Especially in a draft with this much talent at the top (although I will concede that this is a deep class), getting a player like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker can completely change a franchise. What is the logic behind not allowing the worst team that opportunity.
Every draft in every sport has busts and every one has surprises too. Some top picks end up being major busts, some become legends. My point is that it is not fair to not allow the worst team to have the chance to draft the best player available. The system is flawed and it just doesn’t work. It’s fine to have something special about your league, but it’s foolish to have something that just doesn’t make sense. It’s a great feeling when you win a lottery, but that doesn’t make it the best outcome.