Let’s get statistical: Playing the NBA Draft Lottery

The NBA Draft Lottery is the ping-pong-ball-centered game the league plays with the four worst teams from the previous season to determine the order of selections for the next player draft. It’s basically beruit/beer pong with millions of dollars instead of Keystone Light, and, like timid lightweights, the winner doesn’t want to stay on the table for the next round.

The positions are selected in descending order, and the number of balls a team has in the hopper is inversely proportioned to how well the team finished the prior season. The ostensible idea is to give the last-place team the best shot of getting the first overall pick (i.e., the best chance at improving its lot in the future). Why not just award the worst team the first pick as a rule? I suppose the idea is to avoid the sort of tanking that allegedly is a problem in the NFL, where such a rule is in effect. Injecting an element of chance means it’s harder to game the system in a way that’s detrimental to the game– losing on purpose– although it can’t fully do away with the incentive to lose so long as it maintains its rehabilitative goal.

This year, the Charlotte Bobcats had the worst season in NBA history. The New Orleans Hornets, recently late of league ownership, merely had the fourth worst of the 2011-2012 season. This year’s draft lottery thus was arranged with the stated goal of giving the Bobcats the best shot at the first pick and the Hornets the worst.

Of course, once everyone saw that the Hornets would be in the mix for this year’s draft lottery, the conspiracy theorists, folk singers of my literary heart, rolled out their obvious prediction: the league was going to rig the lottery so that the Hornets got the top pick. Keep reading…