Ideas for fixing the NBA Draft

One of the highlights of the year for me was going to the Sloan conference. I got to meet great and smart people and I was able to see fantastic new ideas on clear display. The best part is that I was able to have one-on-one conversations with pretty much everyone wanted to and — even better — some folks I should have wanted to.

It was a fantastic source of new ideas and opportunities for me. A lot of it you’ve seen already. A lot of it is in the works.

Keep moving. There's nothing to see.

Keep moving. There’s nothing to see here.

 

In particular, one topic that comes to mind are my ideas on fixing the NBA draft. I remember it specifically as it was a topic of conversation with Arup Sen, and I later pitched these as Hoopideas in person to Beckley Mason over some libations. This is one of those pieces that I’ve had in draft form for ages but can never seem to get around to writing.

I bring this up because something very similar just got written up by Arun on Truehoop as a HoopIdea. This is actually a good thing as it kinda forces me to finally publish my ideas for fixing the draft.

We’re going to talk about why this needs to happen first.

As a longtime Celtics fan, I am not ashamed to admit that the Celtics threw the 2006-7 Season to improve their draft stock. They were trying to get either Oden or Durant or failing that use the picks and assets to quickly rebuild their team.

The results really speak for themselves.

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The conclusion is simple then: because of the way the current draft system is built, teams that cannot win the title have every incentive to lose games on purpose. This is because losing maximizes the value of their draft picks which allows them more capital to improve their team.

This is not tanking as currently understood. The current definition of tanking seems to be bottoming out, or burning your team to the ground before you are able to reach the elite level.

Quick, how many of these players, who were not retired,  were playing in Rd 2 of the playoffs last year?

Quick, how many of these players, who were not retired, were playing in Rd 2 of the playoffs last year?

 

As we’ve previously shown, this is a really bad idea. Good teams tend to stay good, bad teams tend to stay bad. If you purposely clean out the talent on your team, it’s very likely that you’re going to be bad.

But what does work is keeping that talent off the court or making some questionable playing time decisions to increase your draft value. This makes the draft run counter to the competitive spirit of the league as it rewards not competing.

How do fix this then? Simple: we turn the draft from a lottery to an auction draft.

The Draft Market

Here’s how it works:

  • We start of each team with 60 credits. We will call this their initial bank. I would renew this bank every six years (the average length of an NBA career) with an additional 60 credits.
  • Every team gets the right to pick twice each draft. That right can be traded as an asset in a trade to any other team in the league.
  • Every team gets credits assigned to their draft bank based on the order of finish. The credits would be as follows:

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  • Much like the right to pick, Teams can swap credits from the draft bank as they wish as part of any trade transaction.

The auction draft itself is where we have some choices. I see two basic ways to run this auction draft:

  • The first version sees the NBA Commissioner come up to the stage and auction off the picks themselves. Each team would then have the opportunity to bid on the pick with as many of the credits in their draft bank that they want as long as they have at least one credit for each remaining pick they have the right to in the draft. Ties would go to the team with the worst record in the previous season. You would then hold something very similar to the current draft at a later date with the now set draft order. I do not believe this makes for compelling television.
  • The second version much more like standard auction draft that the majority of Fantasy Football and Baseball are familiar with. In this version, each team will come up based on reverse order of finish and open the bidding on a player and every other team will have the option to bid on that player. Again ties go to the team with the worst record. This would be entertaining as hell to watch — particularly with the twist I’m about to suggest.

The twist has to do with rookie salaries. The boring option is to leave the rookie scale as is and pay the players based on who went for the highest auction value (i.e. whichever player went for the highest amount gets the number #1 pick salary). The really interesting option is to tie the credits to a salary value. In that scenario, a bid below 30 is non- guaranteed (much like a second rounder now). Bids from 31 to 60 are set to the equivalent pick (60 is Number 1 pick money, 59 is number 2 pick money) and every credit after that increases the players yearly salary by a set number (I like $125 K) all the way up to a max number like $12 million.

Admit it: scenario two would be the best draft ever televised.

-Arturo

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