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The Way the Ball Bounces

October 29, 2018 AT 12:00 AM

The Draft Lottery can provide a spark of hope to loyal fanbases across the NBA


With the Phoenix Suns holding the number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the franchise and its fans are looking forward to the arrival of a game-changing star. This status was determined through a draft lottery that seeks to maximize parity within the League while incentivizing winning.


In the current system, only the top three picks are determined by a lottery system utilizing random selection of ping pong balls from a machine. This will be extended to the first four picks in 2019, with the three teams with the poorest win-loss records having the same odds of receiving the first pick. The fourteen teams which do not qualify for the playoffs all have a shot at entering the draft lottery, although this is weighted by regular season success.  Fourteen ping pong balls are then dropped into a machine, with the resulting combination determining the draft order for that year. This structure has not always been in place, however.


In the earliest days, the NBA used a simple system based on the inverse order of win-loss records, with the interesting concept of territorial picks whereby a team could select a native player in order to boost local fan support. This concept was used when the Philadelphia Warriors picked Wilt Chamberlain and the Cincinnati Royals selected Oscar Robertson, but was abolished in 1966 as the NBA revised its draft system. 
This revision included a coin flip to determine which of the two bottom teams would get the first pick, although the two teams had to belong to different divisions. This was then replaced in 1984 by an envelope-based system whereby all lottery teams had an equal chance at the top pick before the current system was implemented in 1990.


Further refinements to the draft process will be coming in 2019, so that each lottery team will be given appropriate opportunities to select a potential impact player while also ensuring that ailing teams pick at a sufficiently high position to turn their fortunes around. With such a system in place, the draft lottery will become a must-watch event in the NBA calendar.



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