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VOL. 128 | NO. 251 | Friday, December 27, 2013
Don Wade

Don Wade

Wheel Could Bring Fortune to NBA Draft

By DON WADE

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This June’s NBA Draft is projected to be deep, with perhaps as many as a half-dozen players capable of changing a franchise’s fortunes. It’s a great incentive for “tanking” and trying to get into the top tier of the NBA Lottery.

Now, getting a high lottery pick guarantees nothing – see the Grizzlies’ 2009 No. 2 overall selection of Hasheem Thabeet. Still, the lottery is widely considered the best chance a bottom-rung franchise has of changing its course.

But is it really the best way for the NBA to run its draft? Especially in this age of advanced statistics, an era in which more preparation and more information should, in theory, naturally lead to more rewards for the best-run organizations, not necessarily the richest owners?

Ponder that.

This all comes up because recently Grantland.com reported on a proposal that would radically change the draft. The proposal could go before all NBA owners as soon as 2014. And while implementation of the new system might take as long as 10 years because of trades already made that involve draft picks years in the future, the proposal is nothing if not thought-provoking.

The new system would eliminate the lottery and its Ping-Pong balls.

According to Grantland, in the new system “each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once – and exactly once – every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year.”

In fact, the new system has been dubbed “The Wheel” because of this process.

“Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year … from the start of every 30-year cycle … every team would be guaranteed one top-six pick every five seasons, and at least one top-12 pick in every four-year span,” according to the Grantland report.

“Put another way,” Grantland wrote, “the team that gets the No. 1 pick in the very first year of this proposed system would draft in the following slots over the system’s first six seasons: first, 30th, 19th, 18th, seventh, sixth”

Yes, it’s complicated. There could be a whole separate discussion on how the very first draft order would be determined (one idea is to hold a final lottery). And I won’t suggest this proposal is a cure-all because it’s not.

But it has several things going for it the lottery does not. While the concept of giving bad teams a chance to rebuild might be full of good intentions, it really amounts to misguided sports welfare. Under the current system, a team could annually finish with one of the league’s worst records, annually be awarded one of the top three picks by the lottery, and through the same mismanagement and lousy talent evaluation continue to be a horrific team. And continue to get high picks.

For years, that was exactly how the Clippers lived NBA life – wasting Top Three overall picks on everyone from Benoit Benjamin (1985, Karl Malone was available ) to Michael Olowokandi (1998, Dirk Nowitzki was available).

The San Antonio Spurs’ selection of Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick in 1997 is always exhibit A for how the draft can give small-market teams a chance to compete with large-market teams. And I get it. Everyone likes to dream they’ll draft a Hall-of-Famer.

But most teams don’t hit that jackpot. And under “The Wheel” teams could be armed with much more data to make smarter choices. They could look four years ahead at their draft slot, for example, see that it’s No. 5, and begin making moves to more easily allow them to move up or down in that draft or in the drafts immediately before or after it.

I like the new system precisely because it challenges the analytics crowd to prove that with a level playing field they can crunch their numbers better than the other guys.

And because it could stop tanking, inspire more bold trades and take away the excuse of “bad luck” in the lottery.

Bring on The Wheel.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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