There was a time, not long ago, when NBA teams actually tried to win every game. No joke!
Then along came LeBron James.
After the Cavaliers added a monarch in the 2003 draft, more and more teams sought to flee the NBA’s middle class. Tanking became an art form, exemplified by the 76ers’ multiyear teardown “Process” and the Bulls’ decision late last season to drop Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant from the rotation. (Yes, they actually had worse/younger players.)
All that jockeying for the most pingpong balls led the league to tweak the draft lottery for the first time in 25 years. The new system takes effect this season, just in time to disincentivize tanking for the 285-pound tank known as Zion Williamson. (Credit the Sun-Times’ Rick Morrissey for that line.)
You’ll want to consult the numbers below for all the fun figures, but here is the big picture: Last year the league’s worst team had a 25 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick. That dropped to 19.9 percent for the second-worst team and 15.6 percent for the third-worst.
This year the bottom three all have the same chance: 14 percent.
After that, the percentages drop to 12.5 percent, 10.5, 9, 7.5, 6, 4.5, 3, 2, 1.5, 1 and 0.5. So the 14th-worst team has a 1-in-200 chance to strike gold.
After the league conducts a drawing for the first four picks, the draft order will be determined in inverse order of the teams’ records. The 14 teams that miss the playoffs get a lottery slot.
Also, the worst team now can fall to the fifth pick rather than fourth. The Bulls, who currently have the league’s fourth-worst record, could pick as low as eighth if that position holds.