Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The NBA Craps Out -- The NBA Draft lottery was held last night, and it seems to have confirmed that it really is a crapshoot. In most sports, the teams get ordered in the amateur draft, according to the inverse order of their won-loss records. The logic is to provide the worst teams with the best chance to improve quickly. In the NBA, teams with the worst records do get a weighted chance at the top picks, but they're not guaranteed as they are in other sports.

The lottery was instituted in the NBA, in 1984, because it seemed that teams were deliberately tanking to get the top pick in the draft. The NBA wanted to diminish the perverse incentive in finishing last. Given that the teams play so many games, and that the top draft picks usually do go on to star in the pros, the incentives were stronger in the NBA to finish with the worst record, rather than the third or fourth-worst record. So, the NBA tried to remedy that problem. The result is the strange doings taht took place, last night. The three worst teams were passed over in the lottery by the teams that finished ahead of them during the season. The bottom four through six, will pick ahead of the bottom three teams. The latter group includes my favorite team, the Milwaukee Bucks, who will pick sixth.

I guess these things go in cycles. The NBA put in the lottery because teams were tanking their seasons. Now, everyone is going to be criticizing the lottery, because the teams that need the help aren't getting it. Here in the nation's capital, we've got a baseball team, whose management decided to deliberately tank this season, because they are hoping for one of the top picks in their draft -- instead of spending money on getting new free agents or keeping their own.

Frankly, the Nationals' owners are not getting the criticism they deserve, because they've basically been up-front about it. Since even before spring training, they've made it clear that they expected to lose. They spoke hopefully of getting one of the top young players -- so much so, that it seemed the team was looking forward to having a truly horrible season, this year. And that's in baseball, where it's much harder to project who will be a star, if they even get to the major leagues.

At least, in basketball, if you tank deliberately, you could tell your fans to bear with "The Plan" (that's what the Nationals are calling it), because it will pay off in the long run (unless you draft Len Bias or Glenn Robinson) -- except that you might get screwed in the lottery. If there is any consolation, the Bucks have had the first pick twice in the last 15 years, and they made lousy picks both times. Moreover, the Bucks shouldn't have gotten the first pick the year they took Big Dog. Maybe, Oden won't turn out to be the best player in the draft....If they hadn't gotten then the first pick, they might have wound up with Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Donyell Marshall, or Juwann Howard -- all of whom have had better careers than Robinson.

OK, maybe I'm being unduly hard on Robinson. The truth is one expects more out of the first pick, especially in basketball. Although he's not in the NBA any more, he had a better career than Marshall or Howard. Certainly, Big Dog was prolific scorer with the Bucks. Even if Ray Allen and Sam Cassell were the real keys to the team, Robinson did contribute to one good playoff run for the Bucks. Yet, despite his offensive skills, Robinson wasn't the guy you expected to make the big shot, or to take over a big game. No one would suggest that Robinson was as good a pro player as Jason Kidd or Grant Hill turned out to be.

In any case, it's been over ten years since the Bucks came out of the draft with a worthy first-round selection. I don't think any team has a worse track record in the first round. The last time the Bucks did a good job in the first round was the year they swapped picks to get Ray Allen, instead of Stephon Marbury --- that was over a decade ago. Their best pick since then was Michael Redd, but he came in the second round. Maybe, the Bucks will end up with a stronger selection in the first-round, than they have over the last ten years. Or, maybe, they'll be back in the draft lottery next year.

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