NBA draft lottery reform moves one step closer to becoming reality in 2019

If approved, the NBA’s draft lottery changes would take effect in 2019. (AP)
If approved, the NBA’s draft lottery changes would take effect in 2019. (AP)

The NBA’s competition committee has approved a draft lottery reform plan that now awaits approval from the league’s board of governors later this month, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The proposed changes — which expand the number of picks in the lottery from three to four, even the odds for teams with the three worst records and smooth out the declining odds from there on out — would be enacted for the 2019 draft. Approval requires at least 23 votes from the league’s 30 owners.

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A similar proposal was thought likely to pass in 2014, but a contingent of small-market teams fearful reform would further hinder their chances of acquiring star talent led the charge to reject a plan that would have given the bottom four teams 12 percent odds at landing the No. 1 pick, with a 1-2 percent decline in odds for the 10 other teams, and allowed teams to drop up to six spots in the draft order.

This year’s proposal includes the following changes to the draft:

The number of picks in the lottery would increase from three to four. In other words, the league’s 14 non-playoff teams would all have a chance to land a top-four pick instead of a top-three selection.

Teams can drop four spots in the lottery instead of three. Naturally, if four teams can now jump into the top four spots in the draft order, the remaining teams could also fall as many as four spots.

The teams with the three worst records will each have a 14 percent chance to win the lottery. Under the current format, the NBA’s worst team has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery, the second-worst team has a 19.9 percent chance and the third-worst team has a 15.6 percent chance.

The team with the fourth-worst record will have a 12.5 percent chance to win the lottery. Those odds are a 2.2 percent increase from the current format and 1.5 percent worse than the best possible odds.

The odds for the other 10 teams would then decline by 1-2 percent in descending order. Currently, there is a significant drop from 10.3 percent odds in the fifth spot to 6.3 percent at No. 6, 4.3 percent at No. 7 and 2.8 percent at No. 8. The other six teams have a less than 2 percent chance of winning.

The competition committee’s proposed change of precluding teams from picking in the top three for consecutive seasons was excluded from the final plan sent to the owners, Yahoo Sports has learned.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has long been a proponent of lottery form to derail tanking, especially after the Philadelphia 76ers underwent “The Process,” an unprecedented dive to the bottom of the standings that helped land lottery picks Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, among others.

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However, at least six of the 13 teams that rejected the 2014 proposal would have to change their stance. The Sixers and Oklahoma City Thunder were among the small-market teams leading the charge three years ago, believing lottery reform would only further complicate a system that already makes it difficult for rebuilding teams outside destination cities to keep or attract stars. One source suggested to The Vertical’s Chris Mannix reform could be a “death sentence” for small-market teams.

The league’s board of governors plans to vote on the competition committee’s proposal on Sept. 28.

Disciplinary measures for teams resting multiple starters are also supposed to be on the docket. The league has lengthened its schedule, eliminating stretches of four games in five nights and limiting the number of back-to-back games, in another effort to limit the need for rest. This could also help limit tanking efforts like those demonstrated by the Phoenix Suns in the second half of last season, when coach Earl Watson openly called the shutting down of Eric Bledsoe a “management decision.”

Critics will surely argue that reform does little to de-incentivize tanking to a top-three spot, and the increased odds lower in the lottery could actually incentivize borderline playoff teams to drop out of contention. Currently, the last four teams in the lottery have a less than 3 percent chance at a top-three pick. The odds of landing a top-four pick could more than double under the proposed reform.

By coupling lottery reform with penalties for resting starters, though, Silver can better manage the tanking problem. But what about teams that are just bad? Take the Atlanta Hawks, for example. After watching Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk in consecutive free agencies, they entered a lengthy rebuild through little fault of their own, and their chances of landing a franchise player in the draft will now be worse in 2019 and beyond if the reform is approved. In other words, it’s just too bad if they’re bad.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!