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Re-inventing the Wheel: Mike Zarren presents modified NBA-draft-lottery-reform proposals

the modified draft wheel

BOSTON – NBA draft lottery reform is coming.

The league’s owners voted down the latest proposal, one which would have tilted the odds toward the better non-playoff teams at the expense of the worst teams. But that was an issue with the unintended consequences of that specific plan.

The appetite to curb – or at least give the appearance of curbing – tanking remains.

One proposal: The Wheel.

Under the original Wheel, designed by Celtics general manager Mike Zarren, teams would rotate through each draft slot over a 30-year period in an order determined to create relative balance.

There were several issues raised, including

  • Elite prospects could time their entry to the draft for when a desired market would have the top pick, because they’d know years in advance when each team will pick No. 1.
  • Teams who fared poorly leading into years slated for the bottom of the draft would face hopelessness.
  • It’d be difficult to alter this system before its 30-year run completed.

So, Zarren went back to the drawing board and sent NBA commissioner Adam Silver revised versions. Zarren presented the specifics of those proposals today at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conferences.

Both plans follow the same idea: Teams rotate through groups of picks, randomly getting a pick within each group. One features teams rotating through six-pick groups over five years. The other features teams rotating through three-pick groups over 10 years.

The-five year plan would mean more randomness but less of a commitment. The 10-year plan would mean less randomness – though enough to ensure elite prospects can’t guarantee their draft destination – but more of a commitment.

Here are the groups of picks for each plan and the order teams would cycle through them:


  • 1-6
  • 25-30
  • 19-24
  • 13-18
  • 7-12


  • 1-3
  • 28-30
  • 19-21
  • 16-18
  • 7-9
  • 4-6
  • 25-27
  • 22-24
  • 13-15
  • 10-12

Presumably, teams would be slotted randomly to begin the process. Then, they’d cycle through each group, getting randomly slotted for a pick within the group each year.

No longer tying draft position to record would be a radical change – and I’m not sure a good one. The current system gives bad teams hope (at least if they didn’t trade their first-round pick). With no benefits to losing, bad teams could see dramatic drops in fan support.

But if the league is committed to eliminated tanking above all else, these proposals seem more than reasonable.