My Sports

23 June 2014

Prom Night: NBA Edition

By // Sports

carrieIf you were anything like me in high school, you had a bit of trouble getting dates.

I was scrawny. I had acne. I lacked the confident, I-don’t-give-a-damn-what-you-think-of-me attitude I have today. And I had a terrible haircut. Acne and confidence issues are normal for adolescents, but there was absolutely no excuse for that haircut.

I didn’t turn into the rugged, chiseled lady killer I am today overnight. It took years of rejection and awkwardness. I still remember the despair I felt at the prospect of finding someone to take to the prom. Why was getting a date so hard?

Well, maybe it needn’t have been.

Imagine if your high school had a prom draft, where you could “draft” your very own date. Guys like me could enter into a lottery to determine their pick in the draft, and choose whoever they felt was the best available date. The first pick would be highly coveted, and the last pick…well, life sucks.

But why stop at a mere draft lottery? Why not make it a weighted draft lottery? The first 14 picks in the draft could go to the 14 ugliest guys at school. The ugliest guy would have a 25% chance of winning the first pick and the 14th ugliest guy would have about a 0.5% chance. So if you were the ugliest guy in school, you actually had a great chance of getting a hot date.

Sounds great, right?

Nope. It sounds terrible. And if you don’t agree, remember that something similar to this actually happened and it was awful.

See, one of the main problems with this system (other than the objectification of women) is that it incentivizes ugly, stupid people to be the ugliest, stupidest people they can possibly be. That’s the only way they can guarantee themselves the best chance of landing the first pick in the draft—they have to completely bottom out. It’s not like they’re attractive enough to get a date on their own, so they’re better off being ugly and stupid. What makes this system even worse is that being the ugliest, stupidest person does not actually guarantee you the first pick—it merely gives you the best chance of winning the first pick. So you could try to be as ugly and stupid as possible and still end up with nothing.

If you’re a basketball fan and all of this sounds familiar to you, it’s because I’m describing the NBA Draft. I’m just setting it at the high school prom. And yes, it’s just as stupid in both settings.

It’s bad enough that the draft is a crapshoot to begin with, but it’s made so much worse by the draft lottery, which rewards horrible teams for being as horrible as possible.

Now, every team in the NBA denies that they’ve ever “tanked” a season in order to get a draft pick, but we all know that’s a load of BS. If you didn’t believe it before, you sure believe it now, with the most highly anticipated draft class since 2003 upon us. Teams like the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz deliberately threw away their seasons in hopes of landing a high draft pick. The 76ers lost an astonishing 26 games in a row. That’s pretty much an entire third of the season, gone in one fell swoop. That kind of losing doesn’t happen by accident. But what’s even more amazing is that the Bucks actually finished with a worse record than the 76ers, in spite of Philly’s 26 straight losses. That definitely doesn’t happen by accident.

Many people—myself included—feel that a weighted draft lottery ruins the game by encouraging such abysmal play. One obvious solution would be to even the odds in the lottery, so that the 14th worst team had the same chances of winning as the worst team. Then teams would gain no benefit from losing intentionally. On the contrary, they’d probably want to win games. Even if they didn’t make the playoffs, they’d be fostering a winning culture with their developing players, and their chances of winning the draft lottery wouldn’t be affected. But no, a system like that makes way too much sense for the NBA.

To my delight, the lottery odds were defied this year. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the first pick, and they had only a 1.7% chance of winning. Not only that, but they were actually trying to make the playoffs—that was their mission statement from the outset. They didn’t want to be a losing team; it just worked out that way. So much for those teams that threw away the whole season, huh?

Of course, people are incensed that the Cavs won the lottery because this is the third time they’ve won it in four years. Yes, the third time in four years. Amazing, right? Conspiracy theorists claim this is proof that the draft lottery is rigged.

But supposing the draft is rigged, who’s benefitting from the rigging? Certainly not Cleveland. The fact that they keep returning to the lottery means that they’ve been a consistently bad team. For all their number one picks, they haven’t improved much, and that’s the whole point of winning the lottery, isn’t it? You’re supposed to win the lottery to get better as a team, not to keep winning the lottery. They don’t dole out championship banners for winning the lottery.

If you think a team needs to throw away an entire season to get a good draft pick, take a look at the San Antonio Spurs. Two of their star players were not even lottery picks. Tony Parker was drafted 28th in 2001, barely squeaking into the first round of the draft. Manu Ginobli was a late second-round pick—57th in 1999.

Late picks in the draft can be great. Early picks can be awful. The Toronto Raptors drafted Andrea Bargnani with the first pick in 2006. Seemed like a great idea at the time, right? The Portland Trail Blazers selected the injury-plagued Greg Oden with the number one pick in 2007 (they also selected the injury-plagued Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan with the second pick in the 1984 draft). And just last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett with the first pick. Bennett may turn out to be a good NBA player someday, but people were calling him a bust months into the season.

One of the top prospects in next Thursday’s draft is Joel Embiid, who just broke his foot, making his future uncertain. The Cavs were thought to be interested in him, but they now may turn to Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle—who knows. I absolutely hate seeing players get injured—especially players like Embiid, who hasn’t even had a chance to take off yet—but a part of me thinks that Embiid’s injury is karmic justice for all the teams that intentionally tanked their seasons.

I hope all these college prospects have bright futures in the NBA, but I take a dimmer view of the teams that made us suffer through atrocious basketball in order to draft said players. I’m really not convinced they deserve the talent they’ll probably end up getting.

Losing should come honestly; it shouldn’t be forced. When I was in high school I was a genuine loser and I fought tooth and nail to become the Adonis sitting at this keyboard today. There’s no honour in being a loser on purpose and stumbling ass-backwards into winning.

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