Rethinking the Ping Pong Ball

“It was not flirting, just verbal ping-pong.”

André Aciman


130521173949-draft-lottery-iso-image-052113.1200x672The NBA draft is one of the most heavily scrutinized events during the NBA season. The maneuvering for draft positions and new ballers starts years before the ‘Judgement Day’ comes. The NBA draft, with only two rounds and 60 college/international players drafted (and only 30 guaranteed contracts), places great value on each and every draft pick. The Draft lottery rewards the teams that did not make the playoffs with incrementally higher chances at a top pick relative to how few wins the team manages, enabling less successful teams to replenish the talent on their rosters.

These Organizations are desperate to get their hands on the next ‘LeBron’, ‘Kobe’, ‘Curry’, or ‘Jordan’, players who eventually develop into marketable, championship-winning superstars. What NBA media and fans often forget is that iconic basketball players are just other human beings, albeit supremely talented. The current model of drafting has perpetually rewarded faltering organizations with top prospects, a mechanism that has distorted natural dynamics of competition and placed undue pressure on teenagers who cannot even legally drink at their local nightclub.

051413-sam-hinkie-6001In the NBA, the general consensus has settled on maintaining a balance of short-term and long-term decisions regarding success. Three years ago, however, Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers decided to challenge the status quo by tanking season after season. Tanking occasionally happens on a season by season basis, especially when either a star player gets injured or a leaves the team in free agency/retirement. In the case of the 76ers, however, general manager Sam Hinkie employed an analytical model, and interpreted the resulting statistics as evidence that tanking over multiple seasons was necessary to accrue the quality of players necessary for sustained success. What the 76ers eventually realized (culminating with the Hinkie’s resignation) is that simply adding assets does not directly translate into success; other variables have a profound effect on a team’s performance.

The other consequential variables are often intangible and unpredictable: for example, being able to cope with the emotional toll that the 15 players on every NBA roster vies with over the course of an NBA season. Tanking may have a positive effect on future draft assets, but it may also have negative effects on young players who have to cope with constantly losing. The Philadelphia 76ers’ strategy makes it incredibly difficult to build a winning culture. Not only does tanking go against the principles of any major league sport which encourages balanced competition between all teams, it also places young players in a situation where they don’t prioritize winning in their formative years, which inevitably impacts their playing ability in the future.

B1TC1PA prototype draft system proposed by independent NBA analysts would assign each team the 1st overall pick over the next 30 years in order to combat the manipulative tanking tactics. Franchises’ motivation to win seems to have been overtaken by the desire for greater profit margins and chasing superstar players in order to market their brands globally. The current draft system in the NBA has stripped away many of the rivalries and balanced competition that makes professional basketball such a pleasure to watch. While the draft system hasn’t changed since those days, the motivation and drive to succeed through a team’s natural pride no longer reigns supreme over chasing a lottery pick. With billions of dollars of revenue flooding into the league, it seems it’s time to adjust a draft system tainted by financial machinations.

By Arman Bery