Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The One Time In My Life That I'll Actually Think The NBA Does It Right

I'll be honest in that I think Draft Lotteries are kind of silly. Yes, I understand the point is to increase incentive late in the season so bad teams don't just throw in the towel knowing that a high draft pick is their reward. But the incentive to play well is also provided to most of these players by the prospect of, you know, not having jobs. So whatever impact a potential high draft pick has, I'd have to think, is minimal. After all, with the very real chance of getting cut or traded, most players, I'd assume are less preoccupied with the well being of their franchise in the longterm than of their own well being in the short term.

As a result, potentially robbing the worst team in the League of a rightly deserved chance at the top overall pick in the draft, and the best chance of improving itself, seems somewhat unfair.

But God Bless the NHL, because the fine folks in professional hockey have a solution to this stickler of an issue. That solution is that there are several rules beyond simply picking a ping pong ball out of a jar, with the most prominent one being that the most you can move up in a Draft Lottery, even if you win, is four spots, meaning that no one beyond the five worst teams in the League can grab the top spot and the draft is weighted in such a fashion that the worst team must be extremely unlucky not to get the top selection as their chances are roughly 48.2% with everyone else's chances far lower.

This is far more reasonable than the no-holds-barred weighted lottery the NBA uses in which any team can grab the top spot with a little bit of luck. That system has only given the top spot to the worst team in the League three times in 21 years, and in some occasions, wholly undeserving teams defy the odds and grab the top slot, such as Chicago in 2008, which won despite having only a 1.7% chance of winning and being better than eight other teams, or in 1993 when the Magic actually had a .500 record and won the draft lottery despite having just a single ping pong ball in the running. For the record, those picks turned out to be likely 2011 League MVP Derrick Rose and, in the event of Orlando, Chris Webber, who was immediately flipped to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three first-round picks which would eventually turn into Todd Fuller, Vince Carter and Mike Miller. Sure, more ridiculous things in this world have happened, and yes, the pick that wound up being Carter was shipped to Toronto before he was drafted, but either way you slice it, that's an almost overwhelming amount of talent for a team that just missed out on a playoff berth.

So yes. In my estimation, the NHL's system is far better for purposes of maintaining fairness. Or at least, that's how I felt before the Devils were involved.
Now, I know what you're thinking. The Knicks have been involved in the lottery for nine of the past ten years, so you've had a reason to care, Dave. True. But the Knicks and Isiah Thomas were preoccupied with drafting Renaldo Balkman instead of Rajon Rondo, and about 18 of their draft picks went to Chicago in a trade for some overweight lug with a heart condition, so, really, you know those picks were pretty worthless anyway.

The Devils are different. They've got a decent scouting department and their history of drafting has worked out pretty well. When given a top five pick, New Jersey's churned out Kirk Muller, Brendan Shanahan, Bill Guerin and Scott Niedermayer among others. That's two likely hall-of-famers, one of whom was arguably the best puck-moving defenseman of his era and two players who had long careers as productive forwards. Those four players have 10 Stanley Cups among them. That's pretty solid, and it doesn't even account for other homegrown Devils like John MacLean, Martin Brodeur or Ken Daneyko.

So the Devils, who had the eighth-worst record in the League this year have typically been a trustworthy franchise when it comes to the draft, and the prospect of them moving up in the Draft lottery was awfully enticing, particularly since the Devils haven't had a decent first-round pick in almost 20 years as a result of being one of the more successful franchises around. But those rules inhibiting teams from moving up so far didn't really impact me. After all, the Devils' chances of winning the draft lottery and moving up were only 3.6%, so why bother getting your knickers in a twist?

Oh, they won. How about that?

So yeah, for the first and probably only time in my life, I wish the NHL had taken a cue from the NBA, but to be honest, that is for completely selfish reasons. The rational side of me knows the NHL's Draft Lottery system is far better for creating interest, but still protecting fairness.

Still, one can't help but dream of the prospect of the Devils grabbing the No. 1 overall pick through a tremendous amount of luck, but alas the strict rules of fairness and propriety prevent that, even if the idea of "winning" the Draft Lottery but not getting the top pick are a little confusing. Either way, as a Devils fan, it's hard to be upset with this result after New Jersey's first season since 1996 not being in the playoffs.

Oh, and speaking of the playoffs, those start tonight, in case you were wondering. I won't go into too much detail for all your sakes, but let's just say I'm taking Vancouver to knock off Boston in the Stanley Cup Final. Which almost certainly means it'll be the Predators over the Sabres.

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