The Lottery Tournament Should Be The NBA’s Next Big Idea

Rooting for a tanking team in the NBA is rough.

Even just being in the lottery is discouraging enough for most fanbases, but when teams are counting on lottery odds year after year it is enough to drive any fan to exasperation at never having a team that you want to win as the season goes along. This is why instead of a mid-season tournament like Adam Silver has suggested, I propose a lottery tournament that would see every team that doesn’t make the playoffs still giving their teams a reason to build towards this postseason of their own because the better the team performs in the Lottery Tournament, the better their chances at landing the #1 overall pick. With all non-playoff teams having a round-robin tournament to whittle it down to 4 from each conference, the tournament can be set during the day over round 1 of the playoffs and played during round 2.

By flattening the odds for the #1 pick, I took 16% of the odds for that pick out of the equation (you can see the changes in the odds below) to have up for grabs that get distributed throughout the tournament itself. With 8 teams in the tournament, every round earns your team a 1% increase, with the winner of the entire tournament getting an extra 1% for winning the entire thing for a not-so-insignificant 5% bump. That includes each of the 8 teams getting an extra 1% just for making the tournament and taking the second road trip in a week. Below is a chart showing the tweaks to the #1 odds that were needed to have in order for the 16% to be available but with no team losing more than 2% every team has the opportunity to actually increase their chances of landing the #1 overall pick.

With 10 teams eligible as soon as the season ends, trimming down the teams that head straight into the offseason to 8 for the tournament field was the first question that needed to be answered. With some inspiration from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor with a piece he wrote back during the start of the pandemic, I settled on a group stage for each conference. With those parameters set, this is how the tournament would be scheduled to happen to coincide with the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Each conference will have a non-NBA city scheduled to host the group stage games over the course of the week. With the games being broadcast during the day before the primetime event of the round 1 games it gives us NBA junkies who loved that aspect of bubble basketball a chance to recreate that March Madness feel every year. It also gives a city that doesn’t typically get NBA love (like Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Seattle) a full week’s worth of it to celebrate and grow the game in markets that currently aren’t being utilized often enough.

After the group stage wraps up, the four remaining teams from each conference would travel to a third non-NBA location for the Lottery Tournament. Again taking place during the day before the round 2 games in the evening, the games will use the ELAM ending to help make sure each single-elimination game ends in an exciting fashion while giving young stars a chance to shine on a big stage. The championship game could even be given a primetime slot for even more exposure and prestige put upon the tournament. 

I mentioned on a podcast about wanting a Rising Stars Week to highlight the up-and-coming talent and this Lottery Tournament would serve a similar purpose. Imagining getting to watch Cade, Paolo, Jalen Green, Mathurin, and numerous other rising players get those chances at some higher stakes games could make for some incredible moments early in their careers. And for the fanbases of those teams, it gives them actual games to look forward to at the end of the regular season. That hope and excitement that comes along with unabashedly rooting for your team to win is what gets most of us hooked on the league and why this, and not a mid-season tournament, should be Adam Silver’s next big idea.

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Podcast host over at Charity Stripe Commentary, scouring NBA Twitter content over on @finalfinally, and of course writing for HoopSocial!