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The Boxscore Geeks Show: Fixing the Draft

Apologies, our video was a bit sketch this week. Good news though! We have the show in audio form (some call it a podcast!)

As always, massive thanks to our producer Brian Foster.

Show Notes

Arturo has a long history of writing about the draft. He and Dave Berri worked on a piece for the Wall Street Journal on the history of the draft and the strength of each pick. It turns out the first collaboration between Arturo and myself was a history of elite rookies. And of course, Arturo has been tinkering on a draft model for years now.

The draft isn't about fairness. It's all about controlling incoming player pay, which was its origin. Also, the veteran players get a piece of the pie, and this helps keep them cooperative in lockouts when the owners offer less money. In short, the way to fix the draft is to get rid of it. Matt Yglesias at Slate agrees! And despite the majority of ESPN pieces about "fixing the draft", Kevin Arnovitz published the same point a year ago.

There was a similar system to the draft: the National Match System for deciding where future doctors have their residencies. It turns out there was a lawsuit claiming this was anti-competitive. The fix was that congress passed a law allowing an exception and as a result the lawsuit was dismissed. It short, forcing people to work places is definitely anti-competitive, but it seems the powerful like to keep it in place.

Arturo has some fun theories on what would happen to the NBA economy if the draft was lost. He also has a few predictions for the future of the NBA economy based on some of the newer owners. Having a love of soccer gives Arturo a unique perspective. The great book Soccernomics has some points on this. Arturo also rubs in that one of the best soccer owners is Josh Kroenke, aka the Nuggets' former owner.

Owners may "lose" money at the gate, but there are tons of ways to monetize an NBA team. They're huge tax shelters, appreciate in value, and provide good ways to move money. 

The NBA has a proposal for a new draft system. No longer will the worst teams gets top picks, now your next 30 years worth of picks would be decided ahead of time. While this would help prevent tanking, Arturo has another suggestion (if we're forced to keep the draft): instead of giving out draft picks, give out draft credits. Create a market for bidding on incoming players each season. A team can save their credits. And a player's contract would be based on the number of credits a team bids on them. Each year's bidding market would be must watch television.

A similar idea was posted on ESPN's ask an economist, by an economist that Arturo told the idea to at Sloan.

It's pronounced "kah-WHY" Leonard, which I was saying. Yet, oddly I say Arturo was right after Brian looks it up.

Another way to fix the NBA is to allow relegation like European football. How odd is it that so many ways to fix basketball is to treat it like soccer? '

How about this idea too: if playoff teams in one conference have fewer wins that teams out of the playoffs in the other conference, then they play a three game playoff the week before the playoffs to decide who gets in?

Last year we went to Sloan and were photographed next to several NBA management stars with Jeremy Britton's now famous t-shirt design. We're going back this year and are looking for some good t-shirt ideas. I had one "Arturo for Commissioner"

We get a little off topic discussing the NFL, Peyton Manning, and the playoffs. End point, playoffs are random, there's no asterisks for titles.

The NBA has a great chance to become the most popular sport in america. Football's concussion problems may scare away future talent. Baseball has been waning in popularity (Arturo calls it an old man's game). If the NBA made smart management moves, it could really benefit. New owners like Mikhail Prokhorov could take teams out of weaker markets and put them in stronger markets and improve the NBA.

Wrap Up

We finished talking the draft and got into NBA history. If you're a fan of that then might I suggest Dr. J's Autobiography? I was lucky enough for the doctor himself to tweet back at me after I finished reading it,

If you're a fan of ABA history, then Terry Pluto's Loose Balls is a must read too. It's Christmas Eve, so if you're still looking for a gift, a two pack of those books would make any NBA history fan's day.

Arturo makes a random observation, the Knicks may not be good at basketball but have produced some of the best coaches in the NBA. Arturo also shouts out some of the great Knicks bloggers. The Knicks are good at a long of things related to basketball, just not so much the basketball itself. It's no coincidence their last title run season coincided with something else.

That's our show, happy holidays!

I remember saying that the NBA needs to get rid of the draft in the comments and I like that Dre and some other people are finding that assist are tertiary stat like time of possession in football.

And to the point of Futbol, I would think the goal would be to put the most cost effective team out there so you can make a profit.

Norwich City, Swansee City, Wolverhampton seem to be doing a great job in my eyes. I would think the evaluation process is just as tough as football and hockey so they could be just lucky.
The problem with the draft, unique to the NBA in some ways, is that it leads to a bad games on court, as probably 30 games per lottery team are awful, as teams stop trying.

The league should want both teams to compete to maximise TV numbers and therefore revenue, and late in the season this stops happening. As an example, last year, Washington shutdown and lost 6 straight: and that is bad for the BUSINESS of the NBA.

So you need a solution that encourages playing hard - for all 82 games and as many of the 48 minutes as possible night in, night out.

This wheel thing doesn't encourage better play, as late in a season, why care? May as well play rookies 30 minutes a night and shut down better players to minimise injuries. The late season product is still likely crappy, because what incentive is there to play harder?

I think the best way is to make every game worth 5 draft credits. 1 for losing, and 4 that get split based on margin: less than 5, losing team gets all 5, 5-12, wining team gets one, > 12 - a blowout - winning team gets 2.

That encourages playing hard in each game AND right to the last moment. It leads to exciting last second plays, as a team tries to go from say an 8 to 5 point loss.

And it encourages good teams to push on, and not sit LeBron for a quarter in a blowout, which for a casual fan that goes to see Orlando vs Miami late in the season is what they want: to see the best players play.

Incentivise per game, make the product better for more games, and reward great effort.
Draft bidding credits is an interesting idea. Could you flesh out this scheme more? A danger is bidders go all in for the top few players, and rookies drafted lower go almost free.

By the way, I hate the wheel: humans love uncertainty. Sports is entertainment, and should be unpredictable, including at the draft level.

And the current draft is biased to reward losing too much. If I am the worst team in the league, I am guaranteed a top 4 draft pick. One simple fix would be to make every lottery pick a true lottery. Give the worst team 16 balls, and the team that just missed the playoffs 3 balls, then raffle off every pick in order. The last place team would often get a pick outside the top 4, yet on average worse teams would get better draft picks.
I'm not sure next summer's draft credits would be incentive for today's players. After all, what they would in essence be doing is playing hard so their team can replace them with better players.

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