Monday, December 22nd, 2014

How to “fix” the WNBA Draft Lottery Problem

Published on September 27, 2012

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Normally, I do not write opinion pieces for Hoopfeed. I have always considered it our responsibility to give you, the reader, all of the facts possible, and let you make your own conclusions. However, last night the WNBA held their annual draft lottery and I could not help but feel a dull ache in the pit of my stomach at the results. I know “fix” is an ugly word surrounding the lottery right now, but I aim to “fix” the lottery, as in “it is broken and in need of repair.”

I had a conversation after the lottery with Tulsa Shock head coach Gary Kloppenburg (which will air on Dishin & Swishin’s September 27 podcast). It was coach Kloppenburg who commented that the problem was not where the lucky balls bounced, but instead the lottery itself.

The WNBA has this unwritten policy of trying to emulate whatever the NBA does. After all, the NBA has grown from a small niche league into a major international force. Oh, and they both play basketball. However, that is really where the similarity ends.

It is time the WNBA realizes that the goals of a college draft for the league are not the same as those of the NBA. There are 30 teams in the NBA, and the NBA is a stable, fiscally solid league. The WNBA has 12 teams, and to say that several are not doing well financially is an understatement. While both leagues use the concept of a draft lottery to inject a poor team with new talent, the goal of a college draft for the WNBA also needs to be to spark interest in a fledgling or floundering team, to help it stay solvent, and then grow it into a strong entity.

However that is not what is happening. The system is set up in such a way, with four teams not making the playoffs, that the line between in and out of the lottery is a fine one. We could easily be discussing New York instead of Chicago this year. Two years ago, a shot from Tina Thompson put Minnesota in the lottery instead of the playoffs, with Maya Moore as the result.

Injuries take a playoff team right into the lottery, where they have the ability to land the top pick overall, which has happened for two consecutive years. Los Angeles last season suffered through Candace Parker’s shoulder surgery and landed Nneka Ogwumike at number one, even though three teams had worse records than the Sparks. This season, Phoenix suffers injuries to Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi among others (this is not meant to be a commentary on actuality of injuries), and end up going from playoff team to number one pick.

There is only one thing to do with the lottery; get rid of it. It does not work in the WNBA. Let me repeat that. It is a failure, a total and complete failure.

How do you replace it? If you went with just season records, you actually enhance the possibility of teams “tanking” a season, not reducing it.

The solution is what I call the “weighted average of wins” method; average the win-loss records for a rolling three-year period for the lottery teams. With this concept, a team that is legitimately not good, in other words at least two poor seasons out of three, will immediately rise to the top of the draft order.

For example, last night should have produced an order of:

1. Washington
2. Tulsa
3. Phoenix
4. Chicago

The actual result was:

1. Phoenix
2. Chicago
3. Tulsa
4. Washington

However, if you averaged the record of the same lottery teams over the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons, the order would be:

1. Tulsa
2. Washington
3. Phoenix
4. Chicago

Isn’t that a better order?

In 2011, the Nneka draft, based on that season only, the lottery should have produced:

1. Tulsa
2. Washington
3. Los Angeles
4. Chicago

The lottery produced:

1. Los Angeles
2. Chicago (traded to Seattle)
3. Washington (traded to Minnesota)
4. Tulsa

However, if you averaged the record of the same lottery teams over the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, the order would be:

1. Tulsa
2/3. Washington and Chicago tie with the same record
4. Los Angeles

Does anyone really think the actual lottery results were more appropriate and deserving than the weighted average of wins results? Instead of playoff teams with a slight bump in the road getting the top picks in the draft, the team with the worst record for an extensive amount of time get the pick they deserve.

In fact, if you took it back to 2010, when Minnesota ended up with Maya Moore despite the third worst record in the league, Tulsa would have still had the number one pick, and that includes a Detroit Shock team that won 18 games in the calculation!

So, there you have it. Toss aside this lottery nonsense. It is time for the WNBA to realize what is and is not working to grow their league, and this is not.

Go to the weighted average of wins method, and give the teams that are struggling the draft picks they really deserve. Who knows what teams we would be discussing right now if the Tulsa Shock had drafted Maya Moore or Nneka Ogwumike instead of Minnesota and Los Angeles?


 

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Readers Comments (7)

  1. Brittany says:

    I think this sounds like a very commendation solution to a serious problem. The WNBA will fold if it continues the way it has. I, among many others, would hate to see that happen. Thank you for coming up with a valuable solution to the problem. Hopefully they will take it into serious consideration.

  2. wbb fan says:

    This is the best idea I've heard of to fix the problem. However, the WNBA front office will never agree to such a thing because 1) they'd have to admit the lottery is "broken" and 2) Phoenix "tanked" this season. They'll continue to bury their collective heads in the sand unless the fans start letting them know they're fed up, first with emails, then with their pocketbooks.

  3. CJ_ says:

    I'm not seeing this as necessarily bettor or worse than the weighted lottery system we have now. The reason for the lottery is to compensate for conference differences that are beyond the control of the teams at the bottom. Do teams tank a season? I'm sure they did here and have done so in the past (this is not specific to the WNBA). I don't think Phoenix's position would have changed that much under the current system, though. At best, even with Taurasi playing out the season, they might have swapped with Tulsa. I also don't cry many tears for Washington because they did it to themselves. They had all the pieces together in 2010 and then chose false economies to hire a coach who, even at the time, had never demonstrated the ability to generate a winning team at the pro level; in fact, she'd shown the opposite. As for Tulsa…well, it's pretty clear that the "location, location, location" thing is a problem. A lot of players simply don't want to go there.

    Would the averaging system work? It looks nice but like the lottery it has its flaws; after all, all systems have flaws that can possibly be "gamed". Also: you can't compensate for bad front-office decisions. Nor can you avoid instances of luck. Let's face it, given how some teams have managed to come out on top at a rate greater than you'd expect even in a lottery, perhaps some teams are just luckier than others and some teams have a persistent dark cloud hanging over them….and again, it's not just a WNBA thing.

  4. @amandahart20 says:

    The fact that the WNBA does ANYTHING similar to the NBA is the reason only 4 of its 12 teams are actually profitable/successful. (2 of those teams, Seattle and Connecticut, don't have a partnering NBA franchise. Coincidence?) Come up with league rules and regulations based off of what your league needs in order to be successful, not off of what other leagues do. Is the front office so naive as to think this league is sustainable as it is? Because it isn't. Maybe after they lose another market in the Mystics- who could have been saved single-handedly by either of the top 3 picks- they'll realize that and take your idea into consideration.

  5. Angus24 says:

    Sounds like a reasonable plan to me. There are plenty of examples showing the present system doesn't work and needs fixing. The owners and the league will just have to bite the bullet and do what's best for the league, the fans, and the players. I am surprised that the players have not said "enough already" and demanded some action.

  6. Kendal says:

    This way no one can really tank, unless they do it for 2 out of three years, then you have to pick which is the best draft class. You hope the top picks stay healthy, ie Candace Parker. You have teams making the playoffs like Seattle Storm who now holds the record for 9 consecutive playoffs in a row. But injuries from all the year long seasons has produced only 2 'ships, pretty good, but first round exits every non-champion year. Why?Because our last first round picks was during our expansion years, the way it should be. We got two excellent players, without them we would not have two 'ships. But they are older, injured more often but still play with the heart of champions!

    Team/s whom I can't say for fear of spitting like a po'd cobra wanting to strike out. Who at? The organization responsible for team conduct, the owners of said team. The Article above was right, they would have to admit, and their pride is going to be their downfall.

    The only team that will benefit from more STH isn't hard to guess. Swin Cash has won a 'ship on every team she has played with. Even in 2008 with obvious pain and back problems she played with all heart. That is more then I can say for the team who shall remain nameless….or any other year after they won a championship…..They are younger, have more talent then many teams. Yet they have the worse record for their talent. That is unacceptable. We will renew, after being STH through two 'ship, how can I not support one of the few teams that play with the hearts of lionesses. Going on despite the pain. On their last leg so to speak, they still got into the playoffs this year. I just will give my tickets away when said team comes to town. Congratulations LA, You've been dethroned, at least as my/Seattle's most hated rival. I'll actually cheer for you now!

    GO STORM

  7. Jen says:

    I agree with Kendal – I too am a seasons ticket holder with the Storm who will not be attending Phoenix games or watching them on TV – even though Prahalis and Taylor are 2 of my favorite players. I don't blame players – who in most part played their hearts out – but they still covered for the team and that's dishonest to add to the owner's cheating

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