How to “fix” the WNBA Draft Lottery Problem
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:
The actual result was:
However, if you averaged the record of the same lottery teams over the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons, the order would be:
Isn’t that a better order?
In 2011, the Nneka draft, based on that season only, the lottery should have produced:
3. Los Angeles
The lottery produced:
1. Los Angeles
2. Chicago (traded to Seattle)
3. Washington (traded to Minnesota)
However, if you averaged the record of the same lottery teams over the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, the order would be:
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?