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Nate Silver Busts Out His Calculator and Pretty Handily Fixes a Big Problem With the NBA Lottery

FiveThirtyEight – Let’s say each team loses its final game. Under the NBA’s lottery formula, the Timberwolves would have a 25.0 percent chance of landing the first pick, the Knicks would have a 19.9 percent shot, and the Sixers a 15.6 percent chance. That seems like an awfully big difference for teams that are separated by just one or two games in the standings. But it’s how the NBA’s rules work. The number of losses doesn’t matter, only the order of the teams. There’s a better way to award those pingpong balls, one that maintains the spirit of the current lottery system without allowing a one-game difference to matter so much.

Here’s how it works. Take each team’s number of losses. Subtract 41 (41-41 represents a breakeven record in the NBA). Then square the result. That’s how many pingpong balls a team gets. (OK, one more provision: A team gets a minimum of 10 lottery balls, including if it has a winning record.) That might seem arbitrary — but it produces results that are remarkably similar to the current formula, only fairer. What chance would each team have at the first pick this year, for example? Assuming each team’s final game goes according to the FiveThirtyEight NBA Power Ratings, that would leave the Wolves with a 22.0 percent chance at the first pick, the Knicks at 20.3 percent and the Sixers at 18.6 percent. That’s more proportionate to the small difference separating Minnesota, New York and Philly in the standings. 

Here’s how the lottery balls would have been distributed in each of the past 10 seasons.4 On average, the worst team would have had about a 25 percent chance of winding up with the top pick, as it does now. But those chances would have been as high as 38.5 percent (for the record-setting 2012 Charlotte Bobcats) or as low as 19.0 percent (for the 2013 Orlando Magic), depending on how much separated the very worst team from the almost-as-bad ones. In a year like 2010, in which there was a big gap between the second-worst team (the 15-67 Timberwolves) and the third-worst (the 25-57 Sacramento Kings), that’s where the sharpest break in lottery chances would have been.



Fucking Silver. Coming in with his big swingin dick brain and fixing the NBA like it ain’t no thang. Even if you aren’t a math nerd who predicted the whole last presidential election you probably knew that the end of regular season NBA results and the percentages for lotto picks don’t really reflect how bad teams are in relation to one another. The way they set up the weighting system back sucks. Essentially teams that are 1 loss apart wind up with the same odds of getting a 1 overall pick as teams that are 10 losses apart. It doesn’t truly reflect how good or bad a team was. Silver’s method fixes it with pretty little muss or fuss. And all of this just in time to be super unhelpful for Knicks fans. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the NBA adopted this lotto method in the offseason. It just makes too much damn sense. Silver’s system could’ve saved them a few more percentage points since they went and beat the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night for whatever reason they decided that was a good idea.


Now who wants to stuff this dude in a locker?