There was an interesting article/proposal from Bill James today on how to fix the NBA's draft system. I had been doing some thinking about the NFL draft earlier, related to my previous suggestion that the NFL should move to a full auction format from it's current standard draft format.
It was great to see James suggest something very similar to help the NBA with tanking, although he added a couple wrinkles that change it up quite a bit.
Here’s my solution. Create a system in which:
1. Each NBA team has an agreed-upon amount of money that it can use to sign players coming into the league, and
2. Each player may be drafted not by one team, but by three teams.
In other words, permit a bidding war—thus permitting competition—but a limited bidding war. The bidding war is limited because:
1. Only three teams can participate for one player, and
2. Those teams have a limited amount of money that they can spend.
How would this work in practice? Let’s say that each team has a “rookie fund,” and there are limits as to how much each team can put into that fund ($7 million in one year, $25 million over four years) and limits as to how rapidly they can spend out of that fund ($20 million in one year, $45 million over four years). Don’t focus on the precise dollar amounts; that would require negotiations among the teams. The key is each player can be drafted by three different teams. If there are five “special” players in the draft, there aren’t five teams that have a shot at them; there are 15—and really, it is more than 15, if we assume that draft rights can be traded or sold. Let’s say you have a franchise that is determined to acquire, let’s say, Brandon Ingram. In the current system the only way you can take a shot at him is to acquire one of two draft picks—the first, or the second. What if there were six shots instead of just two?
James gets to the heart of the issue with all current pro sports draft formats. They currently are fixed within a format of locked individual choices, and inherent in that system is the fact that an earlier pick is more valuable than a later pick. Earlier is always better in terms of the player you can get, and there will always be a tension in the way you allocate those choices and set the order.
The only way to avoid that is to change the format and remove ordinal choice. An auction accomplishes this.
I think the next step is to actually demonstrate it conceptually. If I were the NBA, and I really wanted to fix this...there's a very easy way to test it out.
You get former/retired personnel guys, and you have each of them assigned to a team. You set the constraints/rules of the new auction format, and you have them mock it up. You see how it would work -- hell, I'd even watch this on television.