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Would NBA Draft Lottery reform help the Raptors?

We explore the Raptors draft history and the reform rumors for clues.

Note: This is a guest post from Michael R. Menard.

Change is hard. NBA Draft changes have been especially hard on the Toronto Raptors. Take the 1995 Canadian expansion, which implemented more punishing draft pick stipulations than anything any team faced during the 1987 expansion or after, in 2004. The Raptors won the lottery in 1996 – a draft that featured future Naismith Hall of Famer Allen Iverson as the top prize, along with plenty of pinstriped suits – but they weren’t allowed to enjoy that franchise-altering addition because the two Canadian teams were forbidden from actually selecting first overall in any of the drafts from 1995 to 1998.

A decade later, pinstripes went the way of 8-ball jackets, and tattoos were on the rise when Toronto won its second, and only other, draft lottery. The King James coronation was as advertised and two phenoms were up next. One of them even considered the Raptors his favorite childhood NBA team. That young man’s name was Kevin Durant. However, it was not to be. Months prior, then-Commissioner David Stern changed the minimum age limit from 18 to 19, making both Greg Oden and Kevin Durant draft-ineligible as options to Toronto. General manager Bryan Colangelo decided to select boldly regardless, opting for a different 3-point shooting 7-footer who enjoyed eating Primo pasta meals in the middle of dimly-lit basketball courts.

It’s been a little over a decade since that lottery win, and a fierce battle between a product line called iPhone and a family known as the Kardashians has raged on over who would undergo the most total changes over that span. The NBA wants changes, too. This time they’re the most sweeping set of lottery reforms since the implementation of ping pong balls. A vote on lottery reform is expected by the end of September, and if 23 of the 30 ownership groups side with Commissioner Adam Silver, the changes would be implemented for 2019. (A similar proposal fell six votes short in 2014, but Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors, were one of 17 teams who supported reform.)

Essentially, the proposed reform would lower the odds the worst teams have for landing the top pick and smooth those odds out over the last couple of spots in the standings. The idea is to eliminate the push to tank to be the very worst while beefing up the odds for teams in the middle of the lottery, where it’s more difficult (and maybe less intentional) to jockey for better odds.

While we wait for the results of the vote, here’s a table we created exploring the Raptors draft history. In it, you’ll be able to compare the lottery odds the Raptors enjoyed in the past with what they would have enjoyed if this new proposal had been in place. Details of the proposal are still murky but two aspects have been widely reported: The three worst teams in any year would all receive the same flat odds of 14% in their pursuit of the first overall pick, and the remaining odds would then scale down from 4 through 14.

The exact odds of the proposal aren’t public yet, but we do have the aforementioned details, math, and the note that odds will still be fairly low for the teams who just miss the playoffs (to remove any incentive to drop out of a playoff spot). Our estimates for the new odds are based on both. You can see a few years – the 2003-to-2011 stretch stands out – where the Raptors would have been better off from this new proposal, and really only one instance where it would have hurt much (1997, when they couldn’t pick first anyway).

After you’ve looked at the table, we’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section regarding how you view the lottery reform proposal. Do you think they would be beneficial long-term to MLSE’s Raptors based on past history? More punishing? Negligible? There are definitely a few different ways the changes can be interpreted for a team that has laid out a three-year window to be competitive but may want to take several steps back to rebuild from the ground up later down the line. Please, let us know your thoughts.

UPDATE: The reform passed with a 28-1-1 vote on Thursday. The new lottery odds are in Woj’s tweet below, quite close to what Michael speculated:

Note: This is a guest post from Michael R. Menard.

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