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The 6,493 Best Ideas To Prevent Tanking In The NBA

… and counting. Late last week, after a conversation about the NBA draft on our sports podcast Hot Takedown, I launched our show’s first crowdsourcing project. The question was simple:

Lots of people think the NBA draft structure is broken, which leads to tanking by teams. How would you fix it?

I thought this would generate a few dozen responses and perhaps some fodder for another conversation on the podcast.

Turns out, we’ve tapped a nerd nerve. Almost 6,500 of you (as of this writing) have responded with incredibly thoughtful and rigorously defended proposals. Most used the form that was in the original post, but I’ve also received PDF email attachments — because the online form wasn’t big enough. And someone even dropped off a spiral-bound version of his plan at the FiveThirtyEight offices.

So here we go. I’m going to sift through all 6,493 of your ideas. I can’t promise to catch every word, but the goal is still to find one plan to endorse as the official Hot Takedown proposal. Which we still plan to print out, notarize and deliver to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s office.

Before I dive in, here a few first impressions. Many of the ideas are variations on five basic themes:

  • Flatten out the disparity between the lottery team’s chances of getting the first pick.
  • Scrap the lottery and have a draft-pick playoff for teams that didn’t make the playoffs.
  • Reverse the incentive structure entirely — the best teams that didn’t make the playoffs get the highest pick.
  • Scrap the draft entirely and let players enter the marketplace as free agents.
  • Somehow mask a team’s incentives or uncouple them from the team’s record (e.g., only have some games count toward the lottery).

But there are many, many weirder ideas as well. All of these plans have lots of wrinkles, cascading implications, and plenty of pros and cons. I was impressed by how willing most of you were to be honest about the downsides of your proposal.

We’ve anonymized the proposals and posted the full set of raw submissions online. In the continued spirit of crowdsourcing, if you happen to see a plan you really like, flag it for us in the comments or tweet it to me (please include its row number so we can find it easily).


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In the form, we also asked you a few questions. And a sample size of 6,500 means there’s some actual data to play with. Given that this was a poll of people who have written their own proposals to fix NBA tanking, it may not be that much of a surprise that respondents think tanking is a big problem. Some other notes:

  • Almost a quarter of you think tanking is a 14 (big problem) on a scale of 1 to 14 lottery pingpong balls.
  • A much smaller, but notable, number of you wrote in to argue that tanking is actually a good thing. We’ve discussed this on the podcast — it does create a compelling storyline of sorts.
  • I’m most interested in those of you who think that tanking is not a problem but still crafted your own proposal to fix it.
  • You are a confident bunch. About 35 percent have full faith that your plan will stop tanking entirely.
  • 220 of you have no confidence in your plan. I’d love to talk to those who don’t think tanking is a problem, don’t believe in your plan, but still submitted it. Good for you.

That’s where we stand for now. I’ll be updating online and on the podcast (so, subscribe!) over the next few weeks. We’ll discuss the finalists on the show and pick a winner before the lottery May 19.

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.

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