NBA Draft – rigged or luck?

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In light of the recent news about the Houston Astros sign-stealing, our attention should be turned to what other leagues might be cheating as well. 

While the NBA Draft is four months away, conversations about it being rigged has been reigning the league since 1985. The draft itself provides an opportunity for NBA teams to potentially acquire players that can improve its stock, making room for teams to rebuild and rebrand themselves through potential future stars. 

Dieter Kutenbach, a sports columnist at the San Jose Mercury News in the East Bay, said usually there are prospects that are a sure-fire lock to be great like Kyrie Irving or Zion Williamson. This upcoming draft however is not the case. 

“Some of these guys might turn out to be big-time superstar players,” said Kutenbach. “But, it is not readily apparent to really anyone involved who or why or how that’s all gonna happen.” 

While the draft happens in May, prospects are being looked at months in advance. According to ESPN, the top three overall prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft are Anthony Edwards from Georgia, LaMelo Ball who played professional basketball in Australia and James Wiseman from Memphis. Though prospects are the “main event” when it comes to the draft, many sports fans and basketball fanatics focus on the authenticity of the draft. 

In the ‘85 draft the New York Knicks, one of the largest basketball brands in the country, received the first pick and with that, Patrick Ewing. From freezing the envelope to forcefully shoving it against a metal bar to create a crease in the envelope, conversations over what exactly happened that year are still talked about and debated. 

For Kutenbach though, the NBA isn’t rigged. 

“It would be an absolutely colossal mistake by the NBA that would not just jeopardize anything, it would legitimately end the entirety of the league because there would be so many lawsuits brought against them for fraud,” said Kutenbach. “It would bankrupt them in a second.” 

While the ‘85 Ewing draft is the most notorious case to support theories of rigging in the league, sports fanatics have pointed to other possible incidents. 

In 2002 the New Orleans Hornets sold the team to the NBA due to the effects of Hurricane Katrina. In the midst of the team’s relocation, Chris Paul, arguably one of the Hornet’s best players got traded. By the time the current owner, Tom Benson, bought the team and rebranded it as the New Orleans Pelicans, the value of the team dropped. The Pelicans had the fourth-best odds (13.7%) of getting the top overall pick. Whether it was luck or proof of rigging, the Pelicans got first overall pick and with that Anthony Davis.  

Another instance of pure luck or definate rigging, depending on how you view it, was when Orlando Magic back in the early ‘90s got their first picks back-to-back in the lottery. 

Similar to the Pelicans, the team was recently bought by a new owner, Rich DeVos, and their odds of winning first overall pick was low. In 1992 they had the second-worst record and in 1993 the team had the 11th-worst record. Chances of the team winning top pick in 1993 was 1.5% however, they still got first pick both years—Shaquille O’Neal in ‘92 and Chris Webber in ‘93.

Teams that are on the brink of extinction are conveniently saved by the time the draft comes around. It is plausible to say that the teams have pure luck. However, to completely ignore and deny the possibility of the franchise sliding its hand under the table and helping its teams is naïve.