Widgets Magazine

Venkataraman: Circumstances, numbers suggest rigged NBA Draft Lottery

The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Draft Lottery for the third time in four years on Tuesday night. Conspiracy theorists, you may start your engines…now.

The probability of the Cavaliers winning the lottery this year was a meager 1.7 percent. Last year, when they surprisingly elected to take UNLV’s Anthony Bennett with the first pick, their probability of winning was 15.6 percent. And in 2011, when the Clippers won the lottery but traded the unprotected pick to the Cavaliers as a part of the Baron Davis kerfuffle (netting enigmatic is-he-really-a-point-guard Kyrie Irving), the Clippaliers’ probability of winning was 2.8 percent.

As a proud student of CS 109, I can tell you that, assuming that the lottery each year is independent, the overall probability of winning in those three years given the above odds, is approximately .0074256 percent. Seven-thousandths of a percent. Wow.

On the whole, I am a very rational human being, and I (mostly) believe the NBA when it says that the draft lottery process is above reproach. But the sequence of events over the last few years is getting just a little bit outrageous. In 2011, at the end of the first post-LeBron year in Cleveland, the Cavaliers, who were atrocious all season and still reeling from LeBron’s betrayal (sobs), just happen to win the lottery?

The year after, the league-owned New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans, in dire need of a quick infusion of talent in order to be palatable to potential buyers, just happen to win the lottery? And, for the sake of completing this conspiracy theory, the last two years, Cleveland, even still reeling from “The Decision,” once again wins the lottery, giving it access to major talent at the same time that LeBron James can opt out of his contract in Miami, setting the stage for a triumphant homecoming as the once and future savior of the Cavaliers franchise? If I had a beard, I would stroke it.

Now, I’m not saying that David Stern is Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious/Evil Emperor, and I’m certainly not saying that Adam Silver is Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. I think Donald Sterling has already staked his claim to the vacant “villain” spot in the parking lot that is the NBA. However, one cannot help but wonder how much these storylines improve the NBA’s ratings.

For the diehard fans, watching the NBA is a ritual, something that they will do year in and year out, without needing any incentive to turn on the TV or semi-legally stream the games online (I’m looking at you, college students without cable). But for casual fans, over an 82-game regular season, atrophy starts to set in. They need some inspiration to tune in, some motivation that inspires them to stop watching Pretty Little Liars and start watching the NBA on TNT/ESPN/ABC/CSN.

As a casual fan, if I told you that LeBron James was returning to Cleveland to join forces with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett (or whoever they trade him for), Joel Embiid and Anderson Varejao, you would immediately jump for joy and tune in for sure. Another LeBron James backstabbing? The return of the prodigal son? God not hating Cleveland sports anymore? The clichéd-headline-generator at ESPN would explode from pure happiness.

All jokes aside, the one truth to be gleaned from the lottery process over the last few years is simple: the ping-pong ball approach is most definitely broken. I can’t claim to have or even know of a better strategy than the lottery, at least none that minimize the benefits of “tanking,” a process perfected this season by the abysmal Philadelphia 76ers, who were rewarded for their awful record with the third pick in what may be a four-superstar draft.

As it is currently structured, the lottery hasn’t really induced any kind of team improvement; save for the Oklahoma City Thunder and maybe the Portland Trail Blazers, teams that have tried to build through the draft have continued to, for lack of a better word, suck. In a perfect world, the NBA talent distribution would converge towards perfect parity, a trend that is impossible in the real world given players’ egos and preferences, the deep pockets of big market teams, the existence of the salary cap and the harsh penalties for exceeding it. I’m not sure what process can help us get to that perfect scenario, but it is clear that the lottery is not the answer.

Maybe we should just let the NBA put players wherever it thinks they should go. Oh wait…they are already doing that anyway.

There’s a seven-thousandths percent chance that Vignesh Venkataraman gets drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Draft next month. But probability didn’t stop the Cavs in the lottery, so send along your C-Town restaurant suggestions to Vignesh at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Vignesh Venkataraman

Vignesh Venkataraman (or Viggy, if you prefer) writes weekly columns for the Daily, unless he forgets. He is a computer science and mechanical engineering double major, with an unofficial minor in watching sports. Born in Boston but raised in Cupertino, CA, Vignesh is a diehard New England Patriots fan and has adopted the Golden State Warriors as his favorite basketball team. He was the backup quarterback for his high school football team and called Stanford football games on KZSU in 2014.
  • Never Trust A Bitch

    All of this shit is fixed

  • Peter receiver

    The Draft is fixed for sure. The best percentage cleaveland ever had post James of winning the top pick was 15% Lol followed By 2.8% and then 1.7% and they got the top pick every time.. 3 out of 4 years. that’s hardly random or reflective of their percentages to get said top pick.

    This is all set up for James to come back n win in Cleveland. In 2 years when he announces that’s where he is going via free agency we will all know the fix was in years ago.

  • Rob

    Vignesh, I think a better question may be, what is the probability that any team would win the NBA lottery 3 out of the last 4 years?

  • Roger Matthews

    The odds of winning the mega millions is about 1 in 300 million (much smaller than 0.007 percent), yet someone wins. Are you saying then that the mega millions is rigged as well?

  • Philip King

    Or better, that some team will win the lottery three out of four years over an extended period of time.

    The probability that a person will win a major lottery is tiny. The probability one person will win two major lotteries is infinitesimal. But the probability that *someone* will win two major lotteries is about 50-50. And it happens.

  • Greatski

    And the T-wolves have NEVER moved up in their history…plus the year that we should have been #1, Orlando and Charlotte jump us and take Shaq & Zo, we get Laettner…totally rigged!

  • Johnno

    Roger Matthews,

    Multiply that by the number of tickets sold. The chances of SOMEONE winning is actually high and probability grows with each event. Go back and do your math homework.
    The lottery is rigged, they need an independent and televised version of this draft. In fact you make a good point, if they were to do it as controlled as Megamillions, then it would be much harder for them to rig it.

  • Just Sayin

    In the article he says it’s 7/1000 of a percent which is fairly telling.

  • DubsFan88

    And he went back to Cleveland. Surprise, surprise, lol.

    *dead* at everyone acting like he’s sacrificing by coming home and playing with Kyrie Irving and Wiggins/Kevin Love instead of a broken down Wade and the 6’10 SG Chris Bosh.

  • lionsuar77

    People, the NBA in particular is like watching WWE. The refs can control the outcome more than any other sport. I truly believe the loittery was rigged for Cleveland just like it was rigged for San Antonio and NY (Duncan, Ewing). But you sports nerds will continue to watch and make millions for this rigged enterprise.

  • lionsuar77

    I wish I had the time to show you just how stupid this comment is. For starters, the chances that someone will eventually win is close to 100%. That’s where I would start in breaking down your statement. Does anyone have the time to educate this guy?

  • Roger Matthews

    Clearly you didn’t understand my statement. The odds of many everyday occurrences happening are incredibly low, but guess what: they happen! I once sat next to the same complete stranger on two random international flights five years apart (I rarely fly as well), do you know what the odds of that happening is? Extremely low. I once got blackjack four times in a row, do me a favor and look up the odds of that happening. Was my blackjack deck rigged?

    The fact that you people believe that the owners of the nba would gather together in collusion to help Cleveland of all places is so asinine that it borders on delusion.

  • ninetonitesucks

    Roger has shown he doesn’t grasp odds/probability

  • Roger Matthews

    You have zero grasp on odds/probability, and are a delusional conspiracy theorist to boot

  • ninetonitesucks

    Unbelievable reply Roger. So well thought out. If I watched the NBA then your laugher of a response would hold merit. As it is, I don’t watch the NBA but you still don’t get odds/probability at all. We’re all a little dumber for having to read your response.

  • Roger Matthews

    Lol you don’t watch the NBA but feel the need to comment on a 6 month old article related to the NBA? Moron. And seriously learn some basic probability theory before you comment.

  • ninetonitesucks

    No, you need to learn. Jesus Roger, how dumb are you? You were the one that never played sports and in gym class, you were always picked last weren’t you?

  • RogerMatthews SUCKS

    Just stop Roger. You’re clueless in this discussion. Go back down into your parents basement and play video games