NBA Draft: Would Abandoning Draft for a Free Market System Be Good for the NBA?

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NBA Draft: Would Abandoning Draft for a Free Market System Be Good for the NBA?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2011 NBA Draft provides lottery teams with the chance to reverse their fortunes with a high draft pick.

But should fans of these lottery teams get their hopes up? 

In other words, does the draft system actually act as the great equalizer that it's intended to be?

The draft is such an ingrained concept in American sports that we rarely stop to ask the question.

In theory, the NBA draft should bring about the most amount of parity in any league.

NBA prospects have a much lower “bust” rate than prospects in other leagues, and can usually contribute immediately (which why is sending a player to the D-League will always be viewed as more of an insult than an opportunity to develop).

Additionally, just one or two impact picks can dramatically improve a team because rotations only go eight or nine deep.

So, does the NBA draft bring about the parity that we think it should?

At first blush, the answer appears to be yes—there have been five unique champions in the last six years.

But going back a little deeper for a better sample size, we see that there have been only nine unique winners since 1980. 

How does this compare to the other major American sports leagues?

In that same span, there have been 19 different World Series champions, 15 different Super Bowl victors, and 15 different Stanley Cup winners.

In other words, the NBA has by far the least amount of parity of any league.

Another measure is to look at how many teams win the title one year after missing the playoffs.

The NFL, the gold standard for parity, just saw the Packers win the 2011 Super Bowl after missing the playoffs a year ago.

Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, only two NBA teams have done that: the 1977 Trailblazers and the 2008 Celtics.

If the draft is failing in its mission, perhaps the NBA would be better off embracing a "survival of the fittest" mentality.

Perhaps the league would be more exciting if the best teams got better, if the battle for the top spot became even more contentious and star-studded.

Perhaps the NBA would actually be better off with a free market system for rookies instead of a draft.

To find out, I will present the pros and cons of a free market system and let you decide for yourself.

But first, let’s go over how such a free market system would work, and dispel a few common myths.

Full disclosure—as a Warriors fan whose team was (allegedly) jobbed out of Patrick Ewing in 1985, and who has watched his team trade away the rare good players they pick for pupu platters (Jason Terry for Mookie Blaylock and Jeff Foster?!) I would welcome a change. But I’ll do my best to leave out any biases I may have.

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