Monday, December 08, 2008

Feeling a Draft?

We certainly are. It may be the off season for the WNBA, but two critical events are taking place today and tomorrow.

First, at 1:00 PM ET this afternoon, the league will hold a dispersal draft to distribute the players on the now defunct Houston Comets. According to the WNBA, "the order of selection will be based on the inverse of order of 2008 regular season finish," which is a charitably euphemistic way of saying that the worst teams pick first. So we guess you could say the Mystics picked a "good" season to finish second to last. But in case you're seeing visions of Tina Thompson or Michelle Snow --- in a Mystics uniform -- we have one word for you: fugetaboutit! It turns out that many of the most desirable players on the Comets are unrestricted free agents this season (including both Tina and Michelle) and, therefore, will not be available in the dispersal draft. So the Mystics will be picking second this afternoon from the best of the rest.

Most observers think that the top two picks will be Sancho Lyttle and Matee Ajavon. If Atlanta GM/Head Coach Marynell Meadors takes Lyttle, don't be surprised if Mystics GM Angela Taylor makes her first player personnel decision by selecting Ajavon, a second year guard (well known to Terps fans) out of Rutgers. Of course, draft days are anything but predictable, so it isn't over til it's over. As a matter of fact, in his blog post last Thursday, Mystics COO Greg Bibb mentioned the possibility of a trade. So we'll be following this afternoon to find out who exactly will be joining the Mystics.

Then tomorrow (Tuesday) there's more excitement in store for Mystics fans. At 3 PM ET the league will hold the lottery to determine the order of selection for next April's 2009 College Draft. Unlike the dispersal draft, the draft lottery is a fairly complicated affair, so the BasketCases have invited a famous mathemetician, Dr. Charlie Eppes, to help explain it all to us.

BC: Dr. Eppes, thanks so much for taking time away from your teaching and busy FBI consulting work to visit the BasketCases blog.

Eppes: Please call me Charlie. It's my pleasure to be here. Amita and I are big fans of the WNBA. We have season tickets for the Sparks. So, how may I help?

BC: Well, let's start with the basics. Just what is it that will be decided tomorrow?

Eppes: That's easy. The five teams that finished out of the playoffs last season will all be participating in the draft lottery, which will determine the order in which they will pick in the 2009 college draft. Now, it's a common misconception that the ping pong balls will actually determine which teams have the first five picks. This isn't true. The ping pong balls only determine which teams pick first, second, and third. The two remaining picks -- the 4th and 5th picks -- are then determined by inverse order of finish last season.

BC: What does that mean for the Mystics?

Eppes: Well, there's actually a savings clause to be sure the teams that need the most help are not too disadvantaged if the ping pong balls don't pop up according to statistical probability. When that unlikely event occurs, and one of the teams that finished among the bottom three this past season doesn't get one of the first three picks in the lottery, it will automatically get the 4th pick. So, for example, if the Mystics, who finished next to last, don't get one of the first three lottery picks, they will automatically get the 4th pick, unless Atlanta didn't get one of the first three picks either, in which case the Dream will get the 4th pick and the Mystics will get the 5th pick. That's pretty clear, isn't it?

BC: Clear as the Economic Recovery Package. So how exactly does the ping pong ball lottery work?

Eppes: Okay, this is the really fun part. The league uses 14 ping pong balls, numbered 1 to 14, a very original concept. They put them in the hopper, mix them up, and randomly select four balls. Did you know that when you draw out 4 balls like this, there are 1,001 different combinations? No? Well, trust me, there are. Anyway, the league has taken 1,000 of those different combinations and assigned them to the five teams in the lottery. The worse you finished last season, the more combinations you get, and thus the more chances of getting the first pick in the draft. Once the first four ping pong balls are drawn, the team with that particular combination of four numbers gets the first pick. Atlanta has 420 of the 1,000 combinations, and the Mystics have 261, which means that D.C. has 261 chances out of 1,000 to get the first draft pick. However it's important to keep in mind that each of the 1,001 combinations has an equal chance of being selected. So having the most combinations by no means guarantees the top pick! Then, after the four balls are drawn to determine the first pick, they're put back in, re-mixed, and the second and third draft picks are determined the same way.

BC: What about that unassigned 1,001st combination? What if that combination of four balls is actually picked?

Eppes: Well then, the league uses the following algorithm to calculate the trajectory necessary to launch the unassigned ping pong ball combination into outer space: PBS = Σ(i=1,7) Ai cos [ (0.985626° ΔtJ2000 / τi) + φi].

BC: Oh, we didn't know that. Well, this is a pretty important event. Dr. Eppes, we mean Charlie, do you know if the lottery is being broadcast or web cast for the fans?

Eppes: No it isn't. It's being done from the league's offices, with the results being announced to the teams via conference call. So, as I understand it, no one can actually see the ping pong balls being selected except the league officials. However, once the lottery is concluded, I plan to compare the results to predictable statistical outcomes using a unique algorithm I've developed just for this occasion, in order to satisfy myself, the FBI and WNBA fans everywhere, that the lottery was conducted on the up and up.

BC: Well, thank goodness for that. And thank you Dr., uh Charlie, for all your help.


At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Stewart said...

I'm holding out hope that we can land Michelle Snow during the free-agent signing period. Angela, it's time to work your magic! Meantime, Atlanta selects Lyttle first, what do you think of the Mystics taking Ajavon? Frankly, I have my doubts about her, but I don't know.


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