Don’t bank on a tank: WNBA draft lottery process rules out purposeful Lynx losses

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS
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The Lynx enter Sunday's game at Las Vegas with a 3-12 record, last among the 12 WNBA teams.

There are a number of reasons for this. The signing of veteran Angel McCoughtry didn't work out when it became clear as training camp wound down that she had not recovered sufficiently from knee surgery. Same for Layshia Clarendon. The team wasn't convinced the veteran point guard's stress reaction — the injury sustained at the end of the 2021 season — would hold up.

Toss in a slew of injuries this season and the possibility of the Lynx going an entire season without Napheesa Collier, who recently gave birth to her first child.

There are some folks who feel it would be best for the Lynx to stay where they are. Tank, perhaps, with the possibility of snagging former Hopkins and current Connecticut star Paige Bueckers, should she decide to enter the 2023 draft.

It's not that simple.

First, Lynx coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve is not the sort of competitor who would want to go down this road.

Second: The rules surrounding the WNBA draft lottery could make any attempt at tanking fruitless for the Lynx.

Unlike almost every other professional league in the United States, the WNBA's draft lottery doesn't base its odds only on the just-completed season.

Here's how it works:

Four of the teams in the 12-team WNBA don't make the playoffs each season and enter the league's draft lottery.

Once those four teams are established, the league looks at each of the four teams' aggregate record over the past two seasons, not just the recently-ended season.

And because the Lynx went 22-10 and finished in third place in 2021, it would be very difficult for Minnesota to get the best odds at capturing the top pick.

After Friday's games, the four teams out of playoff position in the WNBA were Los Angeles (5-8), Phoenix (6-10), Indiana (4-13) and the Lynx (3-12).

That means, at this point, the lottery standings including last year's records would have Indiana (10-39) with the best chance to win the top pick, followed by Los Angeles (17-28), Minnesota (25-22) and Phoenix (25-23).

That means Indiana would have a 44.2% chance of winning the top pick, Los Angeles 27.6%, Minnesota 17.8% and Phoenix 10.4%.

After the top two picks are determined the lottery ends, with picks three and four assigned by aggregate record.

The rules surrounding the lottery were changed in 2015.

Many feel the primary reason was what happened in Phoenix during the 2012 season, when the Mercury were accused by some of intentionally throwing the season to get a prime spot in the 2013 draft.

This was a season in which star guard Diana Taurasi played in only eight games. The Mercury lost 18 of their final 21 games and finished in second-to-last place at 7-27. The Mercury then won the ensuing lottery and picked center Brittney Griner with the top pick in the draft.

Two seasons later the Mercury went 29-5 during the regular season and went on to win their third WNBA title.

Fifteen games into the 36-game season, the Lynx are three games out of the final playoff spot. Should the team return to relative health — both star center Sylvia Fowles and her backup Natalie Achonwa recently returned to practice — it is still possible the Lynx could keep their streak of playoff appearances alive by qualifying for the 12th straight season. Should that happen, and should Collier recover quickly and find herself able to rejoin the team late in the season, the Lynx might find themselves in position to be a playoff spoiler.