My long-time NBA league, the Ezra Stiles Rotisserie Association, is having its first ever actual draft tomorrow night. Oh, we do a full draft every season. At least we talk about “when is the draft”, or “see you at the draft”, or whatnot. But since its founding in 1988, the league has always used an auction, not a draft, to allocate its players.
With the lockout and uncertain start of the season, we were unable to get together a full day to do an auction. We draft a total of 200 players, and in the past auctions typically take 8-10 hours. Based on the experiences some of us have had with fantasy football drafts, we think a draft should take half as much time, or even less. So a weeknight draft it is.
I’ve always been biased in favor of auctions, first and foremost because it’s fairer. When everyone has the same salary cap and roster size to fill, they also can in theory win any player they like. If you’re picking 6th or later, LeBron will be long gone before you pick. And Durant. Some years there’s little difference among the top 4-5 players, so getting the 4th or 5th pick is actually a little better than getting the 1st. Other years, there’s a big gap. Where your first round pick is greatly affects how your team will shake out, as you know certain players will be available (or gone!) when you pick. So a draft is much more affected by luck.
An auction also is more fun, and has more drama and suspense, especially when two owners get caught in a bidding war. With a draft, you mostly know going in where the very best players wind up – sure, owners may disagree over whether Derrick Rose should go ahead of Dwyane Wade or Chris Paul, the best players will go mostly in order, and either someone picks him, or he doesn’t. With an auction, as the auctioneer begins the countdown for each player, there’s suspense: will Joe go one bid higher? And if so, will Tim respond? Whoa, I didn’t realize A.J. was still interested in this guy! And this gets repeated for each very good player.
Also in an auction, while better players tend to go early, while everyone still has a lot of money, sometimes a very good player doesn’t get nominated for a long time, so even in the middle or late stages, you can still be bidding on star players. After the first few rounds of a draft, all the stars are gone.
At the end the auction becomes a de facto draft: nobody has much money left, so simply picking  a player usually wins him. But sometimes not, as just one owner with a little bit more can steal a player late from another.
Auctions are harder than drafts: you have to manage a budget, and decide how to allocate resources, etc. But in an auction, you get a “second chance” when someone nominates for bid a player you’d forgotten about. With a straight draft, you simply don’t pick the player, and say, gee, that was a good pick, Chris. I wish I had remembered him. But in an auction, as long as I still have money, I can still possibly get the player, and maybe outbid Jeff or Lorin to do so.
So I’ll miss the auction format. This year, the random number generator gave Erik the first pick, so good luck to him! That is somehow fitting, as it was Erik who founded the league back in 1988. He deserves the honor of the first pick. Even if it means I can’t get LeBron back on my team!


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