The NBA, for reasons that remain unknown, feels compelled to tinker with the NBA draft lottery. Some folks are complaining that teams are tanking to enhance their draft position (nobody disputes this) and it’s somehow hurting the game of basketball (this can be disputed). Maybe the word integrity is tossed around; others attempt to make a shaky claim about loss of revenue.
I disagree completely that tanking is hurting the NBA.
NBA offense these days are all about 3-pointers or layups. Out with the mid-range game, in with the stretch four power forward. Consider this: in the 1999-2000 season, one player (Gary Payton) made over 175 3-pointers in a season. He made 177 for the Sonics. Only nine players attempted 350 or more 3-pointers that season.
Fast forward to the advanced metrics, efficiency-laden 2013-2014 season: Thirty-three players shot 350 or more 3-pointers. Fifteen players made more than 175 3-pointers.
A similar philosophy persists in NBA front offices right now – we don’t want to be stuck in the dreaded middle, just missing the playoffs by a few games or being first round fodder for LeBron or Durant each year. Being in the middle is the worst. Want a contender? Get to the bottom with no bad contracts and cap room galore. Assuming you don’t have the ability to Voltron up and land a big three, it’s best to build a contender through the draft – which takes a few years, and nailing top five picks – and the best way to accomplish that is by hitting rock bottom.
Tanking, if you will.
Let’s start here: The No. 1 pick in the draft is enormously significant most years. Take a gander at the No. 1 picks from 1979 to 2010. Twelve of these 32 No. 1 picks have reached the NBA Finals. Eight of those No. 1 picks have reached the Finals multiple times (Magic, Worthy, Olajuwon, Ewing, Robinson, Shaq, Duncan, LeBron).
2010 NBA–Washington Wizards–John Wall
2009 NBA–Los Angeles Clippers–Blake Griffin
2008 NBA–Chicago Bulls–Derrick Rose
2007 NBA–Portland Trail Blazers–Greg Oden
2006 NBA–Toronto Raptors–Andrea Bargnani
2005 NBA–Milwaukee Bucks–Andrew Bogut
2004 NBA–Orlando Magic–Dwight Howard
2003 NBA–Cleveland Cavaliers–LeBron James
2002 NBA–Houston Rockets–Yao Ming
2001 NBA–Washington Wizards–Kwame Brown
2000 NBA–New Jersey Nets–Kenyon Martin
1999 NBA–Chicago Bulls–Elton Brand
1998 NBA–Los Angeles Clippers–Michael Olowokandi
1997 NBA–San Antonio Spurs–Tim Duncan
1996 NBA–Philadelphia 76ers–Allen Iverson
1995 NBA–Golden State Warriors–Joe Smith
1994 NBA–Milwaukee Bucks–Glenn Robinson
1993 NBA–Orlando Magic–Chris Webber
1992 NBA–Orlando Magic–Shaquille O’Neal
1991 NBA–Charlotte Hornets–Larry Johnson
1990 NBA–New Jersey Nets–Derrick Coleman
1989 NBA–Sacramento Kings–Pervis Ellison
1988 NBA–Los Angeles Clippers–Danny Manning
1987 NBA–San Antonio Spurs–David Robinson
1986 NBA–Cleveland Cavaliers–Brad Daugherty
1985 NBA–New York Knicks–Patrick Ewing
1984 NBA–Houston Rockets–Hakeem Olajuwonn
1983 NBA–Houston Rockets–Ralph Sampson
1982 NBA–Los Angeles Lakers–James Worthy
1981 NBA–Dallas Mavericks–Mark Aguirre
1980 NBA–Golden State Warriors–Joe Barry Carroll
1979 NBA–Los Angeles Lakers–Magic Johnson
Here’s a chart about NBA draft picks in the Hall of Fame, via Draft Express. Among the No. 1 picks in NBA history, 38 percent have made the Hall of Fame. When you look at No. 2 draft picks, that number drops to 27 percent. The No.3 pick? Just 16.7 percent. I’ll give you a guess what happens in the rest of the Top 10:
4th pick – 8.3 percent
5th pick – 13.9 percent
6th pick – 11.1 percent
7th pick – 8.3 percent
8th pick – 5.6 percent
9th pick – 5.6 percent
10th pick – 5.6 percent
Tank. Get the No. 1 pick. Your chances of landing a superstar are greatly enhanced.
Much has been written about the value of first round NBA draft picks. Here’s a great chart from ESPN:
The Philadelphia 76ers are in the midst of a multi-year rebuilding project (we detailed it here last year), and yes, their prospects for success in 2014-2015 are akin to the Raiders reaching the NFL playoffs this season. You could call it tanking, or you could call it a new GM coming in to town, cleaning house, and rebuilding from the ground up. Think of the franchise as a blueprint for a house. Instead of add-ons and trying to pretty-up the joint on the cheap, they tore the damn thing down and are starting from scratch. The 76ers are building something nice, but the work-in-progress is still at least two years away.
Michael Carter-Williams – 22 years old, Rookie of the Year
Joel Embiid – 20 years old, could have been the No. 1 pick in 2014 if not for a foot injury
Nerlens Noel – 20 years old
Dario Saric – 20 years old, but won’t be in the NBA for at least two years
Lotta potential in that quartet, but now, the bad news: Embiid is out at least six more months (maybe eight) and he may not play a game this season. So the 76ers are going to probably win in the neighborhood of 19 games again, and have another Top 3 pick.
But wait! The NBA seems hell bent on doing something to prevent the 76ers from utilizing this strategy, and maybe it wishes Philly would just be mediocre and overpay players who aren’t worth it so they could be the Kings or Timberwolves or Pistons?
Currently, the team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance of landing the top pick and the team with the fifth-worst record has an 8.8 percent chance of winning it. In a new format, the bottom five or six teams could have an equal chance.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe reported earlier this month on the NBA’s proposed changes, which are essentially an attempt to squeeze the lottery odds at either extreme toward a more balanced system in which all 14 teams have a relatively similar chance at the no. 1 pick.
Tank, clear cap room, collect assets. That’s what the 76ers are doing. Knicks fans wish New York had done this a decade ago, but they got stuck in the middle, and you know how that ended – one playoff series win since Patrick Ewing took them to the Finals in 2000.
Give me tanking or give me … no, actually don’t give me average. Tanking, please.