Cleat Geeks

NBA Draft Lottery: Is Tanking Logical?

The NBA Draft Lottery is one of the most exciting night’s for basketball fans. Fourteen teams will have a chance to land the first overall pick because of their inability to make the playoffs. There are plenty of fans that disagree with the decision for a lottery, but that does not take away from the excitement of the night.

The NBA Draft Lottery is the NBA’s way to try to limit tanking. The logic is that if the team with the worst record is not guaranteed the first overall pick, teams will stop intentionally losing. That has not been the case, though, as teams are tanking more often than not in today’s NBA. There are upwards of seven teams in the league this season that are potentially tanking. Here are the percentages for the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery.

 

*Celtics get this pick if it is between 2-5

**Pistons keep this pick if it is between 1-4

 

Why Tank?

The NBA has quickly become a league filled with “Super Teams.” There are only a few teams each season that even have a chance to realistically win the NBA Championship. At the moment, these teams include the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and whichever team LeBron James is on. Golden State has been the clear-cut favorite for quite some time, and that’s obvious. Excluding James’ team, what does Golden State and Houston have in common?

Stars

The Golden State Warriors hit on Stephen Curry (2009), Klay Thompson (2011), and Draymond Green (2012) to become a three-headed monster in the NBA. They were then able to convince Kevin Durant to leave the Oklahoma City with a near guarantee of winning multiple NBA Championships. This was arguably the first “Super Team” in the NBA, as they featured four stars, while other role players took less money to chase a championship.

Image result for nba superteams

The Houston Rockets did not take the same route as the Warriors, but they did take a similar path. They featured a star player in James Harden, while also having a rising star in Clint Capela. They also featured higher end role players, including Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon. In the off-season, they added another star in Chris Paul, who filled out a slightly lesser version of the Warriors “Super Team.” Once again, Houston added a few role players for reasonable contracts.

The NBA has reached a point where teams need multiple stars to be considered in the NBA Championship discussion. At the same time, stars generally refuse to go to teams without known stars. Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving were both acquired by the Boston Celtics, who had a young team with elite pieces and Al Horford. Chris Paul joined James Harden in Houston. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony joined Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City Thunder.

It is almost impossible for teams without elite players to trade for or sign other elite players at this point in time. The only way for lesser teams to acquire elite talent is through the NBA Draft. Generally, the first few picks in the draft are the players that feature elite potential. There are teams that find value later in the draft, but it simply is not nearly as likely.

From 2010-15, there have been 15 players in the lottery that have been selected to an All Star Game, including 8 players in the lottery that have made the All-NBA Team. In the same span, there has been 5 players outside of the lottery to be selected to an All Star Game and 6 players that have made the All-NBA Team.

While these numbers do not seem too far off, remember there were 84 lottery picks over that span, while there were 276 picks outside of the lottery. Based on these numbers, teams have a 9.5% chance of landing an All-NBA Team player in the lottery, as opposed to a 2.2% chance outside of the lottery. In other words, the lottery is the easiest way for a team to land the star they need to draw other stars to their organization.

 

Is Tanking Worth it?

I believe this question depends on who you ask. There are fans who do not want their team losing years in a row, but there are other fans that are willing to take years of losing for years of winning. This also depends on the organization. The Los Angeles Lakers simply would not be allowed to lose for five years in a row. They are an organization known for success, and a long-term tanking process simply would not be allowed. The Sacramento Kings, on the other hand, are a team that is somewhat known for losing, allowing them to tank without questions from their fans.Image result for philadelphia 76ers trust the process wallpaper

The Philadelphia 76ers are the most well-known tanking operation in recent memory. They went 47-199 from 2013-16, acquiring Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with two of those picks. They were not as bad the following season, but were able to acquire the Brooklyn Nets pick, which led to Markelle Fultz. They missed picks during this span, as well, including Jahlil Okafor, but that was not enough to stop their tanking.

While the Sixers have nearly fully admitted to tanking, their intentions were clear. In 2012, they traded away Jrue Holiday for a pick that was turned into Nerlens Noel. It was known that Noel would not play during his rookie season, which continued the tank and allowed Philadelphia to select Joel Embiid. Embiid was another injured player, giving Philadelphia another top-three pick. They missed on Jahlil Okafor, and Philly was able to select Ben Simmons the next season. Once again, they rested their new star rookie, resulting in the third overall pick. This pick was swapped for the first overall pick, which was used to select Markelle Fultz.

Philadelphia finished their tanking this season, as they made the playoffs, but are likely to be eliminated in the second round by the Boston Celtics. Philadelphia has three players that have the potential to become true stars in the NBA. They have arguably the brightest future of any team in the league, and there are rumors that LeBron James is considering signing in Philadelphia this off-season.

The Sixers essentially gave up four years of their organization to become one of the highest upside franchises in the NBA. Their fans were upset while they were continuously losing, but there is nothing but compliments about Philly at this point in time. They used tanking as a way to create their own stars, while also possibly luring other stars to their team. While it may not work out this well for all teams that tank, Philadelphia was able to Trust the Process, and it worked out well for them.

 

Tanking in 2017-18

Tanking was somewhat of an easy way to continuously get a top pick for the Philadelphia 76ers because they were the only team that was truly tanking. That is not the case this season. There were multiple teams tanking throughout the season, although the Dallas Mavericks were the only team that truly admitted to it.

The Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, and Sacramento Kings all featured moves that could been seen as tanking. The issue at this point is that these teams are all vying for essentially one pick. At this point, it is extremely difficult to predict at the beginning of the season which teams will feature the worst records.

While these teams do not necessarily have the highest percentage chance at a top-three pick, we have seen above that the lottery is still more valuable than picks later in the round in terms of finding a star. In other words tanking is no longer as easy as it was for the Sixers, but it is still an important part of the NBA, especially with the continuous formation of “Super Teams” throughout the league.

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