As the NBA considers eliminating the draft age limit with the hopes of expanding it’s G-League and it’s control over the game, it also needs to prioritize something that is tethered to the modern draft strategy: tanking.
We’ve reached a point now where come March, you have a little more than half of your league battling for a playoff spot. But lost in the shadows of the scintillating playoff races are the fact that about a third of the league is in a race to the bottom for the most lottery balls. While most teams won’t ever admit it and players don’t want to talk about it, fans now more than ever embrace the idea of losing.
In fact, there is now this bizarro-world in which fans get mad when their team wins.
“Even when we win,” one fan tweeted me during this game, “we lose.”
Alan Hahn analyzes how Frank Ntilikina is becoming more vocal while voicing how he wants more floor time, and discusses how Trey Burke chimed in on recent tank talk.
Another fan chastised me after Saturday’s game because I didn’t criticize the team for beating the Hornets because it will cost them precious percentage points in the draft lottery. He then reminded me — as if I needed it — about 2009 and missing out on Steph Curry by one pick.
Mind you, with that win on Saturday, the Knicks ended what was a nine-game losing streak. They had a stretch of 17 losses over 18 games. Only the Memphis Grizzlies, who ended a 19-game losing streak that night, had been worse over that stretch of time in the NBA.
But this is the reality of being a team that falls out of playoff contention: fans root for losing. And that’s a weird place to be as a fan, isn’t it?
The NBA moved to the lottery system in the mid-1980s to stop teams from tanking for the worst record. But really all they did was create a subculture that encourages being just bad enough to get a chance for the No. 1 pick. Or at least a top-3.
The success of the 76ers this season is only making it worse. That franchise, which endured five years of epic losing, is now being hailed as the example of this lose-to-win mentality.
But what about the Orlando Magic? What about the Phoenix Suns? How has it worked out for them?
And what about the Golden State Warriors? That was a championship team build through the draft but without a single top-5 pick. In fact, their highest pick over a span of five years in the lottery was Ekpe Udoh. He was taken 6th overall in 2010.
Never mind if you can tell me who Ekpe Udoh is, can you tell me WHERE he is right now?
Not on the Warriors.
Curry (7th), Klay Thompson (11th) and Harrison Barnes (7th) were three hits on six first round picks the team made from 2008-2012. Yep, the Warriors shot 50% in the lottery over a five-year span and won a championship and not a single pick was in the top-5. And one of their most important players, Draymond Green, was a second round pick.
Alan Hahn talks with Al Trautwig about how the Warriors went from perennial lottery team to NBA champs.
The lottery is not an exact science, nor is it a quick fix. But it is the best way to build your franchise up.
But here is what you have to understand about the fan perspective when it comes to “tanking” to get the highest draft position possible: they are actually rooting for a win — in the lottery — because they value that more than games late in a lost season.
Still, this is not good for the league when you still have to broadcast games and promote games and have a schedule in which a losing team that decides to put four G-Leaguers on the court to assess their development against a playoff-bound team looking to improve their seeding. That disrupts the competitive balance.
The NBA made an initial attempt to reduce the “swim down” mentality by changing the lottery structure so that, starting next year, the lowest three records share the same percentage chances to win. Right now, the worst record has the best chance.
Honestly, all that does is encourage a team to have one of the worst three records.
There needs to be a more aggressive reform of the lottery or a completely new system to determine the draft order that doesn’t encourage fan bases to embrace losing and doesn’t motivate teams to rest healthy veterans late in the season.
There have been suggestions about having the bottom-tier teams compete for the top pick. In other words, you still play for a chance to win the lottery. The issue is, you’d have teams that would prefer to finish 9th in the conference and get the top pick than make the playoffs as an 8th seed.
Many of you have said: OK, so what do you think they should do?
Glad you asked.
How about you put the power and control in the players? Let them decide where they go, but with a catch.
Here’s an idea: Everyone gets the same amount of money to spend — let’s say $8-10 million — and you do a Rookie Free Agency period from June 28-July 1 where teams can sign eligible rookies. The top players will get the most money, just like the current rookie scale, which is based on where you are picked, but some teams may get more players with that same amount of money.
And some teams may not want to spend at all if they are over the cap or tax. We see teams trade picks for this reason.
So let’s take the luck out of it and push the skill into the front office and cap management. Most of the top players will want to go to winning franchises, sure, but they’ll also want to go to teams that have an opportunity for them to play.
And think, how many careers were lost because they were drafted by the wrong team? Now the player has control of his destination. Instead of the teams testing the players, the players can visit teams and decide if they want to play there. Let the recruiting begin.
And no matter what, smart managing and scouting can still come away with talent. Poorly-run franchises will be left behind and forced to clean up their house.
But we do need a balance from destination markets to the smaller markets and the winning teams from the losing teams, so we will give the bottom five teams a higher spending cap than everyone else. Lower the cap each set of five teams so the teams with the best records can’t offer nearly as much money to the top players. That will create some serious intrigue when it comes to taking the money or the opportunity.
Just spitballing here. Always open to your input. You can get me via Twitter @alanhahn.
[Watch Knicks-Heat Wednesday on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]
So Wally Szczerbiak took a break from his March Madness work in the studio for CBS Sports to return to MSG Network for a game and he’s already useless to me. Usually, I’m peppering him with questions about potential draft picks to watch in the tournament, but after one weekend, most of the players expected to be at the top of the draft are already out.
On Day 1, DeAndre Ayton, the center from Arizona, was eliminated. Ayton is projected as a possible first overall selection and is a 7-footer who is powerful, very athletic and skilled. He shoots the three, rebounds and blocks shots. How would he look next to Kristaps Porzingis? Another highly-skilled big man, Mo Bamba from Texas, was also knocked out over the first weekend. Bamba isn’t the overall talent that Ayton is, but at the very least he will be an immediate game-changer as a defensive presence in the paint.
If you’re telling me you want a point guard, two of the most intriguing ones are already out, as well. Trae Young of Oklahoma didn’t get out of the first game and his season, which started off so hot with a lot of Steph Curry comparisons ended with a lot of questions about whether he will be able to physically translate at the pro level. The pre-draft process will be critical for him.
Meanwhile, Collin Sexton of Alabama has had Wally raving all season. He went as far as saying Sexton’s potential is a combination of Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard.
Yeah, I know. I had that same reaction.
Michael Porter Jr. entered the college season at Missouri with great expectations, but he’s dealt with a back injury all season and didn’t get a lot of games in to really make a good assessment. If he does declare for the draft, he’s going to need a strong showing in the pre-draft process.
Now there are some players to watch closely. The first is Villanova’s Mikal Bridges. He’s 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, which is to say he has the prototypical body of an NBA wing player today. He defends like it’s personal and he can shoot the three, as Sexton and Alabama learned in the second round. The other is Marvin Bagley of Duke, who seems, at times, like he’s toying with college opponents. He’s 6-foot-11, 235 pounds and oozing with skill and confidence. Is he the most talented player in this draft?
Duke and Villanova look like they’re headed for a must-see matchup in the Final Four. But, of course, in this tournament so far, nothing is a given.
No one understands the grind these college players are going through right now more than Isaiah Hicks. The former North Carolina Tarheel won a national championship last season and spent four years in Chapel Hill. Hicks is now trying to make it as a pro and has been one of the two Knicks players on the new two-way contract, which allows a franchise to keep a rostered player in the G-League.
Hicks played in his 9th NBA game against the Bulls and had his best performance so far with 9 points and 8 rebounds in 20:41. He fouled out, which drew a grin from him and a few of his teammates.
It’s hard to determine what Hicks can be at the NBA level. He did make a three-pointer, which is important for forwards in today’s game. His overall energy was excellent in this game and he’ll need to play with a high motor if he wants to stick.
Isaiah Hicks talks about how he wants to make his impact with the Knicks and how playing four years at UNC has helped his game, while Wally Szczerbiak analyzes what Hicks' role could be on this team.
Kristaps Porzingis was trending again on social media, but this time it wasn’t for anything he posted. It was this post from a Bleacher Report writer:
Someone just sent me this picture of Kristaps Porzingis shooting in the gym at his Manhattan apartment building.
Porzingis tore his ACL about six weeks ago and underwent surgery on Feb. 13. He said last week he has no timetable for his return. pic.twitter.com/rNegFaCJ5K
— Yaron Weitzman (@YaronWeitzman) March 18, 2018
It may only take two guesses as to who that “someone” was, but the motive was clear: the effort is being made to create excitement about KP’s return to the court.
Let’s remember Derrick Rose‘s comeback from that first knee injury became a commercial campaign by Adidas and wound up being a bad idea when he injured the other knee.
KP, by the way, is an Adidas athlete.
Rather than celebrating the idea of shocking the world with a quick recovery to prove something, it may be better, in this case, to heal to the point of staying healthy for a long career that doesn’t wind up where Rose is now. So let’s hope Adidas isn’t trying to create another pressurized comeback campaign.
That said, standing still and shooting a basketball in a gym doesn’t tell me he’s coming back any sooner than he should. It tells me he absolutely loves and misses the game.
And that we can all celebrate.
The Knicks won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 26–30. Their record at that time was 23-28. Wow. This win also put them back over .500 at home on the season at 18-17. With six home games left, the Knicks would need to go 3-3 to clinch their first winning record at home since 2012-13. The last six opponents at home are: Timberwolves, Pistons, Magic, Heat, Bucks and Cavs (Game 81).
[Watch Knicks-Heat Wednesday on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]