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NBA AM: Tanking For The Draft Rarely Works

Tanking for draft picks may sound like a good idea, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that tanking doesn’t work out like you think it will.

Steve Kyler



Tanking For This?:  Some NBA teams made the decision this season to field squads that would struggle to win. Some may call this “tanking,” but the truth is there are cycles in sports and every team at some point is going to go through periods where winning games won’t be the primary objective, mainly because they don’t have the talent to win. The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t set out to be 21-39, injuries took some of their best players off the floor leaving them to lean on players that were starting in the D-League or on their way out of the league; that’s simply how the down cycle works out.

For most of the teams that are not winning games right now, the hope is that young players get valuable experience and playing time and that the losses equate to Ping-Pong balls bouncing their way in the May 20 NBA Draft Lottery. The problem with betting the house on the Ping-Pong balls is that the payoff of a lottery pick is wildly unpredictable. As much as pundits and experts try to label players as the next great thing, historically, what the draft is pegged to be is rarely what it turns out being.

Here is a brief look at the history of the last 11 top three picks:

Top Overall Picks

2013 Anthony Bennett, UNLV – Cleveland Cavaliers

2012 Anthony Davis, Kentucky – New Orleans Hornets

2011 Kyrie Irving, Duke – Cleveland Cavaliers

2010 John Wall, Kentucky – Washington Wizards

2009 Blake Griffin, Oklahoma – L.A. Clippers

2008 Derrick Rose, Memphis – Chicago Bulls

2007 Greg Oden, Ohio State – Portland Trail Blazers

2006 Andrea Bargnani, Italy – Toronto Raptors

2005 Andrew Bogut, Utah – Milwaukee Bucks

2004 Dwight Howard, SW Atlanta Christian Academy (GA) – Orlando Magic

2003 LeBron James, St. Vincent-St. Mary HS (OH) – Cleveland Cavaliers

»In Related: The History of the Top Overall Pick

Second Overall Picks

2013 Victor Oladipo, Indiana – Orlando Magic

2012 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky – Charlotte Bobcats

2011 Derrick Williams, Arizona – Minnesota Timberwolves

2010 Evan Turner, Ohio State – Philadelphia 76ers

2009 Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut – Memphis Grizzlies

2008 Michael Beasley, Kansas State – Miami HEAT

2007 Kevin Durant, Texas – Seattle Supersonics

2006 LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas – Chicago Bulls (Draft rights traded to Portland Trail Blazers)

2005 Marvin Williams, North Carolina – Atlanta Hawks

2004 Emeka Okafor, Connecticut – Charlotte Bobcats

2003 Darko Milicic, Serbia & Montenegro – Detroit Pistons

»In Related: The History of the Second Overall Pick

Third Overall Picks

2013 Otto Porter, Georgetown – Washington Wizards

2012 Bradley Beal, Florida – Washington Wizards

2011 Enes Kanter, Kentucky – Utah Jazz

2010 Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech – New Jersey Nets

2009 James Harden, Arizona State – Oklahoma City Thunder

2008 O.J. Mayo, USC – Minnesota Timberwolves (Traded to Memphis Grizzlies)

2007 Al Horford, Florida – Atlanta Hawks

2006 Adam Morrison, Gonzaga – Charlotte Bobcats

2005 Deron Williams, Illinois – Utah Jazz

2004 Ben Gordon, Connecticut – Chicago Bulls

2003 Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse – Denver Nuggets

»In Related: The History of the Third Overall Pick

When you look at the draft historically, there are a lot more misses than hits. Equally, landing a top three pick often means a team is so bad that a return trip though the lottery is almost inevitable. It’s very rare that a team dips into top three pick territory and bounces back into the playoff hunt. Landing a top three pick usually means at least one more trip through the lottery, and usually another trip through the middle of the lottery after that, before returning to respectability.

Some teams have struggled to even achieve that.

The Repeat Offenders

If you look at the last 11 years of the draft, based on picks made it is rare that a team that picks in the top three does not make a return trip to lottery the following year.

PK 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008
1 Cleveland New Orleans Cleveland Washington Clippers Chicago
2 Orlando Charlotte Minnesota Philadelphia Memphis Miami
3 Washington Washington Utah New Jersey Oklahoma City Minnesota
4 Charlotte Cleveland Cleveland Minnesota Sacramento Seattle
5 Phoenix Sacramento Toronto Sacramento Minnesota Memphis
6 New Orleans Portland Washington Golden State Minnesota New York
7 Sacramento Golden State Sacramento Detroit Golden State Clippers
8 Detroit Toronto Detroit Clippers New York Milwaukee
9 Minnesota Detroit Charlotte Utah Toronto Charlotte
10 Portland New Orleans Milwaukee Indiana Milwaukee New Jersey
11 Philadelphia Portland Golden State New Orleans New Jersey Indiana
12 Oklahoma City Houston Utah Memphis Charlotte Sacramento
13 Dallas Phoenix Phoenix Toronto Indiana Portland
14 Utah Milwaukee Houston Houston Phoenix Golden State

PK 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003  
1 Portland Toronto Milwaukee Orlando Cleveland  
2 Seattle Chicago Atlanta Charlotte Detroit  
3 Atlanta Charlotte Utah Chicago Denver  
4 Memphis Portland New Orleans Clippers Toronto  
5 Boston Atlanta Charlotte Washington Miami  
6 Milwaukee Minnesota Portland Atlanta Clippers  
7 Charlotte Boston Toronto Phoenix Chicago  
8 Chicago Houston New York Toronto Milwaukee  
9 Sacramento Golden State Golden State Philadelphia New York  
10 Atlanta Seattle Lakers Cleveland Washington  
11 Philadelphia Orlando Orlando Golden State Golden State  
12 New Orleans New Orleans Clippers Seattle Seattle  
13 Clippers Philadelphia Charlotte Portland Memphis  
14 Detroit Utah Minnesota Utah Seattle  

Cleveland drafted LeBron James number one overall in 2003 and were back in the lottery the following year. Orlando made two more trips to the lottery after making Dwight Howard the top overall pick in 2004.

Some teams never seem to be able to get out of the lottery. Over the last 11 years, Charlotte leads the league with nine lottery picks, including six straight. Sacramento has picked in the last seven lotteries and looks poised to make it eight this year. Toronto has had eight lottery selections in the last 11 years with Golden State having had seven lottery selections in 11 years.

The Cavaliers have had four selections in the top four in the lottery and still are not a playoff team.

So while dreaming of the gems of the lottery, even a draft class with the possibilities in 2014, it usually leads to more losing, before there is a real chance at winning.

So while “tanking” might sound appealing, in application it usually doesn’t pan out quite like you think it will.

»In Related:The History of The Draft By Team

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More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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NBA Daily: The All-Star Game’s Scandalous Past

The first All-Star Game was birthed of an infamous point-shaving scandal that rocked the basketball world.

Joel Brigham



College basketball’s point-shaving scandal of the early 1950s remains one of the biggest black eyes in the sport’s history, but without it, there may never have been an NBA All-Star Game.

Known more famously as the CCNY (City College of New York) Point-Shaving Scandal, this public relations nightmare occurred in 1951 when several players from the CCNY Beavers, one of the most innovative teams in college hoops that played their home games at Madison Square Garden and won the national title the year before, took money in exchange for shaving points to help nail down easy wins for bettors.

The story is a lot more complicated that; it starts in the Catskills in New York in the 1940s and slowly works its way into the college game, but the end result is that several players from seven different colleges, most of whom attended CCNY, took money in exchange for impacting the outcomes of meaningful collegiate sports competitions.

Obviously the aftermath of this was significant. CCNY, just a year removed from being national champions, deemphasized their athletics programs and dropped down to Division III, never to return to Division I. Any player found to have been part of the scandal was permanently banned from playing in the NBA, and CCNY head coach Nat Holman, who completely modernized the game of basketball, was cleared of any wrongdoing officially but saw his legacy tarnished because of the whispers that predictably followed the scandal.

The whole thing was awful for basketball in general, so while the NBA was not directly impacted outside of having a few top-rated players be made unavailable in that year’s draft pool, the sports-ingesting public at large soured on the sport somewhat in the wake of these dishonorable actions.

And that’s where the idea for the NBA All-Star Game came together. A handful of NBA bigwigs held a meeting to discuss bettering the league’s perception among fans, and it was there that the idea of an All-Star Game involving the league’s best players surfaced as one possible solution.

The idea was pitched by the NBA’s publicity director Haskell Cohen, who took the idea from Major League Baseball, which had seen the midseason event grow increasingly popular every year. The first one of those took place in 1933 as an attraction at the World’s Fair in Chicago as the invention of a Chicago Tribune journalist named Arch Ward. If it could work for baseball, Cohen argued, maybe it could work for basketball, too.

Boston Celtics owner Walter A. Brown immediately jumped on board, growing so enthralled with the concept that he offered not only to host the event but to take on full financial responsibility for it. If the event was a behemoth failure, Brown himself would incur those losses.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as the first All-Star Game in 1951 drew over 10,000 fans to Boston Garden. That doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, but average attendance at the Garden that season was only around 3,500 people per game. This star-studded exhibition nearly tripled that.

Today, of course, the NBA All-Star Game is an entirely more complicated and dazzling spectacle, with internet votes and slam dunk contests further encouraging fan interest. It’s fascinating to think that it all exists because the league felt the need to do something following a deeply embarrassing scandal for the sport. CCNY’s basketball program certainly isn’t better because of it, but it’s hard to imagine a world without the NBA All-Star Game.

Thank goodness for the rainbows that follow storms.

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NBA Daily: Quincy Pondexter Has Grown With New Orleans

Quincy Pondexter did two stints with New Orleans four years apart, both of which changed his life forever.

Joel Brigham



By the time the New Orleans Hornets traded for the draft rights to Quincy Pondexter in the summer of 2010, the city was just starting to see some real progress in the reconstruction efforts that followed the half decade after Hurricane Katrina.

In February of that year, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, a victory that the city badly needed, and Pondexter found himself dropped into the sports culture of the league’s most unique city.

Now with the Chicago Bulls, Pondexter would only play in New Orleans for his rookie year before getting dealt to Memphis and signing a multi-year extension, but in late 2014 he was traded back to New Orleans, who had rechristened themselves the Pelicans by that point. He couldn’t believe how much had changed in just four short years.

“You stopped seeing the spray paint on the houses, and the prices start going up on real estate. It was definitely a lot different coming back,” Pondexter told Basketball Insiders. “I remember I had a house there, when I first got there as a rookie, and it was very, very cheap. But when I came back, I had a place probably twice as small for almost double the price. The city had just grown and developed a lot more, especially the downtown areas where you could start seeing buildings being built. You’d start to see the city come back to form, come back to life, and I really, really got to enjoy it my second time.”

That sort of progress was slow to come by 2010, however. Despite five years having passed since the initial devastation of Katrina, New Orleans was finding slow progress toward physical and emotional healing. The team had just moved back to the city full-time a couple of seasons prior after having played a good number of games in Oklahoma City during Louisiana’s recovery, but Pondexter remembers the Hornets giving the people of the city something to root for, too.

“The Saints, when you win a championship, when you’ve been there for years, of course you’re going to be the favorite, but, when the Hornets were part of that, too,” he said. “When you win games, and I had the chance to go to the playoffs with two different stints with them, I think it’s embracing how much the city comes together once you make an achievement like that, and whether you’re at the grocery store, gas station, whatever, people are always going to talk to you about the game of basketball. They don’t talk to you like a fan in New Orleans; they talk to you like a family member. It was really cool to be in a city like that.”

He also admitted that it was exciting to play even a small role in helping New Orleans continue to heal.

“It was a unique experience because the city was rebuilding, and being able to be a part of helping put it back together, it was really special,” he said. “We had an unbelievable star in Chris Paul, and you just don’t realize how much people lean on sports to get through tough times. We bridged that gap, and it was a real unique community to help refurbish the city of New Orleans.”

Coming back four years later, Pondexter had grown up a lot, and while a lot of his next few years with the Pelicans would be plagued by a torrent of medical problems ranging from knee issues to a staph infection, he did get to spend a lot more time in the city after having been there for only a year as a rookie in 2010-2011. That’s when he really fell in love with New Orleans.

“The culture, the melting pot culture, the rich history, it’s so much different from anywhere else in the country,” he said. “I grew up in Fresno, California, went to school at the University of Washington, and New Orleans is just something unique, and I could always say I learned so much from a city like that, about our country, about life, about so many things. About music, about food, about everything in that city, you just really learn so much. It’s a city where you get to put your hair down, and just enjoy being alive.”

Time passes quickly in any NBA career, but playing two times for one team several years apart can’t help but give a person some perspective, which is what it has done for Quincy Pondexter.

“You grow up, you learn the game of basketball, you learn a lot about yourself, and you see what you want in life more,” he said. “I think that was a really big pivotal moment in my life, one I’ll never ever forget.”

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NBA AM: Jahlil Okafor’s Strange NBA Journey

After things went awry at his first NBA stop in Philly, Jahlil Okafor has a new opportunity in Brooklyn.

Buddy Grizzard



It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Jahlil Okafor.

The former NCAA champion, who spent most of his only college season as the highest rated NBA draft prospect, was supposed to be a sure thing. But then a noted agent of chaos—Sam Hinkie, the former GM of the Philadelphia 76ers who drafted Okafor with the third pick in the 2015 Draft—came into his life, and life took a detour.

With Thursday’s trade of Okafor, shooting guard Nik Stauskas and a second-round pick to the Brooklyn Nets for Trevor Booker, the initial, anticlimactic phase of Okafor’s NBA career comes to a close. What lies ahead is a new opportunity to reach his potential with Kenny Atkinson, a coach with a massive reputation for player development. It’s also an opportunity for Okafor to start with a clean slate after his stay in Philly was marred by off-court drama.

“Never having coached him, no player that we bring into our program from another program, we don’t prejudge them,” Atkinson said during Thursday’s media availability in Mexico City prior to Brooklyn’s 100-95 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We’re going to welcome both of those players with open arms. We judge them on our terms. That’s how we do it with everybody.

“I think they’re coming into a strong locker room. I think they’re coming into a program with a staff that really cares, a front office that is top notch, and I’m really excited about this.”

Interestingly, Okafor’s arrival in Brooklyn means he will share a team with another player whose fate was directly intertwined with his on draft night in 2015: D’Angelo Russell.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers worked out current Knick Kristaps Porzingis to the point of exhaustion but came away convinced that he was a long-term project. After Karl-Anthony Towns went to the Timberwolves with the first pick, the Lakers went with Russell, presumably the safer pick in their minds.

With Russell and Towns off the board, who could know what Hinkie, the maverick GM, and implementer of “the process” would do?

Porzingis, according to Wojnarowski, had his heart set on New York. After Porzingis worked out in front of all 30 teams in Las Vegas, Porzingis’ agent Andy Miller declined to give Hinkie a one-on-one meeting with his client. Thus frozen out of Porzigis’ pre-draft process, Hinkie likewise went with the presumptive safe pick in Okafor.

As with Okafor, Russell arrived in Brooklyn with an opportunity to start over after an off-court mishap (in the form of a bro code violation) in L.A. Fortunately for the newly-minted teammates, Atkinson doesn’t care about the past and is only concerned about what the Nets organization can help them become.

“When we bring in young, talented players it’s a great opportunity for our staff and organization to develop another young player … or two young players because Nik is young, too,” said Atkinson. “I can’t tell you I know their game intimately. Part of the onboarding process, part of the development process is to map out a specific plan for these guys.”

While Atkinson stayed focused on the positives, he wasn’t unaware that Okafor and Stauskas come to Brooklyn with limited resumes on the defensive end.

“I think like anybody that comes into our program, we need to defend the basketball,” said Atkinson. “That’ll be a challenge for both of them, that we need those guys to be two-way players. We’re going to demand it as we do of everybody that comes in our program.”

When Atkinson spoke of a staff that cares about its players, his sincerity became obvious as he spoke of the departed Booker and Sean Kilpatrick, who was waived to make room for Stauskas.

“It’s an emotional day when you lose guys you’ve worked with,” said Atkinson. “Sean Kilpatrick and Trevor Booker … you get close to these guys.”

While Okafor’s strange NBA journey now takes him to Brooklyn, Booker’s day included an unexpected early flight out of Mexico City for his newest destination. Atkinson and Nets GM Sean Marks had an opportunity to meet with Booker once the trade was announced.

“I had a long discussion with him today, me and Sean,” said Atkinson. “It was a mutual respect on both sides, how much we enjoyed him and loved him and how much we appreciated the things he brought to our program.

“He is on a flight tonight to Philadelphia. They want him there, which is normal. I think we’d do the same thing: ‘Hey, can you get here as soon as possible?’ I know they had an injury and it makes total sense to us. Not an easy situation.”

When Jeremy Lin was setting the NBA world on fire at the height of Linsanity, he went out of his way to publicize how Atkinson made himself available as a Knicks assistant to help with his development. Now Okafor will have a similar opportunity in one of the NBA’s marquee arenas under the bright New York lights that Lin shone under and Porzingis longed for.

Okafor couldn’t have imagined on draft night that he’d end up in Brooklyn on the same team as the player drafted one pick ahead of him. But now that his journey has brought him to the five boroughs, he’s presented with the perfect opportunity to re-write his story.

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