NBA AM

NBA AM: Tanking For The Draft Rarely Works

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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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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

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