Some Thoughts On The Age Limit: By now you have likely heard that new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants to push through some changes to the NBA Draft eligibility process. Asked recently at the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference in Boston if there was one thing he could change in the NBA with the complete support of the owners and the players, Silver labeled increasing the age limit to enter the NBA as his top item.
Before we dig into the subject, there are a couple of things to know: The NBA currently requires a player to be 19 years of age (or turn 19 in the year he is drafted) and one year removed from his graduating class in high school. This is commonly referred to a “one-and-done” as it lends itself to players going to college for one year and then leaving for the NBA.
During the last round of collective bargaining talks between the players and the owners, the age limit was an intense topic of discussions. As the talks lead to a player lockout and in the interest of getting the lockout lifted both sides agreed that they would revisit the age limit and the draft at a later date and then the Players’ Association imploded amid scandal and those tabled talked never resumed.
One of Silvers’ top objectives this summer is to get those talks going, whether the Players’ Association is ready or not.
There are a few things to know about the logic of the age limit and why the NBA wants to increase it:
It’s Not About Ability To Play
The first rebuttal to the age limit discussion almost always surrounds ability to play. The NBA age restrictions are not about on-court ability, rather off-the-court ability. The 48-minutes of game action you see on the court are only the smallest fraction of what a NBA player goes through in a day. There are demands and responsibilities placed on professional athletes that younger players struggle with.
No one can argue that Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James who all turned out to be great hall-of-fame caliber players, couldn’t play in the NBA. That’s not the question. The question is would those players have become more marketable stars after a year or two in college?
Equally for every James there is a Gerald Green or a Korleone Young or a Ndudi Ebi. All three players had the skill and ability to play in the NBA, but all three struggled in their own way to become true professionals in the sport.
The current age limit was aimed at helping remove the fail rate, not only for the teams that drafted them, but for the players themselves.
In the ‘straight from high school’ era of the NBA, there was rampant corruption and manipulation of high school players who were incentivized to choose high exposure AAU tournaments over real development or structure. As a result an entire generation of players came into the NBA that struggled with being coached, the rigors of practice and professionalism. Those players excelled on the court but often struggled with integrating into a team environment and in the end that became problematic for the NBA.
The “one-and-done” rule has helped, which is why the belief that going to a “two-and-through” rule would be better.
»In Related: The Modern History of The NBA Draft By Pick.
The idea of a new, tougher age limit is not at all about a player’s ability to play the game. It’s about making sure that the players coming into the league are ready to be part of a team and that they have the life skills and maturity to overcome some of the obstacles that have claimed player’s careers.
From a self-preservation point of view, the NBA wants to ensure that its players do not fail and giving teams and players a larger window to understand what it takes to be successful is something Commissioner Silver feels has to change.
A Healthy College System Helps Everyone
Whether you like the idea or not, the NBA believes it is the caretaker of basketball. They have the funding, the star players and the resources to influence the game in ways almost no other single entity can.
To that end there is has been a long standing commitment from the NBA to make the game better and more accessible. The NBA spends millions on international basketball, on grass roots basketball and in support of college basketball through its funding of Team USA.
The NBA wants to improve the college game. Having players that have had more development time, coaching and exposure is good for the NBA. Having players enter the NBA slightly more polished and marketable is a good thing.
Commissioner Silver said he believes the NBA should have an advisory relationship with college basketball and said as part of a new higher age limit that maybe the NBA providing insurance and medical coverage options for players in college might be something the NBA would look at.
One idea that Silver admitted to liking was the idea of a player being able to be drafted by a NBA team, but being allowed to return to college. Currently NCAA rules prohibit a player from being eligible for college basketball if they are drafted.
It is common place in international circles that a player could enter the draft, be drafted and return to the international game until they feel they are ready for the NBA.
The NBA wants a healthy and successful college system and seems open to providing support and funding to make college better.
A “two-and-through” rule would surely benefit college basketball, but in Silver’s mind it would improve basketball in general on many fronts.
Teams Are Paying Millions On Players That Don’t Play
Outside of the maturity and social issues of drafting young players, there is an economic side too. Look down the roster of any team in the league and count how many players play little to no minutes but have large guaranteed contracts.
NBA teams are no longer drafting players that can contribute on day one. In fact, a lot of times they are drafting knowing full well a player can’t contribute in the first year at all. They are drafting players they know will need a year or two of development time and as a result veteran players that can help a team today are being hedged out in favor of guaranteed roster spots going to players that spend more time in the development process than on the floor.
Remove the teams that are clearly rebuilding this year, and look at the salary number of players that sometimes do not dress. There is a lot of money being paid to players in the NBA that do not play. Clearly that’s a team choice, but the system in place makes that choice somewhat difficult for teams trying to win now.
Some of this is on the teams for drafting them, but it’s also about the fact that so many drafted players have NBA ability, but not refined NBA skills. An additional year of college may or may not improve that, but the belief is more time in college will allow teams to scout and scrutinize players more and allow the players more time to development themselves both physically and mentally for what an 82-game season means in the NBA.
For some time there has been a lot of discussion in the NBA about making sure that the dollars spent on players is being spent on players who can play and contribute as professionals today.
The NBA’s Development League was supposed to help in this department. With the addition of an extra year needed before being NBA draft eligible there is some talk that maybe the D-League would be used more by up and coming players as a means to help them transition to the NBA more quickly.
The D-League currently allows players to enter the league right out of high school, so there are alternatives to college for those players that want to be paid to play.
As part of a compromise on an age limit, increasing the salary cap and funding of the D-League might be a reasonable trade off from the Players’ Association. Currently the D-League offers three salary slots for incoming players that range from $24,000, $21,000 and $19,000 per season. Increasing what a player can earn in the D-League might strengthen the D-League’s appeal and become a real alternative to college basketball for those players that genuinely don’t want to be college players.
Being Able To Market Your Rookies
The NBA is a business. You can never lose sight of that, especially when you are talking about broad process changes. Changing the age limit in the NBA is about business too; specifically the ability to market and promote its players and in turn convert that marketing into sales: season ticket sales, jersey sales and sponsorship sales.
The Sacramento Kings traded for college stud Jimmer Fredette, who was drafted with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. There were far better prospects on the board at #10, but Fredette’s appeal as a known commodity and a personality that could be sold, found him drafted significantly higher than maybe his basketball talents justified.
NBA teams want to be able to market their young players. They want their fans to know and understand their draft day additions. Orlando Magic fans were excited to get Victor Oladipo this past summer. He was a known commodity and it was easy for them to get excited. If you rewind to last year’s pre-draft hype the names fans talked about were Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore. They were the stars of college basketball. They were known commodities. There wasn’t a lot of hype surrounding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Tony Snell, because they were not huge national TV darlings in college.
»In Related:The History Of The Draft By Team.
Having guys play on a bigger stage for a longer period of time not only increases their probability for success on the court in the NBA, it increases their value off the court for the teams that draft them.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a great addition to the Milwaukee Bucks, but on draft night most Bucks fans couldn’t pronounce his name, let alone describe his game.
Increasing the age limit isn’t going to solve all of the problems surrounding unknown talent, but increasing the age limit will likely improve marketability for more players than not.
Thinking Big Picture
The age limit is also about the big picture. There is a social statement that says the NBA is a multi-billion dollar profession that requires maturity to be successful. How many teams are three years away because the bulk of their roster is 21 years or younger? There is a professional statement that says you have to learn to play the game before you come to the NBA. Not using your rookie scale contract as on-the-job training. There is the message to the fans that says we will draft more players that will have a chance to be successful.
The miss rates on draft picks, especially as of late, are extremely high. There are 11 players from the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft that are no longer with the teams that held their rights on opening day in October of 2011. Of those 11 two are completely out of the NBA. Five of them did not have their rookie scale contract extended. The 2010 NBA Draft gets even worse. Seven players drafted with first round picks are no longer in the NBA.
The best way for a franchise to struggle to succeed is missing on first round draft picks. Teams that have sustained success tend to hit on more picks, especially late first round picks. Again some of that is on the teams and the executives making the decisions, but there is a real belief that the longer a players plays, the more you can learn about him both as a player and a person.
How differently does Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart look as a NBA prospect today, after two years of college basketball scrutiny than he did after one season of college basketball?
You may not agree with the concept of an age limit in basketball, but when you hear the conversation about it understand that it’s really not a discussion about ability to play. It’s about making sure that the NBA is giving players a chance to be successful. The belief, right or wrong, is that a more mature player will have a better opportunity to succeed, develop the tools needed to handle the burdens of being an athlete away from the court, be more open to coaching and structure and be able to do more with his fame.
A new, tougher age limit won’t solve all the NBA problems, especially not all their draft-related problems, but like all rules the broader scope of the change is about making the game better for the fans. Better for the teams and better for the players.
No one has a right to play in the NBA. The NBA choses very selectively who gets in and who does not. There are high paying jobs playing basketball all over the world. The NBA views itself as the elite of the elite and restrictions on entry are simply part of that process. Whether a kid wants to go to college or not is completely his choice, but it’s clear that the NBA is moving towards a 20-year old age limit in the NBA, so you might as well get used to the idea because its coming.
Demps Talks Pierre and The Future: The New Orleans Pelicans were supposed to be better than they have been this season. Some of it can be blamed on injuries, some of it on so many lineup combinations and some of it on personnel and coaching.
Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps sat down with Pelicans broadcaster Sean Kelley and covered a number of topics including the injury status of several Pelican players, what the team plans to do with D-League sanitation Pierre Jackson and a lot more. Here are some of the highlights.
“Coming into the season we knew we had a lot of new faces and we put in a lot of new parts. We wanted to see how they would gel together,” Demps said. “My thinking was, let’s see how the first 15-20 games, let’s see how this group looks and then Ryan (Anderson) breaks his toe so you don’t really get a true evaluation. Tyreke (Evans) comes in and doesn’t get to play in the preseason because of his ankle. Then we got the group together and we go on a stretch and we go 12-10. We are feeling pretty good. We are thinking like we are going to make some noise and then the next thing you know, the injury bug hits us. Ryan gets the injury then Jrue gets the injury and Jason (Smith) and Tyreke and then bam, you lose nine in a row.
“I thought we had just gotten right back in that mix and we are about to make a run and the injuries hit us. It has been unfortunate. I still want to see this group play together. I believe in this group and we still want to add more pieces to this group. I think we are a fun group to watch. We are explosive. We can score a lot of points and I think moving forward we want to add a couple more pieces on the perimeter and interior and improve our defense. I think we will be able to score with anyone in the league.”
The Pelicans have lost both forward Ryan Anderson (herniated disc) and guard Jrue Holiday (fractured shin) for the balance of the season. Their future going forward is still a little cloudy according to Demps.
“We are hoping by the end of the week to get a little more clarity on those guys,” Demps said. “They are tough injuries, one with a tibia and the other with a herniated disc with Ryan. We have been getting some checkups. He has gone through some testing. He has done some light workouts, a little bit on the bicycle and treadmill kind of things. He has another test coming up at the end of this week and the same with Jrue. The tibia is a tough thing. It is one of those injuries where for the lay person I will say it is right on the shin and you are wondering has it healed. Will it heal? Do you need surgery? Those decisions we think will be made in the upcoming days.”
»In Related:The New Orleans Pelicans Team Salary.
Demps admits he received a ton of phone calls around the NBA trade deadline and holding firm wasn’t easy.
“Whenever you make a trade on the most part, you are trading an asset for an asset, a player for a player,” Demps said. “That is the first way of looking at it.
“If you trade a guard for a center or a small forward for a guard, on the most part you are keeping pretty even. Now every once and while there is going to be a trade where it is a home run where guys say ‘man he made this trade for this player for that player, how did that happen?’ But that’s rare.
“A second way of looking at it is, sometimes a team will give up an asset to acquire talent. A good example would be is that if you give up a draft pick and you might take on a player for that draft pick. Now you added talent and the other team added an asset for the future. A lot of times those things happen. I think for us at this trade deadline we were only looking to add to our core. We weren’t really looking to make any adjustments. We were looking to add. We didn’t want to give up any more assets to acquire any more players at this point. We did that last summer. We gave up a draft pick in this upcoming draft to acquire Jrue Holiday. We feel like Jrue Holiday is going to be our point guard for the future. We have him under contract for four years and we hope that he grows old here and his kids graduate from high school in New Orleans. We didn’t feel comfortable giving up any more assets for players at this time.”
One of the assets other teams were calling about was former Baylor guard Pierre Jackson, who the Pelicans hold the draft right to.
“Pierre is a player that we acquired on draft day last year. The kid had some bad luck to start with,” Demps said. “When we acquired him, we were stacked at the point guard position. Before we drafted him, we had conversations with him asking, ‘If we did draft you, we don’t know where you would fit on this year’s roster. Would you want to go overseas?’ He said yes.
“When we drafted him, we asked him to play summer league, but because of the trade he wasn’t cleared to play summer league until the third game. He didn’t get to come to the practices. Some guys had practiced for four or five days and they had a couple of games. We kind of just threw him into the fire. Then he catches pink eye, so he misses the next two days recovering from that and he comes back for the last game. He didn’t get a good opportunity to show what he could do. Like I said, our roster was filled at the time with guards, so he would end up going overseas, got homesick, came home, went to the D-league, and has played great. He’s had a number of 40-point games and even a 58-point game. We’ve been monitoring. I’ve even watch him play. We’ve sent some of our scouts and management personnel to watch him as well. We’ve been in constant communication with his representatives and with Pierre. Recently, he just signed a deal to go to one of the top teams in Europe. He’s going to go play for a team named Fenerbahçe in Turkey, which is arguably one of the top five teams in Europe. He’s already left; he’s in Turkey right now. We will continue to monitor him over there. Our plan moving forward with him is that he plans to play summer league with us this summer. I think that as we’re putting our roster together, we’ll get a true evaluation of where he fits in with us.”
The Pelicans traded their first round pick, top five protected, to the Philadelphia 76ers to obtain Jrue Holiday, so the plan all along was for Jackson to possibly be that kind of talent infusion for the team next season.
“When we talked to him last year about going overseas for a year, that was the plan, “ Demps said. “(It was), ‘Hey, we’re not going to have a draft pick next year to draft. He’s going to be our draft pick.’ He’s still a young player, you love his story. Coming out of high school not highly recruited, goes to junior college, plays great in junior college, goes to Baylor. I still remember the first time I saw him play. I went to watch a number of players at Baylor – they had four potential first round picks on their roster. I remember walking out of the practice and saying that he was the best player on the floor. Going to a couple of games, I kept saying he was the best player on the floor. He ended up being the Big 12 player of the year, leading the league in scoring and assists. He’s done a magnificent job of, every place he’s gone, he’s played well and his teams have won.”
The Pelicans are currently 26-37 on the season and a full 11 games out of the playoff picture in the west with 19 games left on the schedule. While not technically eliminated from the post-season, their odds of reaching the eight seed are astronomically low. So the balance of the season in New Orleans will be about development time and their younger guys on the roster.
»In Related:The 2014-2015 NBA Free Agents.
The Pelicans have $54.08 million in guaranteed salary commitments next season and are looking at roughly $8 million in useable cap space. The Pelicans do have a couple of key free agents which likely will bite into that number including forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith as well as center Greg Stiemsma.
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NBA Daily: Jimmy Butler’s Potential Absence Could Doom Minnesota
Should Jimmy Butler miss an extended period of time, the Minnesota Timberwolves could lose footing quickly in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
Say it ain’t so, Basketball Gods.
In his first game back from the All-Star break, coincidentally after logging zero minutes in the glorified exhibition game, Jimmy Butler left Friday night’s game with an apparent knee injury.
If the worst comes to fruition — a season-ending injury — Butler would join a laundry list of players whose seasons have been cut short.
Butler’s Minnesota Timberwolves are in the midst of battling for position amongst their Western Conference peers for playoff spots. At the time of Butler’s injury, seeds three through nine are all separated by one game in the loss column.
Calling it a tight race out West would be a vast understatement. With a few more than 20 games to play, the seeding could land in a different order on basically a nightly basis. And for a team like Minnesota, losing their All-Star and veteran presence could be catastrophic.
But, not all hope is lost.
David Aldridge reported Friday night that there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
MRI Saturday will give final word, but there is some optimism in @JimmyButler camp that he may have at least avoided the worst—an ACL tear—on Friday.
— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) February 24, 2018
Given how tight the race is amongst the conference, losing Butler for any extended period of time is going to be a big blow to the way Minnesota operates. Very literally, Butler produces a drastic improvement on both ends of the court his team.
On the surface, Butler’s averages are good. They don’t blow you away, but it’s clear that his presence is felt on a nightly basis. 22.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and five assists with a 59.3 true shooting percentage is more than worthy of an All-Star selection. But to the naked eye, it doesn’t scream that he’s the team’s most valuable player by a long shot.
So, let’s dig a little deeper.
When Butler is on the court, Minnesota benefits from a 116.3 offensive rating. Houston and Golden State have 115.7 and 115.4 offensive ratings for the season, respectively. The addition of Butler creates more free space for the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to play with.
Speaking of those two, with the addition of an established superstar like Butler, they’ve been able to focus more on playing basketball than leading a locker room, allowing for growth in their games — Towns especially.
Truly coming into his own as one of the league’s best big men this season, arguably nobody on Minnesota’s roster benefits more from Butler’s performance on the wing than Towns does. On the court together, Towns sports a pretty 114.1 offensive rating, which produced a satisfying 9.3 net rating. That’s winning basketball.
Take Butler away, though, and things get ugly. Fast.
Because of his vast arsenal of offensive versatility, Towns’ offensive rating doesn’t suffer when Butler isn’t in the fold. But his defense? Well, it falls off of a cliff. Towns’ defensive rating balloons to 120.9, bringing that once impressive 9.3 net rating all the way down to -6.5. Butler alone accounts for a 15.8 point swing in Towns’ net rating. The levels of codependency from Towns to Butler in relation to effective basketball are incredibly concerning if the latter is lost for an extended period of time.
Basketball isn’t just a two-man game, though. So, while Minnesota’s younger All-Star benefits greatly from his elder counterpart, maybe the rest of the roster isn’t in such bad shape without him, right?
In fact, as you could probably assume, the production for the Timberwolves as a whole plummets when Butler grabs a seat on the bench. Shooting percentage, net rating, assist rate, rebound rate, finishing at the rim, defending and just about any other conceivable statistic you can find is worse for Minnesota when Butler isn’t on the floor.
Beyond all of the stats though, Butler represented more to the Timberwolves this season. He was the star to get the team over the hump. The veteran two-way impact player that could take just enough of the load off of the two budding studs in Towns and Wiggins to make Minnesota a threat night in and night out. Tom Thibodeau brought Butler over from Chicago because he knew the level of work ethic and leadership he would bring to a team that had talent, but needed guidance.
Up until Friday night, the pieces were falling into place.
The state of Minnesota will hold its collective breath while waiting for the results of Butler’s MRI. For the sake of Timberwolves fans, the organization and most importantly, Butler himself, hope for a clean scan.
Without it, and without Butler, the team could find itself in a free-fall amid this clustered Western Conference playoff race.
Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards Aiming For Consistency
Spencer Davies has a one-on-one talk with Otto Porter about the Wizards’ up-and-down season and why they’ve been clicking over the last few weeks.
When a team loses an All-Star point guard after dropping four out of five games while other teams continue to improve and climb up the standings, it’s usually a sign that things are headed south.
But the Washington Wizards have debunked that thanks to a commitment from literally every man on the roster to step up. Since John Wall went down with injury, they’ve won eight out of their last 10 games and are a half game back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number three seed in the Eastern Conference.
Why that is, is simple—there’s a balance.
“Everybody eats” is the mantra that Wall’s backcourt partner Bradley Beal came up with when the tide started to turn and the D.C. family has been living by it for weeks now.
The setback has definitely forced them to alter their style of play, but it hasn’t been a bad thing so far, according to Wizards head coach Scott Brooks.
“It’s definitely a challenge missing one of the best guards, one of the best players in the league,” Brooks said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “We’ve had to change definitely the way we play a little bit. We couldn’t expect our point guards to play like John. His speed you just don’t come by often.
“We have to play a little different. I think guys have stepped up defensively. We’ve played well. We definitely had some favorable games go our way with the scheduling, but the challenge is ahead of us now. We’ve got a lot of tough games coming up, but we just have to still keep playing and focus on each game.”
Otto Porter has been somebody who’s really kicked it into gear at a higher level and looks like himself again after a tough start to the New Year. Since January 30th, he’s averaging 18.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and over a steal per game. On nearly 14 attempts per game during the stretch, he’s shot above 52 percent from the field.
When asked how Washington can best fill the void of Wall while he’s on the sidelines, he said it’s not possible to. Rather than focusing on that specific facet, it’s a responsibility of the group collectively to keep trending in the right direction.
“You don’t,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “I mean you just have to, next man up. You really can’t. X-Factor is everybody steppin’ up. With the guys that we have, it’s very simple. Just go out there and play for each other.
“Getting out in transition. Getting stops. Creating points. Threes. The ball going from side to side. That’s how we play. We goin’ through adversity, so we took the challenge.”
Mind you, this is a Wizards team that was once reportedly divided in the locker room. There were rumblings of disdain among certain players. Tweets, Instagram posts, and on-air interviews fueled the fire even more as the losses continued to pile up.
However, we all know the solution to any sort of rough patch is winning games. As soon as the victories started to come, the noise started to quiet down more and more.
“That’s with any sport for real,” Porter told Basketball Insiders after inquiring whether the negativity was overblown.
“I mean you gon’ have your ups and downs. You gon’ have that. But we’re gonna stick together no matter the wins or the losses. We’re gonna stick together. We’re not gonna let anything break us apart. That’s just how we feel.”
The All-Star break came at a good time for Porter, who admitted to Basketball Insiders that he was playing through with nagging injuries in the first half of the season and getting a week to see family and recuperate “was what I needed.”
In the meantime, he kept in contact with Beal, who was experiencing his first All-Star weekend in four years, except this time around he was selected by Team LeBron as a part of the big game.
“All-Star, he said he was mad busy,” Porter told Basketball Insiders of Beal’s hectic three days in Los Angeles. “That sucks ‘cause you know you really wanna—I mean All-Star is cool, but the guys all busy during All-Star. Seeing people, events, stuff like that, so you don’t really get a break. He enjoyed it though.”
Porter raved over the season Beal has had and what it’s meant to Washington. There hasn’t been a change in mentality at all, but the improvements are evident.
“He’s always been motivated,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “Each year he’s adding bits and pieces to his game every year that make him a threat and it shows this year.”
Another teammate of Porter’s that has taken on the challenge is Kelly Oubre. This month hasn’t been kind to him so far as a shooter, but taking the season as a whole, the third year forward is hitting a career-high 36.9 percent of his threes and averaging close to 12 points per game.
Not only that, but Oubre is always locked in defensively with an in-your-face method of guarding his opponents. It’s a physical style that constantly bothers opponents and most of the time, it works.
“He’s been improving,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “He’s been putting in a lot of work. I’ve seen him put in so much work this offseason on his shot improving his mechanics and it’s paying off.
“Aggressive defensively, getting his hands on a lot of balls, deflections, steals. That’s what we want from him every game.”
Brooks has rewarded Oubre and Porter’s efforts by giving them a ton of playing time, something that he doesn’t see changing anytime soon considering the job they’ve done with the extra load.
“They’re gonna have to keep playing a lot of major minutes and keep getting better along the way,” Brooks said. “Otto’s really steady, solid. He’s started to make some shots again.
“And Kelly, he hasn’t shot the ball well in February, but we need him to break out of that and start shooting the ball better. With Kelly to me, it’s always how he’s locked in and focused on the defensive end.”
In order for the Wizards to continue scaling the ranks in the East it’s going to come down to consistency, a hurdle that they’ve tried to clear in past years and have a goal of leaping this season.
“We have to,” Brooks said. “Firstly, just takes that consistent effort to win games. This is not an easy league. Nobody feels sorry for you. Nobody gives you wins. You’ve got to go out there and earn it.
“I like the spirit of our team. We’re willing to accept the challenges. We know it’s not gonna be easy, but I like how we’re playing.”
Porter’s personal goal is to make it through 82 games healthy, but he agrees with his head coach about Washington’s top priority as a team.
“Right now yeah, it’s consistency,” Porter told Basketball Insiders. “And just sticking to what we do, sticking to our character. We know what type of players we are. We know how to play the right way and play Wizards basketball, so that’s what we’re gonna focus on.”
So far, so good.
NBA Daily: Tank Tracker 2018
Basketball Insiders looks at the NBA’s race to the bottom as teams jockey for lottery position.
With the NBA All-Star game behind and the home stretch of the regular season ahead, this is the time of year when contenders contend and pretenders stop pretending. It’s time for the NBA’s annual race to the bottom with a crowded field featuring four teams from each conference with better odds of getting help through the draft than making a playoff run.
Although Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for public statements detrimental to the NBA for saying the Mavericks should tank, the assumption here is always that players play to win. Every year the NBA Draft brings 30 new first round picks with guaranteed contracts into the league (minus any players that opt to play overseas). That’s 30 NBA jobs that will be taken away from veterans and given to rookies, not counting second-round picks and undrafted free agents who will take still more jobs. Rank-and-file players are playing for their place in the league, not to help their team get in position to draft a potential replacement.
Here we’ll look at teams that are clearly out of the playoff race and factors that could impact draft position as the final stretch of the season unfolds. Below is a tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski from September showing odds to land a top-three pick. This is the final season under the old lottery system (odds in parenthesis) before the new system takes effect next season.
Here is an ESPN graphic on how NBA Draft lottery odds change in 2019 pic.twitter.com/Jk8X7q0J3Z
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 28, 2017
Starting next year, the four worst teams will have nearly-identical odds to land a top-three pick. Since this is the last year in which teams dramatically increase odds of landing a top-three pick the more they lose, the race for lottery position could be as fun to watch as the race for playoff position. With a deep talent pool for the upcoming NBA Draft, the plot gets even thicker.
The Playoff Contenders
Before we look at teams that are clearly not contending for a playoff spot, we’ll mention teams that are out of playoff position but fighting to get in. In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Pistons acquired Blake Griffin before the trade deadline and are only 1.5 games behind the Miami HEAT for the eighth playoff seed. If Detroit can get point guard Reggie Jackson back healthy — a big if — then the Pistons could get into the playoffs and constitute a scary match-up in the first round.
Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post tweeted Wednesday that Jackson has been cleared for light running and shooting as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.
The Pistons have announced an update on Reggie Jackson's status. He's been cleared to begin light running, shooting and continued ankle strengthening exercises, and his progress will be monitored this week. No timetable for a return to practice.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) February 21, 2018
Also in the East, although the Charlotte Hornets appear headed nowhere, it’s a veteran-heavy squad that will do all it can to claw its way to a playoff spot. With point guard Kemba Walker making a second All-Star appearance and veterans Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum uninterested in building through the draft this late in their careers, expect Charlotte to do everything in its power to close the five-game gap with the HEAT.
In the West, although the Clippers moved on from Griffin, the team remains just one game behind the eighth-seed Pelicans with a 7-3 record in its last 10 games. The Clippers are another veteran-laden squad with too much pride to play for lottery balls. However, the Clippers’ hopes of being a playoff spoiler are complicated by the league’s hottest team, the Jazz. Utah owns a league-best 11-game win streak and sits a half game behind the Clippers.
Honorable mention goes to the Lakers, which sit a dismal eight games behind the Pelicans in the Western Conference standings. The Lakers have almost no chance to make the playoffs but won’t be participating in this season’s tank-a-thon since either the 76ers or Celtics will own its first-round draft pick. L.A. traded two future firsts for Steve Nash in 2012 but has yet to convey the final pick due to protections in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The pick will go to Philly if it’s first overall or lower than fifth, but will otherwise convey to the Celtics. The 76ers used the pick with added protections to move up last year and draft Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick.
Additionally, the Nets do not make the list since the Cavaliers own their unprotected first round pick from the Kyrie Irving trade with the Celtics. The Nets aren’t tanking, they just lack the talent to compete and currently hold the league’s fifth-worst record.
New York Knicks, 24-36
The Knicks are the last entrant into the NBA’s annual race to the bottom owing to Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending ACL injury. Prior to the injury, the Knicks were doing everything in the team’s power to start the post-Carmelo Anthony era with a playoff appearance. With Porzingis now sidelined for an extended period, the goal shifts to improving the talent around him.
Chicago Bulls, 20-38
The Bulls recently announced that Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup. Both received a DNP-CD in Thursday’s one-point loss to the 76ers. This is a team in naked tank mode, but it has the most games remaining against other teams on this list. Chicago has its tanking work cut out for it, but the recent lineup decisions show that the Bulls are serious about getting the job done.
Memphis Grizzlies, 18-38
While the Bulls are shameless in pursuit of lottery balls, you can’t blame the Grizzlies for the horrendous injury luck that put the team in this position. It’s a lost season for Memphis, and help in the lottery could be difficult to find since only the Bulls and Magic have more games remaining against teams on this list.
Orlando Magic, 18-40
The Magic have the second-worst record in the East but are matched by the Kings and Mavericks. Counting the Grizzlies, this makes six teams with only 18 wins. This is the heart of the tanking field, and the Magic fully committed when it traded starting point guard Elfrid Payton, a former lottery pick, for a future second-round pick. Orlando has a six-game stretch against teams in playoff contention that should help, but it also has a large number of games remaining against lottery contenders.
Sacramento Kings, 18-40
The Kings did well to get out of the $19 million owed to George Hill next season in a pre-deadline trade with the Cavaliers. Losing the team’s starting point guard also has the benefit of more minutes to develop De’Aaron Fox while upping the odds of adding a quality piece next to him in the draft. Unfortunately, the Kings had a recent stretch of four wins in ten games.
Dallas Mavericks, 18-40
No caveats or disclaimers are needed here since Cuban has gone public with his desire to lose as many games as possible. Aiding Cuban’s cause is that the Mavs are tied with the Hawks and Suns for fewest remaining games against teams on this list.
Atlanta Hawks, 18-41
Equal to the Suns for the league’s worst record, the Hawks come out of the All-Star break in pole position for the Tank 500. However, the team is 4-6 in the last 10 games and lost a ton of close games this year. The Hawks are literally better than the record suggests, and join the Magic and Kings by insisting on shooting themselves in the foot with late-season wins that could poison the lottery well.
As NBA.com’s K.L. Chouinard noted, the Hawks have a net rating of +9.1 in minutes Ersan Ilyasova and Dewayne Dedmon share. Only John Collins and Isaiah Taylor have out-performed this combo among two-man units that have shared at least 200 minutes.
Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer wisely opted to limit the pair to 227 minutes together this season, but the Hawks seem like a team in danger of tumbling out of position for a top-three pick despite how well-positioned the team is currently.
Phoenix Suns, 18-41
When it comes to the gold standard in tanking, nobody tops the Suns. The team shares a league-worst record with the Hawks, has a tough remaining schedule and is showing how it’s done with a 1-9 record in its last 10 games. With the team’s litany of poor draft selections and disastrous trades and free agency decisions, the lottery is the only place Phoenix can turn to for improvement. The prediction here is that nobody out-tanks the Suns the rest of the way.