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NBA Daily: The Rush to Tank

This was an exceptionally bad year for tanking, but there are three very good reasons that this year was especially loser-friendly.

Joel Brigham

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There sure has been a lot of talk this year about the number of teams tanking, and it’s a fair complaint for fans to make. Nine teams failed to win 30 games this year for the first time since 2010, which means almost a third of the league was much more concerned with accruing as many ping-pong balls as possible than actually winning games for the fans paying all that money to come see them play.

There are, of course, reasons for this.

The Process

When the Philadelphia 76ers were deep in the throes of their multiyear tank-fest, all Sam Hinkie got was grief. Not only were the Sixers earning high draft picks by playing some truly putrid basketball, but they were using those high draft picks on injured and international players to insure that they would be bad again the next season. Joel Embiid and Dario Saric were the result of an 18-win season. Ben Simmons was the grand prize for a ten-win season two years later. Markelle Fultz was drafted following a 28-win campaign.

As those players matured and healed and found their way to the U.S. at essentially the same time, the Sixers transformed into an Eastern Conference powerhouse almost overnight. Ben Simmons probably will be an MVP someday. Joel Embiid will never not be an All-Star.

The lesson, though, is that Philadelphia is now legitimately good after a brief half-decade of complete and utter misery. The Process works, and every NBA team has figured that out. You either compete for a title or you bottom out to restock your talent. There’s little advantage to living in NBA purgatory, and this year was a perfect storm for coming to that realization. As such, there were more have-nots in the league than usual.

Lottery Reform

Only part of the ubiquitous tanking in the league this year came a result of figuring out The Process for themselves, however. With lottery reform on the horizon for next season, the 2017-18 campaign was the last opportunity for bad teams to reap the rewards of lopsided lottery odds for crummy teams.

Back in September, the league announced lottery reform that will apply first to the 2019 NBA Draft. Moving forward, the three worst teams in the league all will have just a 14 percent chance at the top selection instead of odds ranging from 15.6 percent (for the third-worst record) to 25 percent (for the worst record). Every other team in the lottery will see its odds for that #1 selection rise. The team with the sixth-worst record, for example, will have 15 percent better odds of landing a top-three pick through this new system.

In spreading around lottery odds, the idea obviously is to dissuade teams from tanking. Whether or not that works, the changes certainly made for a mad dash to the bottom in this, the last draft year based on the old system.

The Draft Class

That mad dash was especially pressing considering the level of elite talent expected to spill forth from this draft. Already some are calling the 2019 NBA Draft a relatively weak one in terms of prospects, where the 2018 crop has potentially franchise-altering players slotted to fall eight or nine picks into the lottery.

DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic obviously are the crown jewels of the class, but Marvin Bagley and Michael Porter headed into the season rated even higher than those two guys. Mo Bamba, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Mikal Bridges all should make their new franchises quite happy, as well.

These players have their flaws, but the consensus is that a lot of them could be really good someday. Scouts are less sure about Zion Williamson, apparently.

This all helped create a perfect storm for the 2018 tank-fest that drew so much attention from the media all season long. It’s easy to understand why so many organizations are bottoming out while it’s still lucrative to do so.

If the new lottery format plays out in a way that bad teams are not rewarded for their failures, especially early in its implementation, this type of thing likely will happen a lot less often. Parity is good for the league, and hopefully these teams bottoming out can find their way back to respectability closer to sooner than later because nobody wants to watch this many bad teams indefinitely.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#27 – Robert Williams III – Boston Celtics

With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Ben Nadeau

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With the 27th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics have selected Robert Williams III.

Although there were early week rumors that the Celtics might try to trade up, they’ve ultimately elected to find a difference-maker at the end of the first round instead. For a team that nearly reached the NBA Finals despite debilitating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s roster didn’t need a wholesale change on draft night. But at No. 27, they’ll be more than happy to leave with the mysterious-but-talented Williams.

Last year, Williams was viewed as a potential first-rounder before he returned to Texas A&M for his sophomore year. In 2017-18, Williams averaged 10.4 points and 9.2 rebounds on 63.2 percent from the field, fueling the Aggies to a 22-13 record. During this current pre-draft process, Williams looked poised to become a mid-first-round selection once again — but his stock faded as the big night got closer. In fact, Williams even decided to watch the draft with his family, even though he was a green room invitee.

His stock has undoubtedly dropped as of late, but this may end up being the steal of the draft — naturally, he dropped right into general manager Danny Ainge’s lap. Williams, 6-foot-10, is a freak athlete that’ll bring a new look to an already fearsome defensive unit in Boston. At A&M, Williams won back-to-back SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and averaged 2.5 blocks per game. Of course, he’ll get the opportunity to learn from the hard-nosed Al Horford, a five-time All-Star and the defensive linchpin for Boston — a win-win situation for all.

Williams, 20, joins an extremely young core in Boston that also includes Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, among others.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#26 – Landry Shamet – Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers select Landry Shamet with the 26th overall pick.

Dennis Chambers

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With the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select guard Landry Shamet of Wichita State.

Shamet, if he is able to fulfill his potential, should provide the Sixers with some much-needed shooting, as their rotation was noticeably starved for another deadeye sniper.

A career 43.7 percent three-point shooter, Shamet sank 44.2 percent of his shots from downtown last season, and he did so while firing nearly six attempts from deep a game. Sliding Shamet at the guard position alongside franchise point guard Ben Simmons allows for another weapon at Simmons’ disposal.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 21 years old, Shamet has the size to play either guard spot in the NBA (especially given Philadelphia’s lengthy and versatile lineup). Along with his shooting ability, Shamet also led the American Athletic Conference with 166 assists last season. With Markelle Fultz still a question mark for Philadelphia, Shamet provides a secondary ball-handler and playmaker, whether in the starting lineup or in the reserve unit.

The first round of the 2018 NBA Draft was a whirlwind for the Sixers, and they ultimately land two guards of very separate varieties: an upside-laden athlete in Zhaire Smith, and a skillful “veteran” rookie whose skillset is established.

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