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NBA Draft Lottery Should Never Reward Losing

The NBA needs a comprehensive strategy to remove all incentive for teams to lose games, writes Buddy Grizzard.

Buddy Grizzard

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At the 2014 NBA Board of Governors meeting, an NBA Draft Lottery reform proposal was defeated after receiving only 17 of the 23 votes needed to pass. NBA commissioner Adam Silver bemoaned the “corrosive perception” that “tanking” — losing games on purpose — was the quickest path to improvement for teams, with the Philadelphia 76er’s “process” as a prime example.

According to NBA.com, the defeated proposal had two goals, only one of which seemed designed to reduce the perception that the lottery system rewards losing.

“The reform proposal presented by the league’s competition committee would have drastically reduced the worst team’s odds of winning the lottery while also increasing the chances that the teams with the best record in the lottery field would jump up to the top of the board.”

So, in essence, the league’s proposal would have made it less likely that the team with the fewest wins would get a top three pick, while increasing the odds that a team that barely missed the playoffs would jump into the top three. The competition committee apparently felt that Cleveland’s “instant rebuild,” made possible by winning the top overall pick in three out of four drafts from 2011 to 2014, was a scenario that should be repeated. The Cavaliers won the lottery in 2011 despite only a 2.8 percent chance of moving up, won in 2013 with the league’s third-worst record, and improbably won again in 2014 despite only a 1.7 percent chance.

The proposal’s defeat was a strong indicator that the league’s owners on average were less eager to see that scenario happen again. While evening the odds among the league’s worst teams would certainly discourage teams from bottoming out for the sake of draft position, increasing the odds for a fringe playoff team to move into the draft’s top three might encourage a team to tank out of an unfavorable playoff seed to play the lottery instead.

In 2014, the Phoenix Suns missed the playoffs with a 48-34 record in the West while the Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs in the East with a 38-44 record. For missing the playoffs, the Suns got a lottery pick while a Hawks team with 10 fewer wins picked after them. That same year, Curtis Harris made a compelling argument on ESPN.com that rewarding near-50-win teams like the Suns with a higher draft pick contributed to the long-term weakening of the Eastern Conference compared to the West.

“The NBA draft system often unintentionally (but systematically) awards decent West teams slightly better draft picks than similar teams in the East. It’s a system designed to help the weak get stronger, but it’s rewarding the stronger conference almost every season.”

Stop Rewarding Losing

If the NBA wants to rid itself of the perception that it rewards losing, comprehensive lottery reform is needed which addresses the issue on multiple levels. Firstly, the league should abandon its quest to reward teams that barely miss the playoffs with a much greater chance to move to the top of the lottery. Had lottery reform passed in 2014, a team might find itself in the final game of the season with a decision between an intentional loss – and enhanced lottery odds – or winning its way into a first-round matchup against a dominant first seed such as the Warriors.

What follows is a proposal that discourages the NBA’s worst teams from partaking in a race to the bottom for the sake of draft position while simultaneously ensuring that teams on the fringes of the playoffs are motivated to win as many games as possible. Firstly, no team with a better record than the worst playoff team should be in the lottery. Using 2014 as an example, both the 48-win Suns and 40-win Timberwolves would be excluded from the lottery since they had more wins than the 38-win Hawks that finished eighth in the East.

All teams outside the lottery would pick in reverse order of record, regardless of whether the team made the playoffs. Thus, the 2014 Suns would have picked after the Hawks, Hornets, Nets and Wizards, all teams in the East that made the playoffs but finished with a worse record than the Suns. The Suns would be granted a tie-breaker over the Bulls, which finished with an identical 48-34 record but made the playoffs. Under this system, the motivation for the Suns to make the playoffs is dramatically increased since missing the playoffs would not result in improved draft position. The raised stakes would greatly increase the drama of the seasons’s final days.

Secondly, among teams that remain in the lottery, the odds for moving into the top three should be evened out so that there’s less motivation to lose as many games as possible to improve draft position. Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough advocated this idea to Arizona Sports 98.7 FM after the Lakers and 76ers moved ahead of the Suns in this year’s lottery.

“I would like to see the odds be smoothed out a little bit,” said McDonough. “The more the league could add a little variance in there and de-incentivize losing, I think that would be good for the good of the league and I think it’d be a nice change going forward.”

Rather than the current system that gives the team with the worst record a 25 percent chance to stay in the top three with the odds scaling down to just 1.8 percent for the team with the best record, those odds could be made much more even. Additionally, the current system allows the team with the worst record to fall only as low as the fourth pick, the team with the second-worst record as low as the fifth pick and third-worst as low as the sixth pick. By allowing the team with the worst record to have a greater range to fall — for instance, as low as the seventh pick — you add variance that makes it much more difficult to plan out a multi-season tanking strategy.

Finally, two optional rules that should be considered among ownership to see if they gain traction could include a rule precluding teams from winning the first overall pick in consecutive seasons and a rule randomizing the number of teams that participate in the lottery. The former rule would prevent the scenario in which the Cavaliers won the top overall pick in three out of four drafts. The latter rule, by randomizing the number of teams that are allowed to participate in the lottery, would force teams to decide sooner if they wish to pursue a rebuilding strategy or compete for a playoff spot.

Currently 16 teams make the playoffs each season and 14 participate in the lottery. Under the latter rule, a random number between one and three of the teams with the worst records that make the playoffs could be added to the lottery participants. By randomizing the number of teams that participate in the lottery, it makes it very difficult to determine how many losses will be needed to get into the lottery. Thus, teams are more likely to decide early on if they are rebuilding or trying to compete in a given season.

Silver considers it corrosive that NBA fans think losing is the easiest path to improvement for their teams. These proposals would help ensure that teams with a chance to make the playoffs are under greater pressure to do so, and that there’s no longer a race to the bottom among the teams with the worst records. Losing should never be rewarded, and never be viewed as a positive strategy.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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NBA

Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA

NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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