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Dunc’d On: Lottery Reform Goes Too Far

If the NBA’s goal is to curb tanking, there are much simpler ways than lottery reform.

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The biggest league news of recent days is that lottery reform seems all-but assured.  Others, including Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, have commented at length on the proposed reforms.

Gone will be a weighted system where the worst team has 25 percent of the ping-pong balls for the No. 1 overall pick and a guarantee it’ll drop no lower than fourth in the draft order. Now, the worst four teams have a 12 percent chance at the first pick, No. 5 has an 11.5 percent chance, No. 6 has 10 percent, and on down. What’s more, the worst team can drop as far as seventh in the draft order, the second worst can drop to No. 8, and so on.

Wojnarowski’s column detailed a gently waxing undercurrent led by Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who sought to marshal additional votes against the reform with the argument that it would disproportionately hurt small-market teams.  But the big losers over the long-term (once any protected picks are sorted out) will be teams with the top-three worst records.  Once guaranteed a high pick and the best chances at number one, their odds of top picks are greatly reduced under the new system.  And with the top-six picks now subject to leapfrogging by teams below via the lottery, teams in the back half of the lottery are the big winners, even if it only means ascension to into the top half rather than top three.

Does the Reform Hurt Small Markets?

Thus, small market teams would only be prejudiced by this reform if they disproportionately fall among the worst three records.  Is that so?  Here are the market sizes of the worst three teams (including ties) over the last 10 seasons:

2014:  MIL (24), PHI (4), ORL (18)

2013: ORL (18), CHA (21), CLE (17)

2012: CHA (21), WAS (10), CLE (17)/NOH (28)

2011: MIN (14), CLE (17), TOR (5)

2010: NJN (1), MIN (14), SAC (19)

2009: SAC (19), WAS (10)/LAC (2)

2008: MIA (15), SEA (13), MEM (27)/MIN (14) Note: (LAC, NYK tied for 5th worst)

2007: MEM (27), BOS (8), MIL (24)

2006: POR (20), NYK (1), CHA (21)/ATL (9)

2005: ATL (9), NOH (28)/CHA (21)

*These numbers get a little funky because the LA and New York teams share markets.   Toronto is not included on this list, so I slotted it in.  Seattle would rank 13th if it were still in the league.  There are only 28 markets total in the league.

The average market size of these 34 sad sacks was 15.2.  The evidence that small market teams are more likely to end up in the top three is not particularly strong.

The Potential Unintended Consequences

In fact, there are solid arguments that the proposed reform could help smaller market teams.  Many are less able to bottom out from a business perspective.  The Bucks and Pacers are both teams that could have purposefully gone into full-scale rebuilding in the last decade, but were unable to do so for fear of alienating their relatively paltry fan bases from a business perspective.* Now, teams that cannot bottom out have a greater chance at lottery luck.

*The Bucks bottomed out last year, but only after their attempts to stay competitive by signing veterans like Zaza Pachulia and O.J. Mayo failed.

Another way the proposed reform could help small market teams is by enabling late-lottery teams on the rise another shot at cheap talent as they move towards the playoffs.  This is crucial for small-market teams that can’t or won’t pay the tax. Indiana and Memphis are great examples. Both made tax-focused cuts in years they were plausible contenders—another starter on a rookie contract is much more critical for a team like that than a larger market squad that can exceed the tax or use the full mid-level exception. These are uncertain benefits to be sure, but they are more realistic than concerns that worse odds for the three worst teams would disproportionately hurt small markets.

Unfair consequences may abound from such massive reform.  The most salient involves already-transferred protected picks.  The Suns agreed on top-five protection for the Lakers’ pick they received for Steve Nash, as both sides likely thought there was little chance the Lakers would be among the worst in the league in 2014-15.  Now, even if the Lakers finish seventh-worst, their odds of breaching the top five and retaining their pick improve significantly.

Or take the Kings.  The pick they traded to get J.J. Hickson for Omri Casspi is top-10 protected, and now owned by the Bulls.  They would stand a very likely chance of retaining their pick under the old system.  But now if they finish with, say, the ninth-worst record, the teams below them have both a better chance of moving up and more chances to do so with the top six picks subject to the lottery.

On the other hand, one could argue the added uncertainty would make teams less likely to shoot for a specific record, leading to either less or even more tanking (the latter just to maximize the odds of retaining the pick) at the end of the year.  But regardless of the consequences, this is not what the teams who made these trades bargained for.  They didn’t do anything “wrong”—how could they have anticipated that one team would tank so egregiously as to cause an overhaul of the system?

The Fairer Solution

Let’s start with the obvious: The Sixers’ roster is an absolute abomination this year.  On opening night, they will start one player who plausibly projects as above-replacement this year, Nerlens Noel.  They will get Michael Carter-Williams back, but potentially not for a couple of months.  I cannot remember a worse opening day roster.  They are not going to be fun to watch, nor will they be playing many players who could someday be part of the next good Sixers’ team—or any good team.  Their projected over/under in Vegas as of last weekend was 15.5.  They currently sit fathoms below the league’s salary floor.

Accept the premise that this sort of behavior is bad for the league, and must be stopped. I do not necessarily buy it, but since the powers that be have, the focus should shift to the best possible deterrence with the fewest externalities. If the league really is concerned about curbing season-long tanking by the Sixers or other like-minded teams, there are fairer methods that will not be nearly as disruptive for the rest of the league.

One very easy solution would be a stiffened penalty for failing to meet the salary cap floor.  Right now, the Sixers merely are required to distribute the shortfall to the players on the roster.  In short, there is no penalty at all.  Requiring a double payout, with half going to the other teams in the league, might be a useful deterrent.

But an even better solution would be to simply and directly penalize the Sixers if their record is below a certain abominable level.  That level and the punishment itself are open to debate, but my suggestion is making the club ineligible for the number one pick if it finishes with less than 15 wins, a record reserved for the historically awful.  Since the advent of the three-point line in 1979-80, only 10 teams have won 14 games or less (prorated in lockout years).  So it is very unlikely that a team actually trying would fall below this level.

The ostensible motive for tanking is a higher draft pick, so potential ineligibility for that pick should provide enough motivation to exceed the wins floor. Certainly it is possible for teams to tank and exceed 14 wins.  The Sixers did it a year ago, after all.  But at the very least, the wins floor would put some fear into would-be tankers, forcing them to at least assemble a reasonable roster.  And if a legitimately trying team somehow failed to eke out 14 or less wins, the punishment is not too draconian.  The alleged tanker is ineligible for the number one pick it only had a 25 percent chance at anyway.

Both the punishment (ineligibility for the top three picks?) and the floor (16 wins? 18?) could be tweaked to provide additional deterrence if needed.   But if the true goal is to stop season-long tanking while giving enough hope to the league’s truly downtrodden, it can be done without sending shockwaves through the league.  Changing the lottery process to such a degree in response to one team is an overreaction that could have massive unintended consequences.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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2021 Olympics Basketball Betting Picks

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On Wednesday, the Olympics’ schedule for men’s basketball begins with the United States taking on Iran at 12:40 a.m. (EST). This is one of the listed games for Group A. For the preview, prediction, and betting picks for the USA vs. Iran matchup, this other article is available for bettors. Then, for Group B, Italy will play against Australia at 4:20 a.m. (EST). For the second Group A matchup on Wednesday, the Czech Republic will face France at 8:00 a.m. (EST). These games can be watched live via Peacock, NBC’s exclusive streaming service. Viewers can also watch the televised games with NBA League Pass.

Bovada and MyBookie are two excellent betting sites for gambling on men’s basketball during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The best NBA betting apps are from MyBookie, BetUS, Bovada, Intertops, and BetOnline. When bettors use MyBookie, the app offers a $500 deposit bonus for new users. For the Italy vs. Australia and France vs. Czech Republic games, if an individual wants to bet on the best moneyline, DraftKings is the superior choice. For a side note, these games are being played at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

Italy vs. Australia – Group B

Spread: Italy +7 (+112), Australia -7 (-108)

Total: 171.5

Over/Under: -108, -112

Best Moneyline: Italy +240, Australia -330

Accessibility: NBC Sports App

Italy Starting Lineup: 

PG: Nico Mannion 

SG: Stefano Tonut

SF: Simone Fontecchio

PF: Michele Vitali

C: Nicolo Melli 

Australia Starting Lineup:

PG: Patty Mills

SG: Matthew Dellavedova 

SF: Joe Ingles

PF: Aron Baynes

C: Jock Landale 

Italy defeated Germany 92-82 on Sunday, July 25. Forward Simone Fontecchio led the team in statistics, finishing his performance with 20 points, four rebounds, three steals, and one block. Stefano Tonut had 18 points, three rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Italy’s bench players combined for 28 points in their 10-point win over Germany. Hawks’ forward Danilo Gallinari scored 18 points from the bench, too. One big advantage the Italians had over the Germans was their three-point shooting accuracy. They shot 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Plus, Italy had a total of 11 steals overall, and this was on top of an 11-0 run to help seal their first victory.

Moreover, Australia defeated Nigeria 84-67 on Sunday, July 25. The top story after this win was Australia’s bench players outscoring their starters. The Aussies’ starters scored 26 points versus Nigeria, while the reserve players had 58 points! A win is a win, but some players needed to elevate their intensity, such as Jazz’s Joe Ingles. In 33 minutes, he scored only 11 points  In 35 minutes played, guard Patty Mills ended his performance with 25 points, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals. Forward Nick Kay had 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and one block. While the Aussies did out-rebound the Nigerians 44 to 38, they also had a much higher free throw shooting percentage, shooting 17-for-19 (89.5 percent) from the free throw line.

Prediction – Australia wins by four points

Australia is the favored team over Italy. They held Nigeria to 67 points. Aside from Gallinari’s decent performance from the bench against Germany, some bettors are not expecting the Italians to be able to keep up with the Aussies this time around. According to Bovada, Australia has -350 odds of defeating Italy, whereas the Italians have +275 odds of pulling off the upset. In all fairness, picking Australia is the best bet. Not to mention, it is the safest bet concerning the uncertainties each of the players are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

France vs. Czech Republic – Group A

Spread: France -9.5 (-105), Czech Republic +9.5 (-115)

Total: 165

Over/Under: -110

Best Moneyline: France -450, Czech Republic +355

Accessibility: NBC Sports App

France Starting Lineup:

PG: Nando De Colo

SG: Evan Fournier

SF: Nicolas Batum

PF: Guerschon Yabusele

C: Rudy Gobert

Czech Republic Starting Lineup:

PG: Tomas Satoransky

SG: Blake Schilb

SF: Jaromir Bohacik

PF: Ondrej Balvin

C: Jan Vesely

France defeated Team USA 83-76 this past Sunday. In 34 minutes played, shooting guard Evan Fournier ended his performance with 28 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert finished his game with 14 points, nine rebounds, and one assist. The bench players combined for 17 points against USA. Moustapha Fall scored seven points and acquired four rebounds. On top of Brooklyn Nets’ small forward Kevin Durant fouling out, Team USA missing too many baskets led to a satisfying victory for France. The French shot 29-for-62 (46.8 percent) from the field, whereas the Americans shot 25-for-69 (36.2 percent) from the field. France also out-rebounded USA 42 to 36. Furthermore, Fournier and Gobert are once again starting for France versus Czech Republic.

In the Czech Republic’s 84-78 victory over Iran, bench player Patrik Auda led the team in scoring, with a total of 16 points in 23 minutes played. He also had six rebounds against Iran. Blake Schilb had 14 points, four rebounds, five assists, and one block in 24 minutes played. Schilb is projected to be in the starting lineup against France. While the Iranians shot 31-62 (50 percent) from the field, the Czechs had a field goal shooting percentage of 44.6 percent. This was based on shooting 33-for-74. If the Czech players prefer quantity over quality, they will most likely struggle versus France’s starting lineup. Additionally, it helped for the team to out-rebound Iran 43 to 33. We’ll see if the Czech Republic can maintain their rebounding abilities against fresh NBA-tested competitors.

Prediction – France wins by six points

Sports bettors might be tempted to pick an upset on Wednesday, but then again, we have little data to base our predictions on this early during the Tokyo Olympics. France was good enough to defeat Team USA, so picking them to win over the Czech Republic makes perfect sense. And, when we look at the number of different French players who have NBA experience, the best possible pick becomes as clear as daylight. Expect the Czechs to hang with the French throughout the majority of the four quarters. However, France will pull away in the closing minutes to earn their second victory in the Tokyo Games.

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Team USA vs. Iran – Preview, Prediction, & Betting Picks

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Team USA is coming off their first Olympics’ loss in men’s basketball since 2004. In the post-game press conference after USA lost 83-76 against France, head coach Greg Popovich said, “When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed. I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.” Leading up to this matchup, another contributing factor for the team’s loss was Wizards‘ guard Bradley Beal bowing out of the Olympics after being placed in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols during training camp. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Beal averaged 31.3 points per game. Regarding the injury report, as of July 27th, there are no reported injuries for these two teams.

Moreover, the USA’s second men’s basketball game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is schedule for Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST). Unfortunately, the next two USA men’s basketball games are not guaranteed to air live on television in the United States. However, the games can be watched on NBC channels (delayed) and NBC’s exclusive streaming service known as Peacock. Plus, the NBC Sports mobile app will stream the games live. Free trials are also available for Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Sling TV, or AT&T TV Now. The game can also be watched via NBA League Pass. For betting on medal and group winners for men’s basketball, Bovada offers the best service.

Game Details

Date & Time: Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC (delayed)

Spread: USA -41.5 (-110) (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Over/Under: 166.5

Best Moneyline: USA -8000, Iran +2500 (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Team USA Starting Lineup:

PG: Damian Lillard 

SG: Zach LaVine 

SF: Kevin Durant

PF: Draymond Green

C: Bam Adebayo 

Team Iran Starting Lineup:

PG: Mohammad Jamshidi

SG: Behnam Yakhchali

SF: Arsalan Kazemi

PF: Samad Nikkhah Bahrami

C: Hamed Haddadi

Bovada and MyBookie are two available betting sites for gambling on men’s basketball during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The best NBA betting apps are from MyBookie, BetUS, Bovada, Intertops, and BetOnline. With MyBookie, the app offers a $500 deposit bonus for new users. For the USA vs. Iran matchup, if an individual wants to bet on the best moneyline, DraftKings is another option as well.

USA vs. Iran Preview

Referencing Bovada’s Olympics odds, Team USA is the favorite to win gold in men’s basketball, with odds showing -250. Slovenia and Australia are tied for second, possessing +800 odds. With odds showing +75000, Iran ranks 12th for odds to win the gold medal. They could still win their fourth consecutive gold medal in basketball, but this team appears to be different from previous USA men’s basketball teams. Their performance against the French was pitiful. Anyways, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook, this past Sunday, USA opened as 12.5-point favorites versus Iran. However, yesterday the oddsmakers changed their projection to 29.5-point favorites. As of Tuesday, July 27, DraftKings Sportsbook has USA listed as 41.5-point favorites over Iran.

Team USA’s starting lineup in the Olympics consisted of Zach LaVine, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Bam Adebayo. In the team’s 83-76 loss against France, with a total of 18 points, Milwaukee Bucks‘ guard Jrue Holiday led the team in scoring. However, Holiday’s performance was not sufficient enough to carry the team. His teammates around him failed to contribute at a higher level. In 25 minutes played, Bam Adebayo closed out his performance with 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. Damian Lillard also scored 11 points, three rebounds, and three assists. For the winning team, the leading scorer for France was Evan Fournier, finishing his game with 28 points and four rebounds. The French ended their first win on a 16-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

While the turnovers and field goal percentages were identical between these two teams, the difference-makers were personal fouls. For free throw shooting percentage, France shot 17-for-24 (70.8 percent) from the free throw line, whereas USA shot 16-for-21 (76.2 percent). Additionally, France committed 21 fouls in the match, which was all right considering USA had a total of 25 personal fouls called against them. Despite small forward Kevin Durant scoring 10 points, he also fouled out of the game. This was another poor game plan by Coach Popovich. This was especially evident in the team’s consecutive losses against Australia and Nigeria during those exhibition games. Practice games or not, USA looked less than mediocre, never mind lethargic and disinterested.

Then again, Iran is also trying to recover from an 84-78 loss versus Czech Republic. Guard Behnam Yakhchali led the team on the stat sheet, ending his performance with 23 points, three rebounds, and four assists in 36 minutes played. In 29 minutes on the court, Mohammad Jamshidi had 16 points, one rebound, and seven assists. For the Czech Republic, with 16 points, Patrik Auda led his team in points. While the Czechs out-rebounded the Iranians 43 to 33, they also had fewer turnovers. The winning team had 15 turnovers, while Iran had 21 overall.

The team came close to erasing a 21-point deficit. Iran’s past starting lineup was Benam Yakhchali, Mohammad Jamshidi, Samad Bahrami, Arsalan Kazemi, and Hamed Haddadi. Though, this is subject to change. The projected starting lineup is listed in the game details section shown above. Yakhchali will once again be returning as a guard, and of course, he led the team in scoring against the Czech Republic. 

Prediction: USA wins by 15+ points

Team USA is nearly a 42-point favorite against Iran. Based on their previous 89-79 defeat versus France, it is certainly hard to believe this team will beat a team by 40 points. Many bettors were not expecting for Durant to foul out, either. After their seven-point loss, Bovada adjusted the odds of USA winning their group. Now, France has the favored -550 odds of winning Group A, whereas USA has +400 odds. Though, between USA and Iran right now, the Americans are obviously the best of the worst. All things considered, USA will likely have their first bounce-back victory, but the question right now is, how many points will they win by?

Some bettors are speculating a 12-point margin of victory, however, others are suggesting 23 points. A prediction of at least 15 points sounds reasonable. Why? It’s because Iran’s men’s basketball team has lost multiple games already. In the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Round (2019) for Group F, Japan defeated Iran 70-56. Then, Spain defeated Iran 73-65 later in the year. Iran losing 84-78 versus the Czech Republic just adds to this notable trend. Nevertheless, while some could say that Iran is due for their first win, so is the USA. The Americans have not lost multiple games since 2004. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, the USA lost 92-73 versus Puerto Rico, 94-90 against Lithuania, and 89-81 versus Argentina. Time will tell if the Americans can turn over a new leaf.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Bradley Beal never requested a trade, remains committed to Wizards

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This NBA offseason has been a frustrating one for some die-hard fans, especially Washington Wizards‘ fans. On June 18, 2021, news broke concerning shooting guard Bradley Beal announcing his commitment to play for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. A few weeks ago, it was reported by USA Basketball that Beal would not play in the Tokyo Olympics. And, this was because the 28-year-old three-time NBA All-Star had to enter the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Missouri native.

In an interview published by CBS Sports on July 15, 2021, regarding the chance to play for USA Basketball, Beal told CBS’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain, “It’s an honor. It’s something that you take for granted. Not a lot of guys in the league get this opportunity. We all know that. We didn’t live up to what we wanted to a few years ago (in the 2019 FIBA World Cup), and so now we have an opportunity to get back what’s rightfully ours.”

In 2010, Beal won the FIBA-Under 17 World Cup MVP. Though, everyone can see his passion for basketball. Needless to say, it is an awful experience for any athlete to have to bow out of the Olympics. In addition to this unfortunate news, there is all kinds of speculation across the Internet concerning Beal’s future with the Wizards. From Boston.com, it was reported two days ago that Beal would welcome a trade if he was moved to the Boston Celtics. The report also included three other teams: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers. This latest news information was originally reported by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. Last Saturday, Fischer stated, “Boston’s path to securing Beal would appear far more costly, as the Celtics’ offer almost certainly has to include Jaylen Brown and all of their future draft picks they are able to part with.”

Although the report could still be accurate, many fans are asking for more evidence to help support this claim. This is Beal’s team; he was drafted by Washington third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Would the Wizards be wiling to trade their star player for Jaylen Brown and potential future draft picks? This remains to be seen. Plus, everyone should keep in mind that although Beal was open to a trade, at least he never demanded an immediate trade. The latest news is likely just trade rumors and meaningless gossip.

Moreover, the 2020-21 Wizards finished 34-38 (.472), ranking third in the Southeast Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. The team lost four games to one in the first round of the postseason against the 76ers. The Wizards have not appeared in the NBA Finals since the 1978-79 season, and they have not won the championship since the 1977-78 season, when they defeated the Seattle Supersonics in Game 7 105-99. Not to mention, the Wizards were called the Bullets back then.

After the season ended, the organization agreed to part ways with head coach Scott Brooks. Perhaps Coach Brooks leaving the team is leading Beal to ask more questions about his own future. According to one report by NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk, Beal was irked over the organization hiring Wes Unseld Jr. over Sam Cassell for the vacant head coach position. How much does this play into trade talks?

Well, we all know that Beal is a competitive player, so three consecutive losing seasons by Washington might not be cutting it for him. Then again, a great player should be willing to give a new coach a chance. Last season, in 60 games played, the six-foot-three guard averaged 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. The 9-year NBA veteran also shot 48.5 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. In the 2021 All-Star Game, in 31 minutes played, Beal scored 26 points.

On October 17, 2019, Beal signed a two-year, $72 million extension with Washington. He earned $28.7 million this past season, and he will earn $34.5 million in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Beal’s player option for the 2022-23 season is also $37.2 million. So, folks should keep in mind that Beal is still showing his loyalty to the Wizards. He is only considering a trade request before the draft. The key word here is “considering.” Having said this, not even LeBron James is safe from a trade in this league. Ok, maybe only James is safe.

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