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The NBA lottery didn’t kill tanking. It just made tanking less effective

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A lot of folks — including an NBA player — have declared tanking in the league is officially dead after Tuesday night’s wild 2019 draft lottery.

The three bottom teams in 2018-19 — the Knicks, Cavaliers and Suns — didn’t end up with the top pick despite having a 14 percent chance at it. Two of those franchises didn’t even end up in the top three of the draft.

Conversely, the Memphis Grizzlies and their 33-49 record somehow got them all the way up to No. 2, and the Pelicans’ six percent chance hit to give them the opportunity to take Zion Williamson, which is pretty nuts when you consider they had the Anthony Davis fiasco, which was an eyesore for the franchise and the league.



But think about it: Tanking isn’t about to die in the NBA, no matter what Rudy Gobert says.

This is just one small sample-sized blip on the radar now that we’re in a new era of NBA lottery rules meant to discourage teams from losing so much that they have the best chance at the No. 1 pick. Because the worst NBA teams are still rewarded with the highest odds at the draft’s top selection — just 14 percent, down from 25 percent for the franchise that finished with the worst record — they’re still going to tank when they see the opportunity to do so, whether it’s a team like the Knicks who wants that 14 percent or a franchise that can lose a few more games late in the year to get them from two percent to, say, nine percent.

What has changed is the effectiveness of tanking. It means teams like the Grizzlies and Pelicans who are in the middle of the bottom pack now can hope for more luck with ping-pong balls. More than ever, that luck will factor into the lottery, and perhaps the only win for the league is a little more parity through the draft is possible.

This merely widens the circle of tanking. Teams that are out of the playoff race will want to be more out of it. Those that start the season knowing they have no chance will just tweak their lineups to clinch a bottom-three spot (Enes Kanter could be a good example. He’s been great for the Blazers in the playoffs, yet he was benched earlier in the year by the Knicks).

Sorry, NBA. Tanking is still alive and well.



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