In the past, teams in the NBA have used tanking as a method of rebuilding their rosters. Teams like the 76ers and Lakers manipulated the draft lottery to improve their futures by trading mid-level talent for picks and then bottoming out.
To combat this lose-on-purpose attitude that teams have adopted, the NBA proposed lottery reform that would ensure that the bottom three teams would have an equal 14 percent chance of nabbing the number one pick in the draft. This change will go into effect in 2019, which means that the 2018 draft is the last chance for the league’s worst team to have a 25 percent chance to get the first pick.
This offseason will be the closest thing to a guaranteed superstar for many mediocre teams. Doncic, Ayton, Porter, and many other big-name prospects are all under consideration for a much sought after number one pick. This is why nine teams currently sit under the .400 win percentage threshold at the All-Star Break. Six of these teams only have 18 wins.
The Phoenix Suns are currently tied for the worst in the league with Atlanta (18-41). Phoenix hasn’t made it into the playoffs since 2010, and since then they haven’t picked higher than fourth in the first round of the draft. Their seasons of losing have nailed them some decent young talent, but none are considered noteworthy aside from Devin Booker. If they hope to pair him with another potential star, 2018 will be their best bet to get beyond the fourth pick for one.
The Atlanta Hawks, while holding the same record as the Suns, are a different story. Atlanta posted above .500 seasons from ‘09 to ‘17 (barring ‘14, when they still made the 8th seed). This streak peaked in 2015 when they put up a 60-win record and clinched the first seed for the first time in two decades. In January of that year, they became the first team in league history to go 17-0 in a month, a feat for which their starting five were named Players of the Month and Mike Budenholzer was named Coach of the Month. Though their success in the past was based on stellar team play, the Hawks have now turned to tanking to gain one true superstar player.
For many other teams in the league, the story is similar. The Grizzlies (18-38), while still retaining much of the roster that led them to success in the Western Conference (consistent playoff berths since 2011), the team has left their Grit ‘n’ Grind campaign behind in order to look ahead in the draft. Dallas (18-40) is relying on Harrison Barnes as their best players as they hope to find a player in the draft that could take the torch from future Hall of Fame power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Orlando (18-39) hasn’t made the playoffs since losing Dwight Howard seven years ago. They have been relatively unsuccessful in the lottery since then, but a top three pick in this draft could turn that around.
The last team with only 18 wins entering the All-Star Break is the Sacramento Kings (18-39). The Kings have a collection of young players with high potentials, such as De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and the injured Harry Giles. They have done well trying to surround them with veterans like Vince Carter and Zach Randolph in order to develop their youth. Still, they hold a losing record with the hopes of landing a superstar. Not only will the lottery be reformed next year, but the Kings’ 2019 pick will belong to either the Boston Celtics or the Philadelphia 76ers, meaning the Kings will not hold a first-round pick until 2020. For this reason, they want to add a true star sooner or later to join him in strides at development.
For the rest of the league, it may be wise to look down rather than up as the Golden State Warriors could be the heavy championship favorites for years to come. Unless one’s team is considered a contender or they’ve already stocked up on youth, the bottom of the barrel may look more appealing than the top in 2018. With lottery reform incoming next year, look to see many middling teams make a hard push for a losing record as their chances will be higher this year than any other. For those aforementioned teams that are already at the bottom, it’ll be a race to the worst record once playing resumes post-All Star Break, as young players like Ayton, Doncic, Porter, Bagley, and many others light up the draft board.