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NBA Rookie Prospect Report: Fruitless Tanking

Fred Katz

Fred Katz

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in 5th grade, but he maintains that his per 36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at ProBasketballDraft.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Last year was odd really odd. The condensed, 66-game season kind of ruined things, didn't it?

Back-to-back-to-backs, 66 games in 123 days and 20-game months made the season virtually unplayable for some teams. Add in a hyped No. 1 overall pick in Anthony Davis and teams were drooling at the simple thought of finishing the season and getting to next year.

For all those teams that felt like they hit rock bottom last year, the draft was when their season might start. It was how they could spin that "hope" marketing campaign.

The Bobcats have a 25 percent shot at Anthony Davis in this year's NBA Lottery!

So to keep up that hope, to keep up that marketing, and even to execute a calculated strategy, teams tank. They lose intentionally and pray that will take them to the promise land.

NBA teams have to bottom out. A middling team isn't something you want to be in this league. Fighting for an eighth seed, always in contention for a playoff spot but never in contention for a championship isn't a fun place to be. Before an organization can contend for a championship, it must bottom out. It has to. And for that reason, teams tank.

But this year might be different.

Tanking was an epidemic last season. Everyone wanted a piece of Anthony Davis, and if you missed out on him, you could still end up with the defensive stud Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the sweet-shooter Bradley Beal, the rebounding machine Thomas Robinson or the scoring stud Damian Lillard. That's why the Bobcats conceded their final 23 games of the season. That's why the Warriors were creating injuries no one had ever heard of to make sure David Lee and Steph Curry stayed out to rest their alleged aches and pains. That's why the Hornets were in no rush to bring back Eric Gordon, who played all of nine games last season. An anticipated strong 2012 draft class meant teams weren't just tanking for the first overall pick, but they were also tanking for a top-5 pick.

But what happens when there isn't quite as strong a draft class? What happens when there isn't a unanimous first-overall pick? What happens when every projected top pick has at least one notable flaw to which scouts can point?

Nerlens Noel doesn't create for himself.

Shabazz Muhammad is too much of a tweener.

Cody Zeller hasn't improved much from his freshman season.


With question marks aplenty, with back-to-back-to-backs no longer existing (unless you're on the Pacers), and with a torturous 66 games in 123 days almost seeming like it never happened, we might be in for less tanking than we've seen in recent seasons.

We might see some of the classics. Maybe Kevin Love won't come back from his hand injury even if he should. What else is there for Minnesota to do?

Ultimately, though, the 8 through 11 seeds are separated by only five games in the West. That's more hope than the draft can lend. Actually, some teams are still so optimistic about the playoffs that the 21-28 Mavericks collectively aren't shaving until they reach .500. Would first-class organizations like the Mavericks and the Lakers really tank? Would the 76ers tank when they're trying to prove to Andrew Bynum that he can win in Philadelphia? Would Toronto tank after recently pulling off a major trade that puts them exactly in that 8 to 11 seed range in the East?

Tanking in 2013 might be counterintuitive.

A team complaining about a rotten schedule is in the past. The story of the 2012-13 season is that hope is here for more teams than there are playoff spots. That means we may not see organizational apathy come March. And it means players like David Lee won't be killing fantasy teams by missing games with undisclosed injuries.