While it seems to be increasingly moot for the Raptors, since they insist on shooting themselves by taking their own ping pong balls out of the lottery drum (okay, I don’t know what it’s called), Wages of Wins recently published article stating that tanking does not work. I’ve already talked previously about how I think the Raptors should “tank”, so does that mean I was wrong?
Devin Dignam, in his article, brought up some seemingly overwhelming evidence:
Well, only five players taken [in the top three of the lottery] have won a championship with the team that drafted them: the aforementioned Duncan and Milicic, as well as David Robinson, Sean Elliott, and Jason Kidd. It took Robinson eleven years to win with his drafting team, and Elliott was actually traded away and then reacquired before winning his…nine years after being drafted. Jason Kidd was also traded away and then reacquired before winning a title with his drafting team, and that took him 16 years.
Now keep in mind, the lottery began in 1985, so he’s saying that only 3 lottery picks have won a Championship with the team that drafted them since 1985. And one of those lottery picks was benchwarmer. Seems pretty conclusive, doesn’t it?
Well, like all stats, a closer look tells you a lot more.
First of all, 1985 to 1998 is when Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon won their Championships, and none of them were technically lottery picks, since they were all drafted before 1985. And of all those players, only Larry Bird was drafted outside the top 3 and all were drafted by the team they eventually won a Championship with.
So the first post-1985 top 3 pick to win a Championship was David Robinson, and Tim Duncan was actually the best player on the team, by that time. In other words, it’s only since 1999 that you can start counting.
In those 12 years, 6 teams have won Championships. San Antonio, the Lakers, Detroit, Miami, Boston and Dallas.
And it is true that Tim Duncan was the only top 3 pick that lead the team that drafted him to a Championship since 1999.
The only other team whose best player they actually drafted lead them to a Championship were the Miami Heat. They drafted Dwyane Wade 5th, so he doesn’t qualify under Dignam’s criteria.
Neither does Dirk Nowitzki, who was a 9th pick, drafted by Milwaukee, but traded immediately to Dallas.
The Lakers obviously had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant lead them to their Championships. Shaq was a #1 pick, but signed from Orlando as free agent. Kobe was a 13th pick for Charlotte, who immediately traded him to the Lakers.
Detroit had two top 3 picks, but one of them was Darko, who barely played. The other was Chauncey Billups, who Detroit signed as a free agent. Detroit was Billups’ 5th team in 6 seasons, so it’s not as if that much was expected of him.
Ironically, while Boston was the only team to win a Championship without a top 3 pick, they actually drafted their leading scorer, Paul Pierce, although 10th. Kevin Garnett, who was drafted 5th by Minnesota, Boston had to trade for.
So if you’re going to go by the evidence, if you want to win a Championship, the best way seems to be to try and get lucky by finding a franchise player outside of the top 3.
Of course, there’s a problem with that theory, too.
Let’s look at the last two year’s 1st and 2nd All-NBA players:
Now of the players under 30, only Amare Stoudemire was drafted outside of the top 3. Let me just reiterate that. Of the 8 All-NBA players under 30, 7 of them were drafted in the top 3.
What does that tell you?
Drafting a franchise player outside of the top 3 is becoming more and more difficult. Whether it’s better scouting or what, but the chance of finding a Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash outside of the top 10 is getting smaller and smaller. And unless you live in Los Angeles, Miami or New York, the chances of signing a franchise player are EXTREMELY slim.
That only leaves trading for one. It’s true that a number of 1st and 2nd All-NBA players have been traded over the last ten years, but if you want to play the stats game, in the last 25 years, only one franchise-level player was traded to a team and lead them to a Championship: Kevin Garnett. And Boston also had Paul Pierce on the team, who lead the team in scoring that season.
Now, tanking certainly isn’t great for fans, and it looks bad for the franchise and is bad for the NBA, but it’s also the best way for most teams to acquire a franchise player. It’s no guarantee, but the teams that have won Championships, did so with a lot of luck.
Had Portland drafted Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie, Chicago wouldn’t have won 6 Championships.
If David Robinson didn’t miss nearly the entire 96-97 season, San Antonio doesn’t drop from 59 wins to 20 wins and draft Tim Duncan, which lead to them winning 4 titles.
If Shaq decides to stay with Orlando, Los Angeles doesn’t win their three titles in a row.
So yes, tanking doesn’t guarantee anything, but with more chances at the number one spot, and a bit of luck, your team might end up winning this year’s lottery and the chance to draft Anthony Davis, who might just end up being the best big man of his generation.