It is often said that the cream of the crop rises to the top, but for the barrel scrapers of the NBA world it is a race for the tank
The possibility of landing French phenom Victor Wembanyama has made being the worst the first priority for several NBA teams, with this year’s tanking race being called unprecedented.
In recent years, commissioner Adam Silver has tried to make tanking a thing of the past. Silver revamped the draft lottery to give the bottom three teams an equal chance at the first pick and added the play-in tournament as an incentive for teams outside of contender status to try to win games.
Trust the Process
The Philadelphia 76ers went 19-63 during the 2013-14 NBA season, kickstarting a multi-season tank job infamously known as “The Process.” Sixers management believed it could build a contender by racing to the bottom each year and drafting the top talent available.
The Sixers would use their third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft to select all-star center Joel Embiid. But the pain was far from over for Embiid and Sixers faithful, as the former Kansas Jayhawk missed his first two seasons due to injury. The next season the 18-win team drafted Duke Blue Devil Jahlil Okafor, who was fresh off of a national championship. By 2017, Okafor was wearing a different uniform.
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) December 7, 2017
The process continued, and the team’s race to the bottom was so efficient it could’ve brought home gold at Daytona. The crown jewel of the next season’s draft lottery was LSU stud Ben Simmons. The 76ers nearly lost 76 games. Philadelphia went 10-72 and was second only to its 1972-73 squad for the most losses in NBA history.
During the 2016-17 season the team would continue to bumble its way through the process, missing Simmons due to injury and again earning the first overall pick. The team used that pick to draft Markelle Fultz, and with the emergence of Embiid the process ended mercifully if not gracelessly.
Joel Embiid changed his Instagram name to reflect the new nickname he wants: The Process pic.twitter.com/gWBMvPN9SH
— shamus (@shamus_clancy) October 7, 2016
Nothing to Show
Neither Okafor, nor Fultz, nor Simmons are Sixers today, and the team has not made it past the second round since 2001. The fruits of filth filled seasons slipped through Philadelphia’s fingers like sand, and the Liberty Bell still has a large crack in its side.
Elsewhere in the World
The draft is a crapshoot, and Philadelphia isn’t the only team to lose most of its money gambling. The Charlotte Hornets have used 18 lottery picks since the then Bobcats joined the league as an expansion team in 2004. Out of those picks, only former Connecticut star Kemba Walker and current Hornets front man LaMelo Ball have been named to an All-Star team.
Reforms intent on curbing tanking have led to some shockers as well. The New Orleans Pelicans won the Zion Williamson sweepstakes in 2019 despite finishing with the seventh best odds as the first overall selection. That doesn’t mean teams aren’t going all out this year for Wembanyama.
The French Phenom
Wembanyama towers over his competition standing at 7-foot-3-inches. Playing for Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 in the French top league he did not average more than 20 minutes in the last two seasons which has translated to him not having the most astonishing statistics in his career overseas.
Here He Comes
However, in two games against G League Ignite, Wembanyama averaged 36 points, seven rebounds, two assists and four blocks in around 35 minutes per game. He also shot 50% from the field, three-point line and 71.4% from the free-throw line.
Someone of that size who can shoot off the dribble, pick-and-roll and spot up is something not seen to this extent before for someone his age.
Even more to Wembanyama’s credit, he can wreak havoc on defense. His height allows him to be a premier shot blocker as well as move quickly for someone his height to protect the perimeter. There is almost nothing he cannot do. The only speck in his game that could potentially hinder his performance is his weight. Listed at 209 pounds, for his height, he could potentially struggle when teams put bigger bodies on him.
So, with the race for Wembanyama on and the rule changes to negate tanking, some wonder what moves teams make during the course of the season; especially with every team knowing a potential generational talent is looming on deck for next year’s draft.