Posts tagged tanking
The Bulls find themselves mired in a close tank race for the top picks in the draft
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Hello Bulls fans,

It’s become abundantly clear these last few weeks of the season what the set plan was for the franchise. Fred Hoiberg has been instructed to play the younger guys more than vets to see what they can offer the team in the future. Winning hasn’t been the idea because the better players including the big 3 of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Zach LaVine have been held out for “minor” injuries. I’m sure there is a percentage of this that is factual, but I believe the prize in mind is a higher lottery pick for the franchise to jumpstart the rebuild this offseason.

We have yet to see what Zach LaVine will be because he is still coming back into form from his 2017 ACL injury. It is typically the second year that the player fully recovers from the injury and get their confidence back. He is only 23 years old so there is a lot more that can be added to his game. Zach LaVine still looks like he isn’t being acclimated into the offense. There were a lot of moments when he looks like he’s forcing shots up and not getting open looks. I believe once he gets a full offseason in this offense, which is must different than what the Minnesota Timberwolves run he will be okay.

I mention Zach LaVine just to say that he is an important piece to this rebuild, and him playing not as well as expected isn’t that bad of a thing. He needed to knock that rust off in order to fully come back from the ACL injury. It was a bonus benefit that they are failing to win games

The Chicago Bulls have lost six straight games and are sitting at 8th overall in the pick selection, and can possibly move up to the 5th or 6th overall selection before it’s all said and done. If Chicago can do that and get some lottery luck, they will have a chance to pick Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr, Luka Doncic, or Mohamed Bamba.

The Nets draft pick belongs to the Cavaliers via the Celtics trade with Kyrie Irving, so Brooklyn doesn’t have any motive to try and purposely tank and lose out. Dallas' win over the Kings gives the Bulls a very strong chance at least finishing with a tie for the 4th seed if they can lose their remaining eight games, although it's highly unlikely they go on a 14-game losing streak to finish the season.

If they are as serious about tanking as the player personnel that is deployed every night shows, then I have no doubt they can get in the top 5. Also, keep in mind that the Bulls own the New Orleans Pelicans first round pick as well. This should be a very interesting close to the season.

The tank wars are on in the NHL

There are two weeks left in the season and we have a good ole fashioned race to the bottom of the league standings. There are 5 teams within 5 points of each other engaging in a loser-takes-all battle for the top spot in the lottery. Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus top prospect as a game changing defenseman the draft hasn’t had for years.

(Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Some may argue that tanking isn’t very effective given how the lottery can be cruel to the worst teams. Just last season, the top 3 spots went to teams outside the bottom 3 in the standings. The Devils won from the 5 spot, Flyers went to 2nd from the 13 spot and the Stars went to 3rd from 8. However, it is important to note that while tanking might not guarantee top spot in the 1st round, it does guarantee a higher position in the next rounds of the draft. While that distinction isn’t too large, it is still worth it for teams to gun for the bottom if they don’t have strong playoff chances. That being said let’s take a look at this year’s basement dwellers:

The Buffalo Sabres currently hold the worst record in the league. With 24 wins and 60 points in 76 games, their intentions are clear. Power forward Evander Kane was dealt at the deadline for futures which also helped the tank crusade. Jack Eichel is still playing at a high level along with Sam Reinhart and Ryan O’Reilly who also have 20 goal seasons. Rasmus Ristolainen took a step back offensively but is still a solid young defenseman. The issue is he seems to be their one young defenseman with potential, this makes their pursuit of Dahlin even more necessary.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks each have 63 points in 76 games. Currently, the Coyotes “win” the tiebreaker by having fewer regulation/overtime wins than the Canucks so they are in the 2nd spot for the lottery. The Coyotes are still rebuilding and several years into this new regime, they still don’t seem to be making much progress. Rookie forward Clayton Keller is a huge bright spot with 60 points in his first season poised to be a leader for this franchise for years to come. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a great defenseman in this league and is still only 26 years old. Now that they have a future leader in Keller, they should try to trade OEL at the height of his value and strengthen the rebuild. This move would be even better if they can get Dahlin in the draft to refresh that defense core with an elite prospect.

The Canucks meanwhile have a different story. They have refused to state that they are rebuilding with multiple questionable trades and signings that try to push the team from the league basement to the sunken place just outside the playoffs. Rookie Brock Boeser looks like another elite goal scorer for the league who has proven to be a star for the team. They have some solid young forwards in the pipeline but their defense core is abysmal. 2016 draft pick Olli Juolevi has been progressing steadily since the draft but still hasn’t made a jump to bea player with top pairing potential. Historically, the Canucks haven’t had many great, revered defensemen but Rasmus Dahlin could be that guy for a Canucks franchise that desperately needs him.

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Senators are the most surprising team in this bottom 5. They lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals last season. This year they find themselves on the opposite side of the league. Superstar Erik Karlsson had a rough start to the year and Mark Stone leads the team in points despite only playing 58 games. This team spiralled out of control this year and there were even rumours of the Senators trading Karlsson. Their prospects cupboard is fairly barrenwhich means this could signal the start of a full rebuild if Karlsson gets traded. This has truly been a disastrous season for Ottawa.

The Detroit Red Wings have the 5th worst record in the league with 65 points on the year in 76 games. The franchise’s streak of 25 straight years with playoff appearances ended last season. This year has proven to be another difficult one signalling the time for the Red Wings to rebuild. Young forwards Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha have shown signs of becoming quality players. The trade of Tomas Tatar has added to Detroit’s picks collection. If there’s one team to trust with scouting and development, it’s the Red Wings. But they certainly will have their work cut out for them.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The tank wars are even more interesting when you look at the remaining games because these 5 teams come from 2 divisions. Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit each have a game against each other while the Canucks and Coyotes play each other again this season. Needless to say, those games will be looked back on as crucial to the outcome of the draft lottery and determine the fate of these teams.

Tanking and rebuilding: the good, the bad and the ugly

As we’re beginning the final third of the season, it’s time for us to get excited about the playoff push. Apparently, it’s also time for us to get excited about the lottery push.

There are approximately seven teams in the league - the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks, the Orlando Magic, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Sacramento Kings, and the Phoenix Suns - racing to the bottom of the league. Or, in other words, tanking.

Yes, we know that’s a bad word - Mark Cuban just got fined $600,000 for admitting to tanking on Dr. J’s podcast. But if done right, it’s the most effective way to rebuild a team. So, let’s take a look at some of the tanking stories - both good and bad - from the last few seasons.

THE GOOD

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

The Boston Celtics - The Celtics are probably the best tanking/rebuilding story in the last five years. They began their rebuild in June 2013 when they traded the last of the Big 3 - Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett - to the Brooklyn Nets for their 2014, 2016 and 2018 first-round picks with the rights to swap their 2017 first round picks.

It has turned out to be one of the biggest swindles in NBA history, leaving the Nets in purgatory for years.

The thing about the Celtics tank is they only had one really bad year. They went 25-57 in the 2013-2014 season and have made the playoffs every year since.

That feat becomes even more surprising when you realize they haven’t drafted a generational talent until this year when they took Rookie of the Year candidate Jayson Tatum.

In 2014 they used their first pick on Marcus Smart, who has turned out to be a glue guy who plays defense and does a little bit of everything on offense.

In 2015, they drafted Terry Rozier who, despite what Danny Ainge may think, will be a good starting point guard but is unlikely to become an all-star in this league.

2016? They drafted Jalen Brown who struggled his first year and created questions for Ainge on why he took the Cal product with the third overall pick. Brown to his credit has turned into a near All-Star this season averaging 14 ppg/5 rpg on a top three team in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics successful tanking story is not about the players though - it’s about the coach, Brad Stevens.

When a team announces they’re rebuilding most fans scream about the impending tank. “We gotta lose as much games to get a top-5 pick,” they say. But all those great players mean nothing if you don't have the right coach or the right culture in that organization.

When you’re developing young guys you need someone you can do two things - manage those personalities and teach them how to play the game.

Brad Stevens, doing both, has taken taken a team with 11 players 25-years old or younger and turned them into the best defensive team in the NBA and taken them to a 41-19 record in the East.

If you don’t have the right culture or the right coach, you end up like our next team.

THE BAD

Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The New York Knicks - For most of the last decade, the Knicks have been one of those teams that’s shown they have no idea what they’re doing.

Then they finally did something right - drafting Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

A few months into Kristaps’ first season, the Knicks were in the playoff hunt and, while playing second fiddle to Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps was looking like a future franchise player.

Then everything went horribly. Derek Fisher got fired, Kurt Rambis took over and the Knicks finished in the lottery despite not having a pick in 2016.

Things only got worse the next year as then-President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson constantly attacked Melo in the media and threatened to trade Porzingis. Jackson was eventually fired and the Knicks traded Melo before the start of this season.

After the 2016-2017 season the Knicks had one more chance to draft another building block for the future. Unfortunately, they took Frank Ntilikina with the 8th overall pick.

Look, I’m not saying Frank won’t be a good player. He’s 19 and already one of the top ten defensive point guards in the league.

Unfortunately, what you needed is a future star and I’m not convinced Frank is going to be that. As this season progressed, there were times Head Coach Jeff Hornacek was sitting Frank in favor of journeyman point guard Jarrett Jack.

Speaking of the head coach, there have been rumblings around the league Jeff Hornacek won’t be back next season. I know here in New York, Knicks fans haven’t been pleased with his work.

Unlike the Celtics, who began their rebuild with one coach, the Knicks have gone through Fisher, Rambis and Hornacek. None of whom really inspire confidence.

But don’t worry Knicks fans, this summer could be the chance to get this rebuild back on track. The Knick are currently 24-36 and, according to Tankathon, currently have a 2.8 percent chance to get the No. 1 overall pick in arguably the best draft since 2003.

Also, if the Knicks choose to go another direction at head coach, they could bring in a young, intelligent basketball mind to teach this team to play the right way.

Finally, they traded for a 22-year old Emmanuel Mudiay at the trade deadline and Mudiay, a former top ten overall pick in 2015, could find rejuvenation with a new opportunity.

A star rookie, a motivated Mudiay, a new coach, and a hungry Kristaps Porzingis looking to rebound off a torn ACL, could turn a bad rebuilding situation into a success story.

THE UGLY

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic - Does anyone, ANYONE, know what the Orlando Magic are doing? The Magic have been bad for the last five seasons winning more than 30 games only once.

So, if they’ve been terrible for five seasons you’d think they’d have at least one home grown superstar right? Wrong.

They drafted Victor Oladipo in 2013 but he’s having an all star season for the 34-25 Indiana Pacers.

They drafted Aaron Gordon in 2014 but they played him out of position as a small forward for the first three years of his career. This season he finally played the four and averaged 18 ppg/8 rpg. However, he’s been in trade rumors and he’s a restricted free agent this summer.

That same year they traded for Elfrid Payton on draft night but they’ve since traded him to the Phoenix Suns.

They drafted Mario Hezonja in 2015 but he was in the dog house with the organization for the first two years career watching his playing time dwindle as he struggled to learn the NBA game. This is the first year he’s seeing more playing time and hopefully the promise that made him the No. 6 overall pick translated to results.

They drafted Domantas Sabonis in the 2016 draft but traded him to the Thunder in a trade that included Oladipo. Sabonis, averaging 12 ppg and 8 rpg, now plays with Oladipo on that playoff-bound Pacers team.

In 2017 they drafted Jonathan Isaac who has played only 15 games hits year due to an ankle injury. The Magic expect him to be really good but they’ll have to wait until he gets healthy to get a better evaluation.

Look, I’m sorry I made you read all that but I needed you to understand just how ridiculous their “rebuild” has been. This season they’re headed for another lottery pick with a record of 18-40.

The Magic are the reason why not everyone likes, or should engage in, tanking. It’s one thing to lose on purpose while your team is building a culture and teaching your young players how to play NBA basketball. It’s another thing to be garbage every year and stay garbage every year.

At least the Magic got the coach right? Possibly? Frank Vogel has been to an Eastern Conference championship before so maybe, with the right pieces, he can lead the Magic, to playoff success.

But if the last five years are any indication, they’ll mess this up again and continue their streak of losing.

The Bulls aren’t tanking - and that may not be a bad thing
(Winslow Townson/AP)

(Winslow Townson/AP)

Let’s face it... the Chicago Bulls are too good. Yes I’m aware that’s a weird thing to read but it’s true. Despite the Bulls’ 13-24 record, they’ve won 10 of their last 14 games and have one of the best records in the NBA since Dec. 8.

Our hopes of #SecuringtheBagley or #LosingforLuka have gone down the drain. The Bulls will likely pick between 7 and 14.

But don’t worry Bulls fans - there are a few reasons this may not be a bad thing.

 

Draft Picks

Look, it’s no secret a top 5 pick helps you win an NBA championship. The best player on 11 of the last 15 NBA champions was taken within the first five picks of their respective drafts.

The other four? Steph Curry, the best player for the 2015 Warriors, landed at No. 7 in the 2009 NBA draft. Dirk Nowitzki, the best player on the 2011 Mavericks, was taken with the No. 9 pick in 1998. Kobe Bryant, the best player on the 2009 and 2010 Lakers, went 13th overall to Charlotte in 1996.

See, it’s possible to get a franchise changing player outside of the top 5.

According to a 2018 NBA mock draft by Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman, he projects the Bulls to take Texas' Mohamed Bamba with the No. 6 pick. At 6’11 - with an 8' wingspan!!! -  225 pounds, the 19-year-old from Harlem is averaging 11.7 PPG, 10.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks a game in his freshman season.

The latest projection from NBADraft.net has Chicago drafting another emerging freshman in Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. with the No. 7 pick. Jackson is averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 board and 3.3 blocks per game. He’s also shooting 37 percent from the three-point line while averaging just under three attempts per game.

Both players are long, athletic big men who could fit nicely next to Lauri Markkanen. They're currently the seventh-worst team in the league. But if they keep winning, Bulls fans would be wise to turn their attention to prospects further down mock draft boards.

One of them is Miami freshman guard Lonnie Walker, a 6'4" athletic wing with a 6’101/2” wingspan who could fit right into the uptempo, pace-and-space style head coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play, averaging 8.5 PPG in just 21 minutes a game.

(credit: ACC Digital Network)

In this video, you’ll see some highlights of Walker’s ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket and some of his three-point range.

According to ESPN Insider Jonathan Givony, Walker is projected to be selected with the 15th pick.

The steal of the draft could be Villanova junior forward Mikal Bridges.

Bridges is playing like an All-American for the No. 1 ranked Villanova Wildcats. He’s averaging 17.8 PPG on 52 percent shooting from the field and 45 percent shooting from the three-point line. But it’s his play on the other side of the ball that makes Bridges one of the most complete players in this draft.

Bridges is a 6’7” wing with a 7’11/2” wingspan and he puts all that length to good use. He’s averaging 2 steals per game and 1.5 blocks per game.

Imagine a defensive lineup with Dunn, Nwaba and Bridges - each with the ability to guard multiple positions and give ball handlers problems.

Fortunately for the Bulls, Bridges is 21-years old and will be 22 when the NBA draft comes around in June. His age could turn away some teams who may be looking for a young star - leaving a rebuilding Chicago Bulls with the chance to select a hidden gem in this year's draft.

 

Player Development 

 

The thing about winning in a tanking season is the wins usually mean your young players are developing faster than you expected. The Bulls are no different.

Fans are understandably excited about the growth of Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, two of the three pieces in the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players’ performance this season – and the hope budding star Zach LaVine will return to his star form from prior to his ACL tear - have some already naming the Bulls winners of the draft day trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Markkanen is averaging close to 15 PPG and has proven to be a willing rebounder, averaging just over 7 boards on the season.

The Finland native is also showing he is a capable defender, something no one could have predicted when he came out of Arizona. Check out the defense here on New York Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis. (Credit: @_MarcusD2_/NBC Sports Chicago)

Dunn is in the running for the Most Improved Player award. He’s up nine points per game, to 13.2 ppg this year from 3.8 ppg from his rookie season with the Timberwolves.

His shooting has gotten slightly better with increased playing time. According to CleaningTheGlass.com, Dunn is shooting 55 percent at the rim, 40 percent from mid-range and 32 percent from three.

Last year he shot, 50 percent at the rim, 36 percent from midrange and 28 percent from three.

His 2017-2018 shooting numbers show his offensive game still needs work but with more time those numbers could continue to rise.

Dunn has more than doubled his assist numbers as well, averaging six per game as opposed to the 2.4 last season.

Dunn and Markkanen aren’t the only one’s getting better. Young role players like Denzel Valentine and David Nwaba have also improved.

Nwaba can’t really shoot the ball but he’s shown the ability to attack on the catch and push the ball on fast breaks. (Credit/Chicago Bulls Twitter)

In addition, the Bulls get exponentially better with him on defense as opposing teams have a 105.6 offensive rating when he’s on the floor and a 111.4 offensive rating when he’s on the bench.

As for Valentine, for a while he seemed to be nothing more than a floor spacer. However he’s taken major steps forward in his game this season.

Last year, according to NBA.com, 79 percent of Valentine’s threes were assisted. This year, that number is down to 61 percent, meaning he’s taking more pull-up threes.

In addition, Valentine is taking more shots inside the arc, averaging 26.1 percent of his points in the paint (as opposed to 13.7 in 2016-2017) and 12.8 percent of his points on midrange jumpshots (as opposed to 6.2 in 2016-2017).

Even Bobby Portis, who struggled to maintain any consistency last season, has been a positive for the Bulls, averaging nearly 13 PPG on 53 percent shooting and 39 percent from the three-point line over the last 14 games.

 

Free Agency

 

There’s a certain sense of pride when your “own guys” help you win a championship. But the draft isn’t the only way to get good players. The Houston Rockets are 26-9 and the only draft pick in their starting lineup is Clint Capela.

The Bulls have loads of cap space and some good players will test their luck in free agency in the next two years. And since they have been winning recently without any all-star talent, they are now a more attractive destination than if they were 5-31 and playing an atrocious brand of basketball.

The 2018 Free Agency class includes names such as Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, LeBron James DeMarcus Cousins and Paul George.

In 2019, the list gets even more interesting with players like restricted free agents Devin Booker and Karl Anthony Towns, and Kyrie Irving.

You read those names and think they are unrealistic for the Bulls. To be fair, their biggest free agent signing in the last 15 years is a 34-year old Pau Gasol.

(Editors note: I find it baffling he disregarded Bulls legend Eddie Robinson like that.)

However, this Bulls team feels different. They are a young team that’s playing basketball the right way with pace, three point shooting and intense defense.

Maybe it’s not so unthinkable that a major star would want to lead a team that seems to be headed in the right direction.