Dan Favale | Sat 24/03/2018 - 09:28 EDT

Beware The Fake Tank: Bad NBA Teams Unlikely to Win Draft-Lottery Sweepstakes

Beware The Fake Tank: Bad NBA Teams Unlikely to Win Draft-Lottery Sweepstakes
Tanking seems easy enough in the NBA. After all, how hard could it be to lose games on purpose? Well, this season specifically, it turns out very. With the draft lottery rules set to change in 2019, nearly one-third of the lead is tanking its heart. That means some squads will be left out in the cold as they jockey for the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick, particularly the ones who aren't tanking but are instead naturally bad on a smaller scale. As you consider placing prop bets on draft-lottery odds, here are four facades to steer clear from.

All lottery odds come via BetDSI and are accurate as of Friday March 23. Remember to recheck these lines before placing a wager, as they will shift based on which NBA teams do a better job of racking up losses prior to the end of the regular season.

Brooklyn Nets/Cleveland Cavaliers (+1200)


The Cleveland Cavaliers won’t be happy to see the Brooklyn Nets here. They control the rights to Brooklyn’s first-round pick, which they received as compensation in last summer’s Kyrie Irving trade. And while many assumed said selection would fall into the top three, it’s not on course to do so.

No, the Nets aren’t close to contending for a playoff berth. They’re also fewer than two games back of a bottom-three record. But, as of right now, they’d enter the draft lottery with the sixth-best odds. That’s still stellar compensation, yet it’s noticeably higher than the Cavaliers would prefer.

Worst of all for Cleveland, it cannot expect the Nets’ lottery odds to improve by all that much. They’ll play out a league-average schedule the rest of the way, and while they probably won’t post a winning record during that time, they won’t be trying to lose games either.

I mean, why would they? They have no incentive to continue bottoming out. You need your own first-round pick for that to be a worthwhile venture. So as they find themselves going up against actual tankers or playoff squads who are resting key players, they should start to see their win totals increase.

Prepare yourself to see the Nets potentially fall to eighth or ninth in the lottery order.

Dallas Mavericks (+550)


It doesn’t seem like the Mavericks should be here on the surface. They own one of the league’s five worst records, and despite owner Mark Cuban’s stance on tanking in the past, they have willingly steered into what could be a sub-25-win season.

Head coach Rick Carlisle, a tactical genius who loves to win, is even in on this jig. Yes, he is still giving minutes to veteran Dirk Nowitzki—who, by the way, is posting a career-high effective field-goal percentage at age 39 and in his 20th season—Harrison Barnes. He also continues to ride a dual-point guard pairing in the backcourt, with J.J. Barea and Yogi Ferrell, that has been statistically dominant. That doesn’t scream tanking. But he’s also cobbling together different rotations by the game and giving rookie Dennis Smith Jr. complete ownership of the offense.

Both approaches are solid, if great, tanking measures. Giving Smith the keys to the offense specifically is huge. Rookies make mistakes, and he’s had problems finding his jumper and finishing at the rim.

Yet, at the same time, the Mavericks have arguably underachieved. Looking at their point differential per 100 possessions, they’re statistically expected to have won eight more games than they actually have. That makes them the unluckiest—or, for this conversation, the luckiest—team in the NBA.

Maybe this trend continues for the rest of the year. But maybe it doesn’t. The Mavericks defend like a league-average team on most nights, they have one of the five easiest schedules remaining for the year and, most critically, the numbers say they should be much better than their record.

Just as they could fall deep enough to secure top-three lottery odds, they’re equally, if not more, likely to win their way outside the top seven. They only have two fewer victories than the Chicago Bulls, who currently sit in the No. 8 spot. 

New York Knicks (+2500)


No team on this list holds less appeal than the New York Knicks.

Sure, they’re tanking their hearts out now. And yes, only four losses separate them from a bottom-five record. But it’s not enough.

The Knicks are one of the teams who began tanking too late—way too late, for that matter. They fancied themselves a playoff contend for much of the year, in large part because they got off to an unsustainable start, during which time they posted the NBA’s best net rating in crunch time through Dec. 15.

Only when Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury did head coach Jeff Hornacek begin to favor the youth. And even then, it took him a little while to really bust up the rotation.

It helps that the Knicks’ remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of 50. They’re 11-33 against teams with a .500 record or better. They will lose a majority of their games to close out the year. 

But that doesn’t mean too much when so much of the league is doing the same thing. Though they could realistically catch up to the Mavericks, who have the fifth-worst record, they’ll need Dallas and a few other teams to run off a winning streak. That type of dependence is hardly foolproof when trafficking in teams that aren’t trying to win. 

To be frank, in fact, the Knicks will be lucky to out-tank the Bulls and end up with top-eight odds. They’re far away enough from the Los Angeles Lakers—who don’t control their own first-round pick—that they don’t have to worry about sliding out of ninth place, but their chances of moving up are almost moot.

Sacramento Kings (+950)


Consider the Sacramento Kings the inverse of the Mavericks: They’ve been better than the numbers suggest.

Currently, given the Kings’ point differential per 100 possessions, they’re expected to win between 18 or 19 games. Instead, they’re on pace to win about 27—an eight-victory swing that gives them the highest projected-to-actual variance in the league.

Contrary to the Mavericks, this surprising trend probably isn’t going to reverse itself. The Kings don’t play out a particularly hard schedule the rest of the way, and head coach Dave Joerger’s mishmash rotations are not translating to a bunch of blowouts.

Recently, the Kings’ youth movement has had the exact opposite effect. Rookie De’Aaron Fox is still struggling with his jumper, but he’s hit a bunch of big shots throughout the course of the year. He’s shooting around 45 percent in crunch time on fairly high usage, with a respectable defensive rebounding percentage to boot. That’s pretty ridiculous for a rookie.

One player won’t make all the difference. But Bogdan Bogdanovic, another rookie, has verged on sensational at the offensive end when he’s healthy. Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere are good for the occasional detonation as well. Even Justin Jackson, yet another rookie, is flashing more bright spots at the offensive end these days.

Plus, on top of that, Joerger hasn’t completely ditched the veterans. Guys like Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos, Garrett Temple and Vince Carter are all seeing less playing time, but they’re not buried on the bench. Someone like Randolph, who is an outdated talent in the frontcourt, arguably helps the tank, but this experience can prove valuable down the stretch of close games—and therefore disingenuous to the tank.

To wit: The Kings actually have a winning record when playing clutch-time basketball—defined as possessions that take place in the final five minutes of games during which neither team trails or leads by more than five points. They’re 18-16 in these situations, with a top-10 point differential per 100 possessions.

Unless Joerger gets to the point where he actually starts throwing games away, the Kings won’t lose enough to snag a top-three lottery spot. They’re in seventh place right now and have only two less wins than the ninth-ranked Knicks. Look for them to rise in the standings—and thus fall in the lottery order—for they improve their chances of landing a top-three selection in this year’s prospect pageant.

*All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference, FiveThirtyEight or NBA.com and are accurate leading into games being played on Saturday, March 24. 

Category : Sports Betting News

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