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Tanking For Draft Position Is A Terrible Idea (Even In The NBA)

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There's an old adage I'm fond of; for every complex problem, there is a solution simple, neat and wrong. There's been quiet talk of the (draft) benefits of losing. Ken Meringolo has been preaching blood and thunder at Hogs Haven about rooting for losses while Eric Bickel takes a more measured approach to the subject.

Now you could (and should) point out quite rightly that the NBA is not the NFL. Bickel concedes the far greater impact individual players can have in basketball. But that's also why the NBA instituted the draft lottery, to mitigate the effects of tanking. So when Cedric Jackson hits a last second three pointer to send us from third in the lottery down to fifth in the final game of regular season play, the Wizards can still end up with John Wall.

Bickel also makes an excellent point when he says selecting higher is certainly preferential to picking lower, but no guarantee of success. This is again less true in the NBA, but don't tell that to the Atlanta Hawks, who drafted Marvin Williams #2 after Andrew Bogut, yet before Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Danny Ainge's draft and trade machinations should remind everyone that once your franchise guy is in place, a great GM can make it rain. I'll leave it to you in the comments to argue about whether or not EG is that guy. I believe he's making a case for it, but the day's not over, as they say.

It's Bickel's 8th NFL Myth that concerns me most:

8 - There is no such thing as learning how to win.

Ask any coach if a player or a team needs to learn how to win. My guess is 100% of them will tell you it’s mandatory. Wins just don’t fall into your lap. You don’t just load your team with talent and the championships will come. How did that work for the Philadelphia Eagles this year? How many times did the Redskins win the off-season Super Bowl only to have the team implode because the pieces didn’t fit and the team didn’t know how to win? Only 1 team in recent history has had a miraculous one season turnaround and that was the St. Louis Rams in 1999. They hadn’t won more than 7 games in 9 years. And it wasn’t a high draft pick that turned them around. It was an undrafted free agent grocery bagger named Kurt Warner that did it.

Again, you could argue that learning to win as a team is more an NFL thing, the complexity of the fiendishly complex coaching schemes involved (especially from team-to-team) prevents those expensively talented players from meshing as a unit, especially coming from different backgrounds. But I'm going back to an earlier argument: where NBA players have a far greater immediate impact when they're on the floor, when we talked about how draft picks are more impactful on the franchise as a whole, because that's absolutely true. When those young guys are playing, they're learning. Those talented players are on the floor at least 80% of the time and what they learn to do in the NBA they continue to do in the NBA. What happens when they learn to lose?

It's hard not to eye draft lottery odds when our respective team is eliminated from playoff contention and in the back corner of our minds we become secretly ok with losing. But screw the draft order. I want our team to win any way it can, barring injury. As Ken said, there are no good losses, no moral victories. You could also say no moral victories is an NFL thing. We want to see Wizards rookies get more burn, but even moreso in the NBA than the NFL, what Matt Terl said rings true:

Seems to me that when a guy has proven that his upside outweighs his liability, he plays. That simple.

But with more games, and therefore more games that have to be played past the point of playoff or draft relevance, don't the rest become meaningless in terms of winning and losing? Maybe, but there's more to contend with than just playoff and draft relevance. A team has to believe in itself, has to know it can win, and if that is more by player in the NBA, that's fine. They still have trust the guys around them to help them achieve those wins, or you end up with a sulking Lebron, an indignant Dwight. Those guys can't do it all, but when the clutch hits they haven't learned how to win. John Wall and the Wizards are going to the playoffs, and whatever the team looks like, I want our guys to be channeling a mix of Nike and Charlie Sheen; Winning Never Stops.

If nothing else I've said makes an impact, this question should: is there a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose? The truth of that answer should be all the argument you need.