NBA Draft class of 2014 so good that losing to become fashionable
There is barely a middle class in the NBA any more, at least not for the 2013-14 season. And there’s a good reason.
The 2014 draft class is packed to the rafters with players who are expected to make a major impact on the league. With the worst teams in the league getting higher draft spots, any team not challenging for the title is looking to be as bad as possible in the hope of landing a star.
According to ESPN expert Chad Ford, there are at least eight players in next year’s draft with All-Star potential, and that is before most of the international prospects are factored in – and there are many, with Dario Saric being the headliner – as well as late bloomers in the NCAA.
The 2013/14 season will be split into two halves: those trying to knock off the Miami Heat, and the other trying to grab the best chance in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.
Wiggins is a Canadian prospect and is widely considered to be the best prospect since Kevin Durant, Greg Oden and LeBron James.
While many are already calling it the 'Wiggins draft', there are star names behind him like Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Andrew Harrison, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Dante Exum, who all have ample All-Star potential.
With those names in mind, teams like the Utah Jazz that are in the league’s middle class – too good for a good position in the draft, but not good enough to challenge for a title – have handed over their teams to young players and ageing veterans in the hope of being as poor as possible.
The Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Charlotte Bobcats, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics are all set to put in seasons so bad that there will be good college teams that could probably give them a good game (saying that, Kentucky are set to have an all-time great team this year and a record-smashing seven players on their roster are projected to go in the first round of the draft).
Next season has been dubbed by some as Tank-apalooza, such is the amount of teams actively trying to be as poor as they can be. The battle for the bottom seeds in the conferences will be almost as closely watched as the top seeds.
While tanking as a tactic is used quite often, it does bring the game into disrepute. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavs and San Antonio, to name a few, have all benefitted from spending a year or two being exceptionally bad and enjoying the fruits at the top end of the draft.
The only team that can claim to have gone from middle-class to contenders are the Houston Rockets, but their tactic of hoarding young talent and finding a trade partner is a risky one.
The contenders will ensure that the 2013-14 playoffs will be as breathtaking as ever. The Indiana Pacers have improved, the Rockets and the Clippers are outside favourites while the Brooklyn Nets are in win-now mode.
But the regular season stands to be strewn with poor teams purposely playing very bad basketball. Best thing to do is shut your eyes and wait for April.
Signings reveal strategy trends
If you ever need an easy guide to the way things are going in the NBA, just follow the money. The sort of players getting big money and the sort of players getting short contracts will always give you an idea of how decision-makers and general managers prioritise.
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement coming into effect after being signed two years ago, teams are tightening their belts. And with the new stats movements and player models, certain types of players are being phased out and in.
The starkest example is wing players. The likes of JJ Reddick and Martell Webster would previously have collected perhaps $4million (Dh14.6m) a year, at the most. Players like them are known as “3-and- D” players, i.e. wing players that can be deadly from 3-point land and can defend.
The two have just signed for nearly double their expected wages while inefficient gunners who can’t defend – like Monta Ellis – are now taking serious pay cuts.
Another interesting sign is offensively challenged big men like Larry Sanders and Tiago Splitter are no longer specialists, but starters who get paid up to and above the eight-figure mark.
The league isn’t just tightening its belt, it is moving away from the shoot-first, one-on-one game of the 2000s. The money shows it’s about rim protection, 3s and defence.