The NBA Draft won’t take place until June 21, but Las Vegas oddsmakers say the lottery is already impacting the league.
Now past the midway point of the NBA season, numerous teams are facing the reality that the postseason is out of reach. At the All-Star break, seven teams were at least 20 games below .500.
With an NBA Draft class that is expected to be one of the strongest in recent history, oddsmakers are concerned that teams will purposely “tank” to improve their lottery positions.
ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose believes there’s as many as five “franchise-changing players” up for grabs, meaning team owners outside the top 16 won’t be disappointed to see their teams struggle in the final months of the season. Westgate SuperBook handicapper Jeff Sherman explained this week, “We see it every year. It’s part of being informed of what’s going on.”
Oddsmakers don’t believe players purposely play poorly, but instead coaches and team officials insert weaker lineups.
“I don’t believe for a second that the players are not giving full effort,” professional bettor Ron Boyles opined. “But if the coach plays players at the end of games that aren’t their best, then that clearly tells you those teams aren’t trying to win.”
Tanking makes handicapping NBA games difficult. From the outright moneyline, to spreads and total points, oddsmakers must consider the chances of teams not putting their best foot forward in setting their books.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, the most outspoken owner in the NBA, was fined $600,000 this week for saying his team should tank the remainder of the season. The 18-40 Mavs essentially have zero chance of reaching the postseason, prompting the billionaire to opine, “I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and I was like, ‘Look, losing is our best option.'”
As for the fine, Cuban told the Associated Press, “I earned it. Said something I shouldn’t have.”
The on-court face of the Mavericks for two decades, star Dirk Nowitzki said he would “never stand for losing on purpose. That’s not who I am.”
On May 15, the 14 teams that do not make the playoffs will be entered into a lottery to determine the draft order. The team with the worst regular season record has the best odds (25 percent) of receiving the #1 pick. The second-worst record has a 19.9 percent chance of securing the first selection, and the third-worst team has a 15.6 percent chance.
That will change next year after the NBA Board of Governors announced a tweak to the lottery system in order to curb tanking. For the 2019 NBA Draft, the three worst teams will all have a 14 percent chance of grabbing the top spot.
“There was a perception in many of our communities that the best path to rebuilding their teams was to race to the bottom,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last fall. “It became currency in this league.”