With every unbelievable Zion Williamson display of athleticism, Knicks fans turn giddier about the prospect of losing every game possible.
But tanking enthusiasts beware: the rules have changed. It’s no longer so rewarding to lose.
Faced with widespread tanking masked as ‘rebuilding’ and ‘player development,’ the league tweaked the draft lottery starting with its 2019 edition.
In July, the team with the worst overall record had a 25 percent chance to win the lottery. Next year, it’ll only be 14 percent. In fact, the bottom three teams will all have the same odds of winning.
Here are the new odds for the lottery teams:
Team 1: 14% chance to get the first overall pick; Team 2: 14%; Team 3: 14 %; Team 4: 12.5%; Team 5: 10.5%; Team 6: 9%; Team 7: 7.5%; Team 8: 6%; Team 9: 4.5%; Team 10: 3%; Team 11: 2%; Team 12: 1.5%; Team 13: 1%; Team 14: 0.5%.
Obviously, it’s advantageous to finish in the bottom 3, but the difference between the worst record in the league and the sixth-worst is only 5 percent. That’s a significant change from the 19 percent difference in the old system, and it’s similarly closer down the line. The Knicks, as constituted without Kristaps Porzingis, are near the league’s bottom in talent. And with the way David Fizdale keeps trotting out the youngest lineups in franchise history, this season figures to end with at least 50 losses for the fifth straight time.
It’s way too early for predicting the lottery standings, but we’re going to indulge anyway, since it appears that’s what’ll consume the second half of New York’s season. Going into Friday’s games, the Knicks, at 4-11, owned the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
Under them was a team with no hope – Cleveland (2-12) – and two very young squads – Atlanta (3-12) and Phoenix (3-11). Of that group, the Suns have the most potential but perpetually stink. Just above New York are the Bulls (4-11), who will finish near the bottom. The Nets (6-9) are also likely to plummet for as long as Caris LeVert is out with a dislocated ankle.
But the point of the new lottery system is that neither the Knicks nor their fans should get wrapped up in the race. If they finish with the fourth-worst record, they still have a better chance of picking first than fourth.
The stakes may seem higher this season because of Williamson, a unique athlete from Duke, but the end-of-season push to the worst is no longer necessary.
“Lottery reform was important because 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. "I don't necessarily agree that that's the optimal strategy to create a great team, but it became currency in this league. So much so that there were situations in many of our team communities where the team felt under pressure to engage in that strategy, even when they didn't think that was the best strategy to build their team.
“To trade away otherwise very serviceable players and embark on a strategy that requires them to, in essence, field poor teams, which they believed would give them the best chance to improve over the long term. I felt it was corrosive to this league."
This won’t stop the Knicks from trading away ‘serviceable’ players like Courtney Lee or Enes Kanter. The Knicks, Cavs, Hawks, Bulls and Suns won’t use their optimal lineups because they want to ‘develop’ their younger players.
The Knicks, for instance, already benched Kanter and aren’t in a rush to bring back Lee from a neck strain. On Friday, they sent out a lineup with three rookies against the Pelicans, riding a three-game losing streak without holding a lead for 10 straight quarters.
But tanking has taken on a new meaning under the new rules. It’s no longer necessary to take every loss as a victory.