Writer: Caleb Akpan
When the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls met at American Airlines Center Friday night, they were two of the hottest teams in the league. Not at all the expected scenario going into the season, or even just a few weeks ago. Both teams were expected to be two of the worst in the NBA this season until Chicago went on a seven-game win streak in December and the Mavericks won four straight games to close 2017. While both teams’ records were still lackluster, they both seemed done sticking at the bottom of the league, turning into competitive teams out of the blue and keeping up with some of the league’s best, Chicago losing to Cleveland by just four and the Mavericks losing to the Warriors on a Steph Curry game winner in their recent stretches. Most analysts have applauded the two teams for stepping up their game as of late, but some fans have complained that the recent winning is ruining their favorite team’s tank and a chance at top college players like Trae Young and Marvin Bagley. The question is, would a tank and purposefully losing games really be helpful when both teams are already experiencing some success?
The first argument made by most “pro-tank” fans is that the strategy has worked out for a franchise like the Philadelphia 76ers. Philly had their fans “trust the process” for a long stretch as they put together some of the worst rosters in NBA history and drafted mostly injured players. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid finally healthy and looking like great players, the 76ers’ strategy seems to have worked out, but they also seem to have a long way to go before they truly achieve success. At 19-19, they are just barely squeezing into the 8th seed in the East and this would be their sixth consecutive season missing the playoffs if they are unable to hold on. If tanking takes so long to yield positive results, teams should just try and be as competitive as possible. Creating a winning culture and the right mentality in a locker room can go a long way, possibly even as long as losing a lot and drafting high.
Speaking of drafting high, if the draft lottery happened today, Dallas and Chicago would have the 6th and 7th highest chances at the number one pick, respectively. Not bad places to find young talent, but usually not the spots where you’ll find immediate help or once-in-a-generation kind of talent. Those picks usually fall into the top three, emphasis on usually. There’s a reason why the process for ordering the draft is called a lottery and people use terms like “bust” and “steal” so often when describing picks. The draft, overall, is a very luck-based process. Having a higher pick seems to relate to getting a better player, but that’s far from a guarantee. Sometimes your best player might be at the ninth pick, like when the Mavericks picked Dirk Nowitzki and Dennis Smith Jr. at those spots in 1998 and 2017. All-stars might even be waiting in the second round, as was the case for future hall of famer Manu Ginobili and current all-star Isaiah Thomas. It’s nice to have that top three pick, but you shouldn’t have to bank on it. The Mavs and Bulls both look like they could use another good young player, and they should get that this off-season, whether it’s at two or ten, as long as they scout well and find the right fit.
Most importantly, the young players on these teams are starting to learn how to win. Lauri Markkanen and Dennis Smith Jr. have taken over games for their squads and shown great leadership in victories. Both seem to have confidence that is skyrocketing as their teams continue to improve. Their young teammates like Kris Dunn and Maxi Kleber also seem to be feeding off the newer, more positive energy around their organizations. Teaching a young core how to win is such an important part of rebuilding and Chicago and Dallas both seemed to have cracked the right formula just in time for their developing players to not lose hope that there will be better days in their NBA careers. Now’s not the time to ruin that, and other growing franchises should take note. Winning is never a bad thing in sports, no matter your record, and it should never be treated as such. The effects it can have on a team are only positive.