Victor Wembanyama, the 7 foot 2 eighteen-year-old French basketball phenom, has recently come to hold the top spot on the 2023 draft prospect list for the National Basketball Association (NBA). His effortless and consistent three-pointers, not to mention his eight-foot wingspan that’s just shy of the rim, has made him particularly desirable to teams that have been struggling in the ranks this season. The Utah Jazz, the San Antonio Spurs, The Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers, who sit at number 26, 30, 29 and 23 respectively, are currently the favorites in the polls to land Webanyama in the draft.
In the NBA, the draft is designed so that the 14 teams with the worst records of the season are given the opportunity to pick first. The three lowest-scoring teams are given a 14% higher chance than the other 11 teams of getting first-pick, giving them access to the top-tier incoming players that can hopefully give them better results in the upcoming season.
However, there have been instances where teams take advantage of this knowledge, especially when they have found themselves in a multiple-season losing streak. This practice is known as tanking; purposely losing, or in less conspirical terms, not putting in 100% effort to win in order to have better odds in next season’s draft.
While teams are very careful in the press statement to not mention anything directly related to purposely losing in order to maintain their image, there are some statistics that highlight the teams that have adopted this strategy. One of the most prominent instances of this was the Philadelphia 76ers circa 2012 to 2016, where their number of wins decreased drastically from 34 in the 2012 season to a cool 10 in 2016.
Adam Silver, the current NBA commissioner, has been trying to deal with the tanking issue that has spread like a virus throughout his league for quite some time now. However, in the wake of Wembanyama’s “once-in-a-generation” rise to the top of the draft, his fear of his teams adopting the tanking practice in order to secure the stitch of Wembanyama’s name on their jerseys has compelled him to make a public statement. In recent comments to Phoenix Suns’ employees, Silver states that he’s “put teams on notice” and that he will be paying “particular attention to the issue this year.”
Silver also brought up a concept in European soccer called relegation, which consists of demoting the bottom ranked teams to a lower division as an incentive and as a threat for them to work as hard as they can. “In such a scenario,” Silver told employees, “relegation would essentially mean demoting the worst one or two teams to the G League while promoting the best team or two from the G League to the NBA,” according to ESPN.com. Silver is not fond of this tactic, since he claims it could “disrupt their business model.” At the level at which the G league plays, he is not confident that they will adequately compete in the NBA. However, since the practice of tanking also puts the NBA franchise at risk by possibly losing dedicated fans, Silver’s reaction to the whole situation was nothing short of necessary.