Tank at your own risk: Why the NBA scored a big win with revised Lottery odds

Tank at your own risk: Why the NBA scored a big win with revised Lottery odds

The NBA is on a quest to end tanking – or at least stifle its benefits – and Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery results were a massive step forward toward accomplishing just that.

The league was met with some resistance in 2017 when it approved the decision to even out Lottery odds among the worst teams in the league. Opponents of tanking were happy with the decision, but some felt the league was going too far. After all, the teams with the worst records – regardless of how they got to that win-loss total – needed the greatest opportunities to draft the league’s best prospects, and that meant the best Lottery odds and, subsequently, the top picks.

But Tuesday night proved to be a monumental outcome for the league. The New Orleans Pelicans entered the Lottery with a 6% chance at earning the top pick and yet were victorious, earning the right to draft Duke freshman Zion Williamson. The Memphis Grizzlies had a 12.3% chance to move into the top-2 and hit on those odds, sliding in to the No. 2 spot that should net them Murray State point guard Ja Morant. The Lakers made the biggest jump of all, moving from No. 11 to No. 4 despite having less than 4% odds of moving into the top-4.

The Nos. 7, 8 and 11 teams all moved up, past the 19-win Cavaliers and Suns, past the 22-win Bulls and the 29-win Hawks. The NBA couldn’t have asked for a better inaugural drawing with the revised Lottery odds.

The message? Tank if you want, but this system isn’t necessarily going to reward you like it used to.

A year ago, the Phoenix Suns had a 25% chance of earning the top pick. They won the 2018 NBA Draft Lottery with those odds, and the drawing for the second pick took three additional tries because the Suns’ four-digit combinations also popped up on the second the third tries. This time around there were five drawings for the four picks; incredibly, Memphis’ combination was chosen for the fourth pick. The balls were re-drawn and Los Angeles’ combination came up.

"Look at what happened tonight. It was, from a league perspective, they have to be thrilled with how it played out just in terms of the excitement of it, and they did it for a lot of different reasons," Bulls VP John Paxson said after the drawing. "They don’t want teams to throw in the towel 20 games into a season, so tonight showed what they envision probably held true. I had a funny feeling something odds was going to happen and it did."

It would have been difficult for the league to slow down tanking had there only been one team that made a jump. A top-4 that included any three- or four-team combination of the Suns, Cavs, Knicks and Bulls would have been more of the same like it had been in previous years. Of course teams knew about the new odds and how it could potentially affect the Lottery. But to see it play out in-person, to see three teams with minuscule odds jump up, could make teams think twice about sacrificing young player progression and chemistry late in the season for a couple losses here and there.

There will always be some incentive to tank. The Knicks went 17-65 and their NBA-best odds kept them in the top-4. As for a team like the Bulls, the case for them losing games in the short-term this season was not just to add 15 more combinations on Lottery night – moving from 12.5% to 14% - but rather to be ahead of other teams in case they weren’t chosen in the top-4.

Case in point: The Bulls finished three games ahead of the Cavaliers and Suns, two teams that also missed on moving up in the Lottery. When the remaining 10 teams were slotted in reverse standings order, Cleveland wound up with the fifth pick, Phoenix got the sixth pick and the Bulls were slotted at No. 7. Considering that Phoenix needs a point guard – same as the Bulls – they could grab the player the Bulls are after because of those three additional losses.

Until the league goes to a scenario in which every Lottery team has the same odds of landing the top pick – it’s difficult to envision them going to such drastic measures – there will be incentive to lose games in March and April to better position themselves for slotting in the case of not being one of the four teams chosen.

But Tuesday night went a long way toward slowing down tanking. It’s not as if the Warriors, Bucks and Nuggets jumped into the top-3. The Pelicans, Grizzlies and Lakers averaged 34.3 wins this season and all need help to make it back to the postseason. The new Lottery odds are still helping teams in desperate need of top young talent.

The chaos was fun and exciting. Teams in that 7 to 11 range don’t need to worry as much about squeaking out some late losses and then scoreboard-watching in hopes of the teams in front of them winning games. It’ll never be a perfect system, but what the league was hoping to accomplish played out in front of our eyes. It was a big win for the Pelicans, but the NBA took home a W as well.

"I think this is good for the league and our fans and how we should look at the game, because there are no guarantees," Paxson said. "You had much greater odds in the past and a lot of those teams benefitted from it, but I think in the long run this is going to be a really good thing for the league."

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

How former Bull C.J. Watson is working to inspire children through books

C.J. Watson carved out a 10-year NBA career with not just talent but also an ability to overcome odds and tune out doubters.

So whenever the former Bulls guard encountered skepticism for his latest dream, he’d answer every "Why” with a "Why not?”

That dream? To create children's books. Watson, 36, has now published two titles: "CJ’s Big Dream" and "CJ’s Big Project." The first came out last November, the second in March.

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“It was just a random idea I had to challenge myself and try to push myself,” Watson said in a phone conversation. “I want to try to continue to be an inspiration. Playing in the NBA is an inspiration to kids. But I wanted to continue to offer kids knowledge and tell my story through books.

“Kids are the next generation of leaders. They’re the next entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers. Some kid will grow up to be President. I just wanted to try to share some gems and drops of knowledge. I want to try to propel little boys and girls and let them know it’s OK to shoot for their dreams and to dream big.”

The books were written by author Tamika Newhouse and illustrated by Cameron Wilson based on stories shared by Watson. Watson spent hours on the phone over a six-month period with Newhouse, sharing his stories and his vision for the project, which is scheduled to include at least one more title.

They are based on Watson’s upbringing in Las Vegas, where he first experienced doubts for his NBA dream.

“These are true stories,” Watson said. “I made it to the NBA after growing up in the inner city and not having the same resources or same chances as some. Growing up, seeing graffiti, abandoned houses, drugs, gangs, it can be discouraging. But I had a great support system that kept me focused on my goal.”

The second book focuses on the time Watson received an F on a science project in school. But the teacher offered him a chance to re-do it, which taught him a valuable lesson.

“The second book talks about working hard and the importance of getting good grades to be able to play sports,” he said. “That was the important thing in my household. If we didn’t have good grades, my brother and I couldn’t play sports.”

Watson is the father of two children with one on the way. His parents, Cathy and Charles, stressed education and reading as they raised him and his brother. He majored in psychology at Tennessee, which is in his parents’ hometown of Nashville, Tenn.

“My parents came from an area more poverty-stricken than I did,” Watson said. “You always want better for your kid, right? We might not have lived in the best area, but they always put my brother and me in the best schools to give us the best chance to succeed.

“They also were big on me and my brother doing community service. We’d go feed the homeless. We’d go visit nursing homes to care for the elderly. When I was younger, I always said if I made it that I wanted to give back.”

Watson and his family established his Quiet Storm Foundation in 2009. That foundation established an active presence in Chicago during his two seasons with the Bulls.

Watson is eight years removed from that stint, where he played an important role for a reserve unit so potent that it achieved its own nickname. “The Bench Mob” proved a significant reason the Bulls led the NBA in regular-season victories in consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“It was definitely fun. It goes by fast. Chicago was probably some of the best years I had in the NBA,” Watson said. “We could’ve achieved more. We weren’t picked to do much that first year and surprised everybody. Then that second year, D-Rose got hurt.

“I felt like they should’ve kept the team together maybe a couple more years to try to see what could’ve happened. But it’s a business at the end of the day.”

Watson isn’t surprised Rose, who he backed up, is thriving again after a series of knee injuries, surgeries and rehabilitations.

“Definitely a great teammate, probably one of my favorites,” Watson said. “Injuries take a toll on you. He was held up to the MVP standard and some people judged him unfairly. But he has worked so hard. I’m definitely rooting for him and I’m always watching.”

Watson played for Charles Oakley’s team in the Big3 last summer, a 3-on-3 pro league that was canceled this summer because of COVID-19. He isn’t sure if he’ll play again if the league resumes next summer.

“It was fun. But it’s a different league. It’s pretty brutal. They don’t call any fouls. It’s kind of an old man’s game,” Watson said. “My body may have had enough.”

No matter his decision, Watson’s mind remains sharp.

“These books definitely are not a money maker. It’s a passion project,” Watson said. “Unless you’re a big-time children’s author, you probably won’t make a living at this. But I just did it to inspire kids and challenge myself. It’s kind of like the NBA. I never thought I’d make the NBA.  But lo and behold, I worked hard enough and got there.”


Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Windy City Bulls standout PJ Dozier secures multi-year deal with Nuggets

Since going unselected in the 2017 NBA Draft, PJ Dozier has had his fair share of stops, from brief stints signed to the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, to successive one-year pacts with the Oklahoma City Thunder (2017-18) and Boston Celtics (2018-19). He spent most of the latter two tenures in the G League.

Dozier began the 2019-20 season signed to the Denver Nuggets on a two-way deal, but assigned to the Windy City Bulls, the Bulls' G League affiliate, along with 2019 second-round draftee of the Nuggets Bol Bol. 

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On Tuesday, the Nuggets officially announced they are converting Dozier's two-way deal into a multi-year contract with the team.

It's great news for Dozier, who enjoyed a dominating campaign for Windy City. In 18 games with the team, he averaged 21.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals on 43.8-32.6-74.1 shooting splits. A 6-foot-6 playmaking wing, Dozier flashed plus ball-handling, scoring and facilitating ability at a position of supreme value in the modern game.

He parlayed all of the above into a midseason All-NBA G League selection, but was recently left off the end-of-season all-league teams, presumably due to a limited sample size. He was called up to the Nuggets in mid-January and made an immediate impact, scoring 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting (2-for-4 from 3) in his debut, a win over the Charlotte Hornets. He reset his NBA career high one week later with a 15-point outing against the Houston Rockets.

In the run-up to the NBA pausing its season, Dozier appeared in 21 of 26 games for the Nuggets, averaging 4.1 points, 1.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He'd appeared in just eight career NBA games before that stretch. 

How much of an imprint will he make on the Nuggets' rotation when the NBA season restarts? It's too soon to say. But it seems the longtime G League standout's breakthrough at the next level could be coming.