OKC's Success Doesn't Show That Tanking Works

A blog about business and economics.
April 3 2012 9:30 AM

OKC's Success Doesn't Show That Tanking Works

High picks help, but you also need luck and skill

Photograph by Harry How/Getty Images.

NBA commentary seems to me to exhibit an unhealthy obsession with the idea of "tanking" to secure a better place in the draft lottery. Even this semi-skeptical article gives credence to the idea that tanking-induced high draft picks are integral to the current success of the franchise. But look at it more closely. Obviously the key pillar of Oklahoma City's success is Kevin Durant who they snagged with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft. But had OKC gotten "luckier" in the draft lottery, they would have picked Greg Oden who's just had his career ruined by injury. They scored Russell Westbrook with the No. 4 pick in the following year, but again he came after two markedly inferior players—Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo—and before the much better Kevin Love. In that very same draft OKC snagged Serge Ibaka with a relatively lowly 24th pick, and then their foursome of core young players was rounded out by James Harden with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft, chosen one spot below Hasheem Thabeet.

No doubt this illustrates the power and importance of drafting quality young players. But it also drives home the fact that the draft is a crapshoot. High picks in 2007, 2008, and 2009 could just as easily have brought you Greg Oden, O.J. Mayo, and Hasheem Thabeet as Durant, Westbrook, and Harden while Ibaka is a case of striking gold with a late pick. Meanwhile, poorly managed franchises like the Grunfeld-era Washington Wizards manage to run through many high draft picks without ever snagging a true star player. Ability to use the picks you have to acquire quality talent (look at the Spurs) matters more than aquiring high picks.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 20 2014 7:00 AM Gallery: The Red Planet and the Comet
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.