Wizards seem trapped in the NBA’s middle class

NBA, Washington Wizards

The Washington Wizards hover around .500, but surviving in the NBA’s middle class has its pitfalls.

The NBA Draft heavily incentivizes tanking. The weighted lottery system for the 14 teams that don’t make the playoffs awards teams with the worst records higher odds of receiving the top overall draft pick. 

Sometimes a lottery surprise pops up. In 2014, the Cavaliers had the ninth-worst record but received the first pick in the lottery. 

But the vast majority of top picks have been awarded to the worst teams from the previous season. So if a team is looking to improve quickly, the best bet is to secure the top overall pick or at least a pick in the top five. 

In the past 10 years, only eight NBA All-Stars have come outside the lottery. Twenty-six were lottery picks. This means that the odds of fundamentally improving a team diminish if it perennially finishes in the middle of the NBA pack.

The draft, of course, is not the only way a team can improve. Aggressive GMs, such as the 76ers’ Daryl Morey, sometimes acquire superstars (James Harden). However, teams not in major markets, such as the Wizards, have a tougher time attracting high-profile free agents.

The Wizards (11-10) have owned a lower seeding in the playoffs for the last decade. Since 2012, the team’s average finish is between the eighth and ninth seeds in the Eastern Conference — just outside the last playoff spot. Excluding years where the team traded picks, their average draft slot was 10th. 

Wizards star guard Bradley Beal went third overall in 2012, by far the team’s best pickup in that span. The highest draft pick they’ve had since then, however, was ninth.

Of the players drafted since 2012 who became All-Stars at least once, only 14 were drafted ninth or later. This shows how difficult it is to find high value in the draft at any point, let alone in the middle rungs of the NBA ladder.  

No one wants to advocate for tanking, but a mediocre Wizards team is going nowhere. 

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