The danger of tanking for the Houston Rockets
Most teams who have been in the Rockets’ situation before opted to lose as many games as possible, hoping that the draft lottery gods show them favor and reward them with the number one pick in the draft. In a vacuum, this would be the logical conclusion for Rafael Stone as well.
However, as Rockets fans have long anticipated, the trade that sent Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook has come back to haunt them.
Looking forward to the 2021 draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder own the rights to the Rockets’ first-round pick if it falls outside of the top four (in actuality, the Rockets are a part of a much more convoluted series of pick swaps that can be studied in greater detail here).
Further complicating matters, are the revisions to the NBA draft lottery odds in recent years.
Starting in 2017, the NBA Board of Governors made a series of rule changes to the lottery with the intent of discouraging teams from tanking. Now, teams with the three worst records in the league only maintain a 52.1% chance of drawing a pick within the top four.
With that in mind, if the Rockets fully embrace tanking this year and finish within the bottom three, there would still be a nearly 50 percent chance that their pick would still belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Despite all of the risk though, the 2021 draft class is regarded as one of the deepest in recent memory, headlined by players such as Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs and Jonathan Kuminga. As Rafael Stone weighs the pros and cons of tanking, he may see the possibility of landing a top-end prospect worth the risk.
The long road of rebuilding an NBA team is fraught with pitfalls along the way. And regardless of the direction that Rafael Stone ultimately decides to take in the coming years, there will likely be a schism among Rockets fans about whether the team is on the right track.
In short, Daryl Morey’s predecessor has his work cut out for him.