Victor Wembanyama's presence in the 2023 NBA Draft has led to speculation that multiple teams could be tanking in 2022-2023. Although the NBA has attempted to disincentivize the tanking, the potential to land a generational prospect could lead to several franchises punting on the season.
Explaining tanking and why teams are looking to do it
In sports, the process of 'tanking' a season is when a team doesn't attempt to remain competitive in hopes of landing a high draft pick. Tanking dates back to the 1983-1984 Houston Rockets, who began the season with a 20-26 record. Upon realizing that they would miss the postseason, the Rockets became much less competitive, finishing 9-27 down the stretch.
The tanking would pay off, as Houston would finish with the worst record in the Western Conference. After winning a coin flip, the Rockets were awarded the first overall pick and selected future Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.
The most often discussed example of tanking in the NBA took place throughout the mid-2010s. Led by general manager Sam Hinkie, the Philadelphia 76ers won between 10 and 19 games for three consecutive years. They received a top-three pick in four straight drafts. The era, labeled "The Process", was supported by the fanbase.
While the 76ers haven't had the same team success that the Rockets eventually had with Olajuwon, they did land perennial MVP candidate Joel Embiid.
It has always been evident that the worst place to be as an NBA franchise is in the middle of the pack. It wasn't until "The Process", however, that front offices realized that fans were okay with their team bottoming out for top talent. In a league dominated by stars, the possibility of landing a franchise-changing player has more upside than competing for the postseason without truly contending.
How is tanking related to Victor Wembanyama?
Victor Wembanyama has been showered with high praise as he prepares for his final season before entering the NBA.
Victor Wembanyama has been compared to NBA superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Former NBA player Richard Jefferson recently shared that he believes Wembanyama would be selected before James if both were entering the league at the same time.
Speaking on NBA Today, Jefferson said:
"If LeBron James, at that exact moment, showed up, Victor would go higher than him. LeBron James, and all the things that we saw - and I'm not saying that he's going to be better than LeBron James. What I'm saying is right now - I remember LeBron James, 20 years ago, that player was 6'7. This person is 7'4."
Victor Wembanyama's combination of size, skill, and potential could lead to a 2022-2023 season where we see five to ten tanking teams. Before the season even began, fanbases were calling for organizations to position themselves to make a run at the first overall pick in 2023.
While teams will be tanking for Wembanyama, the incentive grows due to the potential second overall pick. The runner-up of the Wembanyama sweepstakes figures to land a potential franchise-altering player.
While he does not have the size or hype of Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson figures to be a great consolation prize for whoever lands the second overall pick.