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Masai Ujiri was introduced as the new GM of the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on June 4, 2013. At the table with him is Timothy Leiweke, the Pres. and CEO of MLSE. (PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Masai Ujiri was introduced as the new GM of the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on June 4, 2013. At the table with him is Timothy Leiweke, the Pres. and CEO of MLSE. (PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Robert MacLeod

Raptors sidestepping any talk of 'tanking' for draft picks Add to ...

Tanking games to allow organizations to better position themselves for the coveted top pick in the draft is the dirty little secret in professional sports.

No team will come out and admit they purposely failed to try their best in order to lose and thereby improve their lot in the draft, but the anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.

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Canadian Andrew Wiggins is already being pegged as the top talent available in the 2014 college draft heading into his first year at the University of Kansas.

There are rumblings that it would be in the best interests of the Toronto Raptors, who have missed the playoffs for the past five seasons, to shoot for six in order to give themselves an opportunity to get Wiggins.

What better way to appease a frustrated fan base with the addition of a homegrown talent who has been one of the most hyped NBA prospects since LeBron James?

Wiggins, who was raised in Thornhill, Ont., only added to the intrigue when he recently stated that he would love to be able to play for the Raptors.

Knowing that the topic is a landmine, new Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri would not enter into a discussion involving tanking in sports when asked about it on Friday.

However, Ujiri offered an intriguing answer when he was asked how he would feel if the Raptors were to fall into the NBA’s draft lottery in his first year in charge.

“It would be a fantastic season,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri went on to explain that the core of the team he has inherited from his predecessor, Bryan Colangelo, remains largely a mystery to him.

Who knows, for example, how sharpshooter Rudy Gay, who was traded to the Raptors on Jan. 30 of last season, will respond to a full season with his new team?

Until Ujiri sees how the Raptors perform over the rigours of the regular season he said he is unsure how big a job he is facing.

And if that means once again failing to make the playoffs, so be it.

“That would mean the players that we have on the team aren’t good enough,” Ujiri said. “That’s fine by me. Until I know the team only then will I know which direction to take.”

The Raptors, who begin their training camp on Tuesday, are obviously counting on big things from Gay, who received some tutoring during the off-season from Hakeem Olajuwon.

The week-long session included on-court workouts along with film sessions where Gay was treated to viewing some of the career highlights of a player many consider the game’s greatest centre.

“It was cool just to be around a legend for a week,” Gay said. “There was a lot of working out.

“But it was also just trying to soak up some of his energy, trying to learn what it was like and his take on success and being a dominant player.”

Adam Gold, who has obtained his masters in statistics at the University of Missouri, said tanking would become obsolete if leagues such as the NBA would alter its method in which the draft order is determined.

Rather than reward those teams with the worst records a better opportunity of securing the top pick in a lottery, Gold argues that the order should be predicated on winning.

Gold, who presented his findings at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston in 2012, said it is clear from his studies that performance dips considerably after a team is eliminated from the playoffs.

After crunching the data from the NBA from 2004-05 through the 2010-11 season, Gold determined that teams that missed the playoffs won just 32 per cent of their games after they were mathematically eliminated from the postseason compared to 37.5 per cent beforehand.

Gold detected a similar decline in the NHL, Major League Baseball and the NFL.

Gold argues that, rather than reward failure with better odds of securing a higher draft pick, the draft order should be based on the winning percentage of those teams after being eliminated from post-season contention. The team with the highest success rate in games after playoff elimination should receive the best odds of getting the top pick in the draft lottery.

Gold said his method would benefit the fans, who would no longer have to root for their favourite team to lose in order to enhance chances for a desirable draft selection.

And it would provide a strong incentive for teams to perform to their capabilities deeper into the year even after a post-season berth has been eliminated from the equation.

“We finally have a way to determine draft order based on a function of winning,” Gold said in an interview. “It holds teams accountable for a justifiable level of success.”

Ujiri said he is familiar with Gold’s findings and agrees that it might have some merit.

“It’s hard to teach winning by losing,” he said.

 

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