Every year there is at least one NBA team that flat-out tanks, although they’d never publicly acknowledge it.
Four years ago, for instance, the Milwaukee Bucks’ hierarchy determined early in the season to call it quits. The Bucks won a grand total of 15 games – a franchise low.
The Bucks’ strategy to lose big then has paid off in a big way now. The Bucks wound up with the second overall pick in the 2014 draft and selected forward Jabari Parker, a budding star and one of the franchise’s cornerstones.
While the Bucks and numerous other teams have gone too extremes to find blue-chip talent in the draft to reverse their bad fortunes, there doesn’t seem to be any reason for teams to tank this season.
According to several veteran scouts and player personnel directors, this year’s draft is unique: While it doesn’t have a certifiable franchise-changer, it does have a spate of top-fight players.
“There’s a lot of talent in this draft, a lot,’’ a longtime Eastern Conference official said. “There just isn’t one, clear-cut guy in this draft; anybody who tells you that is full of it. I think there could be six guys who could go No. 1 at this point and maybe more as the season goes on.’’
Another Eastern Conference scout, with more than two decades of scouting on his resume, concurred.
“I’d have to agree with what that guy told you,’’ the scout said. “I don’t think there’s a franchise player in this draft. I think six, seven, eight guys could be in the running for the top pick, depending how they finish the season, how they do in the tournament, how they do in the (pre-draft) workouts.’’
While the aforementioned NBA officials differed slightly on who those No. 1 candidates are, they rated two players slightly above the rest of the No. 1 contenders: point guards Markelle Fultz of Washington and Lonzo Ball of UCLA.
“There’s nothing Fultz can’t do if he want to,’’ a veteran scout said of Fultz, while a scouting director added, “His defense is shaky but he’s still the most complete player in the draft.’’
As for Ball, a front office executive “He has everything – except strength. He needs to get stronger and I’m sure he will.’’ And, another veteran personnel director said, “He’s the best passer in the draft; his court vision is special.’’
But neither Fultz nor Ball are hardly locks to be the top overall pick, the NBA officials insisted. Small forward Jayson Tatum of Duke, swingman Josh Jackson of Kansas, point guard Dennis Smith of North Carolina and combo guard Malik Monk of Kentucky are clearly in the mix as well.
And scouts are keeping a close eye on Duke power forward Harry Giles, who has an abundance of talent but also has had two torn ACLs. If Giles can stay healthy this season and regain his old form, his stock will dramatically rise.
“That’s a good question if he could go No. 1,’’ an Eastern Conference scouting director said. “It’s kind of like (Joel) Embiid’s situation a few years ago. He had some physical questions (foot and back), too. Giles doesn’t look like a No. 1 type of guy now, but when he’s healthy, he’s got the whole package.’’
Lastly, here are three other collegians who bear watching the rest of the season: 7-foot combo forward Lauri Markkanen of Arizona, who is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range; 6-11 small forward Jonathan Isaac of Florida State, who is highly athletic and explosive in the open court, and shooting guard Malik Monk of Kentucky, who is somewhat undersized for the position at 6-foot-3, but can flat-out score.
Monk is a consensus top six pick right now while Markkanen and Isaac, according to several NBA officials, are both late lottery selections, although they are trending upward and could potentially wind up being top five selections.
All of the aforementioned payers are freshmen.
“This is a really deep draft,’’ a Western Conference scout said. “You could get the same type of player with the seventh or eighth pick as you could with the first pick. And, even if you’re picking outside of the lottery (top 14), you’re going to get a good player.
“There are a lot of one-and-done freshmen in this draft class and you’ll have to wait for them to develop. I think it’s going to be worth the wait.’’