The Philadelphia 76ers have announced that Nerlens Noel will not play in his rookie season as he continues to rehab from torn ACL he suffered last February. Sixers fans are surely disappointed not to see the 6th overall pick and potential franchise savior play this season, and some have gone so far as to question the Sixers’ decision to draft Noel.
However, there is possibly an ulterior motive that influenced this decision. In the NBA, the simply reality is that it is in a team’s best interest to be either really good or really bad. Anything in between is simply NBA purgatory, and that is how you end up like the Milwaukee Bucks (i.e., an endless stream of 8th seeds and first round sweeps).
The Sixers have no chance at the playoffs, so they have no incentive to risk Noel by playing him this season. The 2014 draft class is the best since the legendary 2003 class (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, etc.), led by potential superstars in Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle (among many others).
The Sixers are near the top of the list of contenders for the No. 1 overall pick, and sitting Noel advances that cause. This decision is shameless tanking from Philly, as they want to have a chance to get Wiggins. For the record, don’t think I’m criticizing this approach. In fact, I 100% support tanking, as there is evidence that it works.
Unfortunately, the reality of the NBA is that the best way to get better is to get really bad. Most teams can’t build a super-team in free agency like the Miami Heat, so they have to take the Oklahoma City Thunder approach. The Thunder bottomed out, got three straight top 5 picks right (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden) and are one of the elite teams in the NBA. That is by far the most realistic way to build a contender in today’s NBA, because the superstar free agents aren’t interested in most teams.
Of course, the risk in tanking is that you’ll get those top 5 picks wrong, and that’s how you become the Charlotte Bobcats. However, the Sixers have two very good young pieces in Noel and Michael Carter-Williams, as well as the rights to the New Orleans Pelicans’ first rounder. Add in a potential top 3 pick from tanking, and they could quickly become a very good young team.
Many people have a moral opposition to tanking, but the truth is that it is by far the best way for bad teams to get better. The 76ers appear to have figured this out, and sitting Noel will benefit both him and the franchise in the long run. The Sixers are going to be terrible this season, but it won’t last for long.