Tanking: The Number Game

Tanking: The Number Game

The New York Knicks recently went on a 3 game winning streak, which equated to almost half of their total wins this season. Most Knicks fans were ecstatic that they were finally able to watch winning basketball, but some fans weren’t too happy.

The strategy of tanking, frequently affiliated with the Philadelphia 76ers, is when a team intentionally loses/sits out key players to attain the highest possible draft pick in the upcoming draft.

The NBA city that potential franchise players will call home rests in the bounces of 1,000 balls. The worse a team’s record is, the more combinations they have in the lottery.  The more combinations a team has in the lottery, the more likely it is they get a higher draft pick. You get the idea.

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The lower the winning percentage, the higher the percentage of acquiring a top draft pick.

The Case For Tanking

A single basketball player can completely turn around an organization. 

Take a look at what Anthony Davis did for the Pelicans, LeBron for the Cavs (the first go-around), John Wall for the Wizards, Steph Curry for the Warriors. All of those players changed the culture, talent level & winning percentages of each team drastically after being drafted to their teams.

This isn’t to say that the teams mentioned above tanked to draft those players, but tanking can give you an advantage by giving you more combinations of winning the NBA lottery.

In a case like the Knicks this season, they have an established superstar and franchise player in Carmelo Anthony, but need to build around him. If they were to proceed and shut Melo down after the All-Star break due to his ailing knee, they would pretty much be guaranteed a top 5 pick. This would enable the Knicks to have a young stud that could learn from Melo and help the team return to form.

NBA fans and executives drool just thinking about drafting their next superstar player which is why tanking is a viable option to some.

The Case Against Tanking

Having the best odds of acquiring a top draft pick doesn’t mean you will get a top draft pick.

The NBA adopted the lottery draft three decades ago to eliminate tanking specifically.  In fact, in the past 30 years, the team with the worst record has received the number 1 draft pick only 4 times! That means once in every 7.5 years, the team with the worst record drafted first. Those aren’t number that would sway me to tank if I was a GM (I’m talking to you Sam Hinkie).

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The team with the 3rd worst record has had the number 1 pick the most often, contradictory to what the percentages say should happen.

The team with the 5th worst record has had the first overall pick more times than the 1st and 2nd worst! What if the Knicks decided to shut down Melo and they ended up getting the 6th pick? That would surely frustrate not only the fans, but the Knicks executives as well. Would Phil Jackson want his first major move as an NBA President to be a failure all because they planned to lose?

I also don’t think Mr. Jackson would ever lose intentionally, especially considering his 13 championship rings. Phil is obviously a winner, and it’d be difficult envisioning him giving the “tank” strategy a thumbs up.

What Do You Think?

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Follow Steven on Twitter @SSStevenT

Featured Image via NBAE via Getty Images

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