Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Is There a Tanking Problem in the NBA?

Steve Aschburner thinks tanking is a problem, and apparently some academics have devised a system for rearranging the draft order such that it incentivizes winning toward the end of the season, instead of losing.

It's true that there is incentive to lose. Your chances of winning the draft lottery improves as you move closer to last place. However, I'd argue that the incentive to tank isn't that strong. Your chance of winning the lottery is still not huge, even if you're the worst team.

Furthermore, there's a difference between planning for the future and trying to lose. Resting you veteran franchise player is strategic if you won't make the playoffs. Giving your young players experience is strategic.

Playing a game with the intention to lose is something completely different, but I'm not sure there's evidence that players and coaches approach any game with the intention of losing.

From my perspective - the perspective of a fan who has followed one of the worst teams closely for several years - I want my team to consider the future, but also make an honest effort at winning.

I haven't seen any effort that the Grizzlies aren't trying the best to win.

According to Aschburner's article, Boston and Memphis, last year's worst teams would finish one and two respectively. This suggests that the worst teams in the league weren't tanking last year.

Finally, I think a bigger problem is how difficult it is to improve your team when you're one of the worst in the league. Parity in the league is reaching new lows, and the same teams are consistently the best. How many teams have won a championship within the past 3 decades?

Philadelphia, Boston, LA, Chicago, Houston, Detroit, San Antonio. Am I missing any?

I think a bigger problem than tanking is how difficult it is for terrible teams to get better.


Ben Osetek said...


Ben Osetek said...

tell me this isn't tanking, Mark Madsen jacking 7 3pointers to make sure that minnesota loses at the end of the 2006 season up to this point he had taken 16 in his whole career:


David Jones said...

I can imagine that there are instances where players don't take the game seriously.

I can even imagine that there may be instances where winning isn't the number one priority.

(BTW, this happens for playoff teams as well. Remember when Memphis and the Clippers were trying to lose so they could play the 3rd seed instead of the 4th seed.)

However, I don't think there's evidence that tanking is rampant in the NBA.

The two worst teams last year won the most games after being eliminated from the playoffs.