There’s been a lot of talk about tanking in the NBA all season thanks to the deep draft class expected this year. That talk has heated up after the trade deadline with a few teams appearing to have given up. The 76ers have lost 15 in a row and show little sign of hope to win again. As someone who follows the 76ers (I don’t pay too much attention to NBA games not involving them), I’m perfectly happy with this strategy. Finishing each season between 6th and 10th in the conference wasn’t going to get us anywhere besides the 2nd round of the playoffs on a rare occasion.
I’ve seem some suggestions on how to fix tanking, if it’s even possible. The wheel is the most common idea referenced. The idea is that the draft order is set and rotates in some way each season. If there are 30 teams in the league, you’ll have the #1 pick once every 30 years, guaranteed. You’d get that pick if you were the worst team in the league or if you just won the championship. I like the idea for its creativity and discussion it has created. I don’t like the idea so much as a complete solution. It’s hard enough to turn a franchise around through drafting and free agency, taking away a draft advantage makes things a whole lot harder.
How do you tell if a team is tanking? There’s no clear way. Is a team just bad or purposely bad? Did a GM make a trade just to make the team worse? You’d have to weigh the long term value of the trade. Is a team faking injuries? You can’t ask that.
Let’s assume that there is no difference between a tanking team and a really really bad team. A tanking team is trying to not win games. They want to lose to everyone. Meaning they will lose to the bad teams and get blown out by the good teams (and maybe some bad teams too). What if we just don’t count games where they get blown out? Make the lottery a ranking of the teams with the most non-blowout losses.
I took the current lottery teams (as of last night) losses, then looked at what the draft order would look like if blowouts were removed. Now, choosing what counts as a blowout is just a guess. I tried 20 points and 15 points. (more…)