Cleat Geeks

NBA: Is There A Solution to Tanking?

Image result for trust the process nbaTanking has been a polarizing topic in the NBA for quite some time. The most notable instance of tanking was the Philadelphia 76ers, who essentially built their roster to lose games, while acquiring high end talent in draft classes. They used the slogan “Trust the Process,” and their quick turnaround for success has caused other teams to consider tanking, as well.

There are multiple team throughout the 2017-18 season that have made moves that suggest they are taking the tanking approach in their rebuild. It seem as if the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, and New York Knicks all took steps towards tanking last season.

The NBA already has multiple rules in place to stop tanking, including a reform that will start for the 2019 NBA Draft.


Current Rules

The NBA Draft Lottery is not a rule that simply makes for great television during the off-season. It was put in place to try to limit teams from tanking. The draft lottery allows each of the 14 teams that missed the playoffs to have a chance at the first overall pick. This was expected to deter teams from tanking because it does not guarantee that the worst team (record-wise) will get the first overall pick.

There is another rule that was recently passed that prevents NBA teams from benching healthy players throughout the season. While this rule is great in theory, it is tough to prove that a player is not healthy. The Chicago Bulls were a team that was warned about this, as they benched Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez late in the season. The Bulls promptly gave the duo limited minutes, while also claiming at times they were injured. Ultimately, the NBA’s threat fell through, as they determined that the Bulls were not tanking.

The league has also stated that they are willing to fine owners that are found guilty of tanking. The most notable case is when the NBA fined Mark Cuban $600,000 for telling his players that losing is their best option to become relevant again. The main issue here is that Cuban likely does not care too much about that fine. He also openly talked about tanking on Julius Erving’s podcast, which resulted in the fine. Other NBA owners likely have learned from Cuban’s mistakes, and will never openly speak about their situation.

The Stepien Rule is a rule that does not necessarily focus on tanking, but rather attempts to prevent teams from mortgaging their futures in bad deals. The issue with this rule is that it inadvertently promotes tanking. The Stepien Rule generally prevents teams from trading first round picks in consecutive seasons. If they were able to do this, though, they would have no reason to tank, as a worse record would not help them in the NBA Draft. Teams would also be able to make more deals involving firsts for veteran players at the trade deadline, which ultimately could be the difference between them making or missing the playoffs.


2019 NBA Draft

The NBA Board of Governors passed a new draft lottery system for the 2019 NBA Draft. There will be new percentages for each of the 14 teams, in terms of the number one overall pick, a top-three pick, and a top-five pick. These percentages are listed below:

As you can see above, the team with the worst overall record is no longer the sole favorite for the first overall pick. The teams with the three worst records have the same odds (14%) to get the first overall pick, although the worse the record, the more likely they are to stay in the top-five of the draft. Furthermore, the teams with better record are all given higher odds to jump into the top-five of the NBA Draft (aside from Team 14).

Will this prevent tanking, though?

The easy answer – likely not. Simply put, teams will likely continue to see that their best chance to land an elite level player is through the worst record in the NBA. This system no longer simply rewards the team that is the best at tanking, but rather rewards a few teams that are tanking. The top-five teams are the only teams in the system that feature a 10% or higher chance to get the first pick. They also feature higher percentages for a top-three and top-five pick.

This system would likely work better if only one or two teams in the NBA were tanking. Instead, it somewhat puts the eight or so teams that are tanking on a similar playing field. For instance, if one team was significantly worse than every other team, the better teams may give up on tanking that season because they are unlikely to receive the first overall pick. That is not the case anymore, though, as there are two more opportunities to receive the same odds as the worst team in the league.


Possible Solution

My brother, Jason, and I have been talking for days trying to come up with a solution to tanking the in NBA. We have come up with a fairly radical system that we personally believe would help eliminate tanking altogether.

Image result for 2018 nba draft

First, the NBA needs to get rid of the draft lottery. While it is a fun night with fans hoping their team can jump to the first overall pick, it does essentially nothing to prevent teams from tanking. The new lottery system likely will not help much, rendering it useless in this situation.

This part of the draft order will no longer feature the 14 teams that did not make the NBA Playoffs. Instead, it will only feature the bottom-10 teams in the league. The top-10 picks in the NBA Draft will be determined by record from the worst 10 teams in the league. They will be given picks in reverse order. For example, the worst team in the NBA will receiver the 10th overall pick, while the best of that group of 10 teams will receive the first overall pick. While it is not generally popular to give a better team a better pick, it is one of the only certain ways to stop teams from tanking.

The bottom-10 teams in the NBA will also lock after 70 games. This is a way to prevent the 19th team from “tanking” near the end of the season to the 20th spot, which would guarantee them the first overall pick. These 10 teams will play out their final 12 games with the best overall record receiving the first overall selection. Below is an out of how this would look:

This is a complex system, but puts an emphasis on winning at the end of the season. In this scenario, the Phoenix Suns were able to win their final 12 games, which earned them the first overall pick. This would cause teams to stop benching players late in the season, as they would need their stars to win games.

I understand this is a drastic change to how the NBA handles tanking at the moment. The sad truth is that tanking will never truly go away until the NBA rewards teams for winning (outside of a championship).

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