No More Tanking In The NBA

Tanking in the NBA has become a systemic problem that needs to stop.

Tanking in the NBA has taken over the bottom half of the league. Tanking makes the game less interesting and is not good behavior to model for the young fans watching. Unfortunately, tanking isn’t a problem that just surfaced in recent years; it has been around for more than three decades. Tanking isn’t fair to the players, coaches, or the fans; the answer to eliminating tanking completely from the NBA lies in the draft process.

The Problem

cuban
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban fessed up to his team tanking to close out the season.

Tanking is a form a quitting. In a league of pride, honor, and sportsmanship, tanking is the opposite of all of this. There aren’t many NBA associates admitted to tanking other than Mark Cuban, but if you keep up with the game you can tell some teams are tanking. But it would be absurd to expect the NBA commissioner to admit there is being a problem before they are ready to fix it. To the average basketball eye, tanking is obvious. There have been coaches deciding to rest their best player for no apparent reason at the end of the season when they know they are not going to the playoffs. There have also been players that take a seemingly careless attitude that was only exhibited when the teams’ playoff hopes are dead. The only reason it isn’t a fact as to whether or not tanking happens is the fact that current players and coaches don’t want to admit to directly. A few coaches and executives have indirectly admitted to it. An owner admitted to firing a coach because he “came in a design to win every single basketball game”. That quote alone doesn’t necessarily equate tanking but this team was also surrounded by suspicions of tanking which then makes that quote seem questionable at the very least.

Tanking exists for a simple reason: worse the win-loss record, the higher the draft pick. The NBA order is decided by ordering the teams in order from worst record to best. Finishing with the worst record in the league will at least guarantee a top 4 pick. All the odds for the first overall pick are based on computer calculations except one, the team with the worst overall record. Their chances are automatically 25 percent. There are massive benefits for finishing in last place.

The Solution

The idea to eliminate tanking is simple, incentivize winning for the losing teams. It shouldn’t be the goal just lose as much as you can and play the odds. The NBA’s previous objective has been to just eliminate the incentives for winning. I think the solution is just one step further, force the losing team to want to win, even when they are out of playoff contention.

The solution to tanking is to rank the draft order based solely on team’s wins after they are eliminated from playoff contention. The team that wins the most games after they are eliminated from playoff contention gets the first pick, second most wins gets the second pick, third most wins get the third pick….. the fourteenth most wins gets the fourteenth pick. This solution gives teams a reason to keep competing after they can’t make the playoffs. For example, if the Lakers are eliminated with fifteen games left in the season and they only win four but the Hawks are eliminated with five games left and they win all five, the Hawks get the number one pick. But, if the Nuggets are eliminated with twelve games left and win four, the Thunder are eliminated with three games to go and win all three; the Nuggets would get the highest pick. If teams have the same number of wins after elimination, then the better pick goes to the team that was eliminated from playoffs first. So in event of a tie, the worst team gets the advantage. Because the rankings would be based on the number of wins and not win percentage, it keeps the odds favored to the worst teams. The first teams that get eliminated would get a head start on the teams who are still competing for playoff spots. This should keep games competitive near the end of the season. This solution eliminates tanking while also stay true to the whole point of the draft, letting the worst teams get the best picks.

No system is going to be perfect and I know that. Critics of this solution may say that it doesn’t guarantee the worst teams the best overall picks even though they deserve the best player available. That is completely true. That’s the purpose of this solution, it doesn’t guarantee the worst teams will get the top picks (just like the current lottery system). It makes the bad teams earn the picks they deserve by competing. It is possible that a better team could get hot after elimination and get more wins than the worst team but I don’t think it would happen often. The worst teams will get eliminated before the better teams so they have the most chance to accumulate wins. The whole point of this system is to get the best of both worlds, giving the worst teams the best picks vs keep the winning attitude and integrity around the NBA.

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