A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

An ‘anti-tanking’ idea for the day

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I’m not the most fervent protester of NBA teams tanking for high draft picks, but it’s a subject matter appear to be passionate about. Teams losing on purpose and an incentive for it rubs fans the wrong way. Steve Kerr wrote a nice article on NBA.com suggesting some ideas.

How about if a team wins a lottery spot, they’re ineligible to get one the following season? As it stands now, after the top 3 lottery slots are picked, the rest of the draft is ordered by record. Therefore the team who is ineligible for the lottery, if the worst team in the league would be guaranteed the 4th pick, the 2nd worst team could be 4th or 5th, etc. according to the odds on this page if the top 3 for each placing is discounted.

Why would this change tanking? First, without the carrot of a top 3 pick, the teams who are ineligible would have less incentive to tank unless they’re desperate for a 4th or 5th pick. Now a retort to this is that it may make other teams more likely to tank, if their odds increase. However I would argue the ineligible teams’ odds should be evenly distributed between all the eligible lottery teams. Since everyone’s odds increase the same, there wouldn’t be more incentive to tank by the other teams.

Another change is that tanking becomes a pick your poison situation. Take the example of the 2013 draft’s prospects having much less hype than the 2014 high school class. Now if teams tanked for a top 3 pick in 2013, they’d cost themselves any chance at picking top 3 in 2014. For the teams who believed in the 2014 draft, this would be a huge cost to them, to the point where they may go out of their way to play better to avoid losing their top 3 lottery ticket in 2014.

This rule also discourages “multi-year” tanking. Teams like the present day 76ers and Magic, or in recent years the Bobcats or Kings, have gone out of their way to be terrible multiple years in a row. With losing lottery eligibility every 2nd year, this becomes a less desirable plan.

Now, rules regarding traded picks would have to be clarified. I would argue that whoever owns the pick on lottery day, is the one who is penalized the following year if they win a lottery spot. Thus a team trading a pick before the lottery, aren’t in danger of losing the following year’s lottery chances, only the one who trades for it.

While the above works as a rule change, I’d slightly prefer this version: Instead of the team winning a top 3 lottery spot becoming eligible to be top 3, they become ineligible for a top 5 spot, meaning their highest possible pick is 6th the following year. This makes the incentive to tank for ineligible teams even smaller – and the ‘cost’ of winning a lottery spot in any year, even steeper.

I feel this accomplishes much of what you want in an anti-tanking idea. It lowers the incentive to tank but the bad teams are still more likely to get high draft picks, particularly #1.

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Written by jr.

August 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Basketball, NBA Draft

Tagged with , ,

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