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Why tanking doesn't work


 Why tanking doesn't work
Lightbulb topic by Fearless Genius - 11-05-2013, 07:47 AM - Boxden > BX SportsCenter


Are we really still talking about tanking?
October 31, 2013 | Filed under: Basketball Stories and tagged with: Competitive Balance, NBA Draft, NBA History, Promotion/relegation, Tanking

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The idea that tanking works is about as reasonable as this article.

This week, Dave Berri has written posts — at Freakonomics and Huffington Post — and has been interviewed for articles on the subject that never dies: tanking. The subject seemed to be resurrected by an article on ESPN that purportedly features an anonymous NBA GM extolling the virtues of tanking:

Our team isn’t good enough to win and we know it. So this season we want to develop and evaluate our young players, let them learn from their mistakes — and get us in position to grab a great player. The best way for us to do that is to lose a lot of games. This draft is loaded. There are potential All-Stars at the top, maybe even franchise changers. Sometimes my job is to understand the value of losing.

I know that sounds crazy, but if you’re an NBA general manager like me, the last place you want to be is in the middle. There are only two outcomes there: Either make the playoffs and be first-round fodder for one of the premier teams or miss the playoffs and pick somewhere around 11th to 14th in the draft. Either way, the odds are that you stay in that middle range. It’s a recipe for disaster.

You need superstars to compete in this league, and the playing field for those guys is tilted toward a few big-market teams. They are demanding trades and getting together and deciding where they want to go in free agency. It’s tough for us to compete with that. So a high lottery pick is all we have.
You can also see a video where the author of the piece discusses the subject.

What’s interesting is that many people don’t seem to like our finding that tanking isn’t an effective strategy. Decision makers in the NBA have done an amazing job convincing their fans that losing really is the best path to a title, even when the data suggest otherwise.

What data do we have that stripping down a team a losing a lot of games is not the best way to win a title? Consider the following numbers:

•54. Since 1985, only two teams (the Miami Heat in 2006 and the Houston Rockets in 1995) have managed to win a title without winning at least 66 percent of their games (which works out to 54 wins in an 82-game season). So it seems likely that a team needs to win at least 54 games to be considered a contender.

•10%. Teams that win 25 games or less have only about a 10% chance to join the list of contenders five years after their terrible season. Which means that 90% of teams that win 25 games or less won’t make it to 54 wins after five years.

•20%. Teams that win 34-49 games — so called “mediocre teams” that find themselves in the dreaded middle — have about a 20% chance of hitting 54 wins after five years. This means that a middle-of-the-pack team is twice as likely to become a contender than a team that bottoms out.

But those are just the figures for teams. I’ve also looked at the success rate of players who were taken with one of the top three picks in the NBA draft, and it isn’t pretty:

•25%. Those are the odds that the team with the worst record in the NBA will win the #1 pick in the draft. That means that 75% of the time the #1 pick will go to a different team.

•32%. The likelihood that a team picking in the top three will not make the playoffs even once in the four years following the draft. Why four years? Four years is the amount of time on rookie contracts.

•29%. The likelihood that a team picking in the top three will top out at the first round in the four years following the draft. This means that 61% of teams will manage a first round loss or worse in the four years following a top three selection.

•18%. The likelihood that a team picking in the top three will make it to the Conference Finals, Finals, or win a championship in the four years after their draft. So 82% of the teams picking in the top three won’t make it deep into the playoffs within four years of their draft.

•2. The number of teams that have won a title within four years of drafting a top three pick. One of the players in question — Tim Duncan — was very productive and essential to winning that championship. The other player — the infamous Darko Milicic — hardly played during his team’s title run.

•5. The number of top three picks that have won a championship with the team that drafted them. You already know about Duncan and Milicic. David Robinson won a championship with the Spurs 11 years after being drafted (and with Duncan’s help). Sean Elliott (9 years after being drafted) and Jason Kidd (16 years) are the other two players, and both of them were traded away and then re-acquired before helping their respective teams to a title.

To summarize:

•Teams that are bad tend to stay bad.

•Teams that are mediocre are more likely to become contenders than bad teams.

•Teams picking in the top three don’t tend to advance in the playoffs within four years.

•Teams picking in the top three don’t usually win a championship with their draftee.


But perhaps the funniest thing about the whole discussion is that tanking actually used to work! The figures that are mentioned above only apply to drafts that have happened since 1985. From 1966-1984, teams that landed a top three picking actually had a 36% chance of making the Conference Finals or better, which is twice the current figure. And teams were almost three times more likely to win a championship with their top three draftees.

[Editor's note: if you are interested in reading about why tanking was more effective in the past, read my post Tanking used to work in the NBA]

The NBA knew that tanking used to work too well, and that’s why the format was changed after a famous bout of tanking in 1984. However, since that time, tanking hasn’t been an effective strategy. So the NBA has already fixed tanking! The teams that tank right now are poorly run organizations that tend not to be very successful. Tanking only hurts the NBA right now because these poorly run teams aren’t allowed to fail, and watching losing basketball isn’t very fun.

We should stop for a moment to applaud those in the NBA who have managed to convince so many people into thinking that tanking works. Imagine if firms in other industries could convince their customers that a bad product is the key to immense happiness in the future!

- Devin (with some help from DJ)

via: Are we really still talking about tanking?


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56 comments for "Why tanking doesn't work"


 11-05-2013, 07:48 AMaway - #2
Fearless Genius 64 heat pts64

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for my non-readers, the small block of text highlighted in orange sums everything up.

i bet you that anonymous gm was ainge
 11-05-2013, 07:50 AMaway - #3
Fearless Genius 64 heat pts64

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so if you're a bad team, a much better strategy to tanking and trying to get top draft picks is to do everything to make yourself competitive in order to attract free agents.
 11-05-2013, 07:51 AMaway - #4
Tha Problum 34 heat pts34

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Everybody already knows about the percentages tho. Worked for san antonio when they did it for one year, and hasn't worked for the wizards after a decade of trying that's why it's a lottery.

I pray every night that gm was ainge tho
 11-05-2013, 07:54 AMaway - #5
ThePainkiller 300 heat pts300

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And the main reason for this year is because The Lakers are getting that top pick even when we make that 7th seed
 11-05-2013, 07:57 AMaway - #6
Fearless Genius 64 heat pts64

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Originally Posted by Tha Problum
Everybody already knows about the percentages tho. Worked for san antonio when they did it for one year, and hasn't worked for the wizards after a decade of trying that's why it's a lottery.

I pray every night that gm was ainge tho
oz if you're gonna respond, atleast try to read the article or atleast the part I highlighted. second a results oriented response isn't a good argument. it's not a 50/50 proposition like in your example. way more times than not tanking doesn't work. and even if you do get a top pick, that person isn't likely to stay with the team that drafted him (think shaq, webber, lebron, melo, Dwight, garnett and the list goes on) and then you're back to where you began.

this point in the article expands on my last point:
•5. The number of top three picks that have won a championship with the team that drafted them. You already know about Duncan and Milicic. David Robinson won a championship with the Spurs 11 years after being drafted (and with Duncan’s help). Sean Elliott (9 years after being drafted) and Jason Kidd (16 years) are the other two players, and both of them were traded away and then re-acquired before helping their respective teams to a title.
over the long term, trying to be competitive is a much more favorable strategy than tanking

Last edited by Fearless Genius; 11-05-2013 at 08:15 AM..
 11-05-2013, 08:14 AMaway - #7
Tha Problum 34 heat pts34

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Originally Posted by EnlightenMe
oz if you're gonna respond, atleast try to read the article or atleast the part I highlighted. second a results oriented response isn't a good argument. way more times than not tanking doesn't work. and even if you do get a top pick, that person isn't likely to stay with the team that drafted him (think shaq, webber, lebron, melo, Dwight, garnett and the list goes on) and then you're back to where you began. over the long term, trying to be competitive is a much more favorable strategy than tanking.
Surely did read it, you probably won't get the #1 pick if you have the worst record, you probably won't win a championship in the next 4 years during the rookie deal, etc etc etc. The numbers are completely skewed because the nba is the least parity infested team on the planet. Of course you probably won't win a ring within 4 years of getting an anthony davis, or any #1. The reason for that being in 55 years we have about 6 teams that have lucked into a ring in between the russell era and the magic/bird era. Other than that it's been the same 3-4 franchises over and over and over. Being in the middle of the pack will net you absolutely nothing, even if you hit on some great sleepers over a period of time. The best possible way for these non destination cities to compete is through the draft. People weren't knocking down the doors to join the best player in the world because he was in cleveland, how are they supposed to field talent when they can't even get a squad to join up with bron bron except racking up lottery picks? Your #1 very well could leave, and you're back where you started, or you could surround him with a bunch of landry fields and be "competitive". Personally I'm taking my chances on finding the next great rather than signing a bunch of mediocre guys.

Last edited by Tha Problum; 11-05-2013 at 08:18 AM..
 11-05-2013, 08:23 AMaway - #8
Spid3yo 10 heat pts10

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Originally Posted by EnlightenMe
for my non-readers, the small block of text highlighted in orange sums everything up.
Originally Posted by EnlightenMe
oz if you're gonna respond, atleast try to read the article


 11-05-2013, 08:25 AMaway - #9
Hold That 91 heat pts91

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Tanking might not work back then, but since players are now teaming up and going to big cities, or warm weather states, all the other teams are left on the outside looking in.

As the article said, "teams picking within the top 3 usually make the playoffs in 4 years" this is why teams tank. I doubt teams are tanking for picks 5-14.. What else are teams going to do when you can't lure a top notch FA, sign a bunch of fringe all-star players to long term deals while the CBA is getting smaller? I'd rather roll my dice in the draft hoping I get a superstar or a allstar, while accumulating other lottery picks as he develops...

Last edited by Hold That; 11-05-2013 at 08:27 AM..
 11-05-2013, 08:30 AMaway - #10
Fearless Genius 64 heat pts64

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Originally Posted by Tha Problum
Surely did read it, you probably won't get the #1 pick if you have the worst record, you probably won't win a championship in the next 4 years during the rookie deal, etc etc etc. The numbers are completely skewed because the nba is the least parity infested team on the planet. Of course you probably won't win a ring within 4 years of getting an anthony davis, or any #1. The reason for that being for that is in 55 years we have about 6 teams that have lucked into a ring in between the russell era and the magic/bird era. Other than that it's been the same 3-4 franchises over and over and over. Being in the middle of the pack will net you absolutely nothing, even if you hit on some great sleepers over a period of time. The best possible way for these non destination cities to compete is through the draft. People weren't knocking down the doors to join the best player in the world because he was in cleveland, how are they supposed to field talent when they can't even get a squad to join up with bron bron except racking up lottery picks?
oz the numbers aren't skewed. they might be limited in their scope (i don't think they are though), but not skewed. it didn't just look at titles, it looked at wins and how soon you will be considered a contender (54 wins) after tanking. and the whole example you used of nba history doesn't matter. the article only looked at from when the lottery was instituted (85) till now.

and you can't say being in being in the middle of the pack gets you nothing when the data actually shows that it's better to be in the middle of the pack than to tank.

and i'd argue there isn't really a such thing as destination cities. i mean we see this in sports. why do players love playing for the green bay packers and not the bucks? the Celtics used to be a great destination but it's not anymore. ten years ago chris paul and Dwight howard would've never signed max contracts with the clippers or rockets. garnett didn't want to go to the Celtics until ray allen was going too. i could go on and on with examples. i would just argue being a competitive franchise matters far more than what city you're located in to draw free agents.

and if you are talking about LeBron not being able to attract free agents in Cleveland that's not true. first of all, there aren't stars in every free agent class because teams usally lock up their best players. second, the problem LeBron had in drafting people that were available was that he wasn't willing to let potential free agent signees that he was willing to stay in Cleveland. trevor ariza was a sought after free agent after the run he had with the lakers in 09. he wanted to sing in Cleveland but didn't only because LeBron didn't give an indication he would stay after the 2010 season.

Last edited by Fearless Genius; 11-05-2013 at 09:58 AM..
 11-05-2013, 08:30 AMaway - #11
Tha Problum 34 heat pts34

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Originally Posted by Spid3yo
Cute.
 11-05-2013, 08:32 AMaway - #12
Main Event 29 heat pts29

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didnt read, don't curr

#tanklife
 11-05-2013, 08:34 AMaway - #13
Fearless Genius 64 heat pts64

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Originally Posted by Spid3yo
what? you honestly think that's a contradiction?

Last edited by Fearless Genius; 11-05-2013 at 09:08 AM..
 11-05-2013, 08:36 AMonline - #14
CosbySweater 179 heat pts179

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Originally Posted by Main Event
didnt read, don't curr

#tanklife
 11-05-2013, 08:37 AMaway - #15
JamcnPrettyboy 76 heat pts76

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It depends on management.

Most teams don't have a strategy after tanking and getting a high pick. They feel after they get their player they'll just go with the flow/roll the dice. That's when mistakes are made.

Some teams can't attract free agents. Lebron couldn't get anyone to come to cleveland. Same with garnett in minnie (even though he hogged the cap).

After you get your future star player you gotta make savvy trades and build around him correctly as well as keep your cap space flexible.

So saying tanking doesn't work is false. Its just that a lot of teams haven't done it right.
 11-05-2013, 08:43 AMaway - #16
Fearless Genius 64 heat pts64

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Originally Posted by JamcnPrettyboy
It depends on management.

Most teams don't have a strategy after tanking and getting a high pick. They feel after they get their player they'll just go with the flow/roll the dice. That's when mistakes are made.

Some teams can't attract free agents. Lebron couldn't get anyone to come to cleveland. Same with garnett in minnie (even though he hogged the cap).

After you get your future star player you gotta make savvy trades and build around him correctly as well as keep your cap space flexible.

So saying tanking doesn't work is false. Its just that a lot of teams haven't done it right.
that's an oversimplification and it's not really true. it's a little bit more nuanced than what you're saying. how can you expect to make savvy trades if you've devalued your a$sets on your team by tanking? if you purposely make your a$sets look bad they aren't in demand. and cap sitatuations are determined years in advance. it's not that easy.

it's hard to turn things around so quickly. and sometimes teams choose to continue to tank to bring in more a$sets for their drafted star player. which will likely make your top pick unhappy and want to leave for a better team.

Last edited by Fearless Genius; 11-05-2013 at 08:49 AM..
 11-05-2013, 08:51 AMaway - #17
Akira Son Bio 84 heat pts84

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So basically what I got from this was that Cleveland Lost



!!!!!!
 11-05-2013, 09:13 AMaway - #18
JamcnPrettyboy 76 heat pts76

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Originally Posted by EnlightenMe
that's an oversimplification and it's not really true. it's a little bit more nuanced than what you're saying. how can you expect to make savvy trades if you've devalued your a$sets on your team by tanking? if you purposely make your a$sets look bad they aren't in demand. and cap sitatuations are determined years in advance. it's not that easy.

it's hard to turn things around so quickly. and sometimes teams choose to continue to tank to bring in more a$sets for their drafted star player. which will likely make your top pick unhappy and want to leave for a better team.
a$sets won't be devalued if your a$sets are young or on decent contracts. You're not making savvy trades for stars you're making them for solid role players and to build your bench also can be a method of freeing up future cap space hence why you should avoid giving big long term contracts to role players.

And no one said anything about quick turning arounds. It takes a few years to be competitive. Your rookie has to grow and so does the player around him

And I agree, continuous years of tanking is bad. That's why I said many teams don't do it right.
 11-05-2013, 09:42 AMaway - #19
Fearless Genius 64 heat pts64

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Originally Posted by JamcnPrettyboy
Assets won't be devalued if your a$sets are young or on decent contracts. You're not making savvy trades for stars you're making them for solid role players and to build your bench also can be a method of freeing up future cap space hence why you should avoid giving big long term contracts to role players.

And no one said anything about quick turning arounds. It takes a few years to be competitive. Your rookie has to grow and so does the player around him

And I agree, continuous years of tanking is bad. That's why I said many teams don't do it right.
it depends on the situation. but generally speaking, teams that tank aren't developing a winning culture or focusing on player development. if someone's playing too well, you take them out of the game. if a game's close and you're tanking you put in lineups that will lose games, you're purposely prohibiting player development hence devaluing your a$sets. you would get more value for them by focusing on making them better players by playing winning basketball which you don't do when you tank. you can't get the most value out of a$sets and tank. you're describing a catch 22.

and you have so many a$sumptions in your argument. you're a$suming that teams can predict when or when they shouldn't tank. i don't know if a draft two years from now is a good time to tank. teams can only know in the immediate short term. you can't really prepare for a tank years in advance. and many drafts end up getting overhyped. i remember how many people were hyped over john wall. now, nobody would trade for him. drafts are almost impossible to predict.

and you have some more catch 22's. it's hard to get get solid role players in free agency if you're a bad team. solid role players want to play for good teams. they don't want to be on bad ones. and you can't sign solid role players that your team might develop on short term contracts. those type of players want security and seek longer deals and will find that on a market where we constantly see teams overpay. and sometimes those contracts end up being bad ones. if you're gonna keep these solid role players you're going to restrict your cap. you're gonna end up losing those players because it's hard to really cap flexible and keep good players.

the situation you're describing is really a fantasy. that's not the real world.

Last edited by Fearless Genius; 11-05-2013 at 09:52 AM..
 11-05-2013, 10:44 AMaway - #20
maxnn 100 heat pts100

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4 years isn't a real accurate portrayal though and i'll tell you why. Because of RFA, franchises have control of their star players a lot longer than just the rookie contract. In addition, by saying 54 wins within 4 years, some examples of cases they are claiming tanking didn't work for:
1. Cleveland with LBJ
2. Orlando with Dwight
3. Denver with Melo
4. AI with philly
all of these cases end up falling into this percentage:
"20%. Teams that win 34-49 games — so called “mediocre teams” that find themselves in the dreaded middle — have about a 20% chance of hitting 54 wins after five years. This means that a middle-of-the-pack team is twice as likely to become a contender than a team that bottoms out."

This makes the data skewed.

You are right. Simply tanking with incompetent management does not make you a title contender. But the facts are:
1. you need stars to win
2. The easiest way of getting stars is to pick at the top
 
 


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