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Tanking in the NBA

790 Local
May 17, 2019 - 3:39 pm

Zack Duarte - Now that the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery has come and gone the dialogue has shifted towards the narrative that tanking is dead. I’m here to tell you that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the pre-2019 lottery structure, the top seed had a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery, the second seed had a 19.9 percent chance and the third seed had a 15.6 percent chance. In the new lottery format, the NBA leveled off the odds at a 14 percent chance at winning the first overall pick. While that certainly does de-incentivize teams from trying to be the worst team in the league, it leaves a good amount of wiggle room for the teams in the middle. The remaining percentage of odds that was removed from the top three teams has now been distributed to the team’s that are fourth through fourteenth in the lottery. 

And boy did it work well in favor of those teams in 2019. 

Not only did New Orleans and Memphis jump from seventh and eighth place in the draft lottery to first and second in the draft itself, but the Los Angeles Lakers jumped from 11th to fourth. In the future we will see teams on the fringe of the playoffs potentially trade away assets at the trade deadline in order to subtlety tank and be in line for a better draft lottery spot. 

We will see teams, as the Lakers and Pelicans did, sit their star players towards the latter portion of the season, in order to position themselves in a better spot for the draft lottery, rather than going for a playoff spot and either narrowly missing the playoffs (like the 2018-2019 Miami Heat) or making the playoffs and being swept in the first round (like the Heat would’ve been).

We may not see as much clear and evident tanking as we are accustomed to, but make no mistake, as long as there is a draft lottery, there will be several teams trying to position themselves by purposely not trying to win basketball games organizationally. 

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