Let’s talk a little hoops Part II

(Continued from the previous post)

But they couldn’t leave it at that of course. The worst teams thought that they should have a better chance at getting that #1 pick, so they went to a weighted lottery system. Under this system instead of each team having a 1 in 7 or 1 in 9 (depending on how many non-playoff teams there were at the time) chance of getting the #1 pick each team’s chance is weighted depending on where they finish. The details are a little complicated, but basically the worst team has a 25% chance of getting the #1 pick, and the best non-playoff team has a .4% chance. That’s the system that is still in place, and it’s the worst possible system. Now teams are not necessarily compensated for their bad seasons, since they are not guaranteed the highest pick, and the incentive for tanking is higher than ever, which was originally what the draft was supposed to eliminate! That’s because now each team has a higher chance of winning the lottery the worse they finish. The NBA puts together 1,000 ping pong balls and the worse you finish the more ping pong balls you get.

So that means there is more incentive than ever to tank because now tanking doesn’t just give you a chance to move up a pick or two if you lose a few more games; it gives you a chance to move all the way up to the #1 pick! Back before the lottery started and the draft order was strictly based on record, if you were slated for the 7th pick in the draft tanking could only possibly move you up a spot or two, to the 5th or 6th pick. Possibly worth it, but possibly not (there is a price to be paid for tanking: every game your players lose fosters an environment of losing that gets harder to turn around with each additional loss, especially if it’s clear that management has given up as well). But now every time the 7th or 9th place team loses a game and gets more ping pong balls in the lottery they’re increasing their chances of getting the #1 overall pick! It’s almost irresponsible to NOT tank at that point.

So after years of struggling to find the right system to reward the worst teams and at the same time preserve the integrity of the league, the NBA finds itself right back where it started, with its non-playoff teams tanking in order to improve their draft position. Only now they’ve created an incentive for everyone, not just the worst two or three teams. I don’t know of any proposals to revamp the lottery yet again, but there is a lot of buzz about the tanking that’s going on (as I write this Cleveland just announced they would “shut down” their star point guard Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season due to a lingering knee injury that he’s been playing on just fine but now needs to be shut down for some reason) so maybe something will change yet again.

It all comes back to incentives; whatever you award people for doing is what they’ll end up doing. Another good example of tanking happened in the 2012 Olympics. A new format was introduced for the badminton competition, whereby instead of a knockout style tournament it was a round robin. Because of the format it was possible to get an easier game by losing than winning, so four different teams were trying to lose games at various times, including one match where both teams were trying to lose. The tanking was so blatant that fans were booing the matches, and all four teams were eventually suspended for it. But when you have a format where you’re better off losing, and athletes are encouraged to win the gold above all else, it’s only natural they would lose games on purpose if it benefits them. Their problem was they made it a little too obvious; they don’t have years of practice tanking like NBA teams do 😉

Well I hope you weren’t too terribly bored by this jaunt through a small part of NBA history! Thanks for reading.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Let’s talk a little hoops Part II

  1. Wow, that’s crazy about it being so obvious. It’s sad that everything becomes about being the best and winning all so that it ruins the fun of actually just playing one’s best in the lower-level games.

    (PS You should link the previous post from the reference to it in the beginning! :D)

    • dantherpgman

      Yeah it was pretty sad; making it so obvious was the only reason they were suspended. After the fans saw that mess they had no choice but to do something about it.

      Oh yeah, good idea. Done! Thanks.

  2. Houston Claude

    I’ll be glad when Stern’s “cat who just ate the bird” smile is gone when he steps down as the NBA commissioner next year, although I am pretty sure that his replacement Adam Silver has been very will trained over the years and we won’t be seeing much fundamental or positive change 🙂 There won’t be any Emperor/Darth Vader epiphany moment where Adam Silver realizes that all of the work that he and Stern have accomplished over the years has actually been to the detriment of the NBA, and Silver tosses Stern over the railing from the nosebleed seats.

    The draft system is inefficient for sure, I don’t know what would be the best solution however. I think the minimum age requirement was implemented with the best intentions, but accomplishes nothing towards that end – to foster growth as a player and a person, holding the player out of the NBA for an arbitrary year after graduation from high school isn’t going to accomplish those goals. Coasting a year through college ball isn’t going to set the Isaiah Riders or DeMarcus Cousins of the league on the right path, for example. Players will only grow and learn through real experience, as evidenced by the maturation of Zach Randolph – a real knucklehead in his Portland days, but a stable workhouse and team player now in Memphis.

    It will be interesting to see if Billy Hunter’s departure will change anything, since it’s been revealed that he has participated in some suspect activities in recent years. I don’t think the player’s union has much power unless they call a strike, but maybe if they get the right person in who can gladhand their way around with the NBA and play the role of the ambassador and diplomat well (Magic? Derek Fisher?) perhaps they can get some things done.

    • dantherpgman

      Yeah I don’t expect a whole lot of change once Stern steps down either (love the smile line, he does always look like that doesn’t he?). But the commissioner works for the owners and bottom line all they care about is…the bottom line. And the NBA is making more money than ever, so they’re happy.

      I think the age limit is terrible too. I’d like to see it either go back to the old days where everyone played 4 years of college or just open it up and let kids come in right after high school. Let them decide for themselves if they’re ready or not.

      I think Magic actually owns a small piece of the Lakers, so no way he’d get involved with the union. Derek FIsher seems like a natural fit though.

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