The NBA May Have Finally Found a Cure To Tanking

Tanking is the biggest problem right now in the NBA, and it may be cured sooner rather than later. Per Grantland’s NBA robot Zach Lowe, the NBA has officially submitted a proposal that may be the solution to tanking. It boils down to this: evening out the odds of winning the lottery for all 14 lottery teams. Basically, why try to lose as many games as possible, if you will only have a minimally better chance at winning the top pick? Right now, here are the odds of winning the lottery for the four worst teams in the league, in order from worst team to fourth-worst: 25.0%, 19.90%, 13.80%, and  13.70%. The current lottery odds for each of the 14 teams is below. (Click to enlarge.)

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The new proposal would decrease the incentive to tank. Each of the bottom four teams would have an 11% chance at winning the lottery. And the team with the worst odds of winning the lottery would have a 2% chance under the new proposal, rather than a 0.5% chance. This evening out of the odds should decrease the likelihood of a race to the bottom by tanking teams. What’s the timetable for such a change to the lottery process? From Lowe:

The league could implement lottery reform as early as next season, though there are many hurdles to overcome before then. And it’s important to note that the league has kicked around several different proposals with varying weights; the 11 percent figure for the first teams is not universal among those proposals, sources say.

The proposal doesn’t entirely fix tanking. Teams could still try to lose games at the end of the season to have better odds at getting a high pick. It’s just that they would be tanking games for just slightly better odds. It’s hard to envision a team losing its last five games on purpose just to have an 11% chance at the top pick, instead of a 10% chance, for example. And that would be the difference between the odds for the fourth-worst and fifth-worst teams. Whereas in the current lottery system, the fifth-worst team has just a 6.3% chance, while the fourth-worst team has a 10.3% chance at getting the number one pick. And to those who might suggest simply giving each of the 14 lottery teams identical odds at the top pick, consider one problem. Imagine a team in the 8th spot, especially in the East, where the eight seed is often under .500 (while the eight seed in the West usually wins around 50 games). Would a 38-44 eight seed really rather go to the playoffs and almost certainly be eliminated, or lose the last couple regular season games to have a chance at landing the number one pick? These are nitpicking concerns though when compared to the current system and the wheel alternative proposed a few months ago. At the very least, it’s comforting to know the NBA is taking a serious look at the current flawed lottery system in place.

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