The Solution to Tanking in the NBA

by Matt Fischer

We’re one month away from the NBA Draft Lottery.

Tanking has been a problem in the NBA for years now.  Even before the Sixers began “The Process”, teams were losing to get more ping pong balls in the annual draft lottery.

For as much talk as there is about the integrity of the game, teams not competing to win all 82 games is a major problem for the NBA.

Why do NBA Teams Tank?

After the Orlando Magic won back-to-back draft lotteries after having the least chance of the lottery teams in 1993, the NBA made an adjustment to the lottery to make the chances much greater for the teams with the worst records to win the lottery.

This set the stage for modern day NBA tanking.  Now teams that knew they were no longer in playoff contention had no reason to try to win, it only hurt their chances to get better via a top draft pick.

A Race to the Bottom

Since the change in 1994 to the NBA Draft Lottery, the team that finishes with the worst record gets a 25% chance of landing the top pick…second worst has a 17.8%…third worst 17.7%…fourth worst a 11.9% chance before it drops to single digits for the remaining.

If you’ve got the fourth worst record in the league with two weeks left in the season, would you try to win and build momentum for the offseason or give it your least and hope you can drastically improve your chances of moving up in the draft?

The Solution to Tanking

The solution is as simple as it could be…go back to the old draft lottery.  Make it more random.  If a team wins four out of it’s last five games, it will only hurt it’s lottery chances a couple of percentage points.

Revert to the system that worked.  It might have created an abnormality in Orlando winning with just a 1% chance but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes NBA owners.

Go to a NBA Draft Lottery that would look like this based on the final 2016-17 NBA standings.  There would be 105 ping pong balls.

Team Ping Pong Balls Chance of Winning
Nets 14 13.3%
Suns 13 12.4%
Lakers 12 11.4%
76ers 11 10.5%
Magic 10 9.5%
Knicks 9 8.6%
Timberwolves 8 7.6%
Kings 7 6.7%
Mavericks 6 5.7%
Pelicans 5 4.8%
Hornets 4 3.8%
Pistons 3 2.9%
Nuggets 2 1.9%
Heat 1 1.0%

The better chance you give all non-playoff teams of winning the lottery, the more exciting the lottery and the end of the regular season becomes.  Those teams who played out the season trying to win all 82 games can think they have a shot no matter how long it might be and replicate the magic of Orlando in 1993.

Adam Silver is a forward thinking commissioner but it’s time for him to look backward and put an end to tanking in the NBA by going back to the old draft lottery system.

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