Here we go again…..
On Wednesday, an article from The Atlantic took a steaming dump on the effectiveness of tanking. With the Sixers on a 23-game losing streak (and counting!), the subject is particularly of interest for us these days.
The author, Derek Thompson, drops the tank bomb early in the piece:
Nearly 30 years of data tell a crystal-clear story: a truly awful team has never once metamorphosed into a championship squad through the draft. … The teams with the top three picks in any given draft are almost twice as likely to never make the playoffs within four years—the term of an NBA rookie contract, before the player reaches free agency—as they are to make it past the second round.
Thompson’s argument is backed up by a study from David Berri (of The Wages of Wins fame), which takes 30 years of data and determines that perennial losers keep on losing. But we’ve been over this before… causation is not correlation. Yes, shitty teams on average stay shitty. That doesn’t, however, mean that intentionally shitty teams — or tankers — keep on losing too. Particularly if said teams have smart front offices.
Thompson also suggests that a top-tier lottery pick isn’t enough to fix all problems:
Turnarounds aren’t a one-man job in the NBA, either. Bad teams aren’t one great player away from greatness. They’re one great player away from mediocrity. Almost every championship team going back three decades had not one but three above-average starters.
This I agree with. But the Sixers won’t be asking their top 2014 prospect to single-handedly carry the load, though. Michael Carter-Williams has the highest player efficiency rating (14.6) of all rookies who have played at least 1,000 minutes this season, per Basketball-Reference. Though the jury is still out on Nerlens Noel, he could very well develop into an All-Star big man. (Thaddeus Young told reporters earlier this month that the Kentucky product can be “a focal point in the game and a big part of what goes on defensively.”)
Add in the potential late-lottery pick from the New Orleans Pelicans—with the 11th-worst record in the league, the Pelicans have a 97 percent chance of losing the pick—and that’s three potential sidekicks for Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Dante Exum. Not to mention, the Sixers have all the cap space and all the second-round picks.
Tanking’s not for everybody, and it won’t work every time. But used responsibly, in moderation — at the right time, with the right front office, and a little luck — it’s a strategy that can do wonders. Time will tell what tanking brings to the Sixers. But right now, it looks like they’ll be closer to a championship because they’re intentionally losing games this season.