Are NBA teams tanking harder than usual this year?
Well we all know what’s at stake, the human highlight reel, the guy who makes large men seem small, Thor if Thor could actually fly, the only person in history an inanimate object (the rim) is frightened of, if Jerome Bettis was the bus, he is a bigger and stronger bus, the guy who would intimidate the Monstars, Voldemort would be scared to say his name--Zion Williamson. The likely number one pick in the NBA draft is a stud. There are a lot of bad NBA teams out there and a lot of teams who wouldn’t mind building their future around a guy who’s most likely injury would be hitting his chin on the top of the backboard. As we near the All-Star break, through grit and determination, a small group of teams have separated themselves from the pack in the Zion sweepstakes. The New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls have done their best high school JV basketball impersonations to set up the highest possible odds of snatching Zion. The question is, are teams tanking harder than usual? Because we are only at the All-Star break, let’s go by winning percentages (WPCT) to take a quick glance. The New York Knicks, with an impressive 16 game losing streak, lead the race (though the top 3 teams have the same odds of landing the top pick, and I will be using “top” to reference the very worst teams here - they are very good at being very bad) with a .182 WPCT. The Knicks are followed closely by the still Steve Nash-less Phoenix Suns with a .190 WPCT. Then we have the the Cavaliers who, after a relatively strong Browns’ season have solidified themselves as the worst team in Cleveland with a .196 WPCT. To round out the group of what I am calling the “Final Four” we have the Chicago Bulls who have severely hurt their chances by going on a tear as of late winning an unprecedented three games out of their last 10 bringing their WPCT to a whopping .232. While for this exercise we will extrapolate these WPCTs to the end of the season, there is a lot more bad basketball to be played and all four of these teams know that even the slightest slipup could put them on the outside looking in and so it is my belief these WPCTs will decrease as the teams really key in on the prize at the end of the tunnel. So let’s take a look at the WPCTs of the “top” four teams for the past five years to see how they compare.
2018-19 2017-18 2016-17 2015-16 2014-15
NYK .182 PHX .256 BKN .244 PHI .122 MIN .195
PHX .190 MEM .268 PHX .293 LAL .207 NYK .207
CLE .196 DAL .293 LAL .317 BKN .256 PHI .220
CHI .232 ATL .293 PHI .341 PHX .280 LAL .256
Well I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am no math doctor, but if you look at the chart, if things hold, this year’s crop of the best tankers are tanking significantly better than in recent years. As we come down the stretch, this race could rival the 1998 McGwire-Sosa home run chase only with fewer steroids but just as much embarrassment for the sport. As I mentioned above, the top three spots all have a 14% chance of landing the top pick, barring of course a David Stern frozen lottery card situation, and the fourth spot has only a 12.5% chance at the top pick. Every percentage counts so look for this race to come down to the wire--it should be an exciting finish to the season.