Metrics prove tanking ineffective

Tanking isn't the best way for NBA GMs to save their franchises

Originally Published: June 11, 2014
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine

NumbersIllustration by Jason SchneiderMany teams focus on making their seasons worse in order to get a franchise-saving lottery pick.

AFTER STUMBLING AROUND like D-League squads for the last two months of the regular season, all the NBA teams that tanked for lottery picks will finally gather in Brooklyn on June 26 ... and watch Cleveland select the player they really wanted. Which just goes to show, when it comes to the subject of tanking, supposedly sophisticated opinion has raced far ahead of actual facts. Many smart people insist noncontenders need to blow themselves to bits, hoard draftees and rebuild from scratch. But the numbers show that tanking doesn't work. And it's making too many games unwatchable.

Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.