Why the obsession with "tanking" in sports?

Well, unlike the Sistine Chapel, after a certain age NBA players don’t become more valuable the older they get. :wink:

Last year was a fluke. Game 6 took it out of the team, and they haven’t been the same since*. I doubt, seriously doubt, that the Spurs will get past the second round in the playoffs… and I would not be shocked if they were “upset” in the 1st round.

*Pop is still talking about it to reporters.

They came within one bad bounce of winning the title last year, and this year they’re #2 in the West even though they’re always diligent about resting their players. They could lose early in the playoffs, sure: the conference is crazy tough. But they’re still very good and they’re not in bad shape for the future. Parker is far from over the hill, Leonard is already very good and still getting better. They can keep some of their other guys as they need to and they’ll probably have assets for trades. Shitting over all of that for a chance at a lottery pick, and not a great chance in all likelihood, would be terrible.

Could you maybe make the draft picks depend on more than one season of performance? If you made it based on the past X years, where X is approximately the length of a contract, you could prevent tanking from being viable: You’d need to be bad for as many years as you hope to be good.

Here’s a chance to ask: How deep is the draft? Is #1 roughly the same as say, #5?

Generally, no. Last year’s NBA draft was a bit of an exception, where there was no clear-cut #1 pick, and the guy taken #1 (Anthony Bennett) has so far looked like a bust (although it’s early in his career, obviously). But usually there’s a consensus as to who the top 1-2 players are.

This year the draft goes three deep as far as guys who the consensus says are #1-worthy, assuming they all come out after their freshman years. Depending who gets the picks, those three could go in any order. For my money the top tier is 1 deep (Wiggins), but people loooooove Embiid and Parker, too.

What makes it especially deep is that picks 4-12 or so are looking pretty likely to include multiple legitimate NBA stars, although there’s more risk involved with determining which ones, obviously. And it’s almost a guarantee that somebody will go between 15 and 20 who turns out to be a better NBA player than last year’s #1 pick. It’s a deep draft.

Believe it or not, the year the Pens tanked the season to get Mario Lemieux, we already sucked. In fact, the franchise itself was in danger of tanking. That was the whole reason for it – our GM was desperate.

Thanks Jimmy! I asked because I wondered if it was worth it for #1 to trade down, and how far they could afford to.

It certainly isn’t a new thing. It is a natural result of giving teams incentives to lose. Whether teams are losing on purpose or just appearing to do so, it is a problem. Obviously it depends a lot on the sport. A high draft is much higher in basketball, while a shot at the playoffs is much more important in baseball or hockey. I don’t think it is necessarily that difficult to fix. You can base draft order on market size and/or give higher picks with teams with teams with the best records who don’t make the playoffs. I’m not sure it would work in basketball, but I do think it can work in the rest of the major sports.

The Astros are an interesting case as you can argue that tanking cost them a lot of money. Their attendance cratered and their tv deal is in shambles. There is a cost to being terrible, and it can be difficult to get fans back once you are good again. The Indians are a prime example of a franchise who just hasn’t been able to attract fans again after going through a long rebuilding phase. They may have been better off spending a little money to be not quite so terrible over the last few years.

Turnover can happen in baseball pretty quickly too though. The tigers went from an all time terrible team to a world series team in just a few years. There is a lot of variance in year to year performance, so if you can get to an average talent level, you can be a playoff contender with a little luck.

A number of teams over the years have taken that approach, but the hit rate isn’t particularly great.

Looking at QBs who were taken with the first overall pick over the past 25 years, and categorizing them into a couple of groups:

Troy Aikman
Drew Bledsoe (might be being a little generous here, but I liked the guy)
Peyton Manning
Eli Manning

Good, but not great (or not great for very long)
Jeff George
Michael Vick
Carson Palmer
Alex Smith

Too soon to tell for sure
Andrew Luck
Cam Newton
Matthew Stafford (might have enough track record now to put him in the second group)

Tim Couch
David Carr
JaMarcus Russell (though I think that no other team beyond the Raiders would have considered taking him #1)

Depending on how you feel about Bledsoe, the numbers suggest you’re as likely to get a bust as a great.

Also, looking at the top active QBs by passer rating, and when they were drafted:

  1. Aaron Rodgers (1st round, #24 pick)
  2. Peyton Manning (1st round, #1 pick)
  3. Phillip Rivers (1st round, #4 pick)
  4. Tony Romo (undrafted free agent)
  5. Tom Brady (6th round)
  6. Drew Brees (2nd round)
  7. Ben Roethlisberger (1st round, #11 pick)
  8. Matt Ryan (1st round, #3 pick)
  9. Matt Schaub (3rd round)
  10. Cam Newton (1st round, #1 pick)
  11. Andy Dalton (2nd round)
  12. Jay Cutler (1st round, #11 pick)
  13. Joe Flacco (1st round, #18 pick)
  14. Matthew Stafford (1st round, #1 pick)

If nothing else, it’s proof that drafting (particularly for a QB) is an inexact science. Most of the top QBs were drafted in the first round, but they were as likely to be picked up in the middle of the round as in the first few picks. And, two of the guys on the list who are likely Hall of Famers (Brady and Brees) weren’t first-round picks at all.

The problem is that it’s difficult or impossible to, from the outside, differentiate between

  1. Intentionally losing games so as to get better draft picks (classic ‘tanking’, consensus is that this is bad); and

  2. Realistically deciding that there is no chance for a championship this year, and so adopting strategies [other than intentional tanking] that invest in future seasons rather than this one (for instance, giving young players lots of playing time so they’ll learn and be better next year; or trading away a good player for younger developing players or future draft picks). Generally, I think people don’t feel this is bad. Nobody really wants to see their team stuck in mediocrity for a decade; they’d rather have a couple really bad seasons and then a chance to win it all.
    Now, we might decide that #2 is bad. In which case there are solutions. For instance, a relegation system, where the worst teams are demoted to the minor leagues, really gives an incentive not to completely suck. But, unless there’s really good league-wide revenue sharing, this will also lead to a league dominated by a couple teams, because nobody in the middle tier can afford to rebuild enough to move up to the top.

The QB thing is really hit or miss. But every now and again you get the perfect storm, like the QB class of 1983, where 3of the 6 QBs selected in the first round were astounding and a couple of the others reasonable (Elway at #1, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and lesser but still pretty good Todd Blackledge and Tony Eason). And even though Marino was taken after Blackledge, it was considered shocking, since everybody thought he would be taken higher.

Or the class of 2004, where the first three QBs selected were Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers.

And in those kinds of years, you really do want one of the first few picks. The problem is you can’t predict those types of years happening.

Also, the NFL is one of the worst places to find tanking on purpose. The incentives aren’t there. Coaches and players are regularly fired after losing seasons, so they have no reason to make their employment position worse, even if the front office and ownership wants it.

Look at the “Suck for Luck” campaign. The Colts won 2 of their last 3 games to finish out the 2011 season and put themselves in jeopardy for getting the first pick. The end of a season is the absolute worst time to start winning games if they were deliberately tanking. And following the season, the coaching staff, front office, and most of the roster was gutted. If they were deliberately tanking, they did it the wrong way.

Blackledge barely started a season-and-a-half worth of games. O’Brien was better.

I completely agree (and I think you left out Bradford, whose inclusion wouldn’t 't improve the odds of a great, certainly). And that’s without even factoring in the for-a-long-time crippling cap implications of drafting a quarterback with a top 2 or 3 pick and having him bust out, as opposed to a lower-drafted quarterback who couldn’t play. Plus, with the successes of Wilson and Kaepernick and maybe to a lesser extent Nick Foles, it might start to look like the best way to get great quarterback play is to get the right guy and run the right system.

Still, historically your odds with a top 2 or 3 pick were much better than trying any other particular strategy for getting a quarterback. Rodgers was a phenomenal late first rounder, but that was against the odds; using a late first rounder on a quarterback is a much worse bet than using a tank-zone pick on one (which only makes sense, obviously). Just sort of making up a measurement by the seat of my pants, football-reference says that there have been 14 quarterbacks drafted from picks 1-4 with career Adjusted Values above 90, 8 quarterbacks drafted from picks 5-30 with the same value (and none since Jim Kelly, although once the current crops’ careers are over this will change), and only 6 drafted after pick 30 that had that much success (with Brady/Favre/Brees as the holy trinity of that bunch). Of course nobody uses AV as definitive proof of anything, but that’s fairly suggestive of the relative hit rates.

I remember Rogers was the last one left in the “green room” got painful to watch. Why did he slide?

Why did Marino slide until after Blackledge? GMs get obvious calls wrong sometimes.

Also, Rodgers was the 2nd QB picked. Teams were drafting for need, and most teams had needs at other positions than QB. The 49ers got it wrong (but not horribly) with Alex Smith, but that was only a horrendous botch in hindsight. It wasn’t a complete shocker at the time.

You’re right, I just forgot to classify him. I’d put him in the “Too soon to tell for sure” camp, though the fact that there’s been buzz about the Rams looking at other options at QB since he got hurt last year suggest he’s more likely to wind up in “Good but not great”, at best.

There’s a rookie salary cap now, so this as much of a big deal as it used to be. I think the maximum contract for the #1 pick is 4 years and about $22 million, and since those guys get big signing bonuses their salary cap figures are even lower. It’s not an insignificant amount of money but compared to what things were like when Bradford and others were coming up, the financial cost of a draft bust is a lot lower.

Marino had unsubstantiated drug rumors.