Around three fourth’s of NBA’s schedule — whether locked ou or not — top teams start clinching their respective divisions and conferences. This means they not only qualify for the playoffs, they also enjoy home court advantage.
But while teams in contention try to secure their playoff spots, teams languishing at the bottom heading for the draft lottery could be tempted to lose their remaining game. Wait, there is a term for this: tanking. By finishing at the bottom of the standings, and possibly disappointing season ticket holders in the process, teams bolster their chances on grabbing the coveted top draft picks via the lottery ball.
We can’t blame them, right? Failure to land in the top eight position means the team is classified as lottery-bound. But why be contented on landing the 14th best player in the draft pool when you can covet the most promising college kid? The problem is, that promising kid is only available to the first team who gets the right to pick him. So when your team has the worst win-loss record in the league, it gets the highest probability of snatching the top pick, although it may be guaranteed at all times.
Doing so, games could become less competitive and lopsided wins will become common. Since good players on bad teams rarely play badly for their team to deliberately lose, they are shut down for various reasons (family matters, ear infection or any undisclosed reason). This is bad not only for season ticket holders, but also to fans who expect competitive basketball. After all, this is the NBA.
So how do we prevent teams from ‘tanking’?
Allocate top pick to lottery team with best record
This proposal was raised by Mike Greenberg of Mike & Mike in the Morning. With this setup, there is a consolation prize for missing the playoffs. Or rather, teams can select whether they wish to join the playoffs or grab the best available draftee. Either way, there is incentive in playing hard. But for teams who have the worst record, they get the 14th pick instead of the theoretical first pick overall. Right now, teams who just missed the playoffs appear to be in the worst position because a) did I just say, they missed the playoffs? and b) they have slim chances of picking the best of the pack.
This solution may not be welcome for perennial bottom-feeders (Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors, Washington Wizards) who try to discover the next superstar who could save the franchise.
Punish non-playoff teams every time they lose their remaining games
Or, create incentives for teams that fail to secure a playoff spot every time they win their remaining games. It can be setup that once they’re playoff chances are mathematically eliminated their win-loss record will be closely monitored. Every loss would mean weakening their probability of landing the top draft pick.
In such cases, while not perfect, could still inspire fans to cheer for teams to stay competitive instead of tanking their game for the sake of that coveted top rookie prospect.