Bad to Good: The treadmill TO mediocrity

Data or it didn’t happen -Arturo

We’ve spent some time explaining while tanking is not a good strategy. The basic concept is a team that is not a contender needs to tank to become a contender. The idea is that you must bottom out to effectively rebuild. Now, we are not talking about losing a few games to improve your draft position. The idea is that you must burn your team to the ground before you are able to reach the elite level.

How's that worked out for you so far?

We called silly buggers on this particular notion.

Dave Berri tackled this problem in his most recent Freakonomics post: You Don’t Need to be Bad to be Good in the NBA.

We revisited this in detail in another post and Patrick threw down the hammer but still there were doubters. Let’s talk data.

That’s all the data from 1978 to last Year. The summary?

Hmmm, who would have thunk it? It’s harder to get to the top if you tank. In fact here’s the data graphed by year:

You’re not seeing the result of any particular strategy. What you are seeing is called regression to the mean. Editor Dre: I’ll be tagging in briefly here. We’d like to ride on Pritchard’s naming convention a little more and name this: The Treadmill to Mediocrity. And In fact while the above graph is much shinier, it’s nothing new either. Dean Oliver in Basketball on Paper had a similar graph for teams 1 year after and 5 year after (figures 9.1 and 9.2 in Chapter 9) Coincidently, the same chapter also includes a footnote from Martin Schmidt and Dave Berri on competitive balance. Dre out.

Good teams tend to stay good, Bad teams tend to stay bad but over time everyone trends to 0.500. Yes, you can luck out in the draft but really the draft is a lottery. Your best bet is to find and keep good players (without overpaying them) and keep playing that draft until you hit one.

Cause sometimes you win despite yourself



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