The Beginning of a Pro-Tanking Argument I Like

If you read the first part of this argument from Tom Sunnergren at Hoop76, you can see why I have a hard time disagreeing with this post.

I say this without irony or exaggeration: I love Dave Berri. The Wages of Wins author and wins produced architect has had more influence on the way I think about basketball than any other analyst in the game. There’s no close second. I didn’t read Wages, or its followup, Stumbling on Wins, as much as I devoured them–scribbling notes in the margin with lunatic intensity–then proceeded to revisit them every few months to keep the arguments fresh in my cluttered head. I probably wouldn’t be writing about basketball were it not for him.

This said, I have a gripe.

Berri and his cohort have been making a lot of noise on the Internet lately about the relative merits of tanking. In short: they think it’s really dumb. Berri’s stated argument–that teams that lose a lot of games in one season tend not to succeed in subsequent ones; thus “tanking” doesn’t work–is persuasive. He’s convinced me that, as a general principle, tanking is bad strategy. Or, at best, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

(There are some other anti-tanking arguments advanced by the Wages crew that I’m not going to tackle here, because I think they’re beside the point. The primary one being: NBA teams shouldn’t tank because losing decreases attendance, which in turn decreases revenue. If I owned a team, this would be a very compelling reason not to tank. As a fan? I only care about revenue insofar as it leads to title contention. [I also don’t want my team to lose so much money that they move to a different city. The Sixers, however, don’t seem to be at risk of doing this.])

The subtext of Berri’s argument is, to my mind, also sound. Berri and others who believe wins produced is the best and most accurate measure of a player’s value think there are a bunch of very good and very undervalued players in the league. They think this is the case because, in the WoW universe, NBA general managers are idiots who are over-enamored of scorers and ignore really consequential stuff like rebounding and field goal percentage. Thus, you don’t need to tank to build a winner in the NBA–you just need a copy of The Wages of Wins. Though the league is moving a bit on this front (volume scorers are losing value, etc.) I’m actually sympathetic to this view. GMs don’t seem to be rational actors and we all love buckets more than they love us back.

Here’s the problem:

After that… well, not sure I agree with the rest of Tom’s story. But give it a read and if you agree… leave a comment on Tom’s post (really, not sure I want to read any more pro-tanking arguments in this forum) :)

– DJ

P.S. By the way, I do like Tom’s stuff as well (and I am not just saying that! :)   I should add, though, that I would not characterize NBA GM’s as idiots.  The evidence just suggests that NBA GM’s are not fully informed.


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