Let the Tank Crash: Root for Wins

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Published: March 20, 2017

As the New Orleans Pelicans enter the final 12 games of the season they remain in the weird limbo of the NBA. Outside of the playoffs (currently 4.5 games back of the 8th seed) and not bad enough to have a realistic shot at a top 3 pick (the first round pick they owe Sacramento is only top 3 protected). This inevitably leads to one question:

Should the Pelicans tank?

I’m going to tell you why this is a bad idea, and not something you should be thinking.

First, let’s talk about what tanking means: Deliberately losing games. With the intention of improving and, hopefully keeping, their draft pick.

A team is tanking, at this point in the season, if they are shutting guys down for the year—like the Lakers. I’d say it is borderline if a team plays rookies (think Cheick Diallo) or a bunch of D-Leaguers at the expense of their normal starters under the guise of player development. A team isn’t tanking if they are putting out quality NBA players, playing hard, but simply losing.

If you’re the Pelicans, there is absolutely no point in those two options—even if the team is out of playoff contention. And, with just a .8% chance of making the playoffs, despite the improved play recently, it’s fairly safe to say they are. But look where they are in the lottery standings (courtesy of NBA Tankathon).

The Pelicans only have a 6.1% at a top 3 pick, and losing would improve that chance. The Pelicans have no chance to catch up to the Nets, Lakers, or Suns. So, if you want the team to tank, the best you could be hoping for is finishing with the 4th worst record and a 37.8% chance at a top 3 pick.

But the Pelicans likely have too much talent to fall past the five teams ahead of them. The only real way to get there, to tank to that position, would be to shut down Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday, or some combination of them, for the year.

But by doing so the Pelicans would lose the opportunity to use these final 12 games as an extended preseason and training camp. There will be significant expectations on this Pelicans team next season and they should not just throw away the rest of the year.

At times Cousins looks like an excellent fit with Anthony Davis, but there are other times when the offense sputters and struggles. The transition period from the trade is still ongoing. If they Pelicans want to tank they essentially prolong this into preseason next year and potentially the start of the regular season.

Is that worth it for just a chance at a top 3 pick?

And that is not even going into the fact that a lottery pick isn’t guaranteed to work out. So the Pelicans would be hurting themselves for a chance to draft a guy who has a chance of being good in 3 years or so.

That doesn’t sound like a smart decision.

Use the final games of this year as an extended preseason. Get the offense with Davis and Cousins clicking—we’ve all seen the potential of it. Go into next year with a head start; come into game one with all that transition period ugliness gone. There will be playoff expectations.

So don’t say the Pelicans should tank. Instead root for wins, because that means the offense is playing better and starting to gel. Root for improvement. But if the Pelicans happen to lose while that is happen just smile and don’t be too upset.

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