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Dreadful Armada: The So-Called "Ills Of Tanking"

On the necessary downsides to tanking and what the Sixers have done to curtail them. Plus, the usual Pellies pick and tanking rankings updates after a couple of down weeks.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, we at Sixers tanking headquarters were reminded that not everyone likes what we've deemed necessary tanking.

First, Zach Lowe disclosed a proposal sent to the NBA league office called The Wheel - I prefer the phrase The Wheel of Drafting Fortune but nobody cares what I think about this - which would effectively end designed tanking and loss piling. In short: the proposed system would set draft picks 30 years ahead of time, guaranteeing each team a top 6 draft pick every five years and every selection in the draft over a 30 year period. Due to draft picks being set by the wheel instead of reverse order of finish, which is customary in the strangely socialistic design of the four major American sports, it would practically eliminate incentivized losing (gambling and other nefarious reasoning excepted).

Later, Mike Zarren, Celtics assistant GM and once-almost Sixers GM, was revealed to have proposed the wheel "solution." The Celtics, long anticipated as a potential tanking team, currently hold the 8-seed in the woeful Eastern Conference

I have nothing more to this to add that hasn't been covered already by Lowe or on this site by Michael Baumann. Meanwhile, more tanking discussion came up over the weekend, and that's what I'm here to discuss.

On Saturday night, former Phoenix Suns front office scout/player development analyst Amin Elhassan, who now works for a cable news channel (more accurately, he works for, but a rush of random, pointless, insufficient vindictiveness rushed over me like Woj missing out on a scoop), attended the Sixers-Suns game in Phoenix. As he was in attendance, he could look almost exclusively at players' body language, whereas television viewers could only see what the broadcast chooses to focus on. Here were a pair observations Amin had (the conversation had many more tweets - these are just the most relevant two):

I'd been running the Liberty Ballers twitter account (@Liberty_Ballers, follow us yesterday) and found this line of thought interesting, since I hadn't noticed outside of one occasion that the Sixers gave up on a play. Sixers fans who've watched the team all year largely disagreed with Elhassan - I was inclined to agree only because he would know better than all of the people watching on television, with limited camera views. But even on TV I noticed an instance where a lack of effort was concerning.

That play even received attention on the CSN Philly broadcast - it was a live turnover situation, leading to a fast break. Michael Carter-WIlliams and Spencer Hawes, who were in position to get back on defense, decided instead to not attempt to make any defensive effort, leading to a 2-on-1 with just another guard (Elliot Williams, I think?) back to defend the Suns fast break.

Brett Brown was visibly not happy with the effort on the play, and Malik Rose called out both players on the CSN broadcast. Both Hawes and MCW did remain in the game despite the lack of hustle in what ended up being the team's 13th consecutive road loss. This I found strange - if players will be held accountable for effort, why weren't they yanked at least temporarily?

Despite this, it appeared as if the Sixers have done their best to bring in players who wouldn't slack or give up on plays. From the broadcasts, it doesn't appear that this happens often.

The front office surrounded the core players and existing players mostly with athletes who all play hard, all the time. Sam Hinkie said as much in his appearance on The Rights to Ricky Sanchez* and in other media appearances. The Sixers wanted to take fliers on hard workers, guys who would compete even when overwhelmed. Tony Wroten fits in this category - his motor never stops running. Brandon Davies might not be talented, but he always gives maximum effort. Ditto for Lorenzo Brown and Elliot Williams, who were brought in during the season.

*I'm giddy over having a Ricky Sanchez player page, you have no idea.

The Sixers are trying to build an environment where the losing on the court doesn't impact the players' development. Most teams try to bring in veterans who've "been through things" and act professionally even in losing environments. A prime example: the Oklahoma City teams before they became one of the NBA's best. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played alongside vets like former Sixers Joe Smith and Kevin Ollie, along with other well-regarded vets like Chucky Atkins and even Malik Rose (!).

The Sixers instead will fight the tanking illness by emphasizing competition and hard work and dissuading bad practice or effort habits. Despite the lack of effort I mentioned above, the team has generally played hard even when out-sized or out-skilled or out-talented (or all three) by opponents. Rarely have they been completely outworked. The challenge will be minimizing the mental mistakes and bad effort habits going forward during what is sure to be a tiring season for everyone, even if the only members of the roster that stay here going forward are our most recent draft picks. Plays like the one I highlighted need to happen as little as possible.

Pelicans Pick Update

Anthony Davis returned early from his injury, enough to help the Pelicans to a couple of wins during a tough stretch in their schedule. Currently slotted as the 11th best team in the West, they would hand over the 12th pick if the standings finished in their current order. Their playoff odds seem slim; however, I'd also wager their pick ends up outside the top 10 at the current moment.

Tanking Rankings

5. Los Angeles Lakers (13-18) - this is not a misprint - the Lakers are in a really sad state at the current moment. They've racked up more wins than they should have already, but sans Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash for longer than anticipated, sans a banged up Pau Gasol here and there, and with questionable health situations surrounding Xavier Henry and Steve Blake, the Lakers lack talent. The Sixers fielded a better roster in Sunday night's game. The Lakers have now lost 5 straight. So of course, in a loaded draft with superstars abound, the Lakers are involved.

4. Orlando Magic (10-20) - I'm not giving up on them in this race. At 10-20 but with no real playoff aspirations, an Arron Afflalo trade is all that keeps the Magic from reaching the lowest levels of these rankings.

3. Utah Jazz (9-24) - Trey Burke has had an MCW-like effect on the Utah Jazz. MCW has played better overall, as MCW to Wroten isn't nearly as large a drop off as Trey Burke to no one, but Burke really makes the Jazz a competitive team in the highly competitive Western Conference.

2. Philadelphia 76ers (9-21) - ill from tanking so hard.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (6-24) - despite Larry Sanders' return and a loss to their tanking rivals, there's enough inability and dysfunction here to maintain the top spot. But they clearly have more talent than the Sixers and even other teams ahead of us. We'll see if there's still motivation to keep jobs or if the tank has permission to commence.

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