A couple weeks back, when I first addressed the concept of “tanking” to point out that the Cleveland Cavaliers (20-39, 13th in the East) were entering a stretch of brutal games with key players injured, I wrote that I felt the worst (or best, I guess, depending on your point of view) the Cavaliers could likely finish is 4th worst.
The Cavaliers currently sit 5th worst in the NBA, just one game behind Sacramento for that #4 spot. That’s not the big news, though. The big news is that the New Orleans Hornets are suddenly red hot. I don’t know if it’s the news of Tom Benson buying the franchise or what, but the Hornets have now won 4 straight games and 6 of their last 8 to pull the Cavaliers just 2 games ahead of them. That’s right, folks, the Cavaliers have a legit shot at finishing 3rd worst in the NBA.
Here’s a breakdown of the odds difference from 5th, 4th, and 3rd:
So there you have it. If you are so inclined to root for the Cavaliers to lose for the better draft odds, there’s your breakdown of what you’re rooting for. Indeed, if the Cavaliers were to end up 3rd worst, they would improve their chances of getting Anthony Davis by 7% over where they are currently at. By no means a huge improvement, but you also can’t say that jump isn’t statistically insignificant.
More importantly though, is how many players you feel comfortable with the Cavaliers picking. Me? I like Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Bradley Beal. Sure, guys like Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb, and Thomas Robinson are fine players. But I really want the Cavaliers to get one of Davis, MKG, and Beal. So I’m hoping the Cavaliers can end up with a top 3 pick.
The team with the 5th worst record has a 29.2% chance of picking in the top 3. The 4th worst team has a 37.8% chance. The 3rd worst team has a 46.9% chance of picking in the top 3. So while the difference in odds of picking first don’t change by all that much going from 5th worst to 3rd worst, the odds of picking in the top 3 changes by 17.7% going from 5th to 3rd.
So am I rooting for the Cavaliers to lose to the Detroit Pistons (22-38, 10th in the East)tonight? Not exactly. In fact, not at all. I want to see the Cavaliers bounce back and show a much stronger effort than they did in the loss to Orlando on Sunday. I want to see some breakout performances from Tristan Thompson, Lester Hudson, Donald Sloan, and Manny Harris. I want to see the Cavaliers come away with a nice win over a struggling Pistons team.
The problem is, the Cavaliers might not have the talent to do it. It’s funny, when I wrote my preview about tanking, it was before the last game against the Pistons. At the time, the Cavaliers were ahead of the Pistons in the standings and were 8th worst in the NBA. The Pistons were figuring things out and won 5 times in a 6 game stretch.
Evidently Detroit got the tanking memo, though, because they have since lost 5 of their last 6 games. The Cavaliers have an excuse. They’re decimated by injury with arguably 3 of their 4 best players injured (Anderson Varejao, Kyrie Irving, and Daniel Gibson). I don’t know what the Pistons’ excuse is. They’re fully healthy and they have some really good players like Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon, Tayshaun Prince, and Brandon Knight.
If you want a measure of what tanking is and is not, watch what happens in this game. This game should give some insight into the mentality of these teams. Is there any pride left in these players on either team? Which team is going to prove they want this game and go out and win it? Or have both teams given up and decided to just let the ping pong balls keep pilling up in the laps? I feel like this game will tell us a lot about the mental toughness of these two teams.
Image Credit: David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images