To tank or not to tank

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 30, 2007.

To tank or not to tank? That is the question. To compete nobly and perhaps win too many games to get a top draft choice, or to surrender one's pride and shamelessly pile up defeats in the hope they lead to more future victories?

This morning, for instance, tormented Grizzlies fans are waking wondering whether they should be happy that their team came from 10 points down in the fourth to beat Sacramento.

On the one hand, hey, it's a victory, but on the other, look at the big picture. The Griz aren't going to the playoffs anyway (well, unless they rip off 30 straight wins after this one), and each victory feels almost like a loss because it hurts their chances of winning the lottery.

Desiring Oden

The temptation to root against your own team grows stronger in a season like this one, in which there's a clear prize at the end. In this case, it's Greg Oden, the Ohio State center who is dominating as a freshman despite playing with one hand.

And the consolation prizes doesn't look so shabby either, as Texas freshman Kevin Durant has been so dominant there's talk of his eclipsing Oden as the top pick.

As a result, lots of arguments have been made in favor of tanking the season, especially for the Philadelphias, Memphises and Bostons of the world. In fact, our resident Celtics fan recently wrote about this exact dilemma.

But the discussion is uninformed until we know more about the potential rewards.

For instance, how much does each additional loss really add to the probability of a team's getting Oden?

How harmful is it to, say, win 25 games rather than 20?

And suppose a team ends up with Oden. What are the odds that he will turn out to be an NBA superstar?

Better yet, what are the odds that he'll be significantly better than the players taken three or four places after him?

Today, I want to get some answers to those questions.