Will Cavaliers and Pistons Try To Out-Tank Each Other Tonight?

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:

5th Worst

4th Worst

3rd Worst

1st Pick8.8%11.9%15.6%
2nd Pick9.7%12.6%15.7%
3rd Pick10.7%13.3%15.6%
4th Pick0%9.9%22.6%
5th Pick26.1%35.1%26.5%


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

  • Jack

    Shouldn’t have come to this. Just a couple of meaningless wins…we could in line for 3rd worst already. Senseless.

  • Jack

    Andrew, are you implying that not playing hard tonight and tanking would betray a lack of mental toughness?

  • Absolutely. Is there any question about that? These guys are professionals who are paid to play the game at the highest level in the world. I have no patience for lethargic and uninspired basketball. I want to see these players give 100%. They’re just fortunate that their 100% isn’t good enough to beat most teams on most nights. Let the wins and losses take care of themselves naturally. I want to see some fight in this team.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    The funny thing is, the lottery was created to prevent tanking… doesn’t seem like it worked.  Maybe the best way to do that would be to give each non-playoff team the same odds in the lottery?  I’m sure plenty of people would dislike the idea of a team almost getting into the playoffs having the same chance at a “sure-thing player” as the lowly Bobcats, but I would actually like it.  It might help prevent teams from getting stuck in limbo with one star player but nothing else to help get them over the hump.

  • It really depends on how you define tanking. The headline was mostly tongue in cheek. The Cavaliers’ current talent level is so low. But Byron Scott and these players aren’t doing a single thing to lose intentionally, other than playing without full effort some nights. Was the Ramon Sessions trade tanking, or was it just a really smart trade to get a 1st round pick for a player who was leaving? 

    That’s why I can’t be too hard on tanking as a philosophy. Sometimes teams just really, really stink. 

    But I definitely hear you on your overall point. Nobody likes horrible basketball. Basketball is just a funny sport in the way a team can quickly rise of fall depending on the fate of just one player. 

  • Harv 21

    Since they went to a weighted lottery has any team received the first overall pick 2 years in a row?

    Theoretically this system should prevent transparent tanking. We’re here screaming for more ping pong balls when we won with less last year. You’d  think this system would prevent owners from ordering coaches to lose. Then again, maybe now teams just look for fig leaves (see: David Lee strained groin/stress reaction MRI “finding”).  

  • Blue Guybrush

    I don’t really like the idea of Davis because I can’t stomach the idea of looking at him night in and night out.. MKG might be the way to go, but Barnes would be good too. We need an SF, and we need a bruising C.

  • mgbode

    I remember when tanking meant noone played defense and you had 120-118 games that were silly, but fun.

    Nowadays you have games like NO v. Charlotte last night that noone wants to see:

    32% shooting
    8% 3pt shooting

    that’s what a tanking clinic is these days

  • The Orlando Magic in 92 and 93. 

  • mgbode

    did we have less last year?  we had the #2 overall alottment of ping pong balls and the #8 overall alottment of ping pong balls.   

    it happened that the win was from the #8 alottment, but it was the greediness of Grant acquiring all of those ping pong balls that pushed the odds in our favor.

    (and yes, I know they are actually numbers on a spread sheet, but it’s more fun thinking of them as ping pong balls)

  • Jack

    Yes, I question that logic. I don’t think the choice of whether or not to play 100% tonight is at all a question of mental toughness. It’s simply a choice, and unless you have some incentive to choose in the affirmative (play your hardest), it’s simply irrational to do so. 

    Unfortunately for the long-term health of the team, a number of players on this squad have an incentive to play 100% tonight (e.g. future job security).

    But consider someone like Zo Gee. What would Alonzo Gee’s motivation be to give it all tonight? He risks injury without a lucrative contract in place even though he’s in line for a raise. He contributes to a weakening of the team’s ability to win games in a future he will more than likely be a part of…You could argue that his incentive should be a priori, that he’s a professional, that the fans pay to see him play…but then you remember that the vast majority of the fans do not WANT to see the Cavs win tonight. 

    So, all you’ve done is a) risk injury before rich b) piss off your fan base c) hurt your own chances of getting the next best teammate for the next few years…

    …all because you felt that your “pride” was in question playing a meaningless basketball game against the Detroit Pistons at the end of a compacted seasons without your best players that no one would ever remember…unless it turned out that that game cost you 5% of the ping pong permutations.

    Mental toughness comes when you confront a challenge and you rise to meet that challenge. 

    There is no challenge for the Cavs tonight. Therefore, I do not think mental toughness can be assessed. Only rationality or irrationality.

    I think a fine case can be made that tanking is irrational. I just stand in opposition to it. 

    But no, not a case for mental toughness…

  • Jack

    Also, they’re on the road…another disincentive. 

    For the record, Andrew, I respect/appreciate your diligence in establishing dialogue with the people responding to your articles. I think it elevates the WFNY experience when the author is involved (at least for the few hours after posting).

  • Harv 21

    The #8 ping pong balls were mauve, the #2 were teal. Mauve won, and still would have won if teal belonged to someone else. So your more favorable odds talk makes no sense.  Try to pay attention here.

  • I’m not sure I would agree that the vast majority of fans want the Cavs to lose, but I’m nitpicking here.

    As to your main point, I just don’t believe athletes think about the game like fans do. I don’t think Gee cares AT ALL about what the Cavs’ draft position is. Athletes have egos and pride. It’s what makes them great. It’s what makes them different from people like us. 

    If Gee is thinking about draft position and not playing his best game tonight, then he’s not a player I want on the Cavaliers in the future. Would Kobe Bryant ever sacrifice his play for the sake of draft position? Would Michael Jordan? I know guys like Gee and Thompson aren’t that caliber of player, but their mentality is absolutely the same. 

    If you listen to NBA players, they are always talking about how tough the NBA is mentally. How challenging it is to go out and give 100% every night when they’re constantly sleeping in uncomfortable hotel beds away from friends and family. 

    I’ll buy that one game is not a fair gauge of mental toughness. But whether players play hard over these next two weeks as a whole is absolutely, without question, a matter of mental toughness in my opinion. 

  • I just love the feedback from you guys. It’s fun to discuss this stuff and to hear everyone’s opinion, whether they agree with me or not. 

  • Yeah, these are just some horrible teams. Look at those rosters. Yikes. Hard to say the NBA isn’t a little diluted these days, particularly with all the best players trying to all play on the same handful of teams. 

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I agree that the guys out on the floor are typically giving full effort.  I’m thinking more along the lines to bench players who are “injured”.  For instance, the feeling is that Varejao is healthy enough to come back and play before the season ends, but will he?  No way.  Ditto Kyrie Irving, he’s shut down for the rest of the year.  On the one hand you could say these are preventative measures, but my personal opinion is that they’re mostly in the interest of tanking.  Does Antawn Jamison sit out the middle game in a 3-game back-to-back-to-back if the Cavs are trying to make the playoffs or grab a higher seed?  No way.

    Tanking in the NBA is a strange thing.  The coaches and players on the floor are always giving maximum effort to win, but the GMs are doing their best to hinder the team’s chances at winning.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I doubt Chris Grant takes a man’s eyebrows (or in this case eyebrow) into consideration on draft day, which is definitely a good thing for Cavs fans.

  • mgbode

    tell that to the King’s players.  sure looks like they cared about tanking 🙂

  • mgbode

    see the Kings youtube video above.  not sure that there isn’t more smoke to the tanking fire.

  • mgbode

    Chris Grant collects those little white balls like a Hungry, Hungry Hippo. 

  • Mark

    I am ok with the Cavs losing every game the rest of season if that increases the odds of us drafting a better player. Come on Pistons!

  • mgbode

    yeah, I don’t know how the Bobcats have managed to end up with that as their roster after years and years of drafting in the lottery.

    of their players I might consider Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens to be on the bench of a contending team.  and that’s about it.

    the Hornets have a lot of nice pieces but have been injured and have an overall flawed team.  I think they have a decent chance at recovering to a decent team with a couple of good selections (not even slam dunk guys)

  • New_prodigy

    I thought it was already a foregone conclusion that most basketball players don’t really “turn it on” until the playoffs anyways?

  • Yeah, seriously. To be fair, though, this is part of the reason the Kings are such a mess. I’ll stand by my opinion that I don’t want players on my team who would act like that in a win. Ridiculous.

  • mgbode

    I stand by it too.  I like how Grant/Scott do it.  Take your time with the important players coming back from injuries, make smart trades for long-term and don’t care about the short-term ramifications.  Let the young players prove/disprove they belong in the NBA.

  • mgbode

    even the hint of the idea of Anthony Davis pairing up with Greg Monroe frightens the hell out of me.  they would be the perfect complement for frontcourt players.

    please no.

  • porckchopexpress

    I think VPat says it below that tanking is the job of the front office not the players on the court.  Keeping guys out an extra week when they could have played, so that 5 of your  rotation guys weren’t even drafted to play in the NBA (what’s more amazing is that our 5 d-leagers plus a rookie plus over-the-hill Antawn can still paste the Bobcats)
    Only TT has guaranteed money next year of the guys playing.  I don’t think it is possible to tell Sloan, Hudson, Gee, Samuels, Toilet Paper, or Jamison not to give effort.  Hudson and Sloan made less this year than most of us, they are auditioning for big time paydays and you think someone is going to convince them to lay down? 
    If anything its been fun to see the potential some of these guys flash.  I think Hudson is going to fade away, but Sloan has really shown potential to be a perfect backup, if he could just nudge that shooting percentage into the mid 40’s even. 

  • Jack

    I won’t belabor the points except to say this…I have plenty of ego/pride…I’m just not 6’6 or very fast or able to jump very high. I think that’s mostly what makes professional basketball players different from me…

    The Hornets are getting #1 overall anyway…

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I just watched that video and did a spit take.  I’ve never seen players act openly upset about their team winning a game… that’s awesome.  I’d love to see Sacramento draft Harrison Barnes, thus forcing Francisco Garcia out of his spot in the rotation.  Would he hook us up with another facepalm?

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Good call, I was going to write something about the fact that you can’t ask the young guys who are just trying to get paid to tank… they’re not going to do it.  I agree that Sloan looks like a keeper.  He just needs to stop shooting 3-pointers and his shooting percentage should go up.  He’s got a fantastic mid-range game, but he’s 2-20 in 3-point shots for the season (including short stops in NO and ATL)… he needs to just cut it out of his game like Rondo or John Wall, unless the shot clock is running down of course.  He can always add it back when that shot becomes more reliable.  Sessions did that.

    There are things that I like about Lester Hudson that makes me think he could be a good guy to bring off the bench to infuse some life into the second unit… he gets to the free throw line and converts there, he can finish in traffic, he rebounds the ball for second-chance opportunities, and he sees the floor pretty well for a 2-guard.  But he’s definitely got to improve his shooting from the field.  39.8% FG and 23.6% 3FG is not going to cut it over the course of a season.

  • mgbode

    Hudson is just not a good player.  He’s a fun story, he’s put up some numbers, but overall he’s just not very good.

    that shows that of all the players who have played for the Cavs this season only Harangody, Walton and Eyenga have had a bigger negative effect on ‘net points’  (his points scored vs. points given up also show similar results)

    WS/48 is a paltry 0.039  (Harangody is 0.050)

  • BrownsFanSF

    The only thing I disagree with is “uncomfortable hotel beds.” hahaha

     Agree 100% with everything else.  To be a professional player (not on the Kings) you have to have a special sort of prideful unwillingness to lose at ANYTHING – much less the game you are paid to play.

    There are a few 6’1, 6’2 players in the NBA.  The mentality is part of what separates them from the rest of us.  (especially in so far as the mentality is how they get themselves to spend 13 hours a day in the gym getting the ‘nba skills’)

  • BrownsFanSF

    Amen to that!  Tyreke Evans, Boogie Cousins, these guy’s competitiveness are already in question.  We want guys who can’t stand to lose, beat your girl at bowling on your first date kinda guys.

     A good part of the reason the Kings are the Kings are because of the mentality that has festered there

  • Steve

     They used to give each team equal odds. The fact of the matter is that you cannot prevent tanking in the NBA. The fortunes of a franchise can get changed so greatly by getting a top pick that its easily worth it.

    And in your scenario, what do you do about teams that are legitimately terrible, tanking or not, like the Bobcats or Hornets? Just tell them “oh well, too bad”? You have to give them a chance to get better.

  • CavsFanInLA

    If I understand correctly, since the Cava beat the Kings in their only match-up this year, they own the tie-breaker advantage, so the Kings would need to lose two and Cavs win all of their remaining games for the Cavs to pass the Kings in draft lottery positions.

    I feel that our best chance to move to the 4th pick is to pass New Orleans, who beat us in our only match-up this year.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Yes. Yes they will.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Yeah, that’s definitely why I put some caveats around Hudson.  There are still things I like about him that I think successful 2-guards do, but if he can’t get his shooting percentages up and if he can’t learn to play better defense, he’s not going to make any NBA roster.  I think his defense is the biggest factor to why he ranked so poorly in those categories you listed… Byron Scott has talked about that publicly as well saying that he really needs to put in work on his defense.