Tolerable Tanking

Posted by: Josh Newman
12/31/13 10:17 am EST

brown&hornyAs this NBA season, one marred by injuries to star players and presumed tanking by some of the League’s small-market, lesser-talented teams, speeds towards the new year, it’s important to remember that hindsight is always 20/20.

Those teams that everyone knew would be tanking, squads like the 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, have done so with varying degrees of success.  The Sixers, who won their first three games of the season as rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams drew comparisons to Magic Johnson, caught everyone sleeping.  Things eventually settled down and the realization of a poor roster came to the forefront.  Now at 9-21, the Sixers are heading to the NBA Draft Lottery this spring.

The Raptors traded away Rudy Gay, but the NBA’s lone team north of the border is on top of what has been an absurdly bad Atlantic Division, which has zero teams with a record above .500.  The Raptors might be trying to tank, but they may win that division by accident and miss the Lottery along with a shot at hometown guy and presumed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s skip the Raptors, simply because that entire division can’t get out of its own way and, as a whole, the Eastern Conference is pretty bad beyond the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.

The Suns may be the most interesting tanking case in the NBA.  What was thought to be a poor roster got even worse when 33-year-old, first-year general manager Ryan McDonough made Marcin Gortat the focal point of a trade package that got back Emeka Okafor and a 2014 protected first-round pick from the Washington Wizards on Oct. 25th.

With the 2014 NBA Draft set to be among the most loaded in history, the Sixers and Suns both committed to tanking, but a funny thing happened along the way.  The Sixers, specifically on defense (111.5 ppg. allowed — 30th in the NBA), have been unwatchable, while the Suns have not only been watchable, but very competitive in the uber-talented Western Conference.  A lot of that early success stems from guys having career years.

Eric Bledsoe’s 18.4 points, 5.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds are all career-highs by wide margins.  Miles Plumlee (10.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG) is also having his best season, while Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, Channing Frye and the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, have all flourished under first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek, who may need a long look for NBA Coach of the Year when it’s all said and done.

Who knows if Hornacek and the Suns, who are currently sixth in the Western Conference, can keep this up for 82 games, but for now, they’re in the mix and they’re fun to watch, two things you cannot say about the Sixers.

These two teams played each other for the first time this season on Saturday night and the result was somewhat predictable based on what has gone on this season. Four Suns scored at least 18 points and seven scored at least eight in a 115-101 win for Phoenix.  The Sixers allowed the Suns to shoot 46.3 percent from the field as their opponent field goal percentage continues to be among the worst in the NBA at 46.8 percent.

The only surprise in the Suns victory Saturday night was that Phoenix shot a measly 27.3% (9-33) from behind the 3-point line .   As we all know, the 76ers ability to guard the 3-point line has been turrible (as Charles would say) this season.  Brett Brown’s “pick you poison” defense has allowed opponents to shoot 37.6% from deep (25th in the League); gives up 10.5 made threes per night (worst in the Association) and has yielded double digit made threes 15 times this season.  At this pace the Sixers defense (or lack of) will break all the NBA records kept regarding opponents and the 3-point line.

Tanking around the NBA has been accomplished in varying degrees this season.  Back in late October, the Sixers and Suns both thought they had the formula to reach the 2014 NBA Lottery.

Both may still get there, but at least one will be watchable along the way.


Josh Newman is a contributing scribe for Philadunkia.

You can follow him on Twitter @Joshua_Newman.

You can follow us on Twitter @philadunkia.


6 Responses to “Tolerable Tanking”

  1. Adam
    31. December 2013 at 10:36

    So you’re complaining that the Sixers should be more fun to watch while still losing? What metric are you using to measure “fun to watch”?

    The suns are 19-11 and aren’t showing signs of slowing down – that’s not exactly a team heading to the lottery. Would you prefer that the sixers make a run, squeeze into the last playoff spot and exit in the first round instead of getting a solid pick?

  2. Brooke
    31. December 2013 at 14:57


    I understand exactly what Josh is going for in this post. The metric I am using on the Sixers is the eye-ball test and it tells me the Sixers have been simply brutal to watch for most of the season.

    I’d prefer if the Sixers played respectable basketball and lost, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen very often this year.

    On paper, the Sixers are better than the Suns. They certainly should own a better record than 9-21 and because of their youth & athletecism, should be fun to watch on a nightly basis. Unfortunately they are none of the above.

    And these thoughts are coming from a person who supports the tanking effort of Hinkie. Still the Sixers level of play has become unwatchable and tanking is getting old quickly.

    When the season started, I was actually worried this team was too good (on paper) to lose a ton of games and grab a high lottery spot. I was wrong.

    A number if things have dragged this squad down. First and foremost is that the Sixers are awful on defense. The defenisve philosophy of the coach is suspect. Even if Brown had a solid defensive scheme, he may not have the right players to execute a good to great defensive effort.

    Second, is that outside of Hawes and of late Thad, this team has been unexpectedly awful from the 3-point line. The team ranks 28th in the NBA from beyond the arc (32.8%), which kills the efficiency of Hinkie & Brown’s analytics based, 3-point hoisting offense. Alleged shooters like Anderson have not delivered.

    Lastly, the team has no depth. Starters such as Thad, Hawes, MCW and Turner have exceeded my expectations, but the reserves are terrible. Lavoy has turned into a non-factor and so far Wroten has been a roller-coaster ride. I expected more from both of these players. Outside of those two there isn’t an NBA worthy player on the Sixers bench.

    Again, I am in favor of tanking and when the season began, I thought the Suns would out-tank the Sixers, especially after the Gortat trade. But thanks to solid coaching,great shooting from 3 (37.3% — 9th in NBA)and a deeper than expected roster, the Suns have racked up 19 wins and been “fun to watch”.

    I’m not asking for and don’t want the Sixers to rack up a host of W’s. But I DO want to watch games that are solidly played and entertaining. What I have seen of late from the Sixers, I can witness at the local YMCA.

  3. Alex
    31. December 2013 at 17:43

    To add to above comments.
    I see Suns have developed at least 4 to 5 decent NBA players so far.
    As far as the Sixers, with the exception of MCW and Wroten, the rest are bust.

  4. josh
    31. December 2013 at 19:05

    The funny thing is, the Sixers haven’t been that bad when their four best players are in the lineup. When ET, MCW, Spencer and Thad are all playing, this team is 7-7. When at least one of them is out, they are 2-14. Thats why they look good “on paper” because on paper they have all of their starters healthy. Obviously, they have very poor depth. This is also what scares me if we want to continue to tank we need to either trade one of these guys or continue to “milk” every little injury we can. That could get tough though. In the meantime, I dont care how bad they look playing. They only have 5 legitimate NBA players worthy of a consistent rotation spot. Not including Moultrie or Noel.

    I think they should trade Spencer, resign Evan and hold onto Thad. Milk the injuries. Pull Parker/Wiggins in the draft. Grab the next Kentucky shot blocker with the pelicans pick.

    Next year: Starting guards should be MCW and ET, with Wroten as the primary backup. Starting Forwards should be Wiggins/Parker and Thad with Moutrie as the primary backup and then you have two young shot blocking Kentucky Centers.

    If Wiggins/Parker are unattainable then grab Smart or Exum and move Evan to the three.

    Boom. #championship2015

  5. LarryM
    1. January 2014 at 11:58

    This makes no sense at all. The kind of team that you want to see would win enough games to make the playoffs – especially given how weak the conference is.

    Let me ask you this – is there any team in the east would (a) would be in the lottery if the season ended now,a nd (b) who passes your eye test? Not even close.

  6. Rzzzzz
    1. January 2014 at 17:04

    6ers were very watchable the first week of the season. Which, odd to say, could actually come back to haunt us in a very challenging race to the bottom. Brown will have this team back to efficient schemes on both ends of the court…next year. Right now we trail the Bucks by two and are tied or within 1 game of six other teams. With a few more front offices thinking about taking the plunge. You’re example of “tolerable” is a team that’s actively, and successfully, competing for the playoffs. While Kate would be having a field day, savoring all the on-court sabotage and off-court soap opera.

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