The Ultimate Guide to Tanking in the NBA

If you're an NBA fan then you'll know all about the Philadelphia 76ers and how their long suffering fans were held ransom to "trust the process". The Sixers were tanking their NBA seasons through the mid-2010s to draft Ben Simmons who never turned out to be the LeBron James 2.0 we thought he'd be.


The Sixers also drafted Markelle Fultz with thr first pick in 2017 who turned out to be one of the most overhyped draft flops and passing on selecting Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell in the process.

sixers fans are sad people but I would be too if I trusted the process and it failed every year 👍🏼

— chloë🧚🏼‍♀️ (@chloefor3) April 30, 2022

Source: Originally posted on Twitter by @chloefor3

What is tanking? It's the process of sitting star players out due to "injuries" and then giving excessive minutes to inexperienced veterans and rookies who make enough mistakes to give themselves no chance of winning.

By season's end the teams poor performances means that they sit bottom of the NBA standings which earns them a higher probability in the draft lottery of landing the first pick of the NBA draft.

The 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs tops the list of the best NBA tanking teams in history. There was a lot on the line as the lottery for the 1997 NBA Draft became known as the Tim Duncan sweepstake. San Antonio tanked perfectly as All-Star centre David Robinson was out for most of the season despite suggestions that he was fine midway through.

The Spurs finished the 96-97 season with a 20-62 record after finishing the previous couple seasons with 59-23 and 62-20 records. The Celtics had the best chance with a 27.5% probability of getting the first pick. It was the Spurs who would win the lottery with a 21.6% chance.

Spurs won 62 games in 1994-95
Spurs won 59 games in 1995-96

* David Robinson gets hurt and SAS tank
Spurs win 20 games in 1996-97

Spurs win Tim Duncan in 1997 lottery

Spurs win 56 games in 1997-98

Spurs win 5 titles and more games over the next 20 years than any other team

— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) October 31, 2019

Source: Originally posted on Twitter by @TommyBeer

It ended up being the best example of NBA tanking in history as Duncan would help create a dynasty in San Antonio, becoming a 15-time All-Star and winning five championships with the Spurs.

Despite how good the Spurs did it tanking isn't allowed in the NBA and team owners and executives have been issued big fines in the past for making references to tanking.

These tanking comments by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban -- "losing is our best option" -- drew a $600,000 fine from the NBA, via Julius Erving's "House Call" podcast

— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 21, 2018

Source: Originally posted on Twitter by @BenGolliver

The idea of tanking isn't new and the NBA has been working hard to clamp down on teams resting star players by bringing in anti-resting and anti-tanking policies.

The NBA originally aimed to prevent tanking by first implementing the lottery system in 1985 so that teams wouldn't be so motivated to tank. Previously the lowest ranked team would have a 25% chance of securing the first pick, the second-worst a 19.9% chance and third-worst a 15.6% chance.

In 2019 the NBA reduced draft lottery odds so that the three worst teams would only have a 14% chance of the top pick.

In 2021 the NBA also introduced the play-in tournament which places the 7th to 10th placed teams in each conference against each other. It gives teams in the middle of the pack - especially those placed just outside the top eight - incentive to play for their lives instead of tanking in the last month of the season.

The mini play in tournament adds excitement in the NBA which we saw in 2022 with the Western Conference 10th seed 36-46 Pelicans upsetting the Spurs and Clippers. They earned a spot in the playoffs and even took two games from the 1st seeded Suns.

The Pelicans would prefer to sit, and protect the health of, Anthony Davis until trying to trade him this summer, but the NBA threatened to fine the team $100K per game under the NBA's anti-resting policy--a policy that relates to anti-tanking. More here:

— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) February 11, 2019

Originally posted on Twitter by @McCannSportsLaw

The new anti-tanking measures have made it much harder to tank in the NBA and it seems to have been largely effective. An era of tanking in the NBA is coming to an end with the addition of the play in tournament, and the flattening of the lottery odds has effectively killed NBA tanking as we know it.


Another Basketball Blog is a spin-off of Wolfgang Sport, an American and British sports blog I created in 2017. Basketball is one of the most culturally intensive sports in the world and the aim is to dive deep into the culture.


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I don't know much about this sport but the analysis was quite in-depth and it gives an idea of what tanking is

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