It seems many managers are purposefully attempting to lose categories this season. I have read about people tanking as many as four categories and seen teams take less valuable players throughout drafts to fit a certain strategy. Tanking can be helpful but it can also limit your team. Therefore, the decision should be made carefully.
Most importantly, tanking does not guarantee you victory in other categories; it only guarantees you will lose the tanked ones. You can tank two categories and still lose the other seven any given week.
Winning a few categories by excessive amounts doesn’t help your team more than winning them by a small margin. If you destroy a team in blocks, 70 to five, it is still the same as winning six to five, and worse than losing free-throw percentage and turnovers. If Dwight Howard is on your team and you draft five other shot-blocking centers it is a waste of his best attributes. He is valuable because he puts up enough blocks and rebounds to let you use other roster spots to grab an extra point guard or shore up threes, not because he gives you a head start toward setting the world record for blocks in a week.
Tanking can negatively impact your overall record. The goal at the end of the regular season is to be in 1st or 2nd place and earn a bye week. In order to secure the best record, 8-1 is better than winning 5-4. Just winning any given week isn’t enough; you want to win big. If you defeat most teams 5-4 or lose 4-5, your record will be inferior to a team that wins most weeks by a small margin but has a few 8-1 and 7-2 weeks. When you tank you reduce your possible record for the season by 21 wins for each category while increasing your losses by an equal amount. Anecdotally, I had a “big ball” team two seasons ago that went 13-8 if you go by weekly match-ups and finished with a winning record for the season, but because I only won 5-4 most of the time I still missed the playoffs.
Some teams in your league will be pretty bad. It is beneficial to crush those teams 8-1 or 9-0 instead of winning 6-3 or 5-4. On the other hand, there may be teams in your league that are stacked nearly across the board due to luck and clever drafting. They will be able to compete with you in your strong categories while you have handed them any tanked cats as a head start. A few teams may tank the exact same categories as yourself due to the popularity of small or big ball techniques. This nullifies your advantage and makes the tanked categories important.
The strongest argument against tanking during a draft, in my opinion, is that it limits your flexibility. In all likelihood, many players will perform differently than you expect. There will be trades, injuries, improvements and let-downs. The team that looks unbeatable in five categories now may be vulnerable in those same categories a month into the season. When you have to make adjustments, players with higher trade values who contribute in multiple categories are superior to less valuable players who merely fit a tanking scheme.
An inflexible roster can hurt you in several ways. There could be a surprise letdown in a category you believed you were unbeatable. Al Jefferson had a season-ending injury; the same could happen to Howard. Allen Iverson, a very high pick in many leagues, was traded to Detroit. Young players like Rudy Gay can decline. Playing time and situations change depending on a coach’s whims. If you have planned on winning five categories every week and two months into the season you are only winning four of them regularly, the flexibility to pursue other categories to compensate is helpful.
Conversely, you may decide to tank a category but a player on your team unexpectedly contributes well there. Troy Murphy hitting 2.2 threes per game and Lebron improving his free-throw percentage come to mind. Last season, a manager may have drafted Brook Lopez late for his decent free-throw percentage as a center but were tanking blocks. They could have been competitive in that category with little effort but purposefully arranged the rest of their team to lose categories that were winnable. A free agent could explode in assists, such as Calderon two seasons ago, but you pass them up because your team has no chance of winning that category. If you have built your team too specifically around certain strengths and weaknesses, you will have a harder time taking advantage of the unexpected.
There are times when it makes sense to give up on a category. Tanking is something to do as the season progresses to streamline your squad or to target a specific opponent in the playoffs. During the season, you may find you are just not going to win a category but are competitive, not dominant, in a few others. This is the time to tank. Now you trade away or drop players who only contribute to a category you can’t win and build up ones that are strengths. When it is playoff time and you know your opponent is unbeatable in assists, now you drop your third point guard for someone who can help you in categories you can win. While drafting in September, however, you should try to get the most value possible with each pick and give yourself a chance to win every category.
I realize tanking is very popular and welcome opposing arguments. I invite proponents of tanking to post examples of the perfect tanking team as could be reasonably drafted in a twelve team H2H 9-cat league.
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