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3-on-3: Tanking 101


Modeled after ESPN’s 5-on-5, three of us will answer three questions about a Pistons-related topic. Please add your responses in the comments.

1. It seems like the general consensus is that the Pistons ultimate goal this season should now be keeping their draft pick and not making the playoffs. Correct move?

Dan Feldman: Yes. The Pistons shouldn’t have an opportunity to pick this high in the draft anytime soon, and they’d be wise not to squander it now. In five years, they could be trying to re-sign Andre Drummond, wondering why they never could surround him with enough talent. That’s when concerns me — not the tail end of an already-lost 2013-14 season.

Brady Fredericksen: Heck yes. Once the Bobcats punked the Pistons on back-to-back nights, it was essentially the nail in the coffin. If you’re that far behind the No. 8 (!!) team in the East, you need to re-evaluate everything. If you’re into watching the world burn and all that, Tankathon is a great website to monitor the league’s who-can-out-suck-the-other race over the final few months. I just want to float out there that, while this idea of tanking may be a general consensus today, wouldn’t it be so Pistons’ luck for Atlanta to fall out of the playoffs and the Pistons to back in by default?

Patrick Hayes:  There’s value in young players getting into the playoffs, even if they get trounced. I don’t discount that — it would be good for Drummond, Greg Monroe, Brandon Jennings, etc., to play prominent rolls in a playoff series even if the result was a spectacular beating by Miami or Indiana. But the stakes for doing that are high. The Pistons have serious talent deficiencies on the perimeter, this draft is loaded with potential impact players on the wing and missing out on the opportunity to get one of those players would be a major setback for the franchise. I’d much rather see the Pistons add another young player to the promising Drummond-Monroe duo, then get that first taste of the playoffs next season.

2. Fans sometimes make tanking out to be something really simple and easy to accomplish, when in reality, it’s not. What’s the Pistons best strategy to tank?

Dan Feldman: The front office directing John Loyer to develop the team’s younger players while sticking with the same starting lineup. More Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell off the bench should help. Also, any injured players should get plenty of time to come back.

Brady Fredericksen: Is there really a strategy? I saw the Philadelphia 76ers in person this past weekend — that’s a team trying to suck. To be as bad as they are, they’ve dismantled their team so much that outside of Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young, they’re playing guys whose only chance to make it on any other NBA team is on 10-day contracts. As for the Pistons, who have a heckuva lot more talent, the easiest route would be experimentation with their end-of-bench players. Give Luigi Datome some run — Say he’s good? Cool. Say he’s still bad? Also, cool. — and give Mitchell some of those Jonas Jerebko minutes while finding some time for Siva here and there. See what those guys can do while dealing with the (likely) consequences.

Patrick Hayes: I believe there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what tanking actually means, as evidenced by some of the the insane comments in recent days from readers who are beyond insulted at the notion that teams would ever consider doing it. The misunderstanding is that people assume when you saying ‘tanking,’ you mean that players should stop trying. That’s completely false. I think there are instances — organizational frustrations, brutal schedule, contract concerns, etc. — where players don’t necessarily play hard, but for the most part, guys in the NBA are professionals who give their best effort. Put simply, players don’t tank, and no one should ever want them to do anything but play with maximum effort. Organizations tank by deciding what’s best for the future of the franchise, independent of the players. They take the decision out of the players and coaches hands by limiting the options on the roster. Realistically, it’s already too late for the Pistons to tank. If you look at what the several obviously tanking teams around the league do each year, much of that work is set in motion in the offseason — they trade veterans for picks either in the offseason or at the deadline, they audition D-League guys, they play rookies and young players in prominent roles, ready or not and they don’t bench those players for making mistakes, they let them play through them. The Pistons haven’t really done any of that, so I don’t think the Pistons are tanking. Loyer is clearly playing the players in his rotation who play the toughest (though his options are clearly limited some nights), he has no problem benching young players (especially Caldwell-Pope) for mistakes and limited but tough veterans like Will Bynum figure prominently into his rotation. The only thing they could really do — and should do, simply to find out what they have in these two players — is find consistent minutes for Siva and Mitchell. At worst, they prove (like most second round picks) that they aren’t rotation caliber players on good teams. At best, they show some promise and perhaps get a jumpstart on earning roles next season.

3.Hypothetically, say the Pistons find a way to tumble down the standings and land a top-five pick, what prospect do you like most for them right now?

Dan Feldman: If the Pistons are picking near the top of the draft, I love Andrew Wiggins as a fit and like him as a prospect. He could definitely become the high-scoring wing with capable-enough defense the Pistons need. A little lower, Gary Harris and Tyler Ennis would be intriguing.

Brady Fredericksen: Any of the perimeter players. Obviously a player like Andrew Wiggins is exactly what a team like this needs, but that, of course, would require some uncharacteristic luck in the draft lottery. Realistically, any of the perimeter players projected to go in the top 10 would be significant, cheap additions to the Pistons. Even further down the lottery line, local college guys like Gary Harris or Nik Stauskas would automatically step onto the floor as the best shooters — pretty much any of these prospects are going to help tremendously in some way.

Patrick Hayes: My favorite guy in the draft is Jabari Parker. People have soured on him a bit, and my theory is just that he’s been on the radar as a top high school prospect for so long, that it has given people time to nitpick his flaws. He’s insanely productive, plays so fluidly and intelligently, rebounds and I love the way Coach K uses him at Duke. It’s really depressing to admit considering my longstanding Duke hatred, but they’ve been one of my favorite college teams to watch this season. As we all know, the Pistons could use an infusion of not only talent, but guys who play intelligently, and Parker fits that bill for me, even if he’s no longer considered the draft’s top prospect.

If not Parker, then give me Marcus Smart. The Pistons need some attitude and toughness.