There’s tanking and then there’s peak tanking.
The Phoenix Suns re-wrote the book on the method on Thursday night in a game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Or, maybe coach Earl Watson is suffering from a little March Madness.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Suns set an NBA record for the youngest starting lineup in history, eventually losing 126-98 to the Nets, giving Brooklyn its first two-game winning streak of the season.
Phoenix sat regular starters Tyson Chandler, T.J. Warren and Eric Bledsoe for various, ahem, ailments (mostly rest), and plugged in some babies in their spots.
So, regulars Devin Booker (20 years old), Alex Len (23), and rookie Marquese Chriss (19) were teamed with Derrick Jones (19) and Tyler Ulis (21) to form the historically unhistoric group.
Good thing Dragan Bender (19) is out after ankle surgery, or you know he would’ve been in there too.
The Suns lineup had an average age of 21 years, 14 days old.
Amazingly, it was a younger starting lineup than seven of the eight teams in action on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament, as the Sweet 16 opened play – only Purdue was younger with an average age of 20 years, 265 days.
The Suns were younger than Gonzaga on average by more than a full year. The Bulldogs entered Thursday’s victory against West Virginia with an average age of 22 years, 150 days.
But you know what? The young guys did pretty well.
Watson stuck with the starters until there was 1:19 left in the first quarter, as he inserted 24-year-old “veteran” Alan Williams for Ulis. At that time, the Suns had a 30-17 lead.
Maybe that was the problem.
The Suns are a team this season that’s on tank-watch, a practice employed on varying degrees by franchises who would rather lose games than win late in the season to help their draft positions.
It’s a strategy that is frowned upon by the NBA but one that is natural in its practice. Famously, the Philadelphia 76ers whole overall franchise strategy over the past few years has been built on tanking. That way, the team can acquire a group of young players that hopefully one day for yield enough assets for a winner.
A closer look at Phoenix’s position shows the young lineup might line up with that thinking.
After the loss in Brooklyn, the Suns are 22-50, 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, who are the worst team in the Western Conference. Only Brooklyn, at 15-56, is worse than these two.
The Lakers have an obvious incentive to tank, because if their pick lands outside of the top three, they will forfeit it to the 76ers from past trades.
For the Suns, it’s plain old fashioned tanking in trying to move one spot down to get more ping-pong balls in the lottery – with the added incentive of trying to screw the Lakers, a West rival.
Expect to see more lineups like this the rest of the way from the Suns.