By Glen Ivol
It’s officially draft season for the 10 teams eliminated from the playoffs to date, and you know what that means, it’s also tank season. Losing now means more than ever, with the NBA changing its lottery odds system beginning with the 2019 Draft. The incentive to lose coming down the stretch changed dramatically for this season. That being said, who is tanking the hardest? Here’s a reverse look at typical power rankings, ranking the 7 of the teams who are tanking.
7. Charlotte Hornets (33-41)
The Hornets aren’t your typical tanking team, with a star player in the form of Kemba Walker and a rejuvenated Dwight Howard. Looking at their stat lines in recent games, you would have no idea this team is six games out of the eight seed and should be trying to better their lottery odds. Against the Grizzlies (another team that will appear on this list), Kemba exploded for 46 points and 10 3-pointers in a 140-79 win. Yes, the Hornets won by 61 points, that is not a typo. Dwight Howard put up 32 points and 30 rebounds in their monstrous comeback against the Nets, just the second player to have a 30-30 game, joining Kevin Love on the list. They’ve now won three straight and continue to diminish their odds of jumping up the draft board. That begs the question, where was this effort earlier in the season?
6. Sacramento Kings (22-47)
You think this would be easy for Sacramento, but nothing ever is. They have two bright spots in De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose growth over the year has been nothing but encouraging (More of Bogdanovic’s in the Rising Stars game? Yes please). However, they have five other players under the age of 25 that deserve minutes and looks down the stretch to decide if they have a future part of the rotation or not. Hint: as much fun as he is to watch at 40, stop playing Vince Carter.
5. Chicago Bulls (24-49)
Chicago looked like early favorites in the tank race when they started the year off 4-20 without Nikola Mirotic. Since then, they have gone 20-29 and watched themselves climb almost out of the top five of lottery odds. Not the place you want to be when you’re looking for a superstar to pair with the young trio of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Zach LaVine. However, LaVine’s future with the team is up in the air as his free agency looms. If you’re Gar Forman, do you double down on LaVine as your future centerpiece or do you cut bait with the biggest assest you received for Jimmy Butler?
4. Orlando Magic (22-51)
Ah, the model of consistency. The Magic have been stuck in the bottom five (specifically the three to six range) for six years now. With no real direction and no one-player to focus on building around, the Magic are yet again at a crossroads. Aaron Gordon is a RFA this offseason and the only thing he’s done is come in second in a dunk contest, so what do you do with him? Mario Hezonja, whose fifth-year option they declined, finally looks like a professional basketball player and may jump ship as well. On the bright side, they have a very raw Jonathan Isaac who has only played in 25 games this year!
3. Atlanta Hawks (21-53)
The Hawks keep losing, but it has not helped them gain any ground on the worst record to gain the best odds. They are full two games behind the Grizzlies and two and a half behind the Suns for worst record. The Hawks have had a few pleasant surprises this season, mainly in the improved play of Taurean Prince and nice rookie season from John Collins. Prince has seen all of stats improve this season compared to his own rookie season last year. Collins has played better than many could have hoped this early and ranks fifth among rookies in efficiency. While they may not end up with the top pick, pairing those with Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic, or Michael Porter doesn’t seem like a bad consolation prize.
2. Phoenix Suns (19-55)
The race for Deandre Ayton/Luka Doncic starts here. The Suns are awful, there’s no other way to put it. They aren’t even worth watching unless you’re praying for another offensive explosion from Devin Booker. The Suns and Grizzlies may have the same odds for the top pick right now, but the Suns have been far worse over the course of this season. The suns have a +/- of -9.9, by far the worst in the league with the Kings at -7.4 in front of them. The Suns have to be hoping for a top two pick as they desperately need someone to pair with their star Devin Booker.
1. Memphis Grizzlies (19-54)
The Grizzlies losing streak mercifully came to end, as they beat the playoff hopeful Nuggets. This is a team in need of a new identity and a reboot, and losing out to get the best odds for this year’s draft seems like the perfect plan. Long-time franchise star and team leader Marc Gasol has publically voiced his displeasure with the direction of the team and it makes one wonder whether time has run out of the partnership. With Deandre Ayton waiting to be picked in the top two, Memphis is a dream destination for the big man.
(Editor Note: All stats courtesy of NBA.com)
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