It's been a while, old friends. Since we last checked in with these rankings last year, there's been a flurry of anti-Sixers and anti-Sixers tanking think pieces. The armada of teams tanking brush those off like Rihanna does to Joel Embiid - through completely ignoring it and tanking away - sorry JoJo. In the meantime, the blatant acts of tanking by other teams have gone so completely under-the-radar they might as well be U-Boats circling in the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
Have you heard about all the Timberwolves somehow getting hurt in the past week? How about the Nuggets' front office mandate requiring the team to hold out several of its best players against their wishes and against their coach's wishes for nefarious reasons? How about looking at the Knicks roster and wondering why Alexey Shved is the key to everything? These are all legitimately outrageous things - not Mark Jackson-as-Warriors coach tanking outrageous, but not far from that either.
Yet, no outrage has been outpoured by our NBA observers. Instead of believing the Knicks to be an affront to the game of basketball, people think they're being "smart" or, at the very least, the result is more "funny" than "unconscionable". It's something of a double-standard, to laugh off the other offenders while demonizing the Sixers.
Does the timing of the intent matter? Does it matter that the Sixers planned for this, and that the Knicks and Wolves used tanking as a backup plan? What about the other end - the Sixers are clearly developing young talent and giving guys opportunities in the NBA that may have a future. The Knicks are using veteran retreads with no future value in a quest to sink as far to the bottom as they can possibly go.
Okay, I'll get off my high horse. Onto the rankings, and tanking teams of note.
The Nuggets merit inclusion due to the actions mentioned above. If this were a measurement of the levels of tanking the organization *wants* to do, the team would rank much higher. Instead, since firing coach Brian Shaw, the Nuggets have been a perfectly good basketball team, with a 6-4 overall record under Melvin Hunt. Firing Shaw ultimately hurt their odds of obtaining a better draft pick. Still, the "six weeks" chant had to be responded to, so I suppose the timing is supportable.
Their front office is completely incompetent, by the way. I noted this previously when discussing how the Sixers rose above the cap floor and saved millions of dollars. Others have noted this in features on the organization. The team remains below the cap floor, which means it will spent over a million dollars on players already on the roster. And they refuse to spend significant money on coaches and executives, which is how the team got into its current situation.
Was trading for Reggie Jackson a tanking move? I doubt it, with the lack of a sterling record for Stan Van Gundy: Team President. It turned out to be one though. The Pistons had lost nine in a row before a surprising win against Memphis last night, powered by Jackson, who had what was seemingly his first good game as a Piston.
You know how the Jazz are making significant progress, with being a really good team in their last 40 games? You would think Orlando should be like that, given their similar strategies, but they didn't draft as well. Other than Victor Oladipo showing steadier flashes, there's not much to discuss here. They'll likely win enough to keep the Lakers behind them and be generally uninteresting in every way.
The Sideshowtime Lakers are vocally anti-tanking. But actions (or ineptitude) speak louder than words.
At this point, I've mostly given up on the Lakers progressing up the standings. Fewer teams in the West have incentive to rest players given the competitiveness of their conference. Jordan Clarkson and Jeremy Lin combine for 48 solid point guard minutes, in addition to time they play alongside one another. Their bench isn't half bad as a whole, with Ed Davis doing Ed Davis things.
But they're still an awful defensive team, second worst in defensive rating per NBA.com, like every non-Sixers team listed here. They still have only one or two young players worth developing. And Byron Scott is just terrible. We can't give up entirely on them moving up or down, just because they have two games remaining against each of the Sixers, Wolves, and Kings.
I note the Sixers below the Wolves for four reasons.
- The Wolves have a worse record already.
- Minnesota plays in the Western Conference, where the top 11 teams are all good or better, and their ending schedule is not easy.
- The Sixers are 15-35 since their awful start to the season, and their post-deadline record should hold steady as new teammates have more time to get used to each other.
- Brett Brown can coach circles around Flip Saunders.
Flip, temporarily taking a leave to tend to his ailing father (best wishes, Flip), runs an offense out of the early 2000s, replete with inefficient shots by design. His record as an executive is checkered, though realistically much better than his coaching at this stage of the NBA game. For evidence:
Wiggins has an 0.077 3Pr since Feb. 1. Only 4 guards are below 0.08 for the season. It doesn't make any sense to me.— Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS) March 17, 2015
Wiggins will win the rookie of the year award in spite of the awful offensive coaching, and I wouldn't lament that. Michael Carter-Williams got the same boost from raw offensive statistics last season, except Wiggins has a higher ceiling and, after a very rough start, showed greater flashes. Nerlens Noel has been fantastic recently, and more valuable overall. So has Nikola Mirotic, though.
Minnesota has a far better roster, and if they played their guys to win games, they'd almost certainly pass the Sixers. However, the front office and the coach in Minneapolis are one in the same. In this case, we have a coach not necessarily playing to win.
Finally in this regard, I mentioned the schedule above. While they have the Knicks and two games against Lakers remaining, they also face games against the Jazz, Raptors, and Blazers, and three games against the racing-for-the-playoffs Pelicans and Thunder.
They beat the Spurs last night! But they still feature Shved and Andrea Bargnani. Even given last night's unlikely victory, I'm not considering moving them higher until they actually pass another team in the standings.