HEADING into the All-Star break there is a logjam at the bottom of the standings. Seven teams are separated by just one game with the race for the No. 1 pick now officially a competition. This upcoming draft seems littered with stars at the top end so with roughly a quarter of the season to go every loss counts.
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IN the last five seasons here’s how many games have separated the worst and 7th worst record in the league at the end of the season.
11 games in 2016/17
22 games in 2015/16
14 games in 2014/15
13 games in 2013/14
11 games in 2012/13
HERE’S a look at the seven worst teams in the standings today.
NOT once in the last 15 years has that gap between worst and 7th worst been within single digits. In most seasons there are two or three clear teams that you can point to as the worst in the league. The case could be made for any of the cellar dwellers this season and, with the exception of a few players (Devin Booker, Marc Gasol and maybe Aaron Gordon/D’Angelo Russell) all of these teams lack a true, healthy franchise calibre player who can help change their fortunes.
TANKING to try and sew up a top pick this year is understandable when you look at the top prospects. Names like DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr, Marvin Bagley and Trae Young are all being mentioned as potential superstars once they turn pro. With such elite talent on offer and such tight competition to claim one of the top picks come draft night, we could see players rested and younger guys getting a minutes boost in an effort to stack up the losses.
AS if the competition to claim one of these guns wasn’t hard enough, the Lakers (23-34), Bulls (20-37) and Knicks (23-36) aren’t far away from the other teams in the lottery. LA doesn’t have their pick this season and has no reason to tank, but Chicago and New York will likely go all in to try and claim a better draft position.
PHILADELPHIA showed us how important it can be to accumulate a ton of picks and nail them. The Sixers have drafted Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, who should help steer the team to the playoffs this season. Simmons and Embiid are already stars of the league and Philly hitting on both those picks could see the team become a future force.
DON’T forget though they also drafted the likes of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Michael Carter-Williams, none of whom developed into superstars and are all playing elsewhere now. Drafting the wrong player can leave a franchise stranded at the bottom of the standings for years on end. Magic and Kings fans now exactly what I’m talking about.
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IN a league plagued by poisonous contracts, draft picks are worth their weight in gold. As we saw over the trade deadline, plenty of names were dangled in the hope of receiving a first rounder in return. In most cases no trade eventuated, with teams opting to keep their picks to draft cheap rookies who can make important contributions while the likes of Timofey Mozgov (4yrs/$64mil), Harrison Barnes (4yrs/$94mil), Kent Bazemore (4yrs/$70mil) and Brandon Knight (5yrs/$70mil) eat up huge portions of the teams salary cap.
ANOTHER reason there is a race to the bottom is due to the lottery changes that will come into effect next season. You can read all about the changes here but the long and short of it is that it will be harder to guarantee a top pick even with a terrible record. As I talked about with the Sixers, just because you have a top draft pick it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the best guy. Trailblazers fans are reminded of this every time they hear Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant’s name.
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MOST of the teams have roughly 20-25 games left. Throughout the season so far the Memphis Grizzlies have played the easiest schedule and the Atlanta Hawks have played the hardest schedule out of the seven teams squashed into the bottom of the standings. Over the remainder of the season here’s the number of times one of the tankapalooza candidates play each other.
Phoenix Suns: 5 times
Atlanta Hawks: 3 times
Dallas Mavericks: 5 times
Orlando Magic: 6 times
Sacramento Kings: 5 times
Memphis Grizzlies: 5 times
Brooklyn Nets: 4 times
BROOKLYN doesn’t own their first round pick this year, so there’s no reason for them to start ‘trying’ to lose. They have suffered a few injuries lately that has seen them lose seven straight, but they should bounce back sooner rather than later. The other six though, they are well and truly gunning for the bottom.
Image from grizzlybearblues.com
WITH the ultimate pot of gold at the end of the rainbow a franchise-altering star, don’t expect to see a lot of wins from these teams to close out the season. As the Warriors reign at the top of the league, the race for the worst record in the league might become more interesting that the playoff race to close out the year.
COULD we see Trae Young in a Magic jersey in the future? Or maybe DeAndre Ayton donning a Kings one? The next few months will determine if these events come true and in five years we could look back at a seven-game losing streak that helped one of these teams receive a top pick to draft a player who changed their entire franchise.
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