Tanks A Lot 4: The Closest Race in Years

The 4th installment of our deep dive into the bottom of the NBA standings.

It has been one of the more peculiar tanking seasons in recent memory, and the top pick will essentially up for grabs after the All-Star Break. For the first time in at least ten years, there is not a clear-cut “worst” team. Instead, there are more than a handful (eight, to be exact) of teams that are within 2.5 games of the top spot. Even Chicago, who went 15-8 during one stretch this season, still have a 10% chance at a top-3 pick. As of Sunday morning, there are two teams with 17 wins, four with 18, and two with 19.

Not only has the race been the closest in years, but the teams at the top have far more wins than usual. Here are the NBA’s worst teams and their records through ~56 games in each of the last 10 seasons:

2018: Hawks 17-39
2017: Nets 9-47
2016: 76ers 8-47
2015: Knicks 10-45
2014: Bucks 10-45
2013: Bobcats 13-42
2012: Bobcats 4-28 (Lockout-shortened season)
2011: Cavaliers 10-46
2010: Nets 5-51
2009: Kings 12-45

It could be that worst teams were more devoid of talent in previous seasons. This year, the Suns are a half game out of the top spot of the tank standings and have two guys averaging 19+ points per game, one of them capable of dropping 70. The 2010 New Jersey Nets were 4-48 at one point and Brook Lopez was by far their best player. Their fourth best was Yi Jianlian.

Whatever the reason may be, this seasons tank is truly anyone's game.

Current Standings - Feb. 11

Hawks 17-39 GB 0
Kings 17-37 GB 1
Suns 18-39 GB 0.5
Mavs 18-39 GB 1
Magic  18-37 GB 1.5
Nets (CLE) 19-38 GB 1.5
Grizzlies 18-36 GB 2
Bulls 19-36 GB 2.5
Knicks 23-33 GB 6
Hornets 23-32 GB 6.5

Best Tankers

Two teams have gone a miserable 1-9 in their last ten contests, firmly implanting their names back in the tank race. The Suns had been hovering around the 5-6 range all season until their latest stretch. They are now within a half-game of the top spot and their next two games on the road against Golden State and a suddenly surging Jazz team. Things have been just as bad for the Nets, who have worked their way up to just a game and a half back, and are tied with Orlando for the 5th pick. The decision to hold on to the rights to the Nets pick may end up paying dividends down the road for the Cavaliers, as they now have an 18.3% chance of a top-3 pick in a solid draft to begin the possibly-coming post-Lebron era.

Worst Tankers

The aforementioned Jazz have completely played themselves out of the race. In late January, Utah was 16-24 and dangerously close to being in the famed “Bottom 8”. They have since won nine straight, including road victories in Toronto and San Antonio, and handed the Warriors an extremely rare 30-point loss. Utah is now just 2.5 games out of the 8th playoff spot.

The Lakers have also played themselves out of the running. On January 7th, Los Angeles played host to the Hawks in what was a battle for the league’s worst record. The Lakers had 11 wins, the Hawks had 10. LA was victorious and is 12-5 since, including an 8 for 10 stretch. The Lakers have every reason to give their best effort as they don’t own their first-round pick this year.

Relevant Games (Last Week)

Hawks 99, Knicks 96
Hawks 108, Grizzlies 82
Magic 100, Hawks 98

The leader of the tank race played three crucial games in the last week, with mixed results. This race is the Hawks to take, but going 2-1 against fellow tankers is not the way to get it done. Luckily for Atlanta, their final three games before the All-Star break are against the suddenly-not-tanking Pistons, Bucks, and Pistons again.

Mavericks 130, Lakers 123

The Lakers have a new look after the trade deadline, but Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks spoiled the debut of Isaiah Thomas in a win that pushed Dallas out of the top-3. Thomas did his part and scored 22 off the bench, but was matched with a 22-spot by Dirk, who is averaging a nice 12 and 6 in his 20th NBA season

Relevant Games (This Week)

Kings @ Mavericks - 2/13

A matchup between top-4 teams, this will be a battle of rookie point guards. Dennis Smith Jr is averaging nearly 15 points per game for Dallas and will look to dethrone the Kings, whose offense will now start primarily with De’Aaron Fox after veteran George Hill was traded away last week. The loser of this game should take a top-3 spot into the All-Star break.

Magic @ Bulls - 2/12

Neither of these teams is in the top-4, Orlando at 5 and Chicago at 8. But only a single game separates them, meaning that a win by the Magic would shake up the standings drastically going into the All-Star break.

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