Welcome back for the 2nd editions of Posterized’s Tankathon Tracker. If you didn’t catch the first instalment you can find it here. The Tankathon Tracker is a weekly look into the race to the bottom of the NBA, Losing for Luca if you will. Here is a quick refresher, we have 8 teams competing this year, Memphis, Pheonix, Dallas, and Sacramento in the West and Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Orlando in the East. Only 6 wins separate the bottom dwelling Memphis Grizzlies and the fast falling Knicks. The Nets and the Lakers will be participants in name only this year as neither owns their first round pick and has nothing to lose for. The Nets remain the gold standard of how not to tank. However do not sleep on these franchises as they know how to lose and can easily fool some of our less resolved tankers into an unsuspecting and crippling win.
- Chicago Bulls (22-42)
The Bulls have possibly the least talented roster in the NBA, and may have the least upside too. Zach Lavine is ostensibly their best player and whilst Lauri Markkanen has show plenty of potential that’s where the promise for this franchise starts and ends. None of the other young Bulls players presently project at anything beyond a serviceable role player. Justin Holiday may be the ultimate tanking tool with all his empty stats. Yet somehow this team has 22 wins and has won 3 of its last 7, including a bad win against the Grizzlies. For a team that has just been told by the league to stop resting its starting center Robin Lopez things do not look promising.
- Sacramento Kings (20-45)
There are 4 teams on 20-45 and most are winning games they really do not want to, but the Kings have taken it too far. As a tanking team you cannot be beating New York and Brooklyn in the same week, even at home. It’s not possible to be excited about the Kings due to their history of gross mismanagement. There are some nice pieces there, however adding a genuine superstar to go along with Fox, Bogdanovic, Cauley-Stein and Hield is critical. The lesson here is do not beat the Nets and Knicks.
- Orlando Magic (20-45)
If you are tanking and you make it to Overtime you have done your job. You have been competitive, played hard and cared about the outcome. OT is generally perceived to be a 50/50 proposition, so you can lose on purpose no frills. If this Magic team is serious about it’s rebuilding process, they have to be prepared to throw an overtime game against a play-off hopeful. To rub salt into the wound the Magic then followed it up with a win over the Grizzlies on the second night of that back to back. How many excuses do you need to throw games?
- Atlanta Hawks (20-45)
In the real world you might consider this squad to be over achieving. Along with the Bulls the Hawks are either 1 or 1a for least talented team. Yet somehow they beat a Suns team that is lead by a future All star, Devin Booker, and genuine NBA starter TJ Warren (who went 16 for 26 no less). The Hawks are not like our other tanking teams. They are three seasons removed from their 60 win 2015 campaign and the first time they will miss the play-offs in 10 years. They will be hoping to ensure this rebuild as fast and painless as possible. There are some good pieces here in John Collins, Schroeder and Prince but a star is needed to get back to their winning ways and losing to the Suns is not going to help that cause.
- New York Knicks (24-41)
Since Porzingis went down the Knicks are 1-8. If they keep up this pace they will finish the season 26 – 56. This team will be in a position to jump up into the top three come the lottery. In the meantime try and enjoy the concept of pairing Porzingis with Doncic or Ayton whilst we watch Tim Hardaway Jr earn his $16.5 million.
- Dallas Mavericks (20-45)
Mark Cuban openly proclaiming the teams intent to tank is the cherry on top of this tanking masterclass. This team losses to it’s tankathon competitors, such as the bulls this week, then gets a rare win against a playoff team, doing just enough to pretend that losing isn’t it’s top priority. If the Mavs could ham up the Dirk Nowitzki send off tour angle just a little they might be able to justify playing the 39 year old 35 minutes a game and upping his shots to 15 per game in a effort to avoid those pesky wins over playoff teams.
- Phoenix Suns (19-48)
They may be one win ahead of the Grizzlies in the win column but they are two losses ahead in the more important loss column. The Suns have lost their last 4 and 9 of their last 10. Best of all over the last Month Booker is averaging 31 points a game, nearly 4 threes per game, shooting 46% from the field and adding his share of rebounds and assists. The Suns are giving the people what they want and pushing their case for the number 1 overall pick, perfect tanking.
- Memphis Grizzlies (18-46)
The Grizzlies have lost 15 straight and look the goods to continue their cold streak. Conley is out for the season, it is not a stretch to imagine Evans being shut down and Gasol is having a season from hell. Dillon Brooks and Ben Mclemore are not likely to lead this team on a late surge.
Worst Win of the Week
Atlanta 113 – 112 Phoenix
Whilst this might be a great loss for the Suns, it was a very bad win for the Hawks. With a little over 2 minutes remaining and the Hawks up 108-105, Prince attempted a block but mistimed the effort and ended up goal tending the Josh Jackson layup. Prince deemed it appropriate to talk trash at this point, which led to a typical NBA fight, double technicals for Jackson and Prince and ejections for Isaiah Taylor and Elfrid Payton. Remarkable stuff for a game which superficially means nothing.
At this point Prince was hot, having hit a three and a two for the Hawks last five points. He would stay hot, hitting another two and another three to score the final 10 points to close out the game and hold off attempts at a comeback from Booker and Warren, with Booker missing a potential buzzer beating game winner. Prince, obviously confused, would run down the court hand raised in the air in celebration of his momentous occasion. Oblivious to the detrimental effects his efforts will have on the teams rebuilding process.
Best Loss of the Week
Dallas 100 – 108 Chicago
A Dirk Nowitzki three pointer to open the 4th period would give Dallas a 88-78 lead. From here the Bobby Portis led Bulls would outscore the Mavs 30-12. The Mavs would shoot 4 from 17 from the field and 3 from 7 from the line in the final quarter (two of which were Barnes free throws with the result beyond doubt). It appears they followed our advice from last week that going 7 from 7 to seal a victory is unproductive at this stage in the season. This was truly a case of one man’s trash is another man’s treasure as the Bulls fell victim to an expertly executed game plan from the Mavs.
This week Orlando Jumps up from the second slot to take out the 1st Overall Pick. Memphis and Phoenix both drop one spot to claim the second and third picks respectively. Remember this mock draft is an attempt to figure out how teams will draft in this order, and may differ significantly week to week.
1. Orlando – Luka Doncic
Just like last week Luka is the perfect fit for this squad. He can play any position except centre and is an exceptional playmaker in the mould of Ben Simmons but with better shooting. Doncic projects to fit nicely with Gordon and Isaac, the rest of the roster needs to be sorted out though, but that’s easier to do when your franchise player can do it all.
2. Memphis – DeAndre Ayton
Picks 1-3 will be tough this year as there are between 3 and 6 guys, depending on who you ask, who can go anywhere at the top of the draft. Ayton has his defensive question marks, mostly to do with his understanding of the game, because the athleticism is there. He has also tried to play the role of the Unicorn this year, and whilst the three isn’t where it is for say Jackson Jr, he has shown enough for Memphis to take him here. Biggest issues for Ayton will be around how well he adapts his game to no longer being able to routinely physically dominate and intimidate his opponents.
3. Phoenix – Marvin Bagley
The Suns will be looking for a player with superstar potential at 3 to pair with Devin Booker. Bagley and Porter stand out here as the players who meet those needs best. Bagley can be a decisive player, he is one of the best players in college basketball, potentially the best, but questions have been raised about his potential to transition smoothly to the NBA. Major concerns revolve around his defensive role at the next level. He isn’t a great rim defender which limits him as a small ball 5. This is concerningly compounded with some defensive limitations on the perimeter. He also gets a lot of his offensive production out of the post, which as we all know, does not feature heavily in the offensive schemes of NBA teams today. All this aside he has a fantastic skill base for a team to work with. It is not a stretch to imagine him adapting his game appropriately to fit in with the modern NBA, or even better for his skill set to be so high he can operate effectively in a different manner to the modern NBA entirely.
4. Atlanta – Michael Porter Jr
Atlanta will not be mucking around here and just like the Suns will be hoping to get a superstar. There are a few players left on the board who fit that requirement but none more so than Michael Porter Jr. Just like 76ers grabbed a falling Joel Embiid, the Hawks take a former projected number 1 pick who has succumbed to significant setback in his one and only year at college. Had Porter not suffered his back injury and undergone surgery in November there is a good chance we are still calling him the obvious number 1 selection right now. There has been some funny business with respect to his medical clearances, but maybe the Hawks can play copy cat here and put Porter on the shelf for a year, tank once again and pair their nice young pieces with two franchise players.
5. Cleveland (via Brooklyn) – Jaren Jackson Jr
This one can go so many different ways and it all depends on LeBron James. For the sake of this exercise I am going to assume LeBron does stay. But of course if LeBron is to stay it will be under the explicit instruction that Koby Altman either trade the pick or draft a player with capacity to help out right now. Obviously the draft happens prior to free agency so LeBron will get a chance to decide if he likes their/his selection or not. As we outlined last week Jaren Jackson Jr could have the best career of any player in this draft as an exceptional 2nd or 3rd option who brings elite rim protection, spacing and shooting. If James stays this is the player who can best help him compete with Golden State in 2019, and beyond.
6. Sacramento – Trae Young
If this is where Sacramento ends up picking and the draft board falls as it has here, I am almost certain Trae Young is selected by the Kings. Vlade and Ranadive have a habit of overrating their own players and may see no need to select yet another big, and while I am not so high on Mo Bamba, he is a great selection in this range and is a significant upgrade on Skal or Cauley-Stein. Trae Young has every chance of being the next Steph Curry and the Kings will be looking for that type of player here. I do not hate the pick here, however I am sure I would hate the way the Kings come to this conclusion. I really like Trae Young so I also wouldn’t wish this upon him, although Fox is believed to be a great culture guy and the pair could form a scary back court, albeit small and defensively deficient.
7. Dallas – Mo Bamba
This is something of a 6 man draft (really a three and three plus 1), so if someone reaches up for someone like Trae Young it could leave the Mavs licking their lips. Mo Bamba is an easy choice here. He gives the Mavs their centre of the future who can anchor a league leading defense. Bamba and Smith Jr pick and rolls would be great fun too.
8. Chicago – Collin Sexton
It starts to get very murky here and this pick could be anything. The Bulls have such a poor roster that they need to be drafting the player who looks most likely to explode into a superstar. You obviously cannot be flaming out with a top ten pick and while Sexton may not end up being better than other available prospects, he has the potential to be the guy the Bulls are looking for. Sexton has had a roller coaster of a season with the Tide, but the prospect of pairing a dynamic scorer and leader with Lauri Markkenan is worth salivating over. The NBA is still a Point Guard league and when you play on this Bulls team you will need as much experience playing 3 on 5 as possible.
9. New York’ – Wendell Carter Jr
Barring injury the Knicks have their franchise guy in Kristaps Porzingis. At the 9th pick, if you can find your team a genuine 3rd or 4th NBA starter you are doing well, and that is just what the Knicks need here. Wendell Carter is a good fit next to Porzingis. He has some way to go but has shown some great defensive potential along with excellent rebounding and inside scoring. Carter has had an outstanding Freshman season at Duke and if it weren’t playing alongside Marvin Bagley there is every chance Carter would be much higher up this list.
10. Charlotte – Mikal Bridges
The Hornets need to make some big calls sooner rather than later. There is probably not a franchise changing player at this stage of the draft, however there is a guy who will have an excellent NBA career. MIkal Bridges is the first upperclassman to come off the board. The Villanova Junior will turn 22 before he plays an NBA game, but is averaging 17 points per game and shooting an excellent 42% on threes. He projects to be a high level 3 and D player who can contribute to a Championship team. Will he get the Hornets into the playoffs? probably not. Is he a good fit next to Kemba Walker? Absolutely.
11. Philadelphia (via LA) – Lonnie Walker
This slot is a tough one for the 76ers. What the 76ers need here is a player who can evolve into an elite 3 and D wing (read Mikal Bridges). Short of that they need shooting. Unfortunately there isn’t that type of player at this range. The 76ers may try to trade this pick as other available front court players may hold value around the league but simply won’t fit into the sixers rotation. However should Philadelphia hold the pick the selection of Lonnie Walker makes the most sense. He is an athletic 2 guard who has potential to become an elite defender in the NBA. If his shooting improves he is a natural and much needed replacement for JJ Reddick, and his floor projects to be a marcus smart type specialist.
12. LA Clippers (via Detroit) – Miles Bridges
The Clippers really need a point guard here, but it’s a very shallow position in this draft. Looking at the board there isn’t a stand out for fit option so the Clippers have to go for the best player available. Bridges is an excellent college player who can score, pass and has decent shooting percentages. Bridges stock has been up and down but appears to have settled as a meaningful rotation player. You can’t have too many versatile wings and the Clippers will be loading up with this pick.
13. Denver – Kevin Knox
Denver have a unique roster that is notably absent a point guard. Murray, Barton and Harris are combo guards and they try to run their offense through Jokic. It makes sense to grab a 3 and D wing or a point guard here. However with Knox still on the board this has to be the selection here. With Milsap, Lyles and Plumlee on the roster it’s a jammed front court, and Knox will be playing more three than four. Similarly to Wilson Chandler, his best position, for himself and his team, is probably going to be as a dynamic four operating primarily on the perimeter. He has shown he has the versatility on both ends of the floor to play both that role and at the three, but I suspect it will take some savvy coaching and roster management to make this fit work
14. Utah – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Utah do not have any glaring needs that can be resolved at this stage in the draft and have a reasonably balanced roster. With Rubio only under contract for one more year drafting Gilgeous-Alexander could be an option as back up to Mitchell and Exum. Utah has bodies on the wing with Crowder, Ingles and Sefolosha but could use any player with upside there. And some form of insurance for Favors and Gobert would be nice. Despite Mitchell being their brightest young player Utah take Shai Gilgeous-Alexander here. Adding a 6-6 combo guard with defensive chops and decent passing vision is never a bad idea. He will need to expand his range to have an impact in the NBA.
Title Photo: Luka Doncic (FIBA Europe)