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NBA Daily: Tank Tracker Home Stretch Update

The Memphis Grizzlies made the race to the bottom interesting with last night’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Buddy Grizzard

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With last night’s win by the Memphis Grizzlies over a Minnesota Timberwolves team fighting for its playoff life, things got a little bit more interesting in the NBA’s race for Draft Lottery odds. In this home stretch edition of Tank Tracker, we’ll look at remaining games between teams that are eliminated from playoff contention.

While the Grizzlies may have slipped a bit in the race to the bottom, Phoenix has kept its foot on the gas. The Suns are 2-26 since a Jan. 19 win over the Nuggets and have separate five and 10-game losing streaks in addition to the current 12-game streak. The wins were against the Mavericks on Jan. 31 and Grizzlies on Feb. 28. That puts Phoenix in an excellent position to retain the best lottery odds, given how remaining strength of schedule will factor in.

Los Angeles Lakers, 32-41

The Lakers host the Mavericks Wednesday and the Kings Sunday before closing the season with four of five games against teams currently in playoff position. The Lakers’ 32 wins are by far the most on this list. There’s little chance the Lakers end up with anything other than the 10th-best odds to move up in the lottery. That would leave the 76ers with only a 1.1 percent chance to land the top overall pick. The 76ers keep the Lakers pick if it lands at the top position or at picks 6-30. If it lands at positions 2-5, it will be conveyed to the Celtics.

New York Knicks, 27-48

The Knicks host the Orlando Magic April 3 but otherwise play five of the remaining seven games against teams currently in playoff position. New York also hosts the Pistons Saturday. Detroit retains an outside chance of sneaking into the playoffs and will be playing to win. If the Knicks retain the ninth-worst record at season’s end, New York would have a six percent chance to vault into the top three and a 1.7 percent shot to win the top overall pick.

Chicago Bulls, 24-49

Chicago hosts the Magic Friday and splits a pair of games home and away with the Brooklyn Nets before the season finale against Detroit. The Pistons would need to make a run at the eighth playoff seed for that final game of the season to have any meaning. Otherwise, the Bulls have four of nine games remaining against teams in playoff position. The team also hosts the Charlotte Hornets April 3, another team that — like the Pistons — is barely clinging to hope of making the playoffs. With five games remaining against teams currently out of playoff position, it would be difficult for the Bulls to improve on the current 10 percent chance to move into the top three and 2.8 percent chance to land the first overall pick.

Sacramento Kings, 24-50

The Kings host the Mavericks tonight and open a road trip with visits to the Lakers, Suns, and Grizzlies starting Sunday. With half of its remaining games against teams already eliminated from the playoffs, it appears the Kings are locked into no better than the 15 percent chance to move into the top three and 4.3 percent chance at the top pick it would have if the playoffs started today.

Brooklyn Nets, 23-51

For the Nets, Wednesday’s visit to the Orlando Magic, along with a home-and-home with the Bulls April 7 and 9, are the remaining game against teams eliminated from the playoffs. Brooklyn hosts the Pistons Saturday, and Detroit should still be mathematically alive for a playoff spot by then. It’s a pretty light remaining schedule for Brooklyn, but the Cavaliers own the team’s first-round pick. If the Nets retain the sixth-worst record at season’s end, Cleveland would have a 22 percent chance at a top-three pick and a 6.3 percent chance at first overall.

Dallas Mavericks, 22-51

It will be difficult for the Mavericks to improve its lottery odds with visits to the Kings and Lakers starting tonight, a visit to Orlando April 4 and a visit from the Suns to close the season April 10. Dallas also hosts the Pistons April 6 at a time when Detroit will likely be out of the playoff picture with nothing left to play for. That’s a super-light remaining schedule, and the Mavericks’ best hope may be to cling to the 29 percent chance at a top-three pick and 8.8 percent chance at the first overall pick the team would have if it finishes with the fifth-worst record.

Orlando Magic, 22-51

The Magic host Brooklyn Wednesday and Chicago Friday, then open a road trip with visits to the Hawks and Knicks Sunday. After that, Orlando returns home to host the Mavericks April 4 and the Hornets April 6. Charlotte will almost certainly be eliminated from playoff contention by that point, meaning the next six games could come against teams with no motivation to move up in the standings. The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule according to Tankathon.com. That leaves Orlando with possibly a best-case scenario of retaining the 38 percent chance to move into the top three and 11.9 percent chance at the top pick the team would have if it finishes with the fourth-worst record.

Atlanta Hawks, 21-53

In contrast to the Magic, only the Suns have a tougher remaining schedule among teams on this list than the Hawks. Sunday’s visit by Orlando is Atlanta’s only remaining game against a team currently eliminated from the playoffs. The other seven games on Atlanta’s schedule all come against teams currently in playoff position. The remaining opponents’ win percentage of .542 is seventh-highest per Tankathon. While we previously speculated that the Hawks could tumble out of position for a top-three pick, Atlanta is now in prime position to have no worse than a 47 percent chance to stay in the top three and a 15.6 percent shot at the top overall selection.

Memphis Grizzlies, 20-54

After a 19-game losing streak, the longest in Memphis history, the Grizzlies made things interesting with a 101-94 win over the Nuggets March 17 and last night’s 101-93 win in Minnesota over the Timberwolves. That brings Memphis within one game of Atlanta in the win column. The Grizzlies will host the Kings April 6 followed by the Pistons April 8. Detroit will likely be out of playoff contention by that point. Still, Memphis faces six remaining games against teams in playoff position. The win percentage for remaining opponents is nearly identical to that of the Hawks. With the second-worst record, Memphis would have a 56 percent chance of picking in the top three and a 19.9 percent chance to land the top pick.

Phoenix Suns, 19-56

Only the Nuggets and Thunder face a tougher remaining schedule than the Suns, per Tankathon. Phoenix hosts a Clippers team clinging to its playoff life Wednesday before visits to Houston and Golden State. Afterward, the Suns will host the Kings April 3 before hosting the Pelicans and Warriors. The season finale is an April 10 visit to the Mavericks in what could be a tanktastic match-up for the ages. Should the Suns manage not to slip in the tank standings, Phoenix would retain a 64 percent chance at a top-three pick and a 25 percent chance to select first overall.

With Atlanta, Memphis and Phoenix all facing brutal remaining schedules, it will be difficult for teams higher on this list to move past them to increase their lottery odds. The remaining match-ups among teams on this list will present the greatest opportunity for movement in the final NBA Draft Lottery order. We’re in the home stretch now with lottery reform taking effect next season, so enjoy the tankapalooza while it lasts.

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NBA

The Problem With ‘Championship Or Bust’

Should an NBA Title be the only measuring stick when we’re talking about a team’s success?

Spencer Davies

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In this day and age, there’s a constant need for instant gratification. It goes for everything, really, but especially for sports.

Before the 2017-18 NBA season kicked off, the general outlook on the league was that the regular season would be a waste of time. People dubbed the Golden State Warriors as clear-cut repeat champions. Other then that franchise, there were maybe one or two others that could put up a fight with such a juggernaut.

While that story has yet to play out, others are developing quickly.

The all-of-a-sudden dangerous New Orleans Pelicans are the only ball club to have advanced to the second round of the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Western Conference. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are deadlocked in a tied series with an Indiana Pacers team that everybody seemed to believe was lottery-bound before the year began.

After falling nine games under .500 in late January, the Utah Jazz have caught fire and are up two games to one against the league’s reigning league MVP and a re-constructed Oklahoma City Thunder roster. We’d be remiss to leave out the sensational play of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the Philadelphia 76ers continue to show how dominant they’ve been in a hard-hitting affair with a gritty Miami Heat bunch.

The start to this postseason trumps last season’s already. There is a competitive fire within the majority of these encounters. It’s all on the line to prove who will be the best of the best.

And having said that, there can only be one that takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy.

One. That’s it. In the last 18 years, there have been a total of eight different organizations that have earned the right to call themselves champions. All things considered, it’s not that many.

But there’s a giant misconception about parity in the NBA that needs to be thwarted.

This league is filled with talent, top to bottom. Just like in any sport, you have the basement dwellers still trying to right the ship. Whether it be coaching, injuries, or inexperience—they’re attempting to find their way. That’s why those players are sitting at home in late April.

Then there are those who are not merely spectators, but are involved in the remaining field of 15 teams (sorry, Portland Trail Blazers). Of course, in their minds, there is a common goal of winning a title, as it should be.

However, is it fair to quantify the success of every one of these franchises simply based on whether they accomplish that goal or not? Heck no.

Are we supposed to just forget about the progress made from end-to-end? What if — hear this out — both teams have talent and one just beat the other?

Building championship basketball takes patience. There has to be some semblance of playoff experience involved. Continuity is a must have. You might not want to hear it, but the postseason is where the seeds are planted, where the understanding of the stage really starts.

There can be a collection of young players who have been teammates for years, but have never taken part in the playoffs before. Sometimes there can be a team that’s full of veterans that have been there, but they may not have played together as a collective unit. Each one of them has a different background in a different setting.

It’s a whole different beast at this point. Some are so naive to see how elevated and intense the environment really is, so they assume a team that loses a few games isn’t championship material. Newsflash: Not one team in the history of the NBA has gone 16-0 in the playoffs.

And then, the ones who fall—whether it be in The Finals, conference finals, or in first two rounds—those organizations didn’t accomplish anything. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

So in this basketball world we live in where everything has to be a 20-point victory with zero losses and it’s “championship or bust” as the measuring stick, take a step back and appreciate the work it took to even get to the postseason.

Win or lose, many of these teams are building towards bigger things in the future. These experiences will make that clear in the years to come.

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NBA

NBA DAILY: Who’s the Next Donovan Mitchell?

Donovan Mitchell provided elite value at the back end of the lottery. Who might that player be this summer?

Joel Brigham

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The entire reason that so many non-playoff teams worked so diligently to blow their seasons was to get the best odds possible for the first overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Watching LeBron James (a former first overall draft pick) do what he’s done to the league for the last 15 years, the desire to land a top pick is understandable. Ben Simmons, the heir apparent and likely Rookie of the Year, also was a first overall draft pick a couple of seasons ago.

In fact, of the 38 former first overall picks dating back to 1980, 28 of them would evolve into All-Stars, and it seems like only a matter of time before Simmons is added to that list, too. A higher percentage of top picks have been named All-Stars than any other slot in the draft. Numbers don’t lie. There is no pick more valuable than the very first one.

But…

Donovan Mitchell is good, too. Like, really good. He’s so good that there’s just as strong an argument for him as this season’s Rookie of the Year as there is for Simmons. Mitchell, though, was not a first overall pick. He was picked 13th, at the back end of the lottery.

He isn’t alone in landing elite value for teams picking outside of the lottery’s top half. Devin Booker was picked 13th in 2015. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the 15th selection in 2013. In 2011, Klay Thompson was picked 11th, while Kawhi Leonard was chosen with the 15th pick that same year. Paul George went 10th overall in 2010.

In other words, there are plenty of really good prospects every summer to give late-lottery teams hope. They might not generate the same hype as the guys vying for that top overall selection, but they’re also clearly a lot better than the tiers of players that start coming off the board in the 20s and 30s. All-Stars lurk in the 10-to-15 range of the draft, especially in a loaded class like the one we’re looking at this summer.

That begs the question: who is this year’s Donovan Mitchell?

Here are three possibilities:

Collin Sexton

Back in November, a series of unfortunate circumstances in a game against Minnesota led to a mass ejection of Alabama players that resulted in just three players being allowed to play the final ten minutes. Sexton was one of those three players and led a Crimson Tide rally despite the lopsided Minnesota power play. ‘Bama outscored the Gophers 30-22 in those final 10 minutes despite being down two players, and Sexton finished the game with 40 points. That’s how good he is.

Of course, he could slip in this draft if only because there are so many flashier names ahead of him. It appears as though seven players (DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Marin Bagley, Michael Porter, Mo Bamba and Trae Young) likely will be drafted before him, which puts him in a category with guys like Mikal Bridges, Wendell Carter, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Miles Bridges, and Kevin Knox. Sexton probably will fall somewhere in that range, which means he would fall somewhere between the eighth and 13th pick.

He is competitive, charismatic and incredibly driven, so there’s a really good chance he does well in interviews and workouts and shows how elite he is. On the other hand, if he falls to the Sixers or Hornets or Clippers, some non-tanking team could end up with one of the biggest stars of the draft.

Miles Bridges

Coming into his sophomore season, Bridges was considered one of the top NBA prospects in college basketball, and while that is still true to a certain extent, his stock dropped a bit this past season while several players—including his teammate Jaren Jackson, Jr.—saw their own stocks rise.

Despite a minor loss in momentum, Bridges is one of the most NBA-ready players projected to be selected in the lottery. He’s still young enough to have a high ceiling, but he’s older and more physically mature than a lot of the other players vying to be drafted in his neck of the pecking order. He does nearly everything well, from ball handling to rebounding to shooting, and he can play both ends of the floor. His athleticism is his calling card, and that added to everything else he does well makes him a lock for some measure of NBA success.

He has his flaws, but he’s probably an All-Rookie First Teamer that will be selected after ten players that aren’t. That makes him a potential steal on the back-end of the lottery.

Jontay Porter

This time last year, Porter was a 17-year-old kid deciding whether or not to reclassify and play at the University of Missouri with his older brother Michael Porter, Jr. and under his father Michael Porter, Sr., who is a member of the coaching staff there. Obviously big bro is a high lottery pick, but the younger sibling was the 11th rated prospect in his high school class (the one with Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett) before reclassifying.

He has declared for this summer’s draft but hasn’t yet hired an agent. If he stays in, he’ll be the youngest player in the draft, and mid-first round is where teams start gambling on the uber-young players with mountains of potential rather than older, more proven college players.

In Porter’s case, that could mean a mid-to-late first-round team ends up with a tremendous bargain, even if it takes him a few years to grow into himself. He’s 6-foot-11 but is incredibly smart and well-rounded on offense. He shoots threes (he hit 110 of them as a freshman at Mizzou), but he’s know for his vision and passing more than anything. That’s a modern-day stretch-four or stretch-five if ever there was one, and getting him a year before his time could be a way for a team to steal a deal in the middle of the first round.

With the playoffs in full swing, most observers are focused in on the battles for conference supremacy. For many of the NBA’s other teams, though, the draft preparation process has begun.

In short order, we’ll see which teams end up snagging the next Donovan Mitchell.

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins

Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.

Moke Hamilton

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Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.

By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.

Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.

On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.

Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.

Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?

That may be pricisely the case here.

Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.

We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.

For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.

In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.

Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.

That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.

* * * * * *

With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.

The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.

At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.

In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.

Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.

Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.

Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.

And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.

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