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NBA: Ranking The Tanking

Jabari Davis unveils his tanking rankings – a look at the league’s bottom feeders.

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While as much as a third of the league is competing for a playoff spot and the chance to fight for this year’s crown, there are also 10 (or so) teams jockeying for position in the 2015 NBA Lottery. These days, this battle for ping pong balls sometimes seems just as competitive as the fight for playoff seeding.

It should absolutely be noted that players, by-and-large, are against the mere notion of embracing the tank. They’re playing to keep their job and earn the most money they can during their short playing career. But it is important to remember that while the players are competitors and take a great deal of pride in their craft, that doesn’t mean various front offices are not strategically, if not openly, positioning themselves for a more favorable pick come June.

We should also mention the fact that several teams seem to have adopted the “play for next year” mantra along the way, at least in part due to how ridiculously competitive the Western Conference playoff race is shaping up to be. At a certain point, it makes a great deal of sense to weigh the odds and turn attention to making potentially significant improvements to the roster rather than continuing to compete while sitting outside of the playoff picture. Here are our current rankings of the “tanking” teams as we head into the throes of the mid-season grind:

#5 – Orlando Magic –

The Magic are a curious case, because it isn’t entirely obvious whether they initially intended to be lottery-bound or if they anticipated being more competitive heading into the season. They still have one of the more promising, young cores in the league, but at 13-25 they find themselves hovering right around that demarcation line separating the playoff teams and those squads still in need of additional talent.

The trouble is, they are just outside the pack due to an Eastern Conference that still hasn’t quite returned to some of its glory days of years past. The next month could really be the difference for the Magic, as they play 10 of their next 15 games against Western Conference foes with at least eight of them coming against teams that figure to be in the playoff race.

#4 – Los Angeles Lakers –

Contrary to how it may have appeared heading into the season, these Lakers had every intention of maintaining their top-five protected pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. That’s the only way to explain the snail’s pace with which they seemed to approach last summer’s free agency class under the guise of waiting for a “big name.” The additions of Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin were as much about the name recognition for an increasingly-hungry fan base as they were about temporarily fulfilling the team’s needs.

For as much as they cannot openly embrace the idea of tanking for various reasons detailed in our recent ‘Rebuilding The Lakers’ article, this team looks primed and positioned to make deals that could help expedite their transition efforts. The Milwaukee Bucks just signed Kenyon Martin to a 10-day contract, so imagine how many teams in need a big man will be contacting the Lakers about the services of Jordan Hill and Ed Davis as the deadline approaches.

#3 – Minnesota Timberwolves –

The Timberwolves had just about the perfect confluence of events take place for a team with top-pick aspirations. On the heels of bringing in a major influx of young talent in the form of former #1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett and this year’s lottery pick Zach LaVine, the Wolves lost the services of starters Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin early in the season.

Although you never want to see your stars miss extended time due to injuries – especially when you recently inked them to a large deal – the misfortune did permit Coach Flip Saunders to provide valuable playing time for younger guys that otherwise may not have seen as much in-game action.

#2 – Philadelphia 76ers –

It shouldn’t surprise folks to see the Sixers toward the top of this list, as they have made tanking their official business for several seasons. Some may question how fair such a path is to their players and loyal fan base, but the reality is they are merely playing by the rules the NBA and Player’s Association set in place with the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Until those sides decide that incentivizing losing isn’t necessarily the best course of action for teams in need of significant improvements, ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ is precisely what you’re going to see out of even more teams.

Now, it is entirely fair to ask, what are they planning to do with all of the assets they continue to stockpile? Only time will tell, but for now, the Sixers are merely ahead of the curve when it comes to tanking.

#1 – New York Knicks –

We can’t be certain the Knicks were initially trying to strategically lose, but when it comes to ranking the tank-jobs so far, Phil Jackson…”you the real MVP.” Even the most optimistic of Knicks fans had to have anticipated a slow start considering the new basketball philosophy, first-year head coach plus the fact that the roster didn’t really possess a single player outside of what Jackson hoped would be a motivated Carmelo Anthony that would conceivably excel within the triangle offense.

Admittedly, while a transition period was expected, we couldn’t have possibly have seen a 5-34 start coming for the Knicks. The truth is, 2014-15 is rapidly becoming a throwaway season for New York, so it would not come as a shock to see Anthony and the organization determine it would be best for him to sit and permit his body to fully heal at some point. Once Jackson decided to jettison J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, the notion of sitting Anthony – no matter how much it is refuted – makes a great deal of sense when you consider the remaining four years and nearly $102 million he’s still on the books for beyond this season.

 

Have no fear, fans of these (or similar) teams, as the 2015 NBA Draft should provide some answers for your problems. Need an offensively-gifted big to man your post for what could end up being the next dozen years? Well, Jahlil Okafor is living up to all of the hype and averaging about 19 points and nine rebounds a contest for Duke. Have time to develop a young, athletic big man with a defensive presence and a ton of upside? Perhaps Karl-Anthony Towns is your guy. If you need backcourt help, then Emmanuel Mudiay is definitely a solid choice, as the 18-year-old point guard averaged 17.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists through 10 games for the Chinese Basketball Association’s Guangdong Southern Tigers. There are also plenty of talented swingmen like Arizona’s Stanley Johnson or Duke’s Justise Winslow, each of whom figure to be available in this year’s draft as well. The point is, if you have a need, this upcoming draft should have a remedy.

There are always going to be those that discredit the notion of building a team through the draft, but the bottom line is each draft is generally littered with talent. It’s all a matter of whether your team and respective front office can determine the best fit for the available talent. Be sure to keep up-to-date with our Mock Drafts as we’ll have plenty of updates over the second half of the college season and throughout the NCAA Tournament!

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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