This week, we got our first glimpse into why fans all over the country opine that tanking is the best strategy for their team. With the college basketball season starting, we finally got to see the freshman phenoms in a competitive game setting (even though watching them dunk on 5’6 white kids in their high school mix tapes is all kinds of entertaining). As a Celtic fan, I will never be able to bring myself to root for a Boston loss. However, after watching the Champions Classic on Tuesday night, the losses bother me considerably less.
At this point, only one team has set itself apart as being truly awful. Only 5 teams in the league are more than three games away from .500, which indicates a huge glut in the middle of the league. With so many comparable teams this year, the difference between the playoffs and lottery pick is razor thin. Every team is a losing streak away from joining this list.
The Bottom Five:
1. The Utah Jazz (1-8): Being a rebuilding team that is all in on next year’s draft is fine, being an embarrassing winless team is not. Luckily for the Jazz, they were able to win their first game against the Pelicans on Wednesday and thus turn them from a laughingstock to elite tankers. Don’t let the one win fool you, even when Trey Burke comes back, this team is the worst in the league.
2. The Washington Wizards (2-6): The Wizards can not defend, coming in at 29th in effective field goal defense. This team has substantially increased the number of 3’s they are taking, often shooting 3’s instead of attacking the rim (27th in the league in free throws per field goal attempted). To me chucking more 3’s and playing less defense is the recipe for a fun pick up game, not the way to win in the NBA. With the Wizards doling out major cash to finally make a playoff push, they seem to be all in on winning now. Eventually they will make it off this list with some win now roster moves but only if they improve their defense.
3. The Sacramento Kings (2-5): DeMarcus Cousins is bucking every free agency trend ever by continuing to improve despite getting paid in the offseason. Combine that with the Kings staying in Sacramento and Kings fans have a lot to be happy about. Being in the bottom third of the league in effective field goal offense and defense is not one of those things. If they are to win, they need to defend with more energy and take better shots. The new ownership seemed like they were going to try and make a push for the playoffs after years of futility, at this point it seems like the fans will have to wait another year to be back in the post season.
4. Milwaukee Bucks (2-5): I had high hopes for the Bucks this year. After jettisoning their ball hog/no defense back court of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, I thought they would be able to build around Larry Sanders and John Henson as a stout defensive team. OJ Mayo and Gary Neal replaced the black hole back court with two high percentage long range shooters. Everything seemed to be on track, until the season started and Larry Drew decided that he wanted to limit Larry Sander’s minutes because Drew apparently hates defense and rebounding. Now Sanders is hurt and the Bucks are doomed to be near the bottom of the league in rebounding and defense (just like they are now). Benching Sanders (which may or may not have caused him to get upset, drink too much, start a bar fight then break his hand) might go down as the most shrewd tanking move ever.
5. Detroit Pistons (2-5): The Pistons new front court was supposed to give them size that no one in the league could rival. What they got was three big guys that have trouble spacing the floor when they play together and can’t defend as a unit. If this continues, they should look to trade Greg Monroe and go with the up tempo system that would best fit Drummond, Smith and Jennings.
Top Five Prospects
1. Jabari Parker: 24.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, .607 FG%, 1 bpg
After watching all these prospects play earlier in the week, I think Parker is the best player in the country and will make the best pro. Parker as a freshman in college is already an extremely well rounded player, with the versatility to play positions 3-5 on both ends of the floor. He is already a deadly 3 point shooter, and has a diverse offensive repertoire that includes NBA moves such as the step back and euro step. He will come into the league and immediately contribute.
Comparison: Bigger, more athletic, more versatile Paul Pierce
2. Andrew Wiggins: 19 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1 APG, .583 FG%, .5 BPG
Wiggins was forgettable in the first half of his match up with Parker on Tuesday, after picking up two quick fouls. In the second half, Wiggins exhibited the elite length, athleticism and effort that makes him the favorite to be the first pick in the draft. I was very impressed with Wiggins ability to cut off the ball for easy baskets. Back door cuts for baskets show a great knowledge of the game to go along with his elite natural talents.
Comparison: Tracy McGrady with elite defense, improved cutting and rebounding.
3. Julius Randle 24 PPG, 14 RPG, 1.7 APG, .636 FG%, .3 BPG
This guy is a monster. After going through a difficult first half against Michigan State, Randle beat his opponents into submission while relentlessly attacking the basket using a vast array of deadly post moves. Randle could probably come into the NBA now and produce a double double, he’s that good.
Comparison: Zach Randolph with elite athleticism
4. Aaron Gordon: 14.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.3 APG, .581 FG%
Gordon is a relentless energy guy that combines elite athleticism with an elite motor to crash the glass and finish with authority. So far at Arizona his game has been exactly as advertised. except he is 4-5 from three, exhibiting better shooting and handle than expected. Combine his Blake Griffin like athleticism with a ever growing skill set and it is obvious this kid is going to be special.
Comparison: A taller Kenneth Faried with a good jump shot.
5. Marcus Smart 12.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, .429 FG%, 5.5 SPG
Marcus Smart was a top two pick if he declared for the NBA last year. Instead he decided to come back to lead his Oklahoma State Cowboys team to a final four. Nothing speaks better of a player’s commitment to his team than forgoing millions of dollars to help his team win. Although his current numbers aren’t elite, he has been playing about 20 minutes per game due to his team blowing out their first two opponents. Smart is an elite defender (around 10 steals a game per 40 minutes), athlete, and competitor. If he is able to improve his shot selection he will be in the running for the top pick all year.
Comparison: A bigger Eric Bledsoe