Updated Tank Rankings: Feb. 12-25 "Now That's a Whole Lot of Player Development"
What a difference an All-Star break makes. With about a month and a half left in the NBA season, the tankers have finally woken up and brought in the heavy artillery. Owners are being fined, starters are being buried, and a lot of bad players are being "developed." Prior to the All-Star break, the race to the bottom had been close, but now we're finally seeing the contestants in the crowded field attempt to separate themselves. That distinction hasn't exactly happened however, as entering Monday's games the bottom eight teams had a combined 44 game losing streak. That's what I call tanking excellence, but it also means that the top spots are still up for grabs. Going forward, there is going to be a marquee tank matchup at least once a night, and ESPN even rolled out a full-on tank forecaster to follow the action. Tanking is officially in, and with that, a fresh list of rankings:
1. Phoenix Suns (Prev. Rank: 2)
The Suns, riding a 10-game losing streak, own the league's worst record and look capable of doing even more damage. While other teams are just now adjusting their rotations for the final leg of the season, the Suns have been humming for some time now. The Suns also get bonus points for engineering a double-digit losing streak while simultaneously getting good performances out of their most promising pieces: Devin Booker has looked incredible since returning from a hip injury and went for 40 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists last night against the Pelicans, Josh Jackson has continued to thrive despite coming off the bench, and TJ Warren continues to look like a legitimate NBA small forward.
2. Atlanta Hawks (Prev. rank: 7)
There we go, Atlanta! The weekly 2-2 streak is finally over, and now that the Hawks have lost four in a row they've got the second worst record in the league. The Marco Belinelli buyout has yielded positive results, as has the more recent Ersan Illyasova buyout. Ever heard of Andrew White III? Me neither, but he played 19 minutes Monday night against the Lakers. Watch out for the Hawks.
3. Dallas Mavericks (Prev. rank: 6)
There's nothing like a little TMI to spice up the tank race. Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 earlier this week for admitting that the Mavs are tanking. Transparency is appreciated for these rankings, as is a loss to the Kings. The Mavericks tank could still use some work though: Harrison Barnes had been receiving inconsistent minutes and was even being benched at the end of close games, such as one against the Lakers two weeks ago. Barnes is only 25 and this year's lottery pick notwithstanding, the future of the franchise alongside Dennis Smith; he should be getting all the alpha-dog reps that he can handle, especially in the fourth quarter. They could also benefit from swapping J.J. Barea and Yogi Ferrell's minutes, but Barea's played admirably and at this point in his career has earned as many minutes as he likes. The Mavs tank is a force, but their win over the Pacers this Monday is a testament to how close this race is, as it dropped them back to sixth in the standings.
4. Sacramento Kings (Prev. rank: 1)
Another solid week for the Kings whose only blip was a win over the Mavs. The biggest story for them came from All-Star Weekend, as rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic won MVP of the Rising Stars game. It's time for the Kings to let Bogdanovic loose over their final 22 games. The best scorer on the Kings right now is probably Buddy Hield by default. If Bogdanovic can prove himself to be an NBA weapon, then the Kings may come out of tanking season as one of the biggest winners.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (Prev. rank: 5)
The Grizzlies losing streak hit 10 following Monday's loss to the Celtics. The Grizzlies have flown under the radar for most of the season, but now that Mike Conley's officially done for the year, Tyreke Evans is out with a rib injury, and Marc Gasol is going to be sporadically benched, the Grizz could drop to the bottom soon. Get ready for all the Andrew Harrison that you can ask for.
6. Chicago Bulls (Prev. Rank: 3)
Player development: 1, Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday: 0. Ever since their win over the Magic on February 12, the Bulls aren't taking any bullshit this season. Lopez may not play again until October, and they made Kris Dunn take his sweet time returning from a concussion. The Bulls also pulled off maybe the tank performance of the season last Thursday against the Sixers, as Hoiberg drew up the perfect play for a Bulls loss with the team up one and 8 seconds remaining. Zach LaVine's ascendance as the team's point guard of the future has been the most encouraging development, and now that Kris Dunn is back to full strength they make for an intriguing backcourt. The Knicks are still three games behind, and with the way that the Bulls organization is operating they're going to be a tough team to catch.
7. Orlando Magic (Prev. Rank: 8)
True tankers rise to the occasion. The first game out of the All-Star break the Magic hosted the Knicks and welcomed both Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon back to their starting lineup. Rather than handle the ice-cold Knicks, the Magic blew a double-digit lead and lost to the Knicks by seven. Losing is an art form, and these guys are Picasso's.
8. New York Knicks (Prev. Rank: 4)
The Knicks' hopes of cracking the top eight took a big hit with Thursday's loss to the Magic. However, Knicks management does look like it has a tank plan in place. Courtney Lee and Enes Kanter are receiving the Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez treatment, and somehow Isaiah Hicks is getting occasional minutes. I could not tell you one good thing that Isaiah Hicks does on a basketball court. Any chance he can start? I also don't see the logic in playing Lance Thomas 20+ minutes a game when those minutes could be going to Dameyan Dotson. Dotson hasn't proven much, but Thomas is getting pretty close to being the Jarrett Jack of forwards. It's encouraging that Hornacek is giving Mudiay, Burke, and Frank good minutes, but would it kill him to let Frank run a little more point guard? Burke has looked good at point — a little too good sometimes — but he'd be just fine picking his spots off the ball. Frank's spot-up shot is not yet good enough for him to be a two, and with nothing else on the line he should get those reps.
Sunday's game in Sacramento is a pivotal one for the Knicks. I want to see a starting five of Mudiay, Dotson, Troy Williams, Hicks, and Kanter. Give us this one, please.
9. Brooklyn Nets (Prev. Rank 9)
The Nets just snapped an eight-game losing streak with a win over the Bulls. The Knicks' only hope of moving into the top eight may be to pass Brooklyn; they're currently 3.5 games behind. Those four wins over them are looking pretty different now.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (Prev. Rank: 11)
The Lakers have become a nice, fun-to-watch, bad team. They're not going to crack the top eight, nor do they have any reason to, but with Lonzo Ball now back they'll make for an entertaining watch the rest of the way.
11. Charlotte Hornets (Prev. rank: 10)
The Hornets, after a four-game losing streak, are now on a four-game win streak. Cool.
12. Detroit Pistons (Prev. Rank: 12)
Three straight losses for Detroit has left them reeling and now three games out of the eighth playoff spot. The Griffin trade signed them up for mediocrity and that's exactly what they've gotten, good luck with relying on Reggie Jackson as your answer.
13. Utah Jazz (Prev. Rank: 14)
The Jazz have cooled off a bit following their 10-game win streak, but a playoff spot is still conceivable. It won't be easy though, as they'll have to leapfrog both the Clippers and Nuggets, but it's hard to see this group folding until it's over.
14. Los Angeles Clippers (Prev. Rank: 13)
The new-look Clippers have looked feisty and the opposite of a tanker. The team has been shockingly balanced, led by the Tobias Harris renaissance and Lou Williams continuing to do Lou Williams things. They play Denver tonight on national television for the eighth seed, go earn that Rockets/ Warriors sweep.