Updated Tank Rankings: Jan. 15-21
Welcome back to a race that has been heating up thanks to a rich rumor mill. Will the Hornets hit the reset button and trade away their best draft pick in seven years? Are the Bulls going to deal Mirotic and make a return to the bottom? Or is their young core with the returning Zach Lavine too good to sink that low? Will Brooklyn continue their decent play and devalue that pick for Cleveland? Which may actually make the Cavs more likely to deal it away for one final Lebron run. Even more interesting storylines will develop as the trade deadline draws closer, and with that the Tanking Rankings will be expanding next week to include all 14 lottery teams. For now though, an update on these six competitors:
1. Sacramento Kings (prev. Rank: 1)
Seven straight losses along with ten of their last eleven? Given the Kings roster that sounds about right. Take note fellow tankers, the Kings are a force to be reckoned with. The only teams that could feasibly catch them are the Magic and Hawks if they can pull off some trade deadline player dumps. Even still, it'll be hard for anyone to catch a team with this little talent.
2. Dallas Mavericks (Prev. Rank: 5)
The Kings are sort of in a league of their own right now, so the gap between spots 2-6 is about as big as the gap between spots 1 and 2. A solid 0-2 week from the Mavs has them sitting at 14th in the West. Even more encouraging, Dennis Smith Jr. has been flourishing in his increased role and his development serves as an added bonus to the piling L's.
3. Orlando Magic (Prev. Rank: 2)
Sports are weird, as evidenced by the Magic's 2-1 week which included wins over the Celtics and Timberwolves. It's hard to tell if this team is actually decent, proven by their 6-2 start to the season, or if they're terrible, proven by everything after that. They're also in an interesting spot given their roster of B/B- players that may be appealing to teams in the playoff hunt.
GAME OF THE WEEK ALERT: Kings @ Magic, Tuesday 7:00 PM EST
4. New York Knicks (Prev. Rank: N/A)
Ah, you knew it was coming at some point. Given how each of the last two seasons have played out, it really shouldn't be much of a surprise that the Knicks find themselves self-destructing on a January West Coast road trip. The defense has reverted to what many expected when you look at the team on paper, and the return of Tim Hardaway Jr. can only solve so much. This is how the upcoming Knicks schedule goes: @Golden State, @Denver, @Phoeinex, home to Brooklyn, @Boston, and @Milwaukee. It wouldn't surprise me if they lost all five of those road games and went 1-5 over that stretch, bringing their record to a mediocre 22-31. There have been a number of games that were crucial to win to stay in the playoff hunt which they did not, and now we're about to see the even nastier side of the schedule.
5. Atlanta Hawks (Prev. Rank: 4)
Despite being atrocious, Atlanta continues to pull off impressive wins over teams such as San Antonio and New Orleans. I'm still not sure if a Budenholzer-led team has what it takes to compete with teams like the Kings and Magic, but here they are in 14th in the East. A likely fire sale of players such as Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, and Dewayne Dedmon should bolster their chances even more, and the continued development of Dennis Schroder has been a joy to watch.
6. Phoenix Suns (Prev. Rank: 3)
The reason the Suns have been falling in these rankings is simple: Devin Booker. Similar to an Embiid, Towns, or Porzingis, the twenty-one-year-old(!) Booker has the ability to win a game for the Suns on any given night.