Updated Tank Rankings: Jan. 29-Feb. 4 "Now that's the Timmy I'm used to"
Earlier this week, we were treated to an actual blue moon. This Sunday and Monday, we experienced a second one, as the Hawks, Kings and Magic all enjoyed victories. Those wins were outliers in the greater context of the week however, as tanking was the most rampant it's been all season, with nine teams now emerging as formidable contenders down the stretch — just 2.5 games separate the eight worst records. This week in Knicks games doesn't need much recapping, as Tim Hardaway Jr. singlehandedly carried a two-game tank that put the Knicks within striking distance of the league's lower echelon. It was a mild week of transactions, with the most notable deal being the Mirotic trade. Woj's report forgot to include that in addition to a first-round pick, the Bulls also get a seven-game losing streak. Looking ahead, the trade deadline is just two days away, and there is still the potential for a couple more moves plus the wave of buyouts that should come not long after, so buckle up for a deep and wild race to the bottom!
1. Sacramento Kings (Prev. Rank: 2)
After a one-week hiatus from the top spot, the Kings are right back in business. The highlight of the week for them was their 106-99 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, a team that they now trail by just a half game. The Kings seem to be auditioning Zach Randolph for a trade which better end in a move, because he's been too good when played regularly, as evidenced by his 26-point 12-rebound performance in a win over the Pelicans last Tuesday.
Some bonus points for the Kings: Randolph had been averaging 30 minutes a game in the four games leading up to the Mavs loss while George Hill averaged 25 minutes in the three games he played in before it. In that Mavs loss Randolph played 21 minutes while Hill played just 15. No shame, Sacramento.
2. Phoenix Suns (Prev. Rank: 3)
The Suns continue to shoot up these rankings thanks to impressive losses to teams such as the Grizzlies and Hornets. What's more, they've achieved the delicate balance of losing games while also allowing their young pieces to take advantage of increased opportunities. Josh Jackson had arguably his best week of the season, while the barely-ever-talked-about-but-still-only-24-years-old TJ Warren had another solid week. Earlier in the season I believed that the Suns had too much talent to ascend in these rankings, but if they continue this recipe they should be adding a top-five pick to a well-developed young core.
3. Chicago Bulls (Prev. Rank: 8)
Team of the week goes to the Bulls. In a vacuum, they may have lost the Mirotic trade considering that they had to take back the Asik contract—which could warrant a first-round pick on its own—but for this season's tank, the deal was a home run. Mirotic was the biggest roadblock for Chicago getting a top-five pick, and now that he's gone the team can let Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen drive their tank.
Chicago's reemergence as a bottom feeder also has positive implications for the Knicks, as many believed that the most valuable asset received in the Melo trade was the Bulls' 2018 second-round pick, which can get a late-first round-level talent at a fraction of the price.
4. Orlando Magic (Prev. Rank: 1)
Aaron Gordon has missed the last four games with a hip injury and in those four games the Magic are 2-2. Considering that Nikola Vucevic is still out with a broken hand, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for the Magic to capitalize on having their two best players injured. The Magic have failed to seize that opportunity unfortunately, and instead remain in the pack with the others when they could have really separated themselves this week.
5. Atlanta Hawks (Prev. Rank: 5)
The Hawks are one of the hardest teams to gauge: they keep churning out 2-2 weeks yet still own the worst record in the league. Sunday's win over the Knicks showed that they don't have the same natural tanking instincts as some of the other teams on this list, but the dearth of talent has kept them in the top five. Props to Dennis Schroder, who has made himself a legitimate starting point guard in an otherwise forgettable Hawks season.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (Prev. Rank: 4)
The fact that the Grizz fell back two spots is a testament to how deep this race has gotten. The team is in the midst of a four-game road trip and needs just one more loss to complete the 0-fer. Gotta take care of business on the road.
7. Dallas Mavericks (Prev. Rank: 6)
Despite the aforementioned win over the Kings, the Mavs still put together a solid 1-2 week that included a loss to the Suns. The Mavs broke their anti-tank motto last year and ended up with Dennis Smith Jr., and looking at the rest of their roster there are few—if any—teams that could use a top-three talent more than them.
8. New York Knicks (Prev. Rank: 7)
The Knicks had arguably a better tank week this week than last, however cracking the top eight will be tough. Moreover, the fact that Willy Hernangomez requested a trade on Monday does not help the team at all. The Knicks don't have to comply with his request, especially considering that it killed a decent amount of leverage for them, however the Willy situation does speak to the bigger issue of the Knicks not giving enough minutes to their young players, which will be magnified as they sink deeper down the standings. It seems like Hornacek and the front office are at odds with the direction of the team: Hornacek looks like he's coaching for his job, which explains the heavy dosage of minutes for Jarett Jack and lack of minutes for Frank Ntlikina and Trey Burke, while the front office seems to have accepted that this is a rebuilding year and has been operating as such. A coaching change would likely come at the end of the season, and right now Hornacek is making a weak case to be the coach of the future.
As for the actual logistics of the Knicks tank, they currently sit at no. 10 in the standings, with the Lakers and Nets directly ahead of them. Getting over the Lakers is doable, but they're four games behind the Nets as well as the Grizzlies. This team has had some truly epic losses and is capable of even more of them, but I'm not sure that they have what it takes to grind with the top eight.
9. Brooklyn Nets (Prev. Rank: 11)
Even though the Nets have no incentive to tank, that hasn't stopped them from making their annual ascension to the bottom. After the Cavaliers got annihilated on national television to the Rockets this Saturday, Cavs fans may want to pay more attention to Nets box scores than Cleveland ones.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (Prev. Rank: 12)
Just like Brooklyn, there's nothing in this for the Lakers. Fortunately for the Knicks, they've been getting their shit together and should pass the Knicks any week now.
11. Charlotte Hornets (Prev. Rank: 10)
The Hornets raised eyebrows a couple weeks ago when it was made public that they were shopping Kemba Walker, however since then it has been quiet on the Charlotte front and the Hornets have actually gone the other way, to the tune of a 3-1 week. Nicolas Batum has been playing better, giving his best shot at making his five-year $120 million contract look a little less hideous.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (Prev. Rank: 9)
Similar to the Hornets, the Clippers trade front has been quiet. The Griffin trade coupled with Danilo Gallinari's return has made them feisty and a little interesting however, and if they decide to keep DeAndre Jordan then making playoffs is very possible. The market for Jordan certainly exists, but given that he's on an expiring contract it will be hard for a suitor to meet the Clippers's price for him.
13. Utah Jazz (Prev. Rank: 13)
Just gonna leave this here...
14. Detroit Pistons (Prev. Rank: 14)
Detroit is 4-0 since acquiring Blake Griffin? Hell yeah, the Pistons are back! Wait a second, why does that phrase sound so familiar? I'm getting flashbacks... nine straight thirty-point games... a one-two punch with another All-Star... back to the playoffs... wait, who's back?