Updated Tank Rankings: Mar. 12-18 "How much more of this do we have to watch?"
The Tank Race is long and arduous. As we hit the midway point of March, the mettle of the players involved is being tested by organizations who want the best shot at a Patrick Ewing protege or a Slovenian wonderkid. These are the dog days y'all, and when these games are watched alongside March Madness, the quality of play can sometimes be hard to separate. After a promising start to the week, the Knicks' hopes of being a Tanking Cinderella have all but dissipated as two straight wins have them right back in ninth place. The heavy artillery is being brought out by several teams in the form of injury management, and I've never seen so many ankle sprains result in "no timetable for a return." With less than a month remaining in the season, this is officially the homestretch. It's a game of inches, and every missed shot counts. Let's see who wants it the least.
1. Memphis Grizzlies (Prev. Rank: 1)
Tyreke Evans returned from a rib injury this week and helped the Grizz snap their 19-game losing streak with a win over Denver. It was a costly win however, as it allowed Phoenix to overtake them for the number one spot in the standings. Monday night in Brooklyn, Evans was out again for a reason that was "undisclosed," or another way of putting it, "Fuck you Phoenix."
2. Phoenix Suns (Prev. Rank: 2)
The Suns followed the Grizzlies' lead with phantom injuries, and after diagnosing TJ Warren with a sprained knee in Sunday's loss to the Warriors, Warren underwent an MRI the next day which came back clean. Josh Jackson just so happened to drop a career-high 36 points in that game and also plays the same position as Warren, which meant that the MRI result was not what the Suns were looking for. No big deal for the Suns though, who are still calling Warren's injury a knee sprain and are listing him as doubtful for today's game against the Pistons.
3. Atlanta Hawks (Prev. Rank: 5)
The Hawks, losers of six straight, seem to be turning on the jets at just the right time. Kent Bazemore is out for the season with a bone bruise in his knee, which sounds like one of the worst bone bruises ever suffered, and rookie John Collins is now out with an ankle injury. One bright spot for the Hawks: Taurean Prince has been on an absolute tear in his last four games, averaging 31 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. The sweet spot of tanking is when a team can lose games while also uncovering a potential gem. It looks like the junior Spurs are gonna be okay.
4. Dallas Mavericks (Prev. Rank: 3)
The Mavs had been playing better basketball, as they won three out of four games over the last two weeks which included a win over the Knicks and gave the Knicks tank a false bit of hope. The losing is back however, and on Sunday Dennis Smith Jr. went down with a sprained ankle and, you guessed it, has no timetable for a return. The team has shown a propensity for shooting threes and playing at a fast pace, but without Dennis Smith Jr. for what looks like at least a week, the roster is pretty damn gutted.
5. Orlando Magic (Prev. Rank: 9)
The Magic have been the most confounding team of the Tank Race. Their talent suggests that they should be on the level of a Detroit or Charlotte, but here they are yet again, making a case alongside the league's other bottom feeders. They're currently in the middle of the race, but we'll have a much clearer picture of their place starting Saturday, as they kick off a six-game stretch of Phoenix, Brooklyn, Chicago, @Atlanta, @New York and home to Dallas. The NCAA might have March Madness, but the NBA has Tankapalooza, hosted by Orlando.
6. Sacramento Kings (Prev. Rank: 4)
A pair of wins for the Kings this week have them pushed back to sixth in the order. They need a top pick as bad as anyone, but it's a franchise that doesn't exactly execute in situations like this very often. At this point, all they can do is limit Zach Randolph's minutes and hope that Buddy Hield doesn't get hot too many more times this season.
7. Chicago Bulls (Prev. Rank: 7)
*Takes a deep breath* *Sighs*
The Bulls, the league's most despised tankers, asserted themselves as the eighth-worst team in the league on Monday with a 110-92 loss to the Knicks. After the Knicks had briefly stolen eighth place from them earlier in the week, the Bulls were not fucking around. It's conceivable that the team's three best players, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, won't share the court again this season, and the roster outside of them is pretty close to a G-League team. Despite that, the Bulls have still been competitive: losses to the Clippers and Cavaliers were close, and those journeymen are playing for their NBA careers. I had never heard of Antonio Blakeney before Monday's game, but he looks like the type of player that could swing a meaningless late-March game. Plus, for whatever reason Adam Silver has had it out for the Bulls tank but hasn't batted an eye at teams like Memphis or Dallas, which hopefully means that the basketball gods aren't on Chicago's side.
8. Brooklyn Nets (Prev. Rank: 6)
The Knicks sit three games behind Brooklyn — a tall task with just 11 games remaining and considering that the Nets own the tiebreaker. But the Nets have shown an ability to beat bad teams lately. Their current two-game winning streak comes with wins over Dallas and Memphis, and their next game is home to Charlotte. Win that and throw in a Knicks loss and they're two back with ten to play. Add in two losses from a Brooklyn home-and-home with Chicago in April and there's a viable path for the Knicks to pass them. It's not gonna be easy, but c'mon Brooklyn, you don't have the pick and Trae Young is still gonna be there for Cleveland at no. 9.
9. New York Knicks (Prev. Rank: 8)
Two straight wins has never felt so crushing. On the bright side though, FRANK.
Aggressive Frank is a joy like no other, and the best man at helping him play that style has been Trey Burke, who deserves credit for his play in his 24 games with the team. Burke makes the Knicks play at a pace that is detrimental to the tank but ideal for today's NBA. He's posting a career-best 22.5 PER and .160 WS/48, albeit in a small sample size of 16.8 minutes per game. But still, extrapolate his stats over 36 minutes and Burke is averaging 23 points and 8 assists. The Knicks have him under contract next year for just under $1.8 million, which is looking like a bargain for a former top-ten pick. Burke is looking like the only gem from the Knicks tank, and with it looking more and more likely that the Knicks are going to be locked into the nine spot, it would behoove them to see what Burke can do with the Mudiay workload.
10. Charlotte Hornets (Prev. Rank: 11)
The Hornets are four games back of the Knicks, which isn't nothing, but there's probably not enough time for them to make up that much ground. The Hornets represent absolute mediocrity, and with Nicolas Batum going down with an achilles injury in that drubbing by the Knicks, they're nothing more than Kemba Walker doing Kemba things and Dwight Howard trying to keep his stats up. Oh, also, how's Malik Monk working out?