Updated Tank Rankings: Feb. 5-11 "The KP-less era is off to a roaring start"
Wow, what a week. The trade deadline came and went, and the lack of trade action for every non-Cleveland team did not stop the losing. In fact, it was one of the most tanktastic weeks of the season: five teams were winless, and now that KP is gone, the Knicks are on a crash course to join the top eight — just two games behind Chicago now! Prior to the KP injury these rankings were taken as more of a gimmick, but now that it's painfully obvious that the Knicks need to lose every game possible, there's an actual sense of competition to this race that turns games like Friday night's thrilling 114-113 Bulls win over the Timberwolves into something that's actually meaningful. The beauty of the tank. The Knicks are off to an 0-3 start post-Kristaps, and have already picked up two games on the worst record in the league, but with just 24 games left there will be little margin of error: it only takes a couple of microwave games from Hardaway to go from the fourth to eighth pick. It's a race that's historically close, and because of that there are a handful of games each week that make for appointment viewing. Sit back in that fully armored tank and enjoy the ride.
1. Sacramento Kings (Prev. Rank: 1)
It was a near-perfect week from the Kings, whose only blemish was last Monday's 104-98 win over the Bulls. You can't lose 'em all. The highlight of their week however, came on Thursday, as they officially said good riddance to George Hill and his three-year $57 million contract in exchange for even more freedom for De'Aaron Fox. The Kings don't have their first-round pick in 2019 and are tanking like they know it. It may be bunched up at the top, but the Kings look like a team on a mission.
2. Phoenix Suns (Prev. Rank: 2)
Devin Booker has now missed four straight games with a left hip pointer and looks unlikely to play again until after the All-Star break. In those games, the Suns are a predictable 0-4, and while Elfrid Payton has looked strong in his first two games for Phoenix, he's not moving the needle at all, just ask the Magic. The Suns have a league-high 40 losses and if they can somehow milk this Booker injury for even longer after the All-Star Break, then they're as bad as anyone.
3. Chicago Bulls (Prev. Rank: 3)
It was a wild week in Chicago to say the least. They picked up the crucial loss to the Kings early in the week, but then won Friday's game against the Timberwolves in Jimmy Butler's return. The goal may be to lose as many games as possible, but that game had to have felt good for Bulls fans. Zach LaVine had a career-high 35 points, and went toe-to-toe with Jimmy Butler. LaVine also serves as an encouraging example for Knicks fans, as he is the same age as Porzingis and has played the best basketball of his career since returning from a torn ACL.
4. New York Knicks (Prev. Rank: 8)
Call me a homer, but these Knicks may have finally figured out how to tank! The Mudiay trade was a smart flyer to take, and Sunday's game against the Pacers showed how intriguing a Mudiay-Frank lineup can be. Mudiay plays in essentially one gear, which has its pros and cons, but Frank's steadiness can balance him out, and Mudiay forces Frank to play quicker usual, which is a welcome sight. The two young guards are certainly works in progress, but there's encouraging news on the horizon:
Despite tonight's shitshow against the Sixers, it already seems like Hornacek is embracing the tank. Frank had a couple of ugly turnovers, but guess what, he wasn't yanked for the rest of the game! It's baby steps with this coaching staff, but soon enough Frank and Mudiay will be getting consistent minutes to work through their mistakes. Oh, and please bring Prigioni back. It's time to establish an actual infrastructure for developing young talent.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (Prev. Rank: 6)
The Grizzlies could have made even more of a leap this week had they traded Tyreke Evans. Evans, the second-best player on the Grizzlies this season, had been held out for the week leading up to the trade deadline in the hopes that Memphis could get a first-round pick for him. That never happened, and the team went 0-5 without him, displaying how awful they can be with him gone. He returned last night however, but the Grizzlies still got pounded 110-92 to the Thunder, affirming that this team's problems go much beyond one player.
6. Dallas Mavericks (Prev. Rank: 7)
The Mavs sit tied for the third-worst record in the league, but have suffered inopportune wins in each of the last two weeks: two weeks ago they beat the Kings, and this week it was the Lakers. Their final game before the All-Star Break is a rematch against the Kings, and while a loss would be a nice way to head into the break, don't count on Carlisle losing that one.
7. Atlanta Hawks (Prev. Rank: 5)
Another 2-2 week for the Hawks, yet they're still tied for third. The Hawks are one of many teams where a multi-game losing streak is all it would take to give them some distance from the competition, yet they still remain in the pack. Buying out Marco Belinelli should help however, as it's one less weapon that can catch fire and swing a close game. Starting Tuesday, they play three straight tough games on the road (Milwaukee, Detroit, Indiana) and they can use those games as the catalyst for a real losing streak.
8. Orlando Magic (Prev. Rank: 4)
A 3-1 week including a win over the Hawks sets the Magic back a few spots, as they have done the opposite of capitalizing on Aaron Gordon's injury or Elfrid Payton's departure. Both Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are set to return after the All-Star Break, so it'll be interesting to see how the Magic look when they're back. First game after the break is home to the Knicks. Bring it on.
9. Brooklyn Nets (Prev. Rank: 9)
I can only dock the Nets for having no incentive to lose for so long, as they've now lost 6 in a row and 10 of their last 11. The Nets have been at their best this season when they blitz teams with their high pace and serve as a trap game. Hopefully the All-Star Break will rejuvenate the roster and help them return to that style of play.
10. Charlotte Hornets (Prev. Rank: 11)
The Hornets are ranked 10th given that they've lost four in a row, but they might as well be ranked last. The organization is in the absolute worst situation a team can be in: they're not good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to compete for a top pick, therefore they're stuck in no man's land with a late lottery pick and several expensive contracts. The trade deadline may not have been the right time to trade Kemba Walker, but this franchise needs to pick a direction fast, because they're going nowhere with this level of mediocrity.
11. Los Angeles Lakers (Prev. Rank: 10)
The Isaiah Thomas era has officially begun in L.A.! It was a successful deadline day for the Lakers, as they picked up a first-round pick and cleared the necessary room for two big swings in free agency. Given how putrid Thomas was for the Cavs, there was a chance that that stink would follow him to L.A. and potentially push the Lakers over the Knicks. That doesn't seem to be the case though, and Thomas will now use the rest of this season to showcase to the league what he's still capable of.
12. Detroit Pistons (Prev. Rank: 14)
The honeymoon period is over for the Pistons, and last Friday's home loss to the Clippers served as a gut check for that. The Pistons have the second-worst attendance in the league, which is particularly apparent in the dog days of February.
13. Los Angeles Clippers (Prev. Rank: 12)
The Clippers called it a deadline after the Griffin trade, and because of that, they're left with a roster that's just as competitive as their Griffin one. Danilo Gallinari has enjoyed a renaissance as the team's new starting power forward, and it's a scrappy group that could sneak into the playoffs if they keep up this level of play.
14. Utah Jazz (Prev. Rank: 13)
Forget 14th, the Jazz should be ranked 30th. 10 straight wins led by Ricky Rubio and the potential Rookie of the Year has catapulted the Jazz into the playoff conversation. They're a disciplined, well-coached defensive team that has two faces of the franchise in Mitchell and Gobert.