As the new NBA season gets underway, the focus is on the top teams. The Golden State Warriors remain an alien basketball machine, LeBron remains LeBron and (regardless of initial hiccups) the championship is going to either Oakland or Cleveland. The Houston Rockets and the Boston Celtics might give some competition in their respective conferences but the competition for the top spots is practically over even before the season began.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, things are much less settled. Teams are going through various stages of rebuild and on top of that the NBA actually rewards coming last as that would mean taking the next top prospect coming into the league. And while teams vehemently say that they will never intentionally tank, some fan bases would rather their teams lose it all this season if it means landing the next James or Anthony Davis.
With mixed motivations then, it is harder to predict the worst team in the NBA than it is to predict the best one. Still, offseason moves and last season’s performances give us hints on which teams will land up with the wooden spoon.
Starting with the stronger Western Conference, the Kings pop up immediately as strong contenders. They traded away their best player by a mile, DeMarcus Cousins in a trade which basically got them Buddy Hield, a man who has been good for 10.7 points a game in his career. They have no obvious star in their lineup, no obvious style of play and no long-term plans. In short, it is a trying time to be a Kings’ fan.
They do however have De’Aaron Fox, the speediest guard from the 2017 draft who seems to have superstar potential. He will not drag them to the playoffs by any means but expect him to light up some games on his own. European star Bogdan Bogdanovic and athletic centre Willie Cauley-Stein when added to solid veterans like Zach Randolph and Vince Carter should ensure that this team doesn’t hit the bottom of the pack.
Well yes, they have Devin Booker, possibly the best 20-year-old in the NBA right now. But the question is, what else? Big men Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley are drawing eight-figure salaries for not a lot of input. PJ Tucker, their fourth-most used player from last season now plays for Houston. They also further bolstered their worst team credentials by taking the worst loss ever in a season opener.
On the flip side, in Booker, Eric Bledsoe and TJ Warren, the Suns have a young, scoring core. They also added highly-rated Josh Jackson from the draft who is a tough defender and overall athletic presence. Add Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss and it is a young, exciting team who should have enough pluck to keep itself away from the slot number 30.
The East is definitely the weaker conference and this is represented by them having more participants in the worst team competition. To further prove that point, it had last year’s worst team in the Nets who lost no less than 62 games in the season. After that, it was just basic courtesy to include them here
The Nets have basically been helping the Boston Celtics build the challenger to James' Cavaliers ever since they made the trade. They are paying Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll $15 million salaries for god knows what. Even Jeremy Lin is making $12 million on this team. It is clear that the Nets are not positive case-studies in any management school.
On the floor however, it isn’t all that bad. Even at their worst, the Nets had players who were comfortable with the ball in their hands and were willing to shoot. They have since added D'Angelo Russell, a No 2 pick in the 2015 draft, who opened this season with a 30-point game. Allen Crabbe shoots threes at over a 40 percent clip and Trevor Booker’s rebounding has been on an upward trajectory since he’s been in the NBA. This is fast-paced team, and on days when the baskets fall, it will cause problems to even the best of the lot.
The Hawks were actually a playoff team last season and ranked above Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks and Paul George’s Indiana Pacers. What happened that they are now dead last in ESPN’s projections and are on course to win just 27 games this season?
Loss of personnel for one. The 2016-17 Hawks had one All-Star, Paul Millsap, who they traded away. They lost Dwight Howard, who for all his flaws, has averaged over 12 rebounds a game in his career. Tim Hardaway Jr is now with the New York Knicks. In fact if you look at minutes played, only Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore remain from the top five.
This is a team looking to tank and has all the pieces in place but for Schroder, who dropped 28 points in the season opener against Dallas. An intelligent point guard who can shoot, Schroder could make the difference between ranks 29 and 30. They also have defensive game in the form of Taurean Prince who should develop further this season.
The Hawks are bad but are not the worst team the league because that (dis)honour goes to…
The big Chicago trade was to give away Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. Dwayne Wade has gone to Cleveland to restart the Miami Heat old boys club. Rajon Rondo is now in New Orleans. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott are gone too. Which means that here, only two of the top seven in minutes played last season remain.
Also, their new franchise player LaVine will not be back till November, and that too after a nine-month layoff with an ACL tear. He says that he feels good but after such injury only game time will tell if he is the same player.
Add to all of the fact that they still don’t know what want to do right now. In short, the Bulls seem to be in full self-destruct mode. They are dead last in FiveThirtyEight’s predictions and The Ringer thinks their best case scenario is to finish last. Luckily, they seem primed for that.
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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2017 19:10:34 IST