NBA Review: Stuck In the Middle


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With the NBA season winding down, we thought we’d examine some of the teams who’ve found themselves in the worst possible position: the middle.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
The Brooklyn Nets (14-56), Orlando Magic (26-46) and Philadelphia 76ers (26-45) have the worst records in the east. The remaining lottery teams are:

Chicago Bulls (34-38)
The Bulls are currently 9th in the Eastern Conference with 10 games left. Dwyane Wade is out for the season and they traded Taj Gibson at the deadline.
They’ve gone four and six over the last 10 games, and if they fail to overtake the Miami Heat for the 8th seed, this will be their second straight missed playoff. Sadly, they’re turning into a classic treadmill team: not bad enough to get a top draft pick, not good enough for the playoffs.

Charlotte Hornets (32-39)
The Hornets are bad, but they’re not bad enough to be interesting.
They had a good season last year, then they lost a lot of role players and were forced to fill those spots with whatever they could find. In the off-season, Jeremy Lin, Courtney Lee and Al Jefferson turned into Ramon Sessions, Marco Belinelli and Roy Hibbert. They haven’t really failed to meet expectations because expectations were never that high: HoopsHabit.com predicted they’d be a .500 team, and they’re current .451
TL;DR: No one expected them to do well and they’ve not doing well.

New York Knicks (27-44)
In New York, the faces may be new, but the problems are the same. Even though they have a roster of big names and some great young talent, this team haven’t manage to coalesce at all.
At this point, it really feels like the Carmelo Anthony experiment is over; unfortunately, they just signed him to a huge contract and he has a no trade clause. On top of that, they’re also stuck with Joakim Noah’s contract. Noah is currently out for the season with a knee injury, he’s been declining consistently over the past few seasons and the Knicks are going to have to pay him $18 million every season for the next three years.
The Knicks currently have the same record as the Sacramento Kings and could be in contention for the 5th pick overall, which is good, because they’ll need it.

Detroit Pistons (34-38)
The Pistons problems haven’t had the kind of public meltdown that other teams have had, but the season’s still not been kind to them. For one they, they just lost to the Chicago Bulls, which is no longer and easy feat to accomplish.
The Pistons are supposed to start playing in Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit next year, but this type of season isn’t going to get anyone excited about the move. Unfortunately, with their current lottery odds (projecting at #13), their draft pick isn’t likely to turn that around for them.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
The Los Angeles Lakers (20-51), Phoenix Suns (22-49) and Sacramento Kings (27-44) have the worst records in the west. The remaining lottery teams are:

Portland Trail Blazers (32-38)
If only the Trail Blazers were in the eastern conference…
The Trail Blazers have seemed perpetually on the verge of being a very interesting team for several years now. They have Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner, plus they added Jusuf Nurkíc in February. Sometimes it feels Portland are only a couple moves away from being a good team – only I don’t know what those moves are and neither does their management.

Dallas Mavericks (30-40)
Rick Carlisle has pulled some great performances out of Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrel, but Dirk Nowitzki is 38, Wes Matthews never fully recovered from his torn Achilles and Harrison Barnes is costing them $23 million a year.
They’re not that good right now, but I’m not sure there’s really anyone to blame. It’s an honest rebuild and they’ll probably get the 10th pick in the draft – things could be worse.

New Orleans Pelicans (30-41)
The Pelicans traded for DeMarcus Cousins after the All Star Break in hopes it might push them into contention for a playoff run, but that hasn’t happened. This is the last year of Cousins contract, so depending on how everyone feels, he might walk away in the offseason.
On the plus side, they signed Jordan Crawford to a two-year deal. So that’s fun.

Minnesota Timberwolves (28-42)
Zach LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica both suffered season ending injuries this year – of course, it’s not a good sign if whole season relies on Zach LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica.
The team actually did a little better without LaVine, which is something I’m sure they’re examining. Theoretically, the Timberwolves could drop down below the Sacramento Kings or the Knicks, but it’s unlikely. Few teams are better at losing games than the Sacramento Kings and the New York Knicks.

With all the talent in this years draft, there’s a ton of competition for top lottery spots. If you’re interested in how that might shake out, check out Tankathon.com (as mentioned on Sports Illustrated’s Open Floor with Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver). Also,  here are the Top 15 picks these teams will be competing for according to Draft Express,:
  1. Markelle Fultz (PG, Washington)
  2. Lonzo Ball (PG, UCLA)
  3. Josh Jackson (SF, Kansas)
  4. Jayson Tatum (SF, Duke)
  5. De’aaron Fox (PG, Kentucky)
  6. Dennis Smith (PG, NC State)
  7. Lauri Markkanen (PF, Arizona)
  8. Malik Monk (PG/SG, Kentucky)
  9. Jonathan Isaac (SF, Florida St)
  10. Frank Ntilikina (PG, Strasbourg)
  11. Miles Bridges (SF/PF, Michigan St)
  12. Jarrett Allen (C, Texas)
  13. Justin Jackson (SF/ UNC)
  14. Terrance Ferguson (SG, Adelaide)
  15. John Collins (PF, Wake Forest)
[Photo via Flickr user bikeride]