Something has been lacking from this NBA season that is usually a league staple: the terrible team. Sure, at the bottom of the standings, you’ll find teams with bad records, but teams can’t circle these down-trodden bunches as immediate wins like they could with the Philadelphia 76ers or Charlotte Bobcats of years past.
Every team in the league is currently projected to break the 20-win barrier, something that has happened just once in the prior nine seasons. In an era when tanking has run rampant, it’s almost weird to see every team coming out of the gate swinging, even if some are lacking any power behind their punches.
The Nets are probably the most talent-starved team in the entire league, but without a first-round pick, they have no incentive to suck. So their rag-tag bunch of cast-offs has been trying its damnedest to pull the upset every night, ranking eighth in the league in points per game, but dead-last in defense.
The Mavericks’ struggles are a bit of a surprise. After making the playoffs last year and adding Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, Dallas can’t find any scoring this season. With Dirk Nowitzki constantly sidelined and contemplating retirement, the Mavs are the favorite to blow things up and go full tank in the second half.
The biggest surprise at the bottom, though, is those young, plucky Minnesota Timberwolves. A chic pick to challenge for a playoff spot this year, the T-Wolves have been held back thanks to their unique brand of terrible third-quarter basketball. Until they clean up their -5.3 differential in the third frame, they’ll fall short of their potential.
Rounding out the bad, but getting better, are the Suns and 76ers. As long as you aren’t getting them on a Joel Embiid rest-day, the Sixers have been a tough out, and Phoenix has a nice mix of youth and experience.
But that all raises a couple questions: which of these teams will finish the year worst of the worst? and can any of them turn it around and actually make a charge at the playoffs in these tightly-packed standings? Let’s examine the odds.
NBA Bottom Feeder Odds
Odds of finishing last in league (2016-17)
- Brooklyn Nets: 11/4
- Dallas Mavericks: 17/5
- Philadelphia 76ers: 9/2
- Phoenix Suns: 6/1
- Minnesota Timberwolves: 12/1
- Field: 8/1
Scrappy ol’ Brooklyn has the lowest ceiling of anyone, with most of the talent on its roster already realized. With their next two first-rounders owned by Boston, the Nets should be trying to deal anybody playing half-decently around trade deadline for assets.
As mentioned before, Dallas could be in line for a firesale if things don’t turn around quickly, and in the rough and tumble West, a depleted Mavs team will get a lot more losses than Brooklyn in the East.
Assuming the youth on Philadelphia and Phoenix continues to improve over the course of the year, those teams should see an increase in wins in the second half, especially if first-overall pick Ben Simmons returns to the Sixers lineup.
Don’t rule out the Heat or Wizards making a charge for last, too. Both struggling and in need of a change, Miami and Washington could be surprise emigres to Tank Nation.
Odds to make the playoffs (2016-17)
- Minnesota Timberwolves: 9/1
- Dallas Mavericks: 33/1
- Phoenix Suns: 50/1
- Philadelphia 76ers: 66/1
- Brooklyn Nets: 100/1
The T-Wolves are the only team that seems like they could possibly make a real charge up the standings, and that’s just because advanced statistics suggest they should be a lot better. Minnesota ranks tenth in offensive efficiency, 12th in true shooting percentage, and eighth in rebounding rate. They’ve been sloppy on the defensive end, but still rate better in defensive efficiency than the Trail Blazers and Lakers, two teams ahead of them in the standings. That’s the burden of playing in the West, though; Minneosta’s numbers top New York in almost every area, and the Knicks are fourth in the East.
Beyond geography, Minnesota’s biggest problem is one that dogs all young teams. While the talents of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine made them look like a potential riser this year, there’s no depth behind those stars. The T-Wolves bench is getting killed, ranking second-last in the league with a -13.7 point differential. While Tom Thibodeau should get the best out of this bunch, it’s just not a group that’s ready to make the playoffs.
Though they currently have the worst record in basketball, the veteran-laden Mavs are the only other team I could see making a playoff push. And that would require not only a healthy Dirk Nowitzki, but better play from the German. In five games this season, he’s only averaged 12 points and six rebounds, and this offensively challenged Dallas team needs more than that.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison (Flickr)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]
Let's have fun and keep it civil.