NBA Power Tankings: Who's No. 1 (No. 30)?

NBA Power Tankings: Who's No. 1 (No. 30)?

A look at the teams trying to be the worst post All-Star Break

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Oh goodie, misery. The last portion of the NBA season kicked off Thursday, and that means Cancun is in sight for at least 10 franchises. With their seasons already in the blender, they might as well add ice, Cointreau, Casamigos, agave, and an FT of lime juice before kicking back in the training pool with a tank-arita to nurse that plantar fasciitis. The reinforcements or renovations are coming, and the best way to ensure you have a slightly better shot in the draft lottery is to miss as many shots as possible for the rest of the year.

The 2022 NBA Draft features a trio of bigs with the skill sets and potential to continue the evolution of new-age centers and power forwards set in motion by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić, and Joel Embiid. There may not be a consensus No. 1, but they are still tank-worthy prospects worth sucking for.

As an excuse to develop young players, rehab old stars, or see what the G League has to offer, we’re going to see a lot of bad, horrible, miserable basketball — along with a lot of players you’ve never heard of before — over the last stretch of the season. My suggestion for those of you with teams on this list would be to look away, or at least turn off the game at halftime, because it won’t be pretty, and ideally it won’t look like this next year.

Let’s get to it because I have a bevy of teams to insult.

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T-10. San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans

T-10. San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans’ Jonas Valanciunas and Spurs’ Devontae Cacok
Pelicans’ Jonas Valanciunas and Spurs’ Devontae Cacok
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One of these two teams is going to pass Portland for the last play-in spot because the Blazers just tied a cement block to their feet and jumped in the Willamette River. (We’ll get to them later.) CJ McCollum is now a Pelican, and for the sake of Zion Williamson’s happiness (and GM David Griffin’s job), they have to strut their molting feathers to keep him.

The Spurs have an All-Star alternate in Dejounte Murray, and budding players like second-year small forward Devin Vassell and Olympic gold medalist Keldon Johnson. They’re so borderline competent it makes me nauseous. Start Josh Primo, or make up an ailment for Jakob Poeltl already.

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9. New York Knicks

9. New York Knicks

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau
Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau
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The Knicks not knowing what they’re doing is nothing new. Neither is face planting following a rare overachieving season that convinced them to sign veterans like Alec Burks to three-year, $30 million deals. This is one of the rare teams on this list that we’ve written about… extensively.

Here’s new Deadspin staff writer DJ Dunson on the conflicting visions between head coach and front office.

“The front office and the coaching staff operate on different wavelengths. [Tom Thibodeau] thinks any team he coaches can knock off a 1-seed and steal a first matchup. …

“The time to bury this season and fertilize their future with the highest pick they can possibly attain is now. Thibs has to fight against his nature and embrace the youth movement immediately, even if it means playing dead for the rest of the season.”

That said, R.J. Barrett and Derrick Rose are returning, and you have to assume so is Thibs’ belief that he can grind out enough wins to grab a 10 seed.

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8. Indiana Pacers

8. Indiana Pacers

Buddy Heild
Buddy Heild
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This organization is too proud to shit on its fans. At 20-40, they could run out a bunch of scrubs to try to better their draft position by a few percentage points. Or... they could see what a Malcolm Brogdon-Tyrese Haliburton backcourt looks like, or if Myles Turner can take advantage of a Domantas Sabonis-less roster.

Turner is still recovering from a foot injury, and it would be easy to shut him down for the rest of the year. They’re not doing that. Coach Rick Carlisle has a healthy Buddy Hield, and rookie Chris Duarte, who should return from injury before the end of the season. There’s no timeline for T.J. Warren, but if this team gets a single digit draft pick — and they likely will — it’ll be the first time since 1989, per the Indianapolis Star’s James Boyd. It’s a noble approach by the owners, and one that the lottery gods will rightfully reward.

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7. Sacramento Kings

7. Sacramento Kings

De’Aaron Fox
De’Aaron Fox
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The Kings aren’t in denial of tanking or contending, they’re in denial of reality. De’Aaron Fox is one of the few guards who couldn’t get out of purgatory over the trade deadline, and he’s been stuck in the California capital so long that he might be a lost cause and a depressing waste of talent.

Even when they do get a top-three pick, they use it to tank Marvin Bagley’s career. The Kings have gone 16 years without a playoff berth, and I wouldn’t blame any draftee if they refused to report to the team for fear that their career could be permanently damaged from front office buffoonery and an owner whose lone career highlight was a draft obsession with Nik Stauskas.

Sac-Town boss Vivek Ranadivé later revealed he was told to play up the pick for the cameras. In that interview, he also revealed his first choice was Elfrid Payton and not Dario Šarić or Zach LaVine or Jusuf Nurkić or Joe Harris or any of the players who are still in the league from the 2014 draft. This isn’t tanking, and it certainly isn’t winning basketball. It’s malfeasance.

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6. Washington Wizards

6. Washington Wizards

Kristaps Porzingis
Kristaps Porzingis
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Is trading for Kristaps Porziņģis considered an act of tanking along the lines of trading for John Wall? A couple years after Washington gave Houston a golden ticket to the tank factory, they were able to get their own ticket from a different Texas team.

🎶 Oompa loompa doompety doo, Bradley Beal we’ve got a perfect season-ending surgery for you. 🎶

Kyle Kuzma is emerging as a leader, and whether he leads the team — currently a game out of the 10 seed in the East — to a playoff berth, or more likely a lottery berth, is D.C.s storyline for the rest of the season.

General manager Tommy Sheppard confused a lot of people when he acquired Porziņģis because I think people think Sheppard thinks the Latvian big can still be a star. I think he did it because he knows he’s not, and wanted to let him jack up misses or miss games due to injury on the way to a lottery pick from yet another lost season.

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5. Oklahoma City Thunder

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
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A team with so many draft picks that Google literally froze when I tried to find out how many of them they have shouldn’t be trying to suck. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey deserve better than Aleksej “Poku” Pokusevski, the Serbian crown prince of the tank. The second-year, 7-foot, 190-pound I guess power forward is making three of his nine attempts per game this season. However, he’s going to keep shooting.

I like Lu Dort, and rookie Tre Mann’s athleticism is really showing. They’re nearing the tipping point in tanking where they’re losing so much that it could be actively hindering progress. Poku is most likely a career G Leaguer or destined to light up China a la Jimmer Fredette and Adam Morrison.

When my computer finally started working again, I found out they have 36 picks over the next five years, per SportingNews.com. They have nearly enough first rounders (19) in that window to field four starting lineups. It’s tellingly sad that they feel the need to stack the odds on top of their glut of draft picks.

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4. Portland Trail Blazers

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard
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Damian Lillard is done for the year; CJ McCollum, Robert Covington, and Norm Powell are gone; Nurkić is out the next four weeks dealing with a foot issue; Anfernee Simons has the greenest of green lights; and Justise Winslow is getting so many minutes he feels like he’s finally found a home in Portland. I follow this team, and I don’t know who half its lineup is most of the time.

They’re guaranteed one lottery pick, and it could be two if New Orleans fails to capture the last play-in spot. Lillard went on Draymond Green’s podcast recently and said life has been tough without McCollum. We’ve also written a bunch about this team primarily because everyone wants to trade for Lillard. The franchise is hoping for a miracle but planning for a funeral. Hopefully they’ll have a couple extra plots ready because I’ll be sacrificing multiple live animals on lottery night.

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3. Orlando Magic

3. Orlando Magic

Franz Wagner, Wendall Carter Jr. and Cole Anthony
Franz Wagner, Wendall Carter Jr. and Cole Anthony
Image: Getty Images

The Magic have discovered the power of the tank. The three players leading the team in shots per game are two rookies and a second-year guard — Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, and Jalen Suggs. Leading shot taker Anthony loves to chuck, and he should enjoy it while it lasts because I doubt he’ll ever get 15 attempts per game again unless his team needs to tank or he raises that field goal percentage above 40 percent. (If you ever wanted to lose 72 games in a season, put Poku and Anthony on a team together.)

Wagner is way better than I thought he’d be, but Suggs has been a disappointment, shooting an abysmal 23 percent from deep. That’s good for this short-term suck fest at least. Guard R.J. Hampton is on his way back from injury, and they could go with a U-23 lineup. An Anthony-Suggs-Hampton-Wagner-Wendell Carter Jr. combination is so putrid it would have Sam Hinkie subscribing to its Onlyfans.

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2. Detroit Pistons

2. Detroit Pistons

Cade Cunningham
Cade Cunningham
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Cade Cunningham is having the kind of season you’d expect out of a rookie, but not a No. 1 overall pick. He’s shooting sub-40 percent from the field, and when you combine that with Jerami Grant’s 42 percent and Saddiq Bey’s 39 percent, the Piston’s top three scorers are making 39 percent of their total shots. That’s about 18 makes on 44 attempts per game.

They traded for Bagley at the deadline, and this is the perfect situation to see if he still has some value. Killian Hayes and his broke-ass jumper also need minutes and repetitions to avoid the perma-project label. It’s the old “We’re developing youth, not intentionally being garbage.” Well, you smell like NYC on trash day in August, excuses and reasons be damned.

Grant is definitely first team all-tank. Thus far, I have Poku, Grant, and Anthony on that roster. Let’s see if we can round out the starting five with our No. 1 tanking team of the season.

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1. Houston Rockets

1. Houston Rockets

Christian Wood
Christian Wood
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It’s tough to pick between Jalen Green(light) and Kevin Porter Jr. for the all-tank team, but only one can make it because Christian Wood deserves a spot. He’s definitely better than the other four players on the roster, and that includes being better at tanking. Since earning starter’s minutes in the league, his teams have won 20, 17, and 15 games.

There are still 20-plus games left, so that number will increase by season’s end. But we can expect Wood to take the same apathetic approach that led to a suspension after he refused to check into the second half of a game in January. Porter got suspended, too, but he didn’t just refuse to check in, he left the arena. Porter gets the all-tank team spot over Green because this is the rookie’s first time lighting a dumpster on fire — and he has yet to check out on his team mid-game.

So, congratulations to Houston! Nice touch using rocket fuel to burn the effigy of Daryl Morey. The entire league from Toronto to Los Angeles can feel the heat emitting from this hellacious landscape of an NBA franchise. Truly… what’s the opposite of remarkable?

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