Updating The NBA Tank Race

March 6th, 2014 | by David J Smith
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

As the season slowly, but surely winds down, the off-season draws closer. It will once again be another vitally important one–one that could affect the trajectory of the Utah Jazz franchise for many years to come. There are obviously many things that will need to be addressed:

  • Gordon Hayward’s contract situation.
  • Potential extensions for Alec Burks and Enes Kanter.
  • Other soon-to-be free agents in Marvin Williams, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Andris Biedrins.
  • Team options for Diante Garrett, Ian Clark, John Lucas III and Malcolm Thomas.
  • Lots of potential cap room (currently the Jazz are on the books for just $31.43 million next season, according to Sham Sports).

Yes, it will be eventful, but as all Jazz fans are keenly aware of, the NBA Draft is the first item in the summer calendar. Everything else will be predicated upon what the team does in June. Utah has three picks: its own first-rounder, an unprotected first-round pick from the Golden State Warriors and its own second-round pick.

As a result, Jazz followers have been doing a lot of score and record watching with these picks in mind. Here’s a quick primer as we enter the last seven weeks of the season and how things can affect where Utah ultimately drafts.

First. here is a quick snapshot of where things fall for the league’s cellar dwellers. I took the liberty of changing the “Games Behind” to reflect how the teams at the bottom fare compared to the Milwaukee Bucks, who took what appeared to be a decent, but bizarre roster to tremendous low depths.

Team W L Pct GB
Milwaukee Bucks 12 48 .200
Philadelphia 76ers 15 46 .246 2.5
Orlando Magic 19 44 .302 5.5
Boston Celtics 20 41 .328 7.5
Los Angeles Lakers 21 40 .344 8.5
Utah Jazz 21 40 .344 8.5
New York Knicks 22 40 .355 9.0
Sacramento Kings 22 39 .361 9.5
Cleveland Cavaliers 24 38 .387 11.0
New Orleans Pelicans 24 37 .393 11.5
Detroit Pistons 24 37 .393 11.5

It is safe to say that the race for the NBA’s worst record is a two-team affair, with the tankalicious Sixers making a dramatic push for it, courtesy of a 15-game losing streak. It is also easy to assert that these two teams are not “catch-able.”  Here is what these other squads have remaining on their respective schedules as of March 5th, including games against .500 teams and back-t0-back sets:

Team Home Road .500 BxB
Orlando Magic 11 9 13 4
Boston Celtics 11 11 13 5
New York Knicks 10 11 11 4
Los Angeles Lakers 12 9 15 5
Utah Jazz 11 11 12 4
Sacramento Kings 9 13 14 5
Cleveland Cavaliers 10 10 8 5
New Orleans Pelicans 14 7 12 3
Detroit Pistons 8 14 11 5

Let’s start by looking at the teams with better records than the Jazz. The Cavs have few games against .500 teams, while the Pelicans have a home-heavy finish. Detroit has enough padding, so all three should end the season with a better record than Utah. The Kings spend a lot of time away from Sacramento, so that will be interesting to watch.

Of the teams with worse records, the Knicks could be the ones who win enough to fall behind the Jazz in Draft order (because their pick goes to Denver, they have little incentive to lose). The others will be the main competition.

Now let’s turn to the Golden State pick, which currently sits at #23. In fact, that is the lowest this pick could fall, as it would require a lot for the Warriors to surpass any of the teams with better records. The pick will either be in #13 or #14 or will be in the low #21-#23 range. Here are the teams within Golden State’s range:

Team W L Pct GB
Golden State Warriors 38 24 .613
Phoenix Suns 35 25 .583 2.0
Dallas Mavericks 36 26 .581 2.0
Memphis Grizzlies 34 26 .567 3.0
Toronto Raptors 33 26 .559 3.5
Chicago Bulls 34 27 .557 3.5

Obviously the focus is on the other three teams battling it out for those last few seeds. Toronto and Chicago are included here because they could finish ahead of the Warriors–something that would bump the pick down a spot or two if Golden State is indeed among the Western Conference’s top eight. Here is what these teams for the remainder of the season as of March 5th:

Team Home Road .500 BxB
Golden State Warriors 13 8 10 4
Dallas Mavericks 12 9 12 3
Phoenix Suns 8 14 12 4
Memphis Grizzlies 9 14 13 6
Toronto Raptors 12 11 7 6
Chicago Bulls 13 9 10 4

Just based on this information, it’s safe to say that the Warriors have the more favorable schedule–home-dominant and less .500 opponents. This is not what Jazz fans want to hear. The Mavericks also have a nice schedule. The Suns and Grizzlies might end up duking it out for that final berth, but both have tremendously difficult roads ahead–especially Memphis. It should be noted that the Raptors and Bulls have some fairly smooth sailing, especially with a slew of games against the lowly East’s most lowly teams.

If I was a betting man, I predict the Jazz go 6-16 to finish the year, ending with a 27-55 record and the sixth worst-record behind Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Orlando, Boston and the Lakers. I can see Golden State finishing seventh in the West, with Toronto ending with a better record. This would give Utah picks #6, #21 and #36. Of course May’s NBA Draft Lottery could alter Utah’s pick (either moving up or down).

Yes, the games have be played and anything could happen–unexpected or dramatic injuries, some teams resting players down the stretch, etc. Jazz fans will be eagerly watching, holding onto hopes of finishing with a top three pick, along with a second Lottery pick. Stranger things have happened.

How do you see things shaking out? Feel free to share your predictions in the comments.

David J Smith

David J Smith

Besides writing for Salt City Hoops, David contributes to the Utah Jazz coverage for the Deseret News and has written for the Utah Jazz website and Hoopsworld.com (now Basketball Insiders). He graduated from BYU and works for LDS Philanthropies. He and his incredibly patient wife, Elizabeth, have some amazing children--four girls and two boys. Voted "Most Likely to Replace Jerry Sloan" in high school.
David J Smith

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  1. robin says:

    I think we are going to see more aggressive tanking behaviour among the leading draft contenders in the coming months – mysterious DNP’s and ‘sore right hips’, and while we have the ideal tanking coach, we might also need to be a bit proactive in terms of giving Jefferson 30+ minutes a night, playing Biedrins and shell-shocked Rush etc. Ideally, we want to be in the top five because after Embiid, Wiggins, Parker, Exum and Randal the star potential diminishes significantly and we need a transcendent talent, not another decent rotation player. Oh, and we still need an NBA coach.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    That’s good news, if the worst the Jazz are likely to end up is 6th going into the lottery–with both Boston and Lakers ahead of the Jazz (who all of us conspiracy theorists believe will get in the top 3, because that is what the NBA does–helps out its big markets). Therefore, it is unlikely more than one team could leapfrog the Jazz, leaving the Jazz with the 7th pick, at worst.

    I think right now, I would rate the top 10 players as the following: Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Vonleh, Exum, Smart, Randle, Ennis, Gordon and Hood. At the 6th or 7th pick, Wiggins, Parker, Embiid and Exum are likely to be gone, but the Jazz could still be able to select one of Vonleh, Smart and Randle–any of whom I believe would be a good pick for the Jazz. I’m really sold on Smart’s leadership skills, court sense, defense, ability to run an offense and toughness, and think he could really help the Jazz, even though he needs to work on improving his shooting. One of the current Jazz weak spots on the Jazz roster is backup power forward, and I think putting either Vohleh or Randle into the big man rotation would also really improve the Jazz.

    With the Golden State pick (depending on where it falls), I like Jerami Grant, Rodney Hood, Wayne Selden, James Young, Montrezl Harrell or Doug McDermott, who I think could all be either very good rotation players or marginal starters.

    Even at the 36th pick, there will still be some players on the board who could become rotation players, such as Glenn Robinson (Burke’s former teammate) and Thanasis AntetoKounmpo (who reminds me of Ronnie Brewer, but with a jump shot).

    I’m looking forward to seeing how the young guys end the season–and then the NBA draft.

    • Big Billy says:

      I have matches that would go well.
      Embiid to Philadelphia (I know they have Nerlens Noel, but Embiid is better). Exum to Milwaukee (It’s not very often the worst NBA team gets the most lottery lucky). Randle to Sacramento to form a young frontcourt with Cousins. Parker to Jazz. Marcus Smart to Orlando to get a young backcourt of Smart and Oladipo. Wiggins to the Lakers.

  3. Zach says:

    I think the jazz will use these two picks (#6 and #23) to move into the top three. Not sure if a team will do it, but is it a deep draft and if a team can give up on the big 4 (parker, exum, embiid, and wiggins) they can still wind up with two good picks, maybe throw in Kanter to be able to get Embiid.

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