Last week, Piston Powered’s Dan Feldman enlisted the help of ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton to project how each lottery team would finish in the standings along with their likelihood of landing each pick in the draft. (Basically, it’s a cleaner, more scientific version of the Tank Rank.) As of last Friday, it gave the Sixers a 66% chance of landing the No. 11 pick and a 3.6% shot of getting in the top 3.
It’s not all grim for the tanking Sixers fans though. Coming off a back-to-back set against the Bobcats, Philly has a particularly rough schedule and owns the top spot in this week’s Tank Rank. Is it too late for Doug Collins’ squad to climb down the standings? Probably. But moving up in the lottery is still far more likely than moving up to the 8 seed.
The rankings are based on the metric Simple Rating System (SRS), which allows us to generate a win probability for each game. For teams which I rank out-of-sync with the SRS numbers, I explain why. You can check out last week’s rankings for a refresher if you need it.
1. Philadelphia (30-44)
Schedule: Friday at Atlanta (30.1%); Saturday at Miami (16.4%); Tuesday at Brooklyn (27.8%); Wednesday vs. Atlanta (49.9%)
Philadelphia is one of only two teams in the rankings that won’t play a lottery team this week – they have four straight against playoff-bound squads. SRS says the home game against Atlanta is a coinflip, but the Hawks are jostling for playoff seeding with the Nets and Bulls with home-court advantage in Round 1 at stake, so they should come to play. The Sixers are heavy underdogs in the other three. If the Heat are resting their starters, that may change.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.25-2.75 (.312)
2. Phoenix (23-52)
Schedule: Friday vs. Golden State (39.2%); Sunday vs. New Orleans (50.1%); Tuesday at Houston (16.7%); Wednesday at Dallas (25.3%)
The Suns resorted to some pretty nefarious tactics last week when they sat Goran Dragic against Utah (official reason: exhaustion – no, seriously). This not only helped Phoenix lose, but it gave Utah a leg up in the race with the Lakers for the 8 seed. If LA misses the playoffs, Phoenix gets that pick. Smooth move, Suns. Phoenix has a tough schedule this week and don’t be surprised if Dragic sits again.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.31-2.69 (.328)
3. Toronto (28-47)
Schedule: Friday at Minnesota (36.8%); Saturday at Milwaukee (36.8%); Tuesday at Chicago (31.7%)
Well, so much for shutting down Rudy Gay. Toronto’s leading scorer sat for one game last week before returning to the lineup. The Raptors are, however, giving more minutes to their rookies, especially Jonas Valanciunas and Quincy Acy. It’s the most defensible form of tanking – the only player that Toronto is “holding out” of the lineup is Andrea Bargnani, and he (1) is actually injured, and (2) is a sub-par NBA player. Sitting him shouldn’t qualify as a tanking move.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.05-1.95 (.351)
4. Cleveland (22-52)
Schedule: Friday at Boston (24.1%); Sunday vs. Orlando (57.1%); Tuesday at Indiana (15.4%); Wednesday vs. Detroit (52.9%)
In a surprise move, Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup last week. The Cavs still went 0-3. Cleveland could snap its current 10-game losing streak on Sunday against the Magic, but with Irving probably sitting out Wednesday vs. Detroit — they’re holding him out of back-to-backs — two wins is unlikely.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.49-2.51 (.373)
5. Washington (28-47)
Schedule: Saturday vs. Indiana (40.0%); Sunday at Boston (33.7%); Tuesday at New York (24.3%); Wednesday vs. Miami (32.8%)
I repeat this every week: SRS does NOT account for the Wizards’ improved play since John Wall’s return. Thus, their expected wins are underestimated. This week though, the Wizards have a brutal schedule against four playoff teams and are playing without Bradley Beal. 1-3 is the most likely outcome.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.31-2.69 (.327)
6. New Orleans (26-49)
Schedule: Friday at Utah (32.7%); Sunday at Phoenix (49.9%); Tuesday at LA Lakers (29.8%); Wednesday at Sacramento (45.1%)
They have a few winnable games, but it’s a road-heavy schedule. Plus, they’ll likely be without Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon for part of the week — the backcourt starters have been in and out of the lineup.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.58-2.42 (.393)
7. Detroit (25-51)
Schedule: Saturday at Minnesota (30.7%); Sunday vs. Chicago (45.1%); Wednesday at Cleveland (47.1%)
Returning Andre Drummond to the active roster and inserting him into the starting lineup, is one of the most anti-tank moves of the season. I’m not sure whether they should be applauded for standing up for competitive integrity, or mocked for throwing away ping-pong balls.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.23-1.77 (.409)
8. Minnesota (28-46)
Schedule: Friday vs. Toronto (63.2%); Saturday vs. Detroit (69.3%); Tuesday at Golden State (32.1%); Wednesday at LA Clippers (21.1%)
Doctors will be evaluating Kevin Love’s fractured hand in the next few days to possibly clear him for full-contact practice, and ultimately game action. However, if his return is pushed back even a few days, his likelihood of returning this season dwindles considerably. The soonest he would conceivably play is Wednesday against the Clippers, but I’m doubtful.
With or without Love, the Timberwolves are playing well of late. With two gimmes against Eastern Conference tankers, they could go 2-2 this week.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.86-2.14 (.464)
9. Sacramento (27-48)
Schedule: Friday vs. Dallas (49.0%); Sunday vs. Memphis (35.4%); Wednesday vs. New Orleans (54.9%)
Sacramento takes the last spot by virtue of a home-heavy friendly schedule, coupled with the fact that, well, they’ve actually been pretty good over the last month or so. They have an offensive efficiency north of 109 over their last 20 games, which is fourth-best in the league during that stretch. Their defense has improved as well, and they have picked up a few surprise wins over Warriors, Clippers, and Bulls.
Expected Win-Loss: 1.39-1.61 (.464)