One day late with Wiggins Watch this week as the Lee-Bayless trade and it's after effects took over the site yesterday. But we're here today with a special Tuesday addition of the tank standings, and boy has a lot changed in a week. Luol Deng is now a Cavalier, simultaneously making Cleveland stronger and Chicago a whole lot weaker, the Nets and Knicks are showing signs of life, and the Celtics are spiraling downhill just in time for their hardest road trip of the season.
We'll get to all of this and more, but first, here's an updated look at the crown jewels of the 2014 draft class, and where they stand at the moment.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: 15.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 45% FG, 31% 3 PT
Jabari Parker, Duke: 20.4 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 51% FG, 43% 3 PT
Julius Randle, Kentucky: 18.1 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.7 BPG, 56% FG, 72% FT
Joel Embiid, Kansas: 10.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.3 APG, 66% FG, 66% FT
It was a quiet week for the top prospects in college ball, with the exception of Embiid, who's stock continues to rise. The 7-footer from Kansas averaged 13/11/4 (blocks) in two games, and his offensive game is way more advanced than a lot of people expected. He still gets into foul trouble seemingly every game, but if he can slow down in that department, his raw numbers will begin mirroring his raw talent.
Wiggins on the other hand is in the midst of a shooting slump, hitting only 17-49 (34.7%) of his shots over his last four games, while Parker looked awful in Duke's loss to Notre Dame, going 2-10 from the field (7 points). Randle did not play this week.
While it may have been somewhat of a quiet week at the collegiate ranks, it was anything but at the NBA level, where we saw our most active week of the season in the Wiggins Watch rankings. Some teams rising, some teams falling, here's how everything looks at the moment.
The Top 3:
Note: The rankings are in terms of record, but I also will list the Hollinger lottery odds, former ESPN columnist (and current Grizzlies front office executive) John Hollinger's simulation system which predicts teams records based on their season thus far and upcoming schedule. The number you see after the Hollinger lottery odds is what place they rank in his system.
1. Bucks, 7-26 (Hollinger lottery odds: 18.5% - 1st)
2. Magic, 10-24 (HLO: 8.3% - 6th)
3. Jazz, 11-25 (HLO: 11.7% - 2nd)
In a league full of tanking teams, the Bucks continue to flex their tank muscles. Milwaukee did manage a win against the Lakers (which a lot of teams seem to be doing of late) this week, but quickly shook that off with losses in both Utah and Phoenix. The Bucks finally have Larry Sanders back in the middle, but young power forward John Henson sprained his ankle the game before Sanders returned, meaning the duo has still only played three games together this season. Milwaukee has a bunch of overpaid role players that they will be shopping over the next few weeks (Ersan Ilyasova, Gary Neal, Caron Butler, Zaza Pachulia), but if the Bucks could land a top three pick this year to pair with 2013 draft steal Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Henson-Sanders combo down low, they could be in good shape.
Orlando is a mess right now, currently stuck in a 4-15 run after starting the season 6-9, and it doesn't look to get any easier. The Magic started off their week with a 20 point loss to the Clippers last night, and they remain on the West Coast to take on the Blazers, Kings, Nuggets and Mavs before returning home next week. Orlando's point differential is only -4.4 PPG this year (8th worst in the league) which bumps them up in Hollinger's rankings, but you've got to wonder if they'll consider trading veterans Arron Afflalo and old friend Glen Davis before the deadline, simultaneously picking up assets and lowering themselves further in the standings.
And then we have the Jazz, who Hollinger gives the 2nd best odds at landing the #1 pick. Utah had another solid run of games this past week, going 2-1 with wins over the Bobcats and Bucks. This means that the Jazz are now a very un-tank-like 10-11 since their horrific 1-14 start. As we mentioned last week, Utah is in a tough tank position, as they've basically already dumped all of their useful veterans, and are playing their young guys a lot. They could trade or buyout Richard Jefferson, who has been surprisingly not terrible this season (10 PPG, 3 RPG, 43% FG), but besides that this is a team who has already given the car keys to the next generation. And now it's possible that they drive the tank right out of the top five.
4. Kings, 10-22 (HLO: 9.4% - 5th)
In a five day span late last month, the Kings: beat the Heat, took the Spurs to the wire in San Antonio, and then beat the Rockets in Houston. They were looking like a team starting to play pretty good basketball. And then, they once again showed what happens when a bunch of talented offensive players with absolutely no defensive identity play together, losing to both the Bobcats and 76ers at home. It's somewhat amazing that this team is not playing better when you consider that Rudy Gay, who shot 38% in Toronto, is shooting an amazingly efficient 50% in SacTown, and that DeMarcus Cousins may have the best stats of any big man in the league not named Kevin Love (23.2 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 3.1 APG). But again - these guys don't play defense. Sacramento is dead last in points allowed per play (0.93 ppp allowed, via Synergy Sports), and their run of the mill 14th ranking on offense can't even begin to make up for that.
5. Cavaliers, 11-23 (HLO: 10.8% - 2nd)
What a difference one trade can make. The Cavaliers have the 5th worst record, and 4th worst point differential in basketball, and according to Hollinger's rankings, were projected to finish 28-54 as of last night. But after dealing the corpse of Andrew Bynum for Luol Deng, Cleveland is most likely a playoff team in the horrific Eastern Conference. The Cavs are only three games back of Detroit for the 8-spot, and maybe more importantly, only four games back of the now Deng-less Bulls. Of course, as the Cavs slowly pull out of the tank standings, those Bulls will likely take their place. So the deal isn't much of a win for the Celtics when it comes to the lottery.
6. Nuggets, 16-17 (also own the 1st round pick of the 11-22 Knicks) (HLO: 5% - 8th)
Denver is the current owner of two lottery picks, as they own the Knicks unprotected 1st rounder as well their own. Unfortunately for them, they are not bad enough to get in the upper lottery, and as terrible as the Knicks have been for much of the season, New York is likely not bad enough either. The Knicks are still awful, sporting an 11-22 record, but they recently won in both San Antonio and Dallas, and are currently not all that different from the team that went 54-28 last season. That does not mean this team is good. Simply that they will likely squeak into the playoffs, or at least hop over some of the other Eastern Conference teams with less talent. That is unless they do the intelligent thing and trade Melo - but that's unlikely. Instead look for the Knicks to add a complimentary player via trade, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic before getting their doors blown off against the Heat or Pacers in Round 1 (if they make it that far).
7. Sixers, 12-22 (HLO: 9.7% - 3rd)
Um, what the hell got into the Sixers last week? Wins at the Lakers, Nuggets, Kings and Blazers have pushed Philly back within two games of the 8-seed, and have forced me to re-assess my thought process when it comes to this team. The Sixers clearly found a keeper in Michael Carter-Williams (17.2 PPG, 7.2 APG, 5.7 RPG, 2.8 SPG), and both Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young are having career seasons as the offense has run through them. Philly is still prone to blowouts (their -8.1 point differential is worst in the NBA), but in the horrific East, a MCW-Turner-Young-Spencer Hawes group is clearly enough to hang in there with most teams. However, their 25th ranked offense, and 27th ranked defense (via Synergy points per play) paint a different picture. I still expect this team to be in the running for the top pick - but they're certainly making it difficult on themselves.
8. Celtics, 13-21 (HLO: 4.6% - 10th)
What a week for the Celtics draft hopes. They went 0-4, traded a quality role player in Courtney Lee, watched the Knicks and Nets start to play better, saw the Cavs get stronger with Deng, saw the Sixers magically go on a West Coast winning streak, and now sit in the #8 spot in the current lottery standings, only three games out of the 2nd worst record in the league (Utah/Orlando).
Better yet for those who are hungry for ping pong balls, the Cs still have four games left on an absolutely BRUTAL Western Conference trip (@DEN, @LAC, @GSW, @POR - all four in five nights starting tonight), and then return home to play the Rockets, suddenly good Raptors and Lakers (ok - they suck), before another road trip to Orlando, Miami and Washington, and then finally back home to play the Thunder. CelticsLife writer Mark Vandeusen said the other night that 15-30 was realistic by the end of this run..and he's absolutely right (welcome to the tank mobile Mark!).
While the return of Rajon Rondo sometime in the next month will certainly boost the Celtics a bit, you have to imagine Danny Ainge will counteract that by attempting to deal players like Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries and Jordan Crawford as he continues his roster overhaul. As you watch the Celtics, it's clear that this is a group of role players in desperate need of several stars. Rondo is one such player, but to get another one to run with him and the Bradley-Sullinger-Olynyk core of secondary guys, this team needs to bite the bullet and be bad over the next 48 games. I know some people don't want to hear it, and I know many can't bring themselves to root for it. That's fine. But before you start ripping those who do want this team to lose down the stretch, keep in mind those people hate watching the Celtics lose as well, which is why we're desperately hoping this team lands a star via the draft. We understand that it's no sure thing, but we also understand that winning 35 games and having the Heat or Pacers destroy the Celtics in round one would be the worst possible thing for the future of this franchise. These rebuilding seasons suck - and the quickest way to minimize how many you go through is to land an elite talent come June.
9. Hawks, 18-17 (have the right to swap picks with the 13-21 Nets) (HLO: 4.7% - 9th)
The Hawks are now 2-4 since Al Horford went down, with only an overtime win against the Bobcats, and a one point victory against the Celtics to their name. The Hawks remain the 3-seed in the East, but the Raptors are playing fantastic basketball and sit only 1/2 game behind Atlanta. But much worse than that for Atlanta, the Nets are finally playing decent basketball, moving all the way up to 9th in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Just two weeks ago the Hawks were a great bet to finish third in the East and with Brook Lopez out, looked like they also may pick in the top five in the draft via the Nets. Now, they'll be lucky to finish higher than 7th or 8th in the Conference, and Brooklyn looks like a playoff team themselves. Worst case scenario may be developing for the Hawks.
10. Lakers, 14-20 (HLO: 7.3% - 7th)
Hollinger's odds really like the Lakers chances at a collapse, as he has them finishing 29-53 (that would mean a 15-33 finish from here on out). But doesn't it all come down to what happens between now and the trade deadline? Do they deal Pau Gasol now that the Bynum deal is off the table? Does Kobe come back and give them anything resembling his prior self? Do any of the other injured players return and make an impact? Ideally, the Lakers will continue to lose at about the pace they are now. Bad enough to miss the playoffs, but still in the bottom third of the lottery.
This figures to be a really tough week for the Lakers, as they travel to Dallas and Houston before taking on the Clippers (albeit a CP3-less Clippers) at Staples.
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For more of my articles, click here Michael Dyer 1/07/2014 06:51:00 PM Tweet