As this NBA season, one marred by injuries to star players and presumed tanking by some of the League’s small-market, lesser-talented teams, speeds towards the new year, it’s important to remember that hindsight is always 20/20.
Those teams that everyone knew would be tanking, squads like the 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors, have done so with varying degrees of success. The Sixers, who won their first three games of the season as rookie sensation Michael Carter-Williams drew comparisons to Magic Johnson, caught everyone sleeping. Things eventually settled down and the realization of a poor roster came to the forefront. Now at 9-21, the Sixers are heading to the NBA Draft Lottery this spring.
The Raptors traded away Rudy Gay, but the NBA’s lone team north of the border is on top of what has been an absurdly bad Atlantic Division, which has zero teams with a record above .500. The Raptors might be trying to tank, but they may win that division by accident and miss the Lottery along with a shot at hometown guy and presumed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s skip the Raptors, simply because that entire division can’t get out of its own way and, as a whole, the Eastern Conference is pretty bad beyond the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.
The Suns may be the most interesting tanking case in the NBA. What was thought to be a poor roster got even worse when 33-year-old, first-year general manager Ryan McDonough made Marcin Gortat the focal point of a trade package that got back Emeka Okafor and a 2014 protected first-round pick from the Washington Wizards on Oct. 25th.
With the 2014 NBA Draft set to be among the most loaded in history, the Sixers and Suns both committed to tanking, but a funny thing happened along the way. The Sixers, specifically on defense (111.5 ppg. allowed — 30th in the NBA), have been unwatchable, while the Suns have not only been watchable, but very competitive in the uber-talented Western Conference. A lot of that early success stems from guys having career years.
Eric Bledsoe’s 18.4 points, 5.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds are all career-highs by wide margins. Miles Plumlee (10.1 PPG, 9.2 RPG) is also having his best season, while Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, Channing Frye and the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus, have all flourished under first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek, who may need a long look for NBA Coach of the Year when it’s all said and done.
Who knows if Hornacek and the Suns, who are currently sixth in the Western Conference, can keep this up for 82 games, but for now, they’re in the mix and they’re fun to watch, two things you cannot say about the Sixers.
These two teams played each other for the first time this season on Saturday night and the result was somewhat predictable based on what has gone on this season. Four Suns scored at least 18 points and seven scored at least eight in a 115-101 win for Phoenix. The Sixers allowed the Suns to shoot 46.3 percent from the field as their opponent field goal percentage continues to be among the worst in the NBA at 46.8 percent.
The only surprise in the Suns victory Saturday night was that Phoenix shot a measly 27.3% (9-33) from behind the 3-point line . As we all know, the 76ers ability to guard the 3-point line has been turrible (as Charles would say) this season. Brett Brown’s “pick you poison” defense has allowed opponents to shoot 37.6% from deep (25th in the League); gives up 10.5 made threes per night (worst in the Association) and has yielded double digit made threes 15 times this season. At this pace the Sixers defense (or lack of) will break all the NBA records kept regarding opponents and the 3-point line.
Tanking around the NBA has been accomplished in varying degrees this season. Back in late October, the Sixers and Suns both thought they had the formula to reach the 2014 NBA Lottery.
Both may still get there, but at least one will be watchable along the way.
Josh Newman is a contributing scribe for Philadunkia.
You can follow him on Twitter @Joshua_Newman.
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