The NBA has somewhat inadvertently created a buzz around the league for full-calendar years. Compare that with Major League Baseball. Sure, I like baseball, I will watch the occasional nationally televised game, but when the off-season hits, MLB news disappears. The NBA has created relevance even in the off season. Moreover, even the bad teams in the league have something exciting to play (lose) for.
2017-18 is a prime example of how exciting the draft lottery can be. The NBA league office has voted to reform the draft lottery system, creating more parity in the league. But this reform won’t kick in until the 2019 draft, so for now, let’s enjoy the race for last this season.
There are nine teams within five games of the top lottery spot at the All-Star Break. For clarity, being the worst team in the league doesn’t guarantee you the best pick like in the National Football League, you actually only have the best percentage chance of grabbing the top selection. But it is better than nothing, so shoot your shot (and then miss it), right?
Only 14 teams are put into the draft lottery each year, they are the teams that don’t make the playoffs. As I mentioned above, nine of those fourteen teams are within striking distance of the top spot. Even crazier, seven teams are within 1.5 games, and yes that includes your Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizz are currently 18-38, losers of their last seven and just 2-14 in the last fourteen. In terms of front office competence, fan confidence, and roster make-up the Grizzlies are dead last in the league, but that’s a different conversation. The beauty of the bottom of the league is that it is going to be a close finish for who grabs the best odds to win the number draft pick.
Ironically, there is really only three teams that have an actual shot of making the playoffs from the current bottom 14. The Utah Jazz are playing out of their minds right now, even after trading Rodney Hood, and have won 11 in a row. They were 19-28 just a few weeks ago, they sit at 30-28 and just 1.5 games out of the playoffs. The Los Angeles Clippers have a decent shot at falling into a sweep from the Warriors or Rockets, as they are just one game back from a playoff berth. Lastly, the Detroit Pistons have been revitalized by the acquisition of Blake Griffin. Though I don’t see them overtaking the surprising Miami Heat (who have been struggling of late), it is a possibility.
Of course, there are 30-ish games left, so things could change, but the point is, the league has shaken itself out into a clear distinction of who is good and who is bad. And there is a wonderful mix of bad teams.
As the standings sit now, Memphis has just a little bit of work to do (or not do) to reach the top spot in the odds. The Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks are tied at 18-41 with the worst record in the league. The next five teams are the pack that Memphis needs to distance itself from. Dallas, Orlando, Sacramento, and Brooklyn are equally bad enough to overtake Phoenix and Atlanta.
Here’s where it gets interesting. According to Team Ranking, of the 30 NBA teams, Brooklyn, Phoenix, and Atlanta are ranked 27th-29th respectively in easiest schedules remaining. (This is a hard concepts to articulate through text, but in other words, they have tough schedules post-All-Star break.) To rank these schedules, the two opponents’ records are taken into consideration. Memphis ranks with the 13th easiest schedule. Dallas, who is currently 0.5 games from the top draft odds spot, has the 5th easiest schedule.
As interesting as the NBA playoffs will be, the final 25+ games of the regular season for the lovable losers with create some intense drama.
The Grizzlies, who retained Tyreke Evans, have a few players that can win games. Marc Gasol and Evans are legitimate NBA scorers, capable of taking over and pulling out close victories. Chandler Parsons recently returned as well, and though he isn’t that much of a contributor, he is better than some of the options the Grizzlies are putting on the floor currently. Wayne Selden Jr. will hopefully be back, Andrew Harrison is playing a little better, and interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is still trying out for the full-time gig. Long story short, if the Grizzlies are careful, they could play themselves into NBA no-man’s land.
As a few other GBB’s mentioned in this week’s roundtable, playing Evans cautiously, sitting him on back-to-backs and protecting his health could mean less contribution from him. I personally think the coaching staff should let him play freely and give him a reason to love his role in Memphis. On the other hand, those same tactics suggested for Evans, I believe should be used for Marc Gasol. Yes, he is a cornerstone of this franchise, and yes he can still play. But its obvious he is not himself, he isn’t engaged, and overall the team is more fun to watch with him on the bench.
The young guys need the playing time, especially if this is going to be a quick rebuild, and they play inspired basketball. The beauty of the Grizzlies fall from playoff glory is that though the record is terrible, they aren’t getting blown out every night. Don’t get me wrong, there are unwatchable losses, February 6th at the Hawks for example, but there are fun wins like January 22nd at home against the 76ers.
Life is both bleak and exciting for teams at the bottom of the NBA. Your season is tough to swallow for all involved, most notably in the fans, but the end result is a step towards improvement in the next season.
For Memphis, no one wants to see the team blatantly lose on purpose. There is no dignity or respect in that. But there are ways to prepare for the future both in the draft and with the current roster.
Memphis has never played the most exciting basketball, and only a true fan of this team will understand how that in itself is the most exciting part about Memphis Grizzlies basketball. Perhaps for a change, the Grizzlies could have an exciting offseason filled with the hope of a reestablishing a winning culture in the traditional way.
All draft odds and strengths of schedules provided by tankathon.com and TeamRanking respectively.