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Lottery Watch: A look at the Grizzlies' competition

The race to the bottom is heating up! Who do the Grizzlies need to worry about in their pursuit of a top-five pick?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

For the past seven seasons, the Grizzlies have been a part of a race at the end of the season. They’re still involved this year, but it’s a different sort of competition. With the playoffs out of the picture, the Grizzlies’ main “goal” is maximizing their draft pick.

We won’t get into the definition of “tanking” or what it means to commit to “The Process”. Instead, we’ll take a look at the Grizzlies’ competition for the lottery. We’ll look at each team's current record, their projected record from fivethirtyeight, and their motivation going into the end of the season.

We’ll start with the Grizzlies.

Current Record: 18-38

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 27-55

It appeared this team was dedicated to next season with the shutdown of Mike Conley for surgery. More recent events—the non-trade of Tyreke Evans and the playing of Chandler Parsons in the last game before the All-Star break—leave that open to interpretation.

It’s hard to know exactly how many more games the Grizzlies will win with Tyreke still playing in most—if not all—of the games remaining, but (hot take aleart!) it’s probably more than they would’ve won without him. Right now, I think this outlook may be a bit too rosy, but 27 wins isn't outside the realm of possibility. I'd hope for something closer to 25-26.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Sacramento Kings

Current Record: 18-39

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 26-56

The Kings had already committed to going young for the rest of the season. They’ve doubled down on that commitment by trading malcontent George Hill, who han’t played particularly well during his brief Sacramento stint anyway. The Kings are incredibly, incredibly bad, though they’ve 4-6 in they’re last 10 games and haven’t looked quite as incompetent as they did earlier this season. It’s possible they outplay the Grizzlies down the stretch, but that seems like it’s asking a lot.

Atlanta Hawks

Current Record: 18-41

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 25-57

The Hawks are clearly committed to the rebuild now. If you need any proof of their commitment to losing, just look at the Suns game, in which the Hawks blew a lead, then had Dennis Schroeder run in for a layup down three with just seconds left. Now that’s how you lose on purpose. This team has tanking down to an art at this point. There's no chance the Grizzlies catch them.

Phoenix Suns

Current Record: 18-41

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 24-58

The Suns are another team that’s committed to losing to secure their draft picks, even though they’ve squandered the fruits of their labor in years prior. The Suns have already traded malcontent Eric Bledsoe, and they’ll likely shut down Devin Booker toward the end of the year to secure a few more losses. The Grizzlies have handed the Suns two wins and a loss so far this season, with one match-up still to go. That final game could play a big part in deciding the draft order, though I think the Suns still hold an edge right now.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Magic

Current Record: 18-38

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 28-54

NBA fans were shocked at how well the Magic played at the start of the season. No one was surprised when the plummeted back to earth. They’ve been a complete dumpster fire, though in recent weeks they've trended closer to "really bad" than "basketball sinkhole." I don’t see any way that they could improve post-deadline. The Magic, with a worse record than even the Kings, although maybe the absence of The Weeknd will actually improve their play.

Brooklyn Nets

Current Record: 19-40

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 26-56

The good thing for the Grizzlies right now is that the Nets don’t have their draft pick, taking away any incentive to tank. Over the course of their last few seasons, the Nets have maintained organizational commitment to their new process. They play their young players, use their cap space to take on bad money (or troll the Blazers), and play hard. The Nets’ record isn’t very good, but they’ve proven to be a feisty opponent that can put up a good fight even against better opponents.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls

Current Record: 20-37

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 29-53

The Bulls were easily one of the worst teams in basketball. Then Nikola Mirotic returned from his facial injury, and the Bulls became another scrappy team. On Mirotic’s return, the Bulls won seven straight, a pace that translates to an incredible 82-0 record over an entire season!

Mirotic is gone now, though, which means the Bulls will revert to the team that started the season 3-20 only with Zach Lavine added. Grizzlies fans just need to hope that those wins the Bulls stockpiled with Mirotic come back to bite Chicago in the butt, because they’re unlikely to pick up many after the break.

Los Angeles Lakers

Current Record: 23-34

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 34-48

The Lakers have five wins already on the Grizzlies, but they also just completed a blockbuster trade with the Cavs that will probably change their win trajectory. I doubt that will be the case, though, and the Lakers likely owe their pick this season, removing any incentive to drop wins. I'm not sure the Lakers are really a team the Grizzlies should worry about at this point.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Mavericks

Current Record: 18-40

Fivethirtyeight Projected Record: 27-55

The Mavericks are another team that won’t sell out for losses. They took on McDermott at the trade deadline, and they’re currently tied with the Grizzlies in terms of total wins, though they still hold a two-game advantage in the loss column. The Mavericks also currently hold a dreadful record in close games. If that number regresses, and with Carlisle at the helm, I’d expect the Mavericks to overtake the Grizzlies by the end of the season, though fivethirtyeight sees it as a close race.

As of right now, fivethirtyeight has Memphis projected to finish tied with the Mavericks for the fifth-worst record in the league. (In the interest of full disclosure, I don't know whether those projections account for the Grizzlies keeping Tyreke.) There are still some interesting pieces to evaluate as we move forward post-All Star Break, but right now, the Grizzlies appear to be in prime position to land a premium pick.

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