Ever since Stan Van Gundy called the Philadelphia 76ers “embarrassing” for the team they’re putting on the floor, major media markets have become obsessed with the ideals of tanking. So, the proposed change is the NBA Draft Wheel (via Grantland).
The wheel has a predetermined order and cycles every year with a specific team (that knows) receiving a pick in a specific first-round draft slot once every 30 years. A team that gets the first overall pick would respond with getting the 30th, 19th, 18th, seventh and sixth picks in subsequent drafts. This supposed wheels upsets the balance of power in the NBA. The bad teams should be rewarded with high draft picks–imagine if a powerhouse team like Miami or San Antonio was slated to have a No. 1-5 pick on the wheel in this year’s NBA draft. That’s putting someone like Wiggins, Parker, Randle or Exum with LeBron James and company–instead of putting them on a team that needs them such as Milwaukee or Philadelphia.
While the proposed idea of the wheel will be discussed, tanking teams are still scrambling to lose games as quickly as possible with about 20 games left in the season. It’s the home stretch for teams trying to secure that top pick that have been marveling at the play of Kansas teammates Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins all season long.
Even though these teams aren’t winning games, they are still putting a team on the floor every night that competes and attempts to win games. One thing should be clear: players and coaches do not tank and will never tank. These players on this list have taken advantage of being on a terrible team by putting up great numbers that they never had the chance to do before. While everyone wants to discuss the negative aspects of tanking, for these ten players, tanking has been the best thing that has ever happened to them.
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10. Kent Bazemore
Kent Bazemore’s rookie season in the league was interesting–he didn’t play much to start off, but he was well known. He was known for “Bazemoring” more than anything he did on the floor; he only played 267 minutes on a guard-heavy Warriors squad his rookie season. His second season in the NBA looked like it would be the same as his rookie season, filled with a bunch of sideline celebrations after Andre Iguodala hammer dunks and Steph Curry threes from outer-space. This all changed when Bazemore was shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers, and Bazemore becoming the one causing people to celebrate from the bench. There’s no Kobe Bryant in L.A., no Nick Young–so naturally Bazemore slid right in and proved he’s in the NBA for a reason.
He’s only played ten games with the Lakers, but he’s already benefiting from his 29.8 minutes per game. Just remember, Bazemore has already played 298 minutes for the Lakers in ten games, which is more than he played his whole rookie season. In these 10 games, Bazemore is averaging 14.6 points, 2.9 assists and 3.7 rebounds on 46 percent shooting from the field and 40 percent from deep. Putting on Lakers purple and gold has opened up an opportunity that Bazemore never would have gained sitting on the bench in Golden State. The Lakers are the worst team in the Western Conference and with a rash of injuries, have plenty of minutes to throw to players like Bazemore to prove they’re worth it in the NBA.
Most players would be disgruntled if they were traded from the playoff-bound Warriors to the bottom-of-the-pit Lakers, but for a hungry Kent Bazemore, this provided the perfect opportunity to start “Bazemoring” on the court, instead of off it.
9. Alec Burks
For his first two seasons with the Utah Jazz, Alec Burks was having a problem cracking the rotation. I know, it’s hard to imagine someone having trouble getting minutes in Utah with the current state of their franchise. It took three seasons for Burks to start getting consistent minutes and his play this season is leaving people to question why it took so long. During his first two seasons in the NBA, Burks averaged 16.9 minutes per game, scoring 7.1 PPG on 6.1 field goals per game. However, in his third season, Burks is receiving consistent minutes on a quite terrible Utah Jazz squad. No matter how bad the Jazz are, Alec Burks might be the light at the end of the tunnel.
His minutes are up, his scoring is up, his shooting percentages are up–literally every statistical category has increased since Burks has received extended minutes this season. Burks is playing 27.8 minutes per game this season, scoring 13.9 points on 45 percent shooting. Burks has marketed himself as a lethal shooter, hitting 37 percent of his shots from downtown–but there’s more than that. Per Synergy, Burks is shooting 46.4 percent on spot-up three-pointers this season. Burks is also shooting 47.1 percent on all spot-up opportunities, which accounts for 19.3 percent of his offense. Burks is also scoring 1.15 PPP coming off screens, converting on 51.2 percent of these attempts.
The advanced statistics have been kind to Alec Burks this season–he’s proving his worth as a spot-up shooter. A dismal situation in Utah has opened up the door for Alec Burks and finally given him a chance to show that he can ball.
8. Nick Young
Over his career, Swaggy P has demonstrated that if he receives minutes, he will produce. In 2010-2011 for the Washington Wizards, Nick Young averaged 17.4 PPG in 31.8 MPG. However, the problem is getting minutes for Swaggy P, which created the perfect situation in L.A. After not catching on with the Clippers or the Sixers, Swaggy P signed a deal with the Lakers this offseason. Nick Young is one of those players that can never get a long-term deal from a team, but will probably stay in the NBA for a decent amount of time on one-year contracts based on his scoring ability. He’s not the most efficient shooter, but Nick Young has the capability to hit shots that look like they have a zero percent chance of touching the rim. Young has been battling the injury bug this season, but he should be back soon for the Lakers.
In 49 appearances this season, Young is averaging 16.8 points in 28.6 minutes per game. His shooting percentages are on-par for his career averages, but his 16.8 points and 28.6 minutes are way above his career averages of 11.9 points and 23.6 minutes. Nick Young has the ability to be a sparkplug of the bench for a contender, in a Jamal Crawford type of way. Young just has to convince teams to take a flyer on him for longer than one season. Whatever the case, the Lakers gave Young a shot this season and he hasn’t disappointed. His performance this year has definitely extended his NBA career as he will be looking for another deal this offseason.
7. Kendall Marshall
Just a few months ago, Kendall Marshall wasn’t even playing basketball in the NBA anymore. Crucified for a lack of efficient shooting during his rookie season with Phoenix (37 percent from the field), the Suns sent Marshall to Washington in the Marcin Gortat/Emeka Okafor trade. The Wizards wanted no part of Marshall and cut him before the season began–it appeared that Marshall’s NBA journey would end before it could even start. That’s before the Delaware 87ers came ringing.
When Marshall signed with the 87ers, not much was expected–but that would change. After signing with the 87ers, Marshall would average 19.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 9.6 assists per game on 42 percent shooting from the field and 46 (!) percent from downtown in seven appearances. Marshall was signed by the 87ers on December 4 and was back in the NBA after being signed by the Lakers on December 19.
His hot streak didn’t stop once he donned the Lakers famous purple and gold, either. Marshall is putting up 8.5 points and 9.5 assists per game on 41 percent shooting and 43 percent from beyond the arc (3.6 three-pointers per game). The Lakers being extremely thin at the point guard position opened up room for Marshall to play 30.2 minutes per game in 36 appearances so far this season.
Marshall has contributed double-digit assist totals in 19 games this season, which is 53 percent of the time he suits up for the Lakers. Kendall Marshall remains one of the last of the mohicans as a pass-first point guard in the NBA. Without the injury-riddled season the Lakers are suffering through, who knows if Marshall would have ever been given another chance in the NBA. If a little known D-League team from Delaware never picked up the phone for Marshall, who knows if he would have ever played basketball again. One thing is certain, everything happens for a reason and Kendall Marshall is a prime example of this.
6. Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton might be one of the best players this season that no one is paying attention to. Middleton spent his rookie season with the Pistons, only appearing in 27 games, averaging 17.6 minutes and 6.1 points, and was shipped from Detroit to Milwaukee in the Brandon Jennings trade. The Bucks thought the real prize of the trade was Brandon Knight, but Khris Middleton has appeared as a pleasant surprise for a team fighting to keep their franchise in Milwaukee.
The most impressive part about Middleton’s play this season for the Bucks is his increased production when he starts. In 44 starts this season, Middleton is averaging 13.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 46 percent from the field and 46 percent from deep. Overall, Middleton is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 29.0 minutes per game. He’s shooting 46 percent from the floor and 43 percent from deep–his shot chart is a thing of beauty.
Middleton is second on the Bucks in scoring and in minutes per game, behind Brandon Knight. He’s outperforming players getting paid millions more than him like O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova. Actually, Middleton is the lowest paid player on the Bucks roster, making $788,872 this season (per Basketball-reference.com).
Khris Middleton clearly understands the opportunity in front of him to showcase his true abilities on a team that has minutes to give him. The Bucks are going nowhere fast and Khris Middleton is making Milwaukee his platform to springboard a successful NBA career.
5. Tony Wroten
Fresh off a 30-point performance on 12-of-15 shooting, Tony Wroten is a prototypical example of a player taking advantage of playing on a terrible team. Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie acquired Wroten from the Memphis Grizzlies in the offseason for a 2014 top-50 protected second-round pick that will most likely never head over to Memphis. Essentially, Hinkie acquired Tony Wroten for free. Hinkie acquired a player that holds an NBA record for recording a triple-double in his first start for nothing.
Tony Wroten is the best type of basketball player, especially on a bad team. He will recklessly drive into the lane even if there are five players, take heat check threes after making one jumper–essentially he’s the best bad basketball player there is. His style of play is fun and exciting and has translated into some good looking numbers this season. Wroten is averaging 13.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 24.3 MPG this season. This former first-round pick has been given the chance to shine in Philadelphia, after only totalling 272 in 35 games for the Grizzlies in his rookie season.
Wroten has been used in Philly as a sixth man, but the stats detail that Wroten should be starting in the NBA. In 18 starts this season, Wroten is averaging 18.4 points, 5.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds on 43 percent shooting from the field. Wroten isn’t the most efficient player on the planet, but that’s the nature of his style of game. However, he is shooting 47 percent from the field post All-Star break.
Regardless of statistics, Tony Wroten has proved that he can be a spark plug either as a starter or off the bench for a team and we would have never known this if he didn’t become a part of the Philadelphia 76ers.
4. Jared Sullinger
It’s hard to find a bright spot on a team that has 20 wins this season and played most of the season without their star Rajon Rondo, but it’s possible. This bright spot would be none other than Jared Sullinger, the same player that every NBA team was advised to avoid before the 2012 NBA Draft because of his chronic back issues. Sullinger was a top-10 talent, but the medial red flag dropped him to the Boston Celtics with the 21st selection.
In the midst of a successful rookie season (6.0 points and 5.9 boards in 20 MPG), Sullinger would be halted by season-ending back surgery after 45 games. However, Sullinger has bounced back from his back issues and hopes that this will almost become a distant memory and not a reoccuring problem. In an interview with RealGM, Sullinger said the following about his performance after surgery: “Am I as good as new? Yeah, I mean it shows out there that I’m doing fine. “I can do everything I did when it hurt. I was basically playing on one leg [last season], I wouldn’t say I can jump higher but I can move better.”
Sullinger has improved from his rookie campaign and is showing that he has the skills to be a legitimate NBA power forward. To date, Sullinger is averaging 12.9 points and 8.2 rebounds in 27.9 minutes per game. Sullinger had a four-game stretch towards the beginning of February where he averaged 23.4 points and 13.8 rebounds–each of these games resulted in a double-double for Sullinger, including a monster 24 points and 17 rebounds on January 29 vs Philly.
Sullinger has 19 double-doubles on the season, which is more than Kenneth Faried and Roy Hibbert. The most important part about his sophomore campaign is the fact that he’s played in 58 games this season, starting 41 of them. The departures of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with the injury to Rajon Rondo, left rookie coach Brad Stevens without much to work with. While the wins certainly haven’t been there this season, the improving performance and health of Jared Sullinger should be enough to keep the Boston faithful around.
3. Tobias Harris
If you aren’t quite sure who Tobias Harris is (which is fair), just remember he’s the guy that was all over SportsCenter after giving us one of the best game-winners in recent history with this dunk to beat the Thunder. But, Tobias Harris is a lot more than just dunks–just like Blake Griffin, right guys?
Harris is only 21 years old, but his quick development after only playing one season at the University of Tennessee has been impressive since coming over to the Magic. Tobias Harris is a player that has proved that when given minutes, he can be a competent NBA player. This season, Harris is averaging 15.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in 32.4 minutes per game. Harris is definitely one of those fantasy basketball sleeper studs that will explode during the last few weeks during the season and cripple your chances at hoisting your fantasy league’s Larry O’Brien trophy.
Harris is shooting 45 percent from the field for the season, but there’s one spot on the floor where he’s been extremely impressive. Harris is converting on 67 percent of his attempts from 0-3 feet from the basket. For some reason, Harris could never get off the bench in Milwaukee, playing 11.4 minutes his rookie season. He was selected with the 19th overall pick in the first round in 2011, so the talent is there. Tobias Harris has six double-doubles this season along with six 20-plus point performances and one 31-point performance. The Magic only have 19 victories this season, but the excellent seasons being put together by Arron Afflalo and Tobias Harris are keeping hope alive for the future in Orlando.
2. Thaddeus Young
Thaddeus Young is playing his seventh season for the Philadelphia 76ers–yet it took this long for Young to truly showcase his versatile abilities as a stretch four. The fact that Sixers GM Sam Hinkie chose to keep Young after the fire sale that sent Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen packing should speak volumes about the play of Young. He doesn’t have a nickname, there is no glitz or glamour that come with Young–just one of the most hardworking players in the NBA both on and off the court. He’s known for his high energy, intangibles and his ability to turn garbage into gold. Thaddeus Young does all the little things on a basketball court, but he’s doing the big things this season too.
Thad Young is the only consistent scoring option left on the 76ers and he’s taking this opportunity to prove how valuable of a commodity he can be. Just imagine if Young was playing with Kevin Durant in OKC or James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston. This season, Young is averaging 17.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.2 steals on 48 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from deep. While his shooting from deep has cooled down, Young has shown the ability to consistently hit the long ball. Young is taking a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game–he hit 44 percent of his attempts from three in November and December.
Some people may feel like Thaddeus Young is wasting his time playing for the Sixers, but his trade value is rising every 20-plus point game he has (18 of them so far this season). This helps out Young and the Sixers, as he may be moved before the NBA Draft. Thaddeus Young is doing literally everything for the 76ers this season, salvaging a great individual season out of one of the worst seasons in 76ers history.
1. Arron Afflalo
Arron Afflalo is the surprise of the NBA season with his efficient scoring on an Orlando Magic squad that is not concerned with winning. Just keep in mind that Afflalo averaged 5.8 PPG during his first three seasons and only averages 11.0 PPG for his career. After bouncing around between Detroit and Denver for his first five NBA seasons, Afflalo looked like another journeyman looking for a home. Orlando might be known for Disney World, but Arron Afflalo has found some magic in the happiest place on Earth. This season, Afflalo is putting up 19.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 47 percent from the field and 43 percent from deep. His 43 percent from beyond the arc is currently 12th in the NBA. Afflalo’s shot chart from this season is just beautiful.
No really, just take a peek at Kevin Durant’s shot chart this season and compare the two. It’s quite impressive what Afflalo has been able to do this season. Receiving 36.4 MPG on the Magic has turned Arron Afflalo into a player that could be inserted into a championship caliber team’s lineup, or he could stick around for the rebuild of the Magic. If Afflalo was never traded to a tanking team, who knows if his true skill would have ever came to fruition.
While Afflalo received over 30 minutes per game in Denver, the shots weren’t there. Afflalo averaged 9.2 field goals per game in three years in Denver. Afflalo is averaging 14.7 field goals per game in two seasons with the Magic, so the difference is obvious. Tanking has been called embarrassing, but there’s nothing embarrassing about what Arron Afflalo has done on the court this season.
What do you think?
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