At the end of January, five NBA teams will have fewer than 20 victories. There is a clear delineation, at least in the standings, between that five-team group and the rest of the league and, with the ever-interesting NBA Draft Lottery looming in May, there will be plenty of jockeying for position during the second half of the season.
With that said, the Atlanta Hawks have emerged as the best of that group and, in reality, Trae Young and company are performing markedly better than their counterparts. The Hawks boast a 10-10 record since Dec. 18 and, during that time, Atlanta has operated as a vastly improved team, riding the quality work of John Collins and their young players.
Still, the “other” four franchises are languishing and, in truth, it is jarring to see how poor the results have been. All four have either 10 or 11 victories on the campaign and that doesn’t quite do justice to how ugly things are in the present.
The Chicago Bulls have exactly one victory since Dec. 28 and that victory came against another bottom-dweller in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Chicago has a 6-20 record in the Jim Boylen era and, during this recent downturn, the Bulls are 1-13 with a hideous -12.4 net rating.
Speaking of the Cavs, Cleveland is struggling mightily in their own right. Larry Drew’s squad has two (!) victories since Dec. 29, beating the hapless Bulls and the Lakers in a world without LeBron James. Over their last 20 games, Cleveland owns a 2-18 record and their net rating (-16.1) during that time is utterly horrific.
The Phoenix Suns are probably in a (slightly) better position in an overall sense but, in the recent past, the results aren’t great. Phoenix is 2-15 in their last 17 games (-12.0 net rating) and, with a foundation built around Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, the Suns were supposed to be better than this.
Finally, the New York Knicks are a mess in their own right. With the obvious caveats concerning the absence of Kristaps Porzingis for the entire season to this point, the Knicks own one victory since Dec. 16 (toppling the LeBron-less Lakers) and, after a loss to Charlotte on Monday, New York is 1-18 with a -11.5 net rating since Dec. 16.
In the coming days, this quartet of sadness will be largely ignored in the NBA world, particularly if none of the franchises pull the trigger on a significant trade. That is probably the right course of action given the very competitive nature elsewhere in the league but, in truth, it is tough to avoid marveling at the spectacle that is the NBA’s bottom tier right now.
There isn’t a lot of mystery as to where these four teams will land in this week’s DIME power rankings but, elsewhere, there is plenty of intrigue. Let’s get to the list.