Look on the Bright Side: One Positive for the League's Five Worst Teams
After 30 games, there is still a lot to be determined in the NBA.
Plenty of teams will still shift around, and we’re yet to determine who the real contenders are. But if you’ve gone 30 games without reaching the 10-win mark, chances are you are really bad.
Sure, there are a couple teams who could pull a ‘17 Miami Heat and go 30-11 in the second half of the season, but it isn’t really worth betting on.
Still, the NBA season is long and every game presents around 200 opportunities to do something positive. The five worst teams in the league are already looking ahead to next year, or to the NBA draft, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t develop these positives along the way.
Atlanta Hawks, 6-23
Positive: Taurean Prince
The number 12 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft is another successful product of the Hawks Factory.
After a promising rookie season, Prince has become the perfect ideal of a 3-and-D guy. He’s shooting 43 percent from three, playing good defense, and showing flashes elsewhere, with 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, despite not having many guys to pass to.
Right now, the Hawks have basically no sure thing assets outside of John Collins, their breakout rookie. So they’ll take anything they can get. Prince may not be a future star, but he definitely has a role on a good team, if the Hawks can ever get back there.
Dallas Mavericks, 8-22
Positive: Maxi Kleber
Maxi Kleber is a power forward out of Germany who, after going undrafted in 2014, signed with the Mavericks to make his NBA debut this year.
The rookie immediately impressed Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, and he has now started 15 games for the Mavs. He’s been a really nice find for a team struggling to meet even their relatively low expectations.
Over the past six games. Kleber has averaged 11 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks on 29.9 minutes per game while shooting 65 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. This excellent stretch of his rookie season has been highlighted by his five-block night against the Boston Celtics, and a scoring outburst against the San Antonio Spurs where he scored 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting.
His shooting is still inconsistent night-to-night, but he has managed to earn his minutes even on nights when his shot isn’t going in with a nice overall feel for the game on both ends of the floor. He isn’t exactly the heir to Dirk Nowitzki’s kingdom, but he looks to be a good buddy for Dennis Smith Jr. going forward.
Chicago Bulls, 8-20
Positive: Their incredible, remarkable, unbelievable five game winning streak
On December 7th, the Bulls were 3-20 and were the laughing stock of the entire league. It wasn’t just that they couldn’t win games. They couldn’t even compete. They barely qualified as a real basketball team.
Since then, they have nearly tripled their win total and have become legitimately fun and competitive, at least for now. During their five-game tear, they’ve been outstanding on both ends of the floor, and have a net rating of plus-9.5.
The return of the beaten and beleaguered Nikola Mirotic is what sparked the winning streak, and his shocking on-court chemistry with his sparring mate Bobby Portis has been key. In the 54 minutes the two have played together this year, Chicago is absolutely unstoppable, outscoring teams by 34.3 points per 100 possessions.
Mirotic and Portis have been the stars of the show, but the guard play has been just as key. After a brutal rookie season, Kris Dunn has been fantastic, even before the Bulls started winning. Over the last 10 games, Dunn has averaged 16.1 points, 7.1 assists, and 4,8 rebounds per game while shooting 48 percent form the field and a shocking 37.5 percent from behind-the-arc. Jerian Grant and David Nwaba have consistently made positive contributions as well.
The Bulls win streak will end sometime this week and the magic will be gone. Even though these wins will never add up to anything meaningful, it’s never healthy for a franchise to spend a whole year as a joke. Hopefully Chicago has discovered some ways to stay competitive for the rest of a long season.
Memphis Grizzlies, 9-21
Positive: Mike Conley will come back eventually
Once upon a time, the Grizzlies were really good. They started the season 7-2, and even though they were 7-5 by the time their starting point guard went down, that’s still a heck of a lot better than the 2-16 mark they’ve put up since then.
This team just can’t compete without Conley. He could come back any day now, but, clearly, it’s too late for this year. But Memphis has two established stars who have proven that they can win together, and they’re both under contract long-term.
Right now, Conley is hurt and Marc Gasol is playing like garbage. Conley’s return is more important for the long-term than it is for the short-term. They won’t be good enough to pull themselves out of this hole, but if they remain one of the worst teams in the league, Gasol is going to force his way out. You can see the signs already, and the clock is ticking.
Memphis doesn’t want to rebuild — if they did, they would have done it already. But if they can’t win some games and win back Big Spain, they won’t have a choice.
Sacramento Kings, 9-20
Positive: Frank Mason
The position of point guard has been mighty contentious this year for the ever-struggling Sacramento Kings.
They used the fifth pick in the draft to select De’Aaron Fox, an exciting point guard out of Kentucky. But they also gave a huge contract to veteran point guard George Hill. Fox has been promising but wildly inconsistent. Hill has been plain awful.
Out of the wreckage has emerged Frank Mason, the 34th pick in the 2017 draft. His individual numbers haven’t been anything to write home about, but he has conducted this offense in a way Hill and Fox simply haven’t been able to.
The Kings’ offensive rating has been a fantastic 106.4 with Mason on the court, 11.2 points per 100 possessions better than when he is on the bench.
The biggest factor in Mason’s favor is his teammates’ performance when he is on the floor. Key players in Sacramento’s future like Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein see massive improvements in their shooting when they play with Mason.
The Kings would probably prefer to see breakouts from Fox or Hield, but a team that’s been this bad for this long will take whatever they can get.