The Tank Is On: NBA Teams Most Likely to Finish with Top Draft-Lottery Odds
All lottery odds come via BetDSI and are accurate as of Friday March 23. Remember to recheck these lines before placing a wager, as they will shift based on which NBA teams do a better job of racking up losses prior to the end of the regular season.
5. Chicago Bulls (+2500)
The Chicago Bulls actually aren’t that bad of an investment now. They should, technically, be laying something under a +1000.
But their play earlier this season with Nikola Mirotic, now of the New Orleans Pelicans, back in the lineup is still killing them. They played basically above-.500 basketball for more than a month, and now they find themselves on track for the eighth-best lottery odds—as opposed to the top chances, which they owned at the time of Mirotic’s return.
No matter, though. The Bulls are trying to make up for lost time. Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn are being wrapped in caution tape at the moment. They’re not nursing serious injuries, but the Bulls aren’t rushing them back either.
Ditto for Zach LaVine, who is dealing with an injury that’s impacting his recently surgically repaired knee. Keeping him on the shelf might actually hurt the Bulls’ tank. They’ve been more than eight points better per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor.
Overall, though, the absences of Dunn and Mirotic, along with a rotation that remains light on wings, should give them the juice to tumble further down the standings and, by extension, climb further up the lottery-odds ladder.
4. Atlanta Hawks (+180)
Some will believe that the Atlanta Hawks should be higher. They’re not entirely wrong. The Hawks would have the third-best odds at landing the No. 1 overall pick if the lottery were being held right now.
Except, the lottery isn’t being held right now. And while they’re fewer than three games back of the league’s worst record—and thus the best first-overall-pick odds—they’re getting a little spunkier.
John Collins is playing more when healthy, and he’s someone who can help them win basketball games. The same goes for Dewayne Dedmon, who, as a random note, will be a fascinating free-agent case study if he declines his player option.
Taurean Prince, Atlanta’s top combo-wing prospect, is getting frisky as well. He’s averaging 19.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists over his last nine games while shooting 45 percent from the floor overall, in addition to 41.7 percent from downtown. He’s doing an excellent job, relative to his scouting report entering the league last year, jump-starting pick-and-rolls, and he looks a lot more comfortable shimmying from small forward to power forward assignments at the defensive end.
Consider this, too: Prince is playing so well the Hawks actually limited his playing time during a recent loss to the Sacramento Kings. Seriously. That is an actual statement. They’re minutes-capping a 24-year-old cornerstone.
Atlanta is lucky it even makes the top five, to be honest. Alas, the team has chained a few players to the bench, including John Collins and DeAndre’ Bembry, and will play out the NBA’s toughest schedule from here on. If Prince’s minutes suddenly start to decline, or perhaps disappear altogether like Kent Bazemore’s did, they’ll have real free-fall potential.
3. Orlando Magic (+1500)
Stashing the Orlando Magic here is a little bit of a risk. Their defense has been a little better in recent games, and they will soldier through the Association’s easiest schedule the rest of the way.
Given all the double-tank games they’ll play—contests against fellow nosedivers—they could find themselves improving upon their current record and removing themselves from the collection of bottom-five basement dwellers.
We’re not quite ready to go that far. The Magic’s offense remains terrible. Aaron Gordon specifically is going to end up being this summer’s most overrated free agent. He has the physical tools of a big with the ball-handling chops of a wing, but that has yet to truly translate at either end.
Gordon’s pull-up shooting percentages are scary bad, and he’s not someone they can consistently use to orchestrate pick-and-rolls. He’s also sieve-like when it comes to rotations around the rim. Orlando will continue to get him reps—rightfully so—and that should drive down their win potential by a considerable margin.
Identical logic can be applied to their point guard situation. They don’t have an elite, or even above-average, talent at that position. There’s Shelvin Mack, and then there’s D.J. Augustin. That’s it. From there, the Magic will test out Evan Fournier and Jonathon Simmons as pick-and-roll initiators. Not only have both of them been a little underwhelming—Simmons, to his credit, has improved—but they’ve been shuffled in and out of the lineups as well.
Ignore the simplicity of the Magic’s imminent competition. They’ll continue to have top-five lottery odds. They might even successfully lose their way into the top three.
2. Memphis Grizzlies (+750)
Some teams are just naturally terrible. They don’t need to worry about running out too many good players. They don’t have to embellish mysterious injuries. They can play whoever they want, for however long they want, and it won’t make a difference.
They will still lose in volume.
Enter the Memphis Grizzlies.
They are one of the quintessential organic tankers. Mike Conley has been out for most of the season with an Achilles issue and will not be returning. But that’s the extent of their major injury problems. Andrew Harrison is dealing with a right wrist contusion and others have missed some time here and there, but there’s yet to be anything too severe or, more importantly, egregiously hyperbolized.
And yet, since Jan. 31, the Grizzlies are a disastrous—or rather, for our purposes, encouraging—1-22 with the league’s second-worst defense. They recently lost to the Charlotte Hornets, who are no juggernaut, by 61 points. And all this comes while, for the most part, still playing guys like JaMychal Green, Tyreke Evans and Marc Gasol.
If the Grizzlies ever decide to bench some of their more impactful talents—Gasol is a good candidate moving forward; he’s in his age 33 season and, by all appearances, fairly grumpy—they’ll be sitting even prettier. They’re tied in the win column with the owners of the league’s worst record (more on them later) and don’t play out a particularly easy schedule the rest of the way.
Look for them, at worst, to finish with the second- or third-best odds in lottery, making them a solid bet to win it.
1. Phoenix Suns (+275)
Meet this year’s master of all tank jobs.
The Phoenix Suns currently have a (slim) hold on the NBA’s absolute worst record, and it doesn’t look like that’ll be changing anytime soon. The average winning percentage of their remaining opponents sits at 55 percent—seventh highest in the entire league. Do you know what their record is against squads at or above .500 on the year?
That would be an NBA-worst 7-40.
Don’t worry about them suddenly going on an unforeseen hot streak either. Even though interim head coach Jay Triano isn’t guaranteed to have a job next season, he’s not running this team to win. The Suns haven’t shut down anyone indefinitely—the league has been actively trying to penalize squads for doing that—but they’re taking turns with player rest nights. In recent days, both T.J. Warren and Devin Booker, their two best players, have been absent from the rotation.
The result of all this? The tanking trifecta. Phoenix ranks dead last in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and point differential per 100 possessions. So while these odds aren’t too lucrative, it’s for good reason: The Suns, more so than any other team, have the inside track on snagging the best lottery odds.
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