How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

How Low Can We Go? Looking At How Far the Sixers Might Tank This Year

Are we sure that Doug Collins isn't secretly, like, a brilliant tanker?
We've gotten so caught up in the question of why he continues to play
Damien Wilkins and Royal Ivey over the higher-upside likes of Arnett
Moultrie, Charles Jenkins and even Dorell Wright—is he just overvaluing
his veterans? Does he really hate young guys that much? Are the Russians
somehow involved?—that maybe we're just totally glazing over the
obvious answer that Collins really doesn't want to win ballgames that
badly right now. After all, maybe Moultrie and Jenkins are like,
secretly really awesome at basketball—at least with Ivey and Wilkins,
you now the low-ceiling brand of hoops you're getting.


Anyway, if that is Dougie's brilliant, evil plot, it's totally
working. After dropping two to the Heat and Knicks this weekend, the
Sixers have lost five in a row, and are now a full ten games under .500,
officially their lowest point since the Eddie Jordan era. Once seen as a
playoff challenger in the East—and sadly, they still technically are,
just four games back of the similarly sagging Bucks—the Sixers have even
now fallen back to Toronto territory, the Raps having played much
better since acquiring Rudy Gay in a trade and getting a couple other
players back from injury. Were the season to end today, the Sixers would
finish with the 11th-worst record in the league, giving them about a 1%
chance of landing in the lottery.


Now, you probably don't need me to tell you why this is important,
but I'll do it anyway—the Sixers, as a young and (ostensibly) improving
team, are now in a position to additionally acquire an invaluable asset
at season's end with a top-ten draft pick. This could potentially
benefit the Sixers in one of two important ways: Either it gives them a
chance to add a potential core player to their existing
Jrue-Evan-Thad-(maybe Funny Looking Kid With the Big Hair?) unit,
cementing the team as one of the most promising young rosters in the
league, though leaving them likely still a season or two away from
possible contention. Or, they could package the pick with another one of
their non-untouchable trade assets—Evan or Thad maybe, depending on
what a team is more looking for—and try to land them a real star player
in the off-season, to go with Jrue and maybe/possibly a re-signed
FLKWTBH. It's enough to dream about, that maybe this season won't have
to end as a total waste.


Even in their best worst-case scenario, the Sixers probably won't
have a great shot at a top-three pick—we'll probably end up with at
least 30 wins, if only incidentally, so we're not likely to end with
more than a 7.5% chance or so of their ping-pong balls being selected.
Still, even if the Sixers won't be able to land a Ben McLemore or
Nerlens Noel at the top of the draft—and nobody's a surefire star in
this draft anyway—they could still get an impact player in the 6-10
range, a rangy center like Indiana's Tyler Zeller or Maryland's Alex
Len, or maybe an athletic wing slasher like UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad or
Kentucky's Alex Poythress. These guys might not be franchise players,
but they could be big pieces (no RyHo) for the Sixers, and better,
cheaper players to build around than those they'd be likely to find in
free agency.


But before we start scouting who we're going to pick, we should
figure out where we're likely to be picking. The Sixers lay in 11th now,
but they could conceivably climb much higher, depending on who among
the league's bottom-feeders they can catch near the bottom of the
standings. Let's examine the likely suspects.


1. Toronto Raptors: 23-34, 10th Worst Record in League. A
loss at home to the Wizards last night—not as embarrassing an occurrence
these days as you might think—breaks their tie with the Sixers in the
East, leaving the Raps in sole possession of 10th place in the lottery
standings. Still, as previously alluded to, our friends North of the
Border have been playing about as well as anyone in the Atlantic,
winning six of their last seven before the Washington loss, a nice core
congealing around the likes of the recently acquired swingman Rudy Gay
and improving (and recovering) young center Jonas Valanciunas. With team
management seemingly all-in on Toronto's unlikely playoff push, you can
expect they'll pass the Sixers with ease before long.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Very Good

2. Minnesota Timberwolves: 20-33, 9th Worst Record in League.
The Timberwolves got off to an impressive start with about 50% of their
roster injured at season's beginning, starting the year 13-11. Then
that 50% number got even higher, a couple returning players didn't
provide the needed boost, and the bottom fell out, with their recent win
against the Sixers (sigh) one of just six wins the T'Wolves have
accrued thusfar in 2013. Still, they've picked things up a little
recently, with point guard Ricky Rubio finally starting to impose his
will on games as he was predicted to do upon his return from ACL
surgery, and franchise power forward Kevin Love should be coming back
sometime in Mid-March. They may only have to be competent to pass the
Sixers, and with a healthier roster and the always-sturdy Rick Adelman
at the helm, they have a pretty good shot, even in the crowded West.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Good

3. Detroit Pistons: 22-36, 8th Worst Record in League.
The Pistons have teased with promise for much of the year, beating
powerhouses like the Spurs and Heat but losing a whole lot of winnable
games in between. Struggling recently, they'll get a boost with the
return of rookie sensation Andre Drummond, missing about a month with a
stress fracture. But they play only nine of their last 24 at home, and
might fold up the tent early if they decide (not erroneously) that
winning games isn't really worth their while this season. (A late game
against the Sixers on Apr 15th might very well make the difference, so,
uh, mark your calendars for that one.)


Chance of Out-Tanking: Slight

4. New Orleans Hornets: 20-37, 7th Worst Record in League.
The Hornets looked like they were ready to roll with the return of
maxed-out shooting guard Eric Gordon early in the New Year, winning six
of seven at one point and looking like they'd finally found the recipe
after a dismal 7-25 start. But the Hornets have been up-and-down ever
since then, failing to break away from the lottery contenders. The
Hornets' remaining schedule remains a tough combination of winnable road
games and challenging homers, so it'll really depend on which New
Orleans team shows up for the rest of the season to see if they'll be
able to make up the three-and-a-half game difference between them and
the Sixers.


Chance of Out-Tanking: Slightly better than slight

5. Washington Wizards, 18-37, 6th Worst Record in League.
Not long ago it would have been unimaginable to talk about the Wizards
possibly catching the Sixers in the standings—not because the Sixers
were ever that good, but because the Wizards started the year so very,
very bad. But after their dismal 4-28 start, the team has been playing
exponentially more inspired basketball since the return from injury of
former #1 overall pick John Wall (plus some other dudes), and have now
won seven of their last nine, with all but one of those seven wins
coming against teams currently in line for the post-season. This may or
may not be sustainable enough to catch the Sixers from 4.5 back, but I
certainly know which team I would bet on when they face off this Sunday.



Chance of Out-Tanking: Surprisingly good

Probably Not Gonna Happen: Cavaliers, Kings, Suns, Magic, Bobcats

Ultimately,
I'd say three of these teams will probably pass the Sixers before
season's end, with the return of TFLKWTBH obviously being a very big
variable in either direction. That would leave the Sixers 8th in the
lottery standings, which sounds about right to me. You guys good with
getting the 8th pick this year? I could certainly talk myself into it.

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Duke's Jayson Tatum to the Sixers at No. 3

With the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery behind us, there appears to be a consensus on the first two selections in next month's draft. The Celtics are expected to take Washington guard Markelle Fultz, and it would be a surprise if the Lakers passed on Lonzo Ball.

After that, all bets are off, and the Sixers will have plenty of options at pick No. 3.

A popular choice has been Kansas' Josh Jackson, and with good reason. The 6-foot-8 guard was an All-Big 12 first-team selection in his lone season with the Jayhawks, averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

Others have pointed to Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk, who would fill an obvious need. Monk consistently has shown the ability to pull up without hesitation. He shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 19.8 points per game to lead the Wildcats.

There is a strong case to be made, however, that Duke forward Jayson Tatum will be the most talented player remaining on the board when it is the Sixers' turn to pick. 

As a basketball beat writer for The Duke Chronicle, I had the opportunity to watch Tatum play up close and in-person for much of the season, seeing him at his best and his worst.

A quick rise
After coming to Durham, N.C. as one of the key pieces of the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class, Tatum suffered a left foot sprain during a preseason practice that kept him out of action until early December. 

But even with what appeared to be a breakout performance against then-No. 24 Florida in early December, he struggled to find a rhythm throughout the first half of the season. Tatum shot only 30 percent from three-point range in his first 13 games.

When the Blue Devils were shocked at home by ACC bottom-feeder N.C. State Jan. 23, I was quick to call out the first-year player — he was not cutting it on the defensive end, and offensively, Tatum had yet to prove himself as a consistent shooting threat.

Down the stretch, however, no freshman came on stronger than Tatum. He scored 28 points on 6-of-7 shooting from distance against Virginia in February, averaged 22 points in four ACC tournament wins in March, and notched a double-double in his first career NCAA tournament game.

Whatever questions scouts have about Tatum's potential, he has already shown an ability to develop in a short period of time. Even if Tatum takes time to develop as an NBA player, it probably won't take all that long as the Sixers continue their rebuild.

Cool customer
In a deep ACC, Tatum was one of just two first-year players to earn all-conference honors, picking up a third-team spot in early March. He was also second in ACC Freshman of the Year voting behind N.C. State's Dennis Smith.

Tatum been a consistent performer at the charity stripe — unlike Jackson, who shot just 56.6 percent from the line. He hit on 118 of 139 free-throw attempts (84.9 percent) and has the body to get to the line at will with strong drives to the rim.

Although the Sixers have budding stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they lack a true end-of-game threat who can score both inside and out. Tatum's improving outside shot combined with a powerful inside game could give the Sixers an option that will stretch opposing defenses.

Defensive concerns
As has been the case with a few recent young Duke prospects (e.g. Brandon Ingram, Jabari Parker), Tatum at times struggled on defense. As Sixers fans know all too well, Jahlil Okafor has the same problem. The former Blue Devil standout led Duke in scoring during his lone collegiate season but wasn't a major factor on defense and has been even worse with the Sixers, ranking 324th of 486 NBA players in defensive win shares last season.

Tatum's numbers suggest he has potential to be a better defender than many might expect. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Tatum had a 3.2 block percentage and a 2.3 steal percentage — an uncommon combination. He helped Duke limit North Carolina's Justin Jackson to only 6-for-22 shooting in an ACC tournament semifinal matchup.

Where Tatum needs to grow is guarding away from the ball. He often found himself losing his man on back cuts and long possessions in the half-court.

With the Sixers, the 6-foot-8 Tatum potentially could be the shortest member of a lineup that would feature the 6-foot-9 Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Simmons at 6-foot-10, and the 7-foot Embiid in the middle. Although he will likely need to improve his quickness, Tatum has the size to overwhelm smaller guards and the strength — weighing in at 205 pounds — to match up with most small forwards in the league.

Tatum vs. Jackson
Tatum and Jackson are comparable players in most respects. The two were right next to one another in the ESPN's Class of 2016 rankings behind Harry Giles and put up nearly identical numbers on the offensive end.

Both are considered top-five picks, but the 19-year-old Tatum is younger by more than a year and has room to grow physically. And unlike Jackson, he does not carry the baggage of a criminal property damage misdemeanor from December.

Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel told 97.5 The Fanatic last week that Tatum is "one of the most talented, most gifted offensive guys" he has ever seen. 

Agreed.