The rebuilding Hawks largely will depend on the draft to add talent but they have plenty of competition in the race to the bottom of the NBA standings and thus the best odds in the draft lottery. The stakes are high: After the 2018 draft the odds for the team with the worst record winning the lottery decrease dramatically.
Here is my weekly look at the lottery prospects for the five teams with the worst projected records in the latest FiveThirtyEight.com predictions, starting with the worst team first (ties broken by rating):
1. Hawks (6-22)
FiveThirtyEight projected record: 21-61
The Hawks only lost one victory in the FiveThirtyEight projections but Chicago’s four-game winning streak lifted the Bulls out of the bottom (top) spot. The 21-win projection for the Hawks is four games worse than the preseason prediction. Injuries, especially in the frontcourt, are one big reason why the Hawks have so far underperformed their preseason projection.
Significant injuries: Center/forward John Collins returned after a six-game absence but big men Dewayne Dedmon (leg) and Mike Muscala (ankle) remain out.
Up next: at Grizzlies (8-20) tonight, vs. Heat (13-14) Mon., vs. Pacers (16-12) Wed.
2. Suns (9-21)
Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 25-57
The Suns won four of their first five games under interim coach Jay Triano but are 5-13 since then. Scott Bordow, Suns beat writer for azcentral.com, identified three of their main issues: they can’t shoot, their young players are inconsistent (and rookie Josh Jackson has just been bad) and they can’t defend (they’ve held opponents to less than 100 points just three times). Other than that, everything is fine. At least the schedule relents a bit for the Suns.
Significant injuries: Devin Booker (adductor) is expected to miss at least another week.
Up Next: at Timberwolves (17-12) Sat., at Mavericks (8-21) Mon., at Clippers (11-15) Wed., vs. Grizzlies (8-20) Thurs.
3. Bulls (7-20)
Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 25-64
It’s not just that the Bulls won four straight games. It’s that two of those Ws were against teams on track for the playoffs (Utah and Boston). The W over the Celtics was by 23 points, Boston’s most lopsided loss of the year. The four-game winning streak impressed FiveThirtyEight.com’s metrics enough that the Bulls gained seven wins in the projection. The winning streak has coincided with the return of Nikola Mirotic, who missed seven weeks because of injuries sustained in a preseason fight with teammate Bobby Portis. Those two reportedly are getting along now and Mirotic is playing well enough that he could get his starting job back from promising rookie Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls probably are the top challenger to the Hawks for worst record in the league so all of this is good news for Atlanta’s lottery odds.
Significant injuries: Markkanen (back) could play tonight. Zach LaVine (knee) isn’t expected back anytime soon.
Up next: at Bucks (15-11) tonight, vs. Sixers (14-13) Mon., vs. Magic (11-18) Wed., at Cavaliers (21-8) Thurs.
4. Kings (9-19)
Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 25-57
The Kings split four games over the past week: Ws at Pelicans and vs. Suns, lopsided Ls vs. Raptors and at T-Wolves. The tanking in Sacramento is unique in that coach Dave Joerger is facilitating it—notes Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee: “The Kings are trying to find time for young players, so sometimes even a starter who is playing well will sit for an extended stretch.” A report in the Salt Lake Tribue said George Hill isn’t happy that development, but Hill told the Bee he’s fine with it.
Significant injuries: None.
Up next: at Raptors (18-8) Sun., at Sixers (14-13) Tues, at Nets (11-16) Wed.
5. Grizzlies (8-20)
Projected FiveThirtyEight record: 28-54
The Grizzlies make their first appearance in the lottery standings and could move up with games against the Warriors and Celtics following tonight’s meeting with the Hawks. They’ve gone off the rails with 15 losses in their last 16 games following a 7-4 start. The Grizzlies fired coach David Fizdale and don’t seem to have many keepers among their young core, but GM Chris Wallace told ESPN.com he’s not ready to trade Marc Gasol and Mike Conley: “We think our window is still very much open with Mike and Marc.”
Significant injuries: Conley (Achilles) has missed the past 15 games and is at least several days away from returning.
Up next: vs. Hawks (6-22) tonight, vs. Celtics (24-6) Sat., at Warriors (23-6) Wed.
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