In the NBA, it’s almost impossible for a team to make a playoff-worthy turnaround after a bottom five finish in one year. In fact, in the last ten years it’s only been done five times. Teams that finish with a bottom five record generally need a lot of work, and it’s usually more than a quick fix like adding a free agent or hitting on a draft pick. With that in mind, I wanted to rank the bottom five teams from this past year in the order of worst to best chance they have of making the playoffs next season.
These are the five teams with the worst records from the 2017-18 season, not the order they are drafting in due to the lottery.
The Hawks have no star power pushing their team forward. They don’t have any promising young talent either. Many expected Kent Bazemore to step up with the increased opportunity he’d get this season, but he averaged a meager 12.9 points per game, confirming the belief that he’s better fit as a role player. Dennis Schroeder is a good piece, but he isn’t capable of leading a team with no help. If he is their future, the Hawks will need to invest heavily in building around him over the next few years.
The Mavs were among the bottom three teams in the league in the following categories: points, blocks, offensive rebounds and free throws. They flat out could not score the ball or create more opportunities for scoring. Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews are both great second fiddle players, but neither has proved to be a consistent number one option. Dennis Smith Jr. made the All Rookie second team and is about the only bright spot on this team, but if the Mavs can reel in DeMarcus Cousins in free agency that would totally change the conversation.
The Magic were a middle of the pack team statistically, but the core of their team could not stay healthy. Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Nikola Vucevic — their three leading scorers — missed a total of 74 games. They would need a lot of help from the draft and free agency to put them into the playoffs, but if they can stay healthy, I see them as a better team than the Hawks or the Mavs.
The Grizzlies still have three time All Star Marc Gasol and perennially underrated point guard Mike Conley, who have been the core of this team since 2008. Until this past season, the Grizzlies had made the playoffs in seven consecutive seasons, and a big part of their 2017-18 struggles was Conley’s injury; he played in only 12 games. If they can land a force like Marvin Bagley in the draft and Conley is back at 100 percent, they’ll be able to make a postseason push.
The Suns remind me (a bit) of the Philadelphia 76ers and their “process.” Over the past few years they’ve accumulated Devin Booker, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson and Elfrid Payton. Booker just averaged a career high 24.9 PPG and would be an All Star if he were on almost any other team. T.J. Warren has increased his PPG output every season by at least 3.4 points, finishing last season with 19.6 PPG. Josh Jackson was an All Rookie second teamer in his first year averaging 13.1 PPG. And Elfrid Payton, a new acquisition from Orlando, is a decent enough game manager who will find his scorers. They are missing a final piece to put them over the top, but they might be able to draft him with the first overall pick on Thursday night.