The All-Tank Team: Building a starting lineup that could lose to the Sixers
"The Point Forward All-Stars" will have a new theme each week centered on a single shared trait that brings together the team members. This week's journey: constructing a lineup capable of giving the downright terrible Sixers a run for their money.
Previously: The All-Grateful Team | The East's All-Letdown Team | The All-Atrocious Team | The All-Ignored Team | The All-Stocking Stuffer Team | The All-Recalibration Team | The All-Payday Team | The All-Gridiron Team | The All-Sanctioned Team | The All-Dunk Contest Team | The Non-Champions | The All-Gold Strike Team
Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie was equal parts panhandler and painter during the NBA trade deadline. Hinkie spent the day scouring for second-round picks like he was pushing a shopping cart on a mission for aluminum cans, and by the end of the day he had acquired six in all. That asset accumulation was the big-picture story for the franchise, and his diligent work landed the Sixers in The Point Forward's "winners" column from the deadline. The picks he acquired simply make more long-term sense for the franchise than the players he dealt for them (Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen).
Those moves had a short-term story, too, of course. Like a proud painter at an art-gallery opening, Hinkie used the trade deadline to pull back the curtain on his tanking masterpiece, fully unveiling the Mona Lisa of horrible roster construction. The Sixers entered the season without any pretenses about their scorched-earth approach to rebuilding, but that vision couldn't be completed until Hinkie actually sold off the existing pieces that had value. That process involved a series of steps: Hawes was shipped to the Cavaliers for Earl Clark, Turner and Allen were sent to the Pacers for Danny Granger, Clark was bought out, Granger was bought out, Byron Mullens was acquired from the Clippers and Eric Maynor was acquired from the Wizards. Hawes and Turner, it should be noted, were two of Philadelphia's top-four players by Player Efficiency Ratings (PER) and the team's leading rebounder and scorer, respectively.
After the dust settled, the Sixers were left with a 15-man roster that can only be described as hilariously terrible. Even Philadelphia's coach, Brett Brown, is now willing to admit that he's worried his team won't win another game this season, and there are still six weeks and 21 games left on the schedule! To be clear, Philadelphia has a legitimate chance to finish the season on a 36-game losing streak, which would smash the record of 26 set by the Cavaliers in 2011.
Hinkie's quest for lottery Ping-Pong balls has been driven by youth and inexperience. Eleven of Philadelphia's 15 players combined to play just 1,278 minutes during the 2012-13 season (this includes Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams and the team's other rookies). A 12th player, Jason Richardson, played nearly that many minutes by himself last year, but has been unavailable this year because of injury. That leaves just three players -- Thaddeus Young, Mullens and Maynor -- who saw meaningful time in the NBA last year and were expected to contribute this season. All you need to know about Mullens and Maynor is that they were signed to low-budget deals last summer and were dumped without hesitation at the deadline, after they both posted single-digit PERs.
The 25-year-old Young, then, is the roster's only player with any level of experience and positive production to his name. The 6-foot-8 forward has averaged 17.5 points and 6.2 rebounds this year despite the circumstances, and he managed to survive the trade deadline even though he has posted a 17.7 PER and generated plenty of trade interest. Once he found out that he would be staying put for the stretch run, Young had no problem telling reporters that he felt a "little bit" left out of the fun.
So how is this roster faring? Not so hot. A 125-92 loss to the Thunder on Tuesday marked the Sixers' 15th straight loss, and during that stretch Philadelphia has been defeated by a whopping 19.4 points per game. One of the roughest back-to-backs in league history helped swell that number, as the Sixers lost to the Clippers by 45 points on Feb. 9 and the Warriors by 43 points the next night. The Sixers are bad at everything: They possess the league's worst point differential for the season, the worst offense and the third-worst defense. Lately, it's gotten even worse: Since their losing streak began on Jan. 31, the Sixers rank dead last in point differential, offense and defense. This is the absolute bottom of the barrel, Knicks included.
“If you’re putting that roster on the floor, you’re doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose. It’s embarrassing,” former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy said at last weekend's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Hinkie, who was in attendance, understands better than anyone that there is no counterargument. To be honest, debating Philadelphia's motives, given how clear-cut they have been from the start and the fact that we're now three-quarters of the way through the season, really isn't all that interesting. Let's instead spend our time more productively: by trying to out-tank Hinkie's Sixers.
How does one go about constructing a starting lineup that is so bad that it could possibly lose to Philadelphia on a regular basis? Some might consider "sign all of Milwaukee's players" as the obvious answer, given that the 12-47 Bucks are the only team that actually has a worse record than the 15-46 Sixers. Wrong answer! Milwaukee went to Philadelphia on Feb. 24 and came away with a cushy 20-point victory. We need to get more depraved if we want to keep up with the post-deadline Sixers.
Out-tanking Hinkie is a really difficult task because he's a bright executive who has maintained a laser-like focus on losing. The obvious approach is to search the D-League for untested call-ups or throw a bunch of second-round picks on the court simultaneously. That might work, but one wonders if it's really possible to beat Hinkie's squad at his own game, by going the "young and inexperienced" route. Plus, it's not quite as fun or diabolical as hand-selecting more well-known players.
Thankfully, there is more than one way to lose a game in the NBA. The Point Forward's All-Tank Team will attempt to compete with the Sixers (for losses) by assembling a starting five of proven low-production players who have raised questions about their effort and focus this season. The group will try to set up Philadelphia for a possible victory by taking into account its strengths and weaknesses, as follows...
- Philadelphia plays at the fastest pace in the league. Guys with conditioning issues, age issues, motivation issues and/or focus issues will be top priorities for this roster.
- Philadelphia's two best players are Young (power forward) and Carter-Williams (point guard). Letting one or preferably both of those guys go off is a good formula for losing to the Sixers. Finding really bad players at those positions is of prime importance.
- Philadelphia is the league's worst three-point-shooting team. The only way to combat bricks is with bricks. Locating some rim-busting chuckers is big.
- Philadelphia can't guard anybody. It's important not to include too many real weapons -- or anyone who might be construed as a weapon -- when attacking the league's worst defense.
The only other guidelines for inclusion on the All-Tank Team? The players selected: 1) must have played a reasonable number of minutes this season, 2) must not be sidelined with a season-ending injury and 3) must not be a current member of the Sixers.
Without further ado, here are the five guys who made the cut ...
(All stats through March 4.)
Point guard: Raymond Felton, Knicks
You might remember that Felton was also the starting point guard on The Point Forward's All-Atrocious Team, a squad composed earlier this season of the league's worst starters at each position. Somewhat unbelievably, Felton's season has gone downhill since that team was put together three months ago. Where to even begin?
Felton's 11.8 PER stands as the worst among all qualified point guards who are playing at least 30 minutes a game. He's shooting 39 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three-point range, and he's averaging a career-low 10 points. "The ball just ain't going in the basket for me," Felton said this week, according to the New York Daily News. "It's very frustrating." That's perfect for the All-Tank Team, as is the fact that his season high is just 20 points, so we need not worry about him going off in a hypothetical matchup against the Sixers.
Poor shooting is just one of Felton's many All-Tank Team virtues. He's also logged heavy minutes for one of the league's worst defenses, posting a very bad 106 defensive rating. Importantly, his stocky body type (6-foot-1, 200-plus pounds) makes him a poor matchup for the longer Carter-Williams (6-foot-6, 185 pounds), who should have no trouble blowing by Felton off the dribble.
Speaking of stocky, Felton's conditioning has been a subject of much discussion in recent years, particularly during and after his 2011-12 season in Portland. Last month, Newsday reported that he had heard enough on the subject: "I had one year when I was out of shape, now everybody wants to talk about my weight every year. It’s kind of getting old. It’s kind of getting on my nerves that that’s all you want to talk about. ... Stop trying to attack my weight all the time."
Whether you're swayed by Felton's passionate defense or not, New York is playing at the league's second-slowest pace and a track meet with Philadelphia makes for a big adjustment. In the past, the 29-year-old Felton has had some success with the high-octane approach, but he's shooting a below-average 46.9 percent in the basket area this season, so the All-Tankers are just fine with him running out in transition. Plenty of bad things can happen with the ball in his hands.
The elephant in the room here is, of course, Felton's recent arrest on felony weapons charges, which was apparently prompted by an unfolding split with his wife. On Feb. 26, Felton promised that his off-court drama was "not a distraction." Eight days later, he admitted that the off-court issues were "on [my] mind," while Knicks coach Mike Woodson said: "It's a distraction, no doubt about it." Meanwhile, New York has lost seven consecutive games, including four straight by double digits.
This has already ballooned into a laundry list, but it's worth noting that "killer instinct" isn't exactly a phrase that is often associated with Felton. During an overtime loss to the Kings in mid-February, Felton was famously caught yawning as Woodson drew up a play in a two-possession game. That's exactly the type of overt indifference that the All-Tank Team believes could spell disaster against the Sixers.
Add it all up -- the poor shooting, the lack of offensive explosiveness, the frustration, the defensive issues, the matchup problems, the conditioning questions, the pace disparity, the off-court distractions, the possibility that he could miss the hypothetical showdown with the Sixers because he needs to appear in court, and the apathy -- and Felton is the ideal starter for the All-Tank Team. He has also been chosen as the team's captain.
Shooting guard: O.J. Mayo, Bucks
What's been the highlight of Mayo's season? The interview he gave to Bucks.com last October, in which he recalled Michael Jordan teaching him a lesson about talking too much trash during a high school summer camp.
"Mike was Mike," Mayo remembered. "He was jawing a little bit, really getting into me defensively. He’s backing me down. He said, ‘Better scream for mama. Mama. Mama.’ Hit the famous fadeaway on me. I said, ‘OK, OK, you’ve got it going.’ He said, ‘OK, young fella, let me tell you something. You may be the best high school player in the world, but I’m the greatest ever. Don’t you ever disrespect the great like that.’"
One can't help but wonder whether Jordan, now 51, would face any stiffer resistance from the 26-year-old Mayo, who has suffered through a nightmare season in Milwaukee. After enjoying a solid 2012-13 season with the Mavericks, Mayo simply hasn't been able to replicate his contract-year production with the Bucks, who surely expected him to step up as a lead option when they signed him to a three-year, $24 million contract last summer.
Instead, Mayo lost his starting job in mid-December and is averaging a career-low 12.1 points, shooting a career-low 40.3 percent and producing a career-low 11.2 PER for the team with the league's worst record. If that isn't bad enough, Mayo's 93.5 offensive rating and minus-14.2 net rating stand as the worst among current Bucks players. Mayo was signed to be a focal point of the team, but Milwaukee's net rating has been an astonishing 10 points better when he's been off the court.
What gives? The Journal Sentinel reported that Mayo put on weight entering this season and he missed a significant stretch of time while battling an illness. The sixth-year guard has also voiced concerns about Milwaukee's lack of identity and his inconsistent role in coach Larry Drew's rotation. This is all music to the ears of the All-Tank Team's management.
If there is a danger in tabbing Mayo for this team, it's his outside shooting ability and his scoring potential. Mayo has scored 40 points twice during his career, and he recently went off for 25 points (including seven three-pointers) in a win over the Sixers. That risk is mitigated, though, by the fact that Mayo has no-showed on plenty of occasions this season. In nearly half of Milwaukee's games, he's failed to score at least 10 points, even though he's third on the Bucks in shot attempts.
Although Mayo possesses three-point range, he does a good chunk of his damage from deep in spot-up situations. With Felton unable to command extra attention and no other shooters on the squad, the hope for the All-Tank Team is that Philadelphia will be able to play tight defense against Mayo, forcing him to create off the dribble or settle for contested shots. Mayo has been a poor finisher in the basket area, like Felton, and he's earned fewer than two free-throw attempts per game this season.
The deciding factor in taking the plunge on Mayo for this squad was the understanding that he is capable of giving up at least as many points as he scores if he finds himself in a losing situation. Possessing the worst net rating on the team with the worst record is pretty self-explanatory, but here's a visual aid if you need convincing.
Yes, that's Mayo tying his shoe during live game action as the Nuggets get a dunk roughly 10 feet away. It takes a certain level of "I don't give a [bleep]" to find yourself in that situation, and the All-Tank Team will be counting on Mayo to provide that extreme brand of nonchalance against the Sixers.
Small forward: Anthony Bennett, Cavaliers
I dare say that Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, has survived the worst of a miserable rookie season. Case in point: Bennett has upped his PER to seven. While that's still abysmal, it's no longer dead last among rookies (Sixers forward Brandon Davies is slightly worse), and it's improved considerably from earlier this season, when it was hovering closer to one (remember, the league average is 15).
Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Bennett has gone wrong. He spent the offseason rehabilitating from a shoulder injury. He didn't make a basket until his fifth NBA game. He's faced serious conditioning issues and reportedly dealt with asthma and sleep apnea. He's looked out of place and overwhelmed for much of the season. He's had to learn on the fly without the benefit of a D-League assignment. He's been used out of position at times on an imbalanced roster. He's drawn comparison to previous high-profile draft busts even though he's only 20. And hhe's faced big expectations while playing for an underwhelming team that fired its GM and will almost certainly fall short of its stated preseason goal of making the playoffs. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Bennett is averaging just four points and three rebounds while shooting 35 percent overall and 24.5 percent from three-point range.
Bennett has yet to start an NBA game, and the All-Tank Team likes the idea of throwing him into the fire. The conditioning issues top the list of reasons why, as Bennett hardly seems equipped to play small forward under any circumstances, much less against the Sixers, who are always looking to push the pace. "It's been tiring to watch [Bennett] because every time I watch him he's [gasping]," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown told the Associated Press in October. "It makes me tired, so I try not to look at him."
Forcing him to play transition defense was definitely the top reason for Bennett's selection, but his poor shooting from virtually everywhere will also make life more difficult for Felton and Mayo. Can't you just see Felton looking off Bennett as if he doesn't exist before embarking on an ill-advised drive to the hoop? Can't you imagine Mayo waving Bennett through to the weakside before settling for a step-back long two with a hand in his face?
Playing Bennett at the three will also help keep the All-Tank Team from making full use of his big body for rebounding purposes. Even better, keeping him on the perimeter increases the chances that we get to see a sequel to the least enthusiastic screen in league history.
Bennett's -0.4 win shares put him second to last among all players with at least 600 minutes logged -- besting only Sixers guard Tony Wroten -- and his minus-7.6 net rating is near the bottom among Cavaliers players who have remained on the roster all season. His defensive credentials are bona fide, too, as the 6-foot-8 forward has blocked just eight shots (one per every 78.5 minutes that he's played!). Although his numbers have improved over the last six weeks, he remains one of the league's least productive players. Looking "lost" is usually one of the worst things that can be said about an NBA player, but the All-Tank Team is happy to let Bennett take his time finding his way against the Sixers.
Power forward: Jan Vesely, Nuggets
Washington did well to use the 2010 No. 1 pick on franchise point guard John Wall, and their decision to take Bradley Beal with the No. 3 pick in 2012 also looks like it could pay dividends in the form of future All-Star appearances. Sandwiched in between that dynamic backcourt pair was Jan Vesely, a 6-foot-11 Czech forward who has been a total bust so far after being taken sixth in 2011.
Although Wizards ownership and management encouraged patience from fans when it came to the development of the 23-year-old Vesely, their actions spoke louder than their words. At the trade deadline, Vesely was sent the Nuggets for 37-year-old point guard Andre Miller. Of course, Vesely's fate in the nation's capital was already sealed once the organization elected not to pick up his fourth-year rookie option last fall. And why would it? Vesely managed to earn fewer than 2,000 minutes during his two-plus seasons with the Wizards, posting blah stats (3.5 points and 3.4 rebounds for his career) and super-blah advanced stats. This season, Vesely's PER is a below-average 11.8 while his net rating in D.C. was a minus-11, among the worst on a Wizards team that is above .500 and on track for the playoffs.
Of crucial importance to the All-Tank Team is Vesely's lack of range: He's never made a three-pointer in his career. The last thing this team needs is a power forward capable of stretching the defense and creating space for Felton and Mayo, and Vesely's limited offensive game ensures that won't be an issue. Another nice bonus: his 39.7 career free-throw percentage (and his propensity for launching airballs from the stripe). With any luck, the Sixers will go to the Hack-a-Jan against the All-Tank Team.
Anything that Vesely provides in athleticism he gives back in other ways. He isn't a threat with the ball on the block, he hasn't shown the ability to defend without fouling, he hasn't made his presence felt in the paint on the defensive end, and he will concede plenty of second-chance opportunities. The Sixers' Young should be thrilled at the idea of matching up against Vesely, even if he's giving up a few inches in height.
Vesely, like Bennett, will definitely be ignored by the All-Tank Team's guards and the Sixers won't need to stress too much about cheating off of him either. What's the worst that could happen? He goes to the pump-fake/jab-step/brick combination against invisible defenders, like the one he recently uncorked against the Blazers?
District denizens don't need to be reminded that the Wizards could have had Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard, among other players, instead of Vesely in 2011. In the All-Tank Team's alternate universe, draft "busts" become "steals," and Vesely gets a chance to shine against Philadelphia.
Center: Chris Kaman, Lakers
Kaman stands apart from the rest of the All-Tank Team because he's posted a 16.7 PER, making him the only one of the five players listed here to rate above average by that metric. A 2010 All-Star, the 7-footer has spent a good chunk of the last three seasons upset with his lack of playing time. He was sent home while in New Orleans in 2011-12, he expressed frustration while in Dallas in 2012-13 and he's been at odds with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni seemingly all season.
In December, Kaman told ESPNLA.com that his time with the Lakers was "absolutely not what I was looking for" when he signed a one-year deal last summer. One month later, Kaman was asked about his lack of playing time. "Same [expletive], different city," he told the Dallas Morning News. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, Kaman stated that he "honestly [didn't] care" if he was moved.
Kaman's defensive struggles, his age (31) and his ongoing issues with minor knee and back injuries contributed to his inclusion on the All-Tank Team. Even when he did produce in big minutes this year, Kaman admitted to some shortcomings. "I'm just old," he told the Los Angeles Times after posting a double-double in 37 minutes in a blowout loss to the Jazz last month. "I'm not used to those minutes, so it takes time to get that feel back and that rhythm back. It also takes time to kind of get your wind back and shape in your legs."
If you're counting, that's now four out of five players on this squad with red flags for conditioning issues. This group is practically begging the Sixers to run a four-seconds-or-less offense. The lumbering Kaman, like Bennett, will have his work cut out for him to keep up with the action.
The final straw in selecting Kaman was this unforgettable scene from the Lakers' victory over the Cavaliers on Feb. 5. A series of injuries left the Lakers severely short-handed, and they were eventually forced to take a late technical foul so that Robert Sacre could remain in the game after fouling out. With all of his teammates in the locker room being attended to for their various ailments, Kaman elected to lie down on the Lakers' empty bench.
Long known for his eccentric personality, Kaman didn't seem to mean any harm by the "nap," which didn't last all that long. Nevertheless, photos of his pseudo-snoozing spread rapidly, and the image became a symbol of the Lakers' ill-fated, injury-ravaged season. And, perhaps, a relaxation of their championship standards. Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who has missed most of the season with injuries, certainly didn't like what he saw.
"The last week's been horrible," Bryant told ESPNLA.com in mid-February. "That Cleveland game, it was crazy. And then Kaman goes to sleep on the bench, it's like when big brother is not around, you start doing crazy [stuff]."
Ideally, The All-Tank Team loses to the Sixers after Felton yawns while initiating a pick-and-roll on the game-deciding possession, causing Kaman to yawn, which causes Bennett to yawn, and so on and so forth until the entire team falls sound asleep mid-possession while Philadelphia takes off the other way for an uncontested, game-winning basket.
To recap, we've assembled a yawning, pistol-wielding point guard; a trigger-happy, shoe-tying shooting guard; a wheezing, zombie-screen-setting small forward; an in-his-own-world, ghost-dancing power forward; and a crotchety, sleeping-beauty center.
Here's a look at the All-Tank Team's numbers.
- Felton -- Offensive Rating: 104.2 | Defensive Rating: 106 | Net Rating: minus-1.8
- Mayo -- Offensive Rating: 93.5 | Defensive Rating: 107.7 | Net Rating: minus-14.2
- Bennett -- Offensive Rating: 98.1 | Defensive Rating: 105.7 | Net Rating: minus-7.6
- Vesely -- Offensive Rating: 91.8 | Defensive Rating: 102.3 | Net Rating: minus-10.5
- Kaman -- Offensive Rating: 97.8 | Defensive Rating: 101.7 | Net Rating: minus-3.9
That's pretty dreadful, right? Think again. Here's how they compare to the 2013-14 Sixers.
All-Tank Team: Offensive Rating: 97.1 | Defensive Rating: 104.7 | Net Rating: minus-7.6
2013-14 Sixers: Offensive Rating: 95.8 | Defensive Rating: 107.1 | Net Rating: minus-11.3 That's right, this hand-selected group of disappointments is better on both offense and defense than the actual Sixers. Las Vegas would surely consider it a favorite -- perhaps even a heavy favorite -- to prevail in a matchup with Philadelphia. If that isn't the perfect testament to Hinkie's grandiose vision and his tireless execution of a shameless plan, then I don't know what is.