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The All-Tank Team: Building a starting lineup that could lose to the Sixers

It's been a season to forget for O.J. Mayo (left), Raymond Felton and Chris Kaman. (Getty Images)

O.J. Mayo, Raymond Felton, Chris Kaman

"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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.)

Raymond Felton has hurt the Knicks both on and off the court this season. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Raymond Felton

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.

O.J. Mayo has been a shell of the player he was in Dallas last season. (David Dow/Getty Images)

O.J. Mayo

Shooting guard: O.J. Mayo, Bucks

What's been the highlight of Mayo's season? The interview he gave to 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.

Anthony Bennett's conditioning issues have held him back in his rookie season. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)

Anthony Bennett

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."