Through the course of this season, I’ve witnessed that numerous hungry and determined young teams competing on a nightly basis. Although they are not in a position to be a threat in their conference, the confidence to come out play through their X’s and O’s has shown that many of them have a bright future ahead of them.
What is Tanking?
Let’s understand the true definition of “tanking”. Tanking is where a team practically throws its whole season away. It’s to the point where a General Manager understands that their team isn’t a competitive ball club. So what do they do? They throw games away, intending to possibly land a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. Throughout the past 10 to 15 seasons, we have witnessed numerous teams who have shown their definition of tanking. When a team can’t achieve 15 wins on a season, there is the definition right there.
2014-15 New York Knicks
One example that can be used as a season of tanking was the New York Knicks in 2014-15. It is hard to imagine a team with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire throwing a season away. But the Knicks were as poorly orchestrated as a roster that anyone could imagine.
After the Knicks started the season losing 25 of their first 30 games, the team figured that there was no chance in playoff hopes. James Dolan hired legendary head coach Phil Jackson as the team’s executive to put pieces that could complement the Knicks’ two stars. Unfortunately, that never happened. Instead, Anthony missed the second half of the season and New York finished the year with a horrific 17-65 record.
2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers
What about the Philadelphia 76ers? The organization believed that things could come together. Although the organization was forced to wait on the arrival of Joel Embiid, the team still had faith that someday things would come together.
The Sixers did not have winning on their mind the entire season. It took them over a month into the season to grab their first win over the Lakers. As the roster was constructed of young players in Ish Smith, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and others.
Philadelphia finished the season with a horrific 10-72 record. After nearly getting blown out in almost every game, the roster just wasn’t obligated or tested to improve. The front office had one player on their mind to grab in the lottery, Ben Simmons. The Sixers throwing their season away became a success during the draft lottery, where they received the first overall pick and drafted Simmons.
Looking into this season, the young teams are figuring a way to improve game in and game out. There are games where they show their future potential against contending teams, while they also show where they can look into areas of improvement. There’s a sign of competitiveness in the younger teams today. And we’re going to look into the few teams that have shown tremendous signs of improvement.
New York Knicks
Coach Thibodeau has brought life to this team. The Knicks have been the laughing stock of the NBA for nearly all of our lives. Even when they clinched a playoff berth, most of us remained to not take them seriously. This season displays a New York team that is going in the perfect direction. The team is competing on both ends and are coming together to deliver spectacular performances.
The few young players that stand out are Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Obi Toppin. As New York sits at 15-17 on the season, the team has competed hard, bringing their best against contending teams to allow them to understand what their true potential is.
I look into New York’s game against the Atlanta Hawks on February 15. It was a game where everything clicked offensively, led by the scoring outburst of Julius Randle. Although Randle led the way with 44 points, it was a team collective that got the job done. RJ Barrett continues to run the floor as the point forward while players in Elfrid Payton, Immanuel Quickley provide strong efforts as well.
As the Knicks are currently in a playoff seed, the team doesn’t want to take their foot off the gas. The eastern conference has been very rough from the third seed on. When the second half of the season rolls around, playoff teams will begin to find a spark that will help them close the season. Let’s see if New York closes the deal and earns a spot in the playoff race.
I get it! Hornets owner Michael Jordan and GM Mitch Kupchak in the past did not build a team where they could show signs of improvement . However, this season is different. The Charlotte Hornets have been a high-flying roster with numerous scorers on the floor. Their ability to take over on offense is a big reason why teams make sure to prepare against a younger, energetic team.
First, it began with Devonte’ Graham last season. Graham took a major leap after his first season and only gets better each game. Graham’s emergence brought bright optimism to the Hornets franchise. He should have became a Most Improved Player candidate after increasing his scoring average by 14 points. But Graham’s big leap was a momentum builder. In that case, the team drafted LaMelo Ball, allowing them to take another step as far as improvement.
The Hornets have shown that their offense can lead the way to defeat a lot of playoff rosters. As LaMelo is finally getting his chance to start, Charlotte has played a phenomenal, fast-paced game as he is orchestrating the floor and getting the ball in teammates’ comfort spots. Other young Hornets rising stars have included Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, PJ Washington, and others. The Hornets currently stand at 15-16, which is just one game below .500. The franchise is showing to head in the right direction in developing.
Oklahoma City Thunder
And lastly, the team seems to have all of the confidence in the world. Thanks to Chris Paul and company, the young players of the Oklahoma City Thunder have a taste of what the postseason is about. As the organization is revolving around young players and many draft picks, the front office is aiming towards building for the future.
This certainly is not a garbage season for the Thunder. Throughout this year, they have competed with the best and have even snuck away with a few wins. The team has been lead by sensational point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He continues to play at an all-star level and shows that he is the franchise’s cornerstone. As he emerges into a perennial all-star, the Thunder will continue to be in good position developing as a unit.
Credit is also deserved to first-year head coach Mike Daigneault. Having the opportunity to be an assistant coach under Billy Donovan a season ago, Daigneault has continued to provide the right schemes and lineup changes that fit at the perfect time. It’s too early to call, but if he continues to lead this team future success, Daigneault could potentially place himself in position to become a Coach of the Year candidate.
Other key contributors for the Thunder have been Lu Dort, Hamidou Diallo, Darius Bazley, and others. As the Thunder continue to search for their niche, the role players have shown that they can compete against some of the elite teams in the NBA. The team currently sits at 13-19. But with the way the lower seeds in the West have been, this season is not over for their opportunities of a play-in position.
The Thunder show that they’re record means nothing to them. Just take their two overtime matchups against the Lakers for example. Although Anthony Davis was sidelined for Los Angeles, the Thunder took advantage and forced the Lakers to beat them off of miraculous LeBron James plays. The baby Thunder show heart and determination every time they step on the floor. Lead by Gilgeous-Alexander, the franchise has a very special future to look forward to.
Wait, There’s More!
There are other younger team’s I did not go in-depth with. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in the same position as far as development. Teams in the Chicago Bulls, Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, and Memphis Grizzlies are young and continues to thrive. Every team that was mentioned understands that they still have a long way to go as far as playoff contention. But will that stop these young guns from competing? The goal for each team is to continue to improve every day and keep competing against the contending teams.
As this piece closes out, my wishes to many insiders is to please stop misinterpreting young team’s as tanking. It shows disrespectful to these organizations, especially when they believe that they compete with any team in the NBA. It may be indeed a rebuild situation for some organizations, and they may not have things figured out yet as a collective. But their approach to the game as a team shows that they are developing slowly but surely.