With just a month left on the 2020-21 schedule, there’s no better time than now to wrap up the Tank Commander series. In case you’re new here, this series monitors where the Pistons and their fellow tanking members of the National Basketball Association stand regarding positioning in the draft lottery.
Based on FiveThirtyEight’s prediction formula, the projected bottom four teams when the season concludes will be the Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic and your Detroit Pistons.
One thing that’s extremely important to note when conducting this thought experiment, is the NBA’s lottery odds. The bottom three teams have equal odds of nabbing the No. 1 overall pick at 14%. Also, regarding the Pistons and the other teams covered in this article - they can only drop a maximum of four spots in relation to where they finish the regular season - meaning the team with the worst record could draft as low as 5th, the second worst team can draft as low as 6th, the third worst team can draft as low as 7th etc.
And while Detroit is more likely than not to land within the bottom five, the graphic below provided by Tankathon.com helps illustrate the lottery odds.
Okay.... now let’s talk some teams and schedules.
Orlando Magic (18-37)
Once the Magic dealt Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, they let everyone know that they’re restarting ... again. Since dealing three of their core players, they’ve performed as poorly as one would expect, they’ve won just 10 of their last 33 games, and have likely cemented themselves as a bottom-four team in the NBA standings.
According to Tankathon, the Magic have the 19th most difficult schedule remaining with their most winnable games including home games against Houston and Minnesota, and road games at Cleveland and Detroit.
The Magic also face off against the Milwaukee Bucks on May 11, and have an away back-to-back series against the Philadelphia 76ers to finish out the season. Those teams could rest their core players if the Eastern Conference playoff picture is set in stone, making those games VERY winnable.
FiveThirtyEight season ending record prediction > 23-49
Minnesota Timberwolves (14-42)
The Timberwolves gonna Timberwolf. It’s what they do best. They have the likely Rookie of the Year in Anthony Edwards, who’s played pretty damn well as of late, Karl-Anthony Towns has been back in the lineup for some time now, and D’Angelo Russell has finally made his way back after injury (albeit for just six games), and, well, they’re still piling up losses.
It’s highly unlikely that Minnesota will fall outside the bottom two, given they have a three-game lead in the loss column over the third-worst Pistons, and their schedule is more difficult than Detroit’s and Orlando’s, but, anything is possible!
Let’s take a look at their remaining schedule. Minnesota has the 11th most difficult schedule remaining with winnable games coming against the Pistons, Magic, Rockets, and Kings (2x), but after that, their next easiest game by record is against the New Orleans Pelicans. The T-Wolves finish off the season against the Nuggets, Celtics and Mavericks - those Western Conference teams might be jockeying for playoff positioning, and COULD put forth a tank-worthy line-up should they want to avoid the Lakers or Clippers, but it’s way too early to tell if that’ll be the case or not.
FiveThirtyEight season ending record prediction > 19-53
Houston Rockets (14-41)
The Rockets tank job is honestly impressive. After starting out their season 10-9, they’ve since gone 4-32, and there’s no reason to believe that they’ll miraculously start to win games at this point. Not only do they have a hodgepodge roster, headlined ... err, hijacked, by John Wall and his 32% usage rate, that’s unable to compete on a night to night basis, they’re incentivized to lose, seeing how their 2021 first round pick is only top-four protected.
Houston has the most difficult schedule remaining in the entire Association, with only two winnable games left against the Magic and Timberwolves. Every other game this season will be against teams fighting for the playoffs/playoff positioning.
In fact, Houston does not have a game left on their schedule against a team that’s below .500, except for Orlando and Minnesota. The only real avenue they have to net a few more wins is if Trail Blazers, Clippers and Lakers shut down their core players the final week of the regular season. And it should be noted that the Lakers will likely play both LeBron James and Anthony Davis if they are available since LA would likely want them to find some semblance of rhythm as they approach the playoffs.
FiveThirtyEight season ending prediction > 18-54
Detroit Pistons (16-39)
It’s seems inevitable that the Pistons will finish with a bottom-three or -four record once the season concludes. Their inability to jump Houston and Minnesota is no fault of their own. They’ve recently began to sit Jerami Grant more regularly, he’s missed three of their last four games and won’t be playing again tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They’ve also snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, like we saw against the Clippers on Wednesday night. And that’s great! It’s just not enough to plummet any further than where they currently stand.
The Pistons schedule is a bit concerning if you’re on TEAM TANK. While they’ll certainly lose the majority of their remaining games, they have sneaky winnable games against the Wizards, Cavs, Bulls and Thunder (who the Pistons just trounced by 24 earlier this month). And that’s not including their games against Minnesota and Orlando.
Detroit has the fifth easiest schedule remaining - so for now the only hope to keep those 14% odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick, is that Detroit will lose enough games to hold onto the third-worst record.
FiveThirtyEight season ending prediction > 23-49
Which team not mentioned in this article are you most concerned will fall below Detroit in the standings?