The NBA Sour Rankings took a month-long hiatus due to the wild
world of playing through the peak (on league rosters, at least) of
a pandemic. With COVID-induced absences dwindling down, it's back
to reassess the state of desperation as we approach the season's
Several presumptive playoff contenders are spiraling, and at
this stage of the season, it's reasonable to begin panicking. The
league's middle tier is as crowded as ever.
With that being said, we're also going to trot out the
Tank-O-Meter this season and update it occasionally over the next
few months. The Tank-O-Meter measures how much an NBA franchise
should be considering throwing in the towel and embracing
its younger players while pursuing a high draft pick. It was called
the Cade-O-Meter last year, but with no surefire No. 1 pick yet, it
takes on a generic nickname.
You'll get Tank-O-Meter readings for each team in the Sour
Rankings, rated 1-10 (10 being a full commit to the tank), plus the
usual explanations for why each team has earned its undesirably
place on this list.
If you're new to the Sour Rankings, here's a refresher: Unlike
the typical "power rankings" that repeat themselves throughout
sports media, Sour Rankings are a bizarro-world counter. These
rankings highlight the top-10 most frustrating NBA franchises
throughout the season, and they will be updated every week to match
the twists and turns of the league.
This is not merely a bottom-10 of your typical best-to-worst
power rankings. You will see championship contenders and playoff
hopefuls mixed in with struggling squads. Teams well under .500 may
never touch the Sour Rankings because they are on track with their
respective processes. Injuries, drama, transactions and generally
underwhelming play will earn you a spot on this list.
The central question is ultimately this: How good should you
feel about the direction of each franchise? Let's get going:
10. Los Angeles Lakers (21-20) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
LeBron James has been an absolute monster for the Lakers over
the past month, but the team itself is still 6-7 since we last
updated these rankings. Things are looking up, though; L.A. is 5-2
in the past two weeks with the third-ranked offense in the league.
Malik Monk has emerged as the scoring weapon the franchise
hoped for when they added him this offseason. The Lakers could
very easily break out of the Sour Rankings by next week.
And no, in no universe should a team with LeBron James active
and dominant as ever consider tanking.
9. Houston Rockets (11-30) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
Houston is fully invested in a youth movement and has been since
the season began, so a Tank-O-Meter rating isn't even necessary.
But the sailing hasn't been as smooth as some of the other
bottom-feeding NBA franchises.
The recent halftime incidents with Kevin Porter Jr. and
Christian Wood both led to one-game suspensions for each. Both are
concerning for different reasons; Porter has a history of
locker-room altercations, and Wood is a veteran in a leadership
role on the team. Nekias Duncan and Steve Jones Jr. had a great
discussion about this on last Tuesday's Dunker Spot
podcast. This season is as much about building a culture in
Houston as it is getting prospects playing time, and that hasn't
8. Los Angeles Clippers (20-21) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
Injuries continue to attack the Clippers. Paul George is out at
least several weeks with an elbow injury and Isaiah Hartenstein has
no timetable on his hurt ankle. L.A. is thus 3-6 since Christmas
and 4-9 since the last Sour Rankings, dropping to ninth in the
There's a sneaky case to be made for a tank here. Young players
like Terance Mann, Amir Coffey and Brandon Boston Jr. continue to
flash promise. With George and Kawhi Leonard out for now, the Clippers' ceiling
is capped. It's probably still too early for a veteran-heavy roster
to be shuffled around, but the situation is worth revisiting around
the trade deadline.
7. Indiana Pacers (15-25) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
Domantas Sabonis dropped a career-high 42 points on the Utah
Jazz in the Pacers' Saturday win, and he's been on fire as of late.
Indiana, however, had lost six straight games prior to that
victory, and continues to flounder with a mediocre offense and
It's been over a month since the initial reports about Indiana
embracing a rebuild, but hopefully the front office is still on
that track. The Pacers lack upside outside of whatever Sabonis can
muster up, even when Caris LeVert and Malcolm Brogdon have their
good days. Indiana is 13th in the Eastern Conference with several
better teams ahead in the Play-In battle. There's no sense in
pushing for a whimper of a postseason exit.
6. Washington Wizards (20-20) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
Despite sitting at .500, Washington is one of six franchises
with bottom-10 offensive and defensive ratings, per Cleaning the
Glass. Those other teams are all at least 10 games below .500. The
Wizards have gone 5-9 in the past month and are fading
However, unless some roster overhaul occurs at the trade
deadline, Washington isn't in a position to tank. The biggest
franchise domino is still Bradley Beal's upcoming free agency, and
if the organization has any hope of keeping him, it should continue
to focus on the playoffs. The Wizards currently sit ninth, but are
still only two games out of sixth in the East. There's time to
right the ship.
5. Sacramento Kings (16-26) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
The Kings are on a four-game losing streak, are 3-7 in their
last 10, and according to the Philly Voice's Kyle
Neubeck, have been open to making De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese
Haliburton available in trade talks. Altogether, that signals
desperation. Sacramento should shake things up because the defense
is still horrendous (ranked 27th) and the offense is disappointing
Does the state of the Kings really call for another tank though?
For a young franchise used to losing, postseason experience — even
Play-In exits — might have extra value. But there still is not
enough overall talent or cohesion to pull off the appearance of a
playoff contender. The rating stays low, for now.
4. Boston Celtics (19-21) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
Friday's loss to the New York Knicks on an RJ Barrett
buzzer-beater underlined a disastrous stretch for the Celtics that
included second-half collapses, stalling offense and disappointing
results against inferior opponents. Once again, the Jayson
Tatum-Jaylen Brown pairing has been called into question by fans,
along with Ime Udoka's coaching and the point guard situation. And
while I think much of the blame game is misguided, the fact that it
exists is a concern in itself.
Boston holds the last Play-In spot, and a postseason appearance
should wholeheartedly remain the sole goal. A tank in any form
would symbolize a lack of confidence in the current direction,
a.k.a. a team led by Tatum and Brown. There is no legitimate reason
to be hesitant in rostering what is still one of the best wing duos
in basketball, and fortunately, Boston seems to know this.
3. New York Knicks (19-21) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
The Knicks may have gotten that buzzer-beater win, but it was
quickly erased by a resounding 99-75 loss to the same Celtics on
Saturday. This team is dreadfully inconsistent, starting at the top
with Julius Randle and Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley's growth
hasn't dispelled the frustration. As of right now, New York loses
the tiebreaker with Boston and is actually out of the postseason
Like the Celtics, though, a Knicks tank is an admittance that
the current franchise direction is an error and that one glorious
2020-21 season was a fluke. New York should not miss out on the
Play-In Tournament. They do have an interesting group of young
talent, and a high-lottery prospect would surely help. But the lack
of star power at the top compared to the previous draft class makes
a risky move like that less enticing.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (15-24) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
The Trail Blazers have a terrible defense that continually costs
them games, and have fallen to 12th in the West amidst a chaotic
fight (is it a fight?) for postseason spots. Every loss makes fans
worry more about the future of Damian Lillard, and Lillard himself
remains out with an abdominal injury.
This franchise is in such a weird place. They aren't a
destination, and they aren't near true playoff contention. Portland
is two games out of top-four lottery odds... which could be the
best way of acquiring someone with star upside to join Lillard. But
is that the tone Lillard wants to set, and does his will carry the same weight
anymore? It's all incredibly confusing for the
1. Atlanta Hawks (17-22) — Tank-O-Meter rating:
What a mess things have been in Atlanta. The Hawks are 2-5 in
the last two weeks with the worst defense in the NBA. They lost a
game in which Trae Young scored 56 points. Atlanta is currently
12th in the East standings. General manager Travis Schlenk even went on
record wondering if he should lower expectations for the team.
John Collins is reportedly frustrated by his
The Hawks should be done with their prospect stockpiling. They
absolutely need to make a major move at the trade deadline, but
going back to the draft for help won't solve the team's problems.
Atlanta has loads of young talent from Young, to Kevin Huerter, to
Collins, to Onyeka Okongwu, to De'Andre Hunter, to Cam Reddish and
more. It's time to turn that back into winning either via trade or