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30. Atlanta Hawks (28)
Losers of 10 straight and 13 of 14 overall, the Hawks are hurting.
That’s despite Trae Young’s continued individual offensive wizardry. He tied a career high with 49 points (including eight of the Hawks’ 10 points in overtime) on Friday, but it wasn’t enough to avoid a 105-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers.
Atlanta, in leaning so heavily on Young and Jabari Parker (who lit up his former Bucks teammates with 33 points on Wednesday), clearly isn’t prioritizing defense. That’s understandable; the Hawks don’t have anyone capable of anchoring that end of the floor. No team puts opponents on the foul line more frequently—a telltale indicator of defensive ineptitude—than the Hawks, who also surrender the highest opponent offensive rebound percentage in the league.
Atlanta just gets blown by, pushed around and physically dominated to a greater degree than any other team.
29. New York Knicks (29)
The Knicks keep finding new ways to give close games away, which makes their current six-game slide all the more frustrating. Five of New York’s losses in the ongoing skid came by single digits, and if not for a ghastly 19-of-33 shooting night from the foul line in Friday’s 101-95 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, there wouldn’t be a losing streak to discuss in the first place.
Free-throw woes aside, the Knicks attempt too many long mid-rangers and not enough threes while also suffering from a clear lack of playmaking at the point. They committed 14 turnovers to match a paltry 14 assists in that loss to Philadelphia. New York ranks last in assist-to-turnover ratio.
When this roster of fallback options came together in July, it was easy to see the offensive struggles coming. No spacing and no threatening pick-and-roll ball-handlers running the show meant good decisions and good shots would be in short supply.
Anyone else wondering if RJ Barrett is already thinking of declining his qualifying offer in 2023? It’s never too early to plot a good escape.
28. Golden State Warriors (30)
The Warriors blew a 10-point advantage with 3:18 left against the Oklahoma City Thunder last Monday, failing to score during that brutal, win-squandering span. It’s no small wonder that head coach Steve Kerr turned to a new closing lineup on Wednesday, a like-sized collection of wings and forwards—Draymond Green, Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Eric Paschall—and second-year center Omari Spellman.
It worked out a little better, as the Warriors delivered a 104-90 victory to their bloodied head coach.
Spellman, who The Athletic’s Anthony Slater reports has lost 55 pounds since summer league, is a different player and person than he was as a rookie. In a season that will feature plenty of losing, snatching Spellman from Atlanta for next to nothing and drafting fellow Villanova Wildcat Paschall at No. 41 look like wins.
Against Chicago, Spellman put up 13 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals in his first double-double of the year.
The Warriors are 4-17 with the second-worst net rating in the league. Night to night, it’s ugly in Golden State. But there have been a handful of encouraging signs if you look hard enough.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (26)
The Cavs have lost nine of their last 10 games, which means you’ve got to scour the nooks and crannies of their last several weeks to locate morsels of mild positivity. The gains they made in ball security from Wednesday to Friday satisfy that search.
Darius Garland was a wreck in Wednesday’s 116-104 loss to the Orlando Magic, committing eight of Cleveland’s 25 turnovers himself. Though the Cavs still fell by a final of 119-110 against the Bucks on Friday, Garland was markedly better, registering 21 points, six assists and just a single turnover.
Kevin Love, who’s made efforts to talk Garland through his rookie struggles, told Kelsey Russo of The Athletic: “He’s super receptive. He wants to get better. That was good to see out of him.”
Cleveland has ranked right near the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency over its last 10 games, plunging its record from 4-5 to 5-14.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (27)
It was starting to seem like every team toward the bottom of our rankings agreed to pack it in at the same time. The Warriors, Knicks, Hawks and Cavs all saw their records nosedive. But the Grizzlies pulled off an improbable 115-107 win in Minnesota on Sunday to stop their own losing streak at six games.
Jaren Jackson Jr. produced an efficient 28 points in last Monday’s 126-114 loss at Indiana and has quietly developed into a high-volume, deadeye shooter. He made at least four threes just twice last year and has already done so five times this season.
It’s hard to focus on his growth (and Brandon Clarke’s rookie breakout), though. Nobody cares about anything else when Ja Morant goes tumbling into a baseline cameraman’s knee and has to be assisted off the floor, which he did in Indiana. He returned to action later in the game, but this will not be the last time Morant’s disregard for his own safety overshadows everything else Memphis does.
When asked about reining in his aggressiveness on drives, which had produced a handful of scary spills prior to the big one in Indiana, Morant told reporters: “I’ve been playing like this all my life. It got me here, and I’m going to continue to play like that.”
Morant won’t be playing like that any time soon. He’s week-to-week with back spasms.