Shed a tear for the New Orleans Pelicans, folks. The Western Conference's No. 2 seed, owners of 10 total first-round picks in the next seven drafts along with three potentially valuable swaps, are fading out of the race of Victor Wembanyama. This of course has nothing to do with their own performance. Frankly, it would've been practically unfair to give such an incredible prospect to a team that already ranks in the top six in both offense and defense. No, their hopes were pinned to the rapidly ascending Los Angeles Lakers.
After a 2-10 start that included literally the worst shooting stretch in NBA history, the Lakers are clawing their way back to .500 behind the very player that put New Orleans in the race for Wembanyama in the first place. Anthony Davis looks like an MVP candidate again, LeBron James is making all of his 3-pointers, Russell Westbrook has embraced the bench, and if this continues, New Orleans is just going to have to settle for the three All-Stars and half-dozen or so bright young prospects it already has. One of Wemby Watch's staple franchises is playing its way out of the running. So who replaces the Lakers in the bottom seven? There were a few candidates, but one team stood out.
Wemby stays hot, as does Mets 92
Mets 92 and Wembanyama stayed hot on the court this week as Mets 92 won and Wemby continued his wild production. In a 96-85 win over Fos this week, Wembanyama accounted for 32 points, 10 boards and four blocks, his fourth consecutive outing in which he has gone for at least 30 points.
Victor Wembanyama explodes for 32 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists as Metropolitans 92 wins their ninth straight win behind more jaw-dropping highlights from the future No. 1 pick. pic.twitter.com/AUt67aCs1L— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) December 2, 2022
Wembanyama also played Tuesday against Roanne and was up to his usual, highly unusual tricks, turning a blocked shot on one end into a stepback 3-pointer on the other as only he can do.
Victor Wembanyama is ridiculous. pic.twitter.com/AlW0jc7DQA— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) December 7, 2022
Wemby finished with 15 points in a 102-77 loss, his second-lowest scoring total of the season and Mets 92's second loss all year as they dropped to 9-2.
Up next for Wembanyama is a home game against Monaco this weekend followed by a road game at Paris Basketball the following weekend. Both games will be streamed free on the NBA app.
- Sunday, Dec. 11 -- vs. Monaco, 11 a.m. ET
- Saturday, Dec. 17 -- at Paris Basketball, 2 p.m. ET
For Wembanyama, it will pit him and his Mets 92 squad up against former NBA rotation player Mike James, 2018 second-round pick Elie Eokobo and former Alabama defensive standout Donta Hall for Monaco. The matchup against Paris Basketball features a showdown against former Clemson star Aamir Simms, who was a multi-time All-Conference player during his tenure with the Tigers.
Race to the bottom
Each week, we'll rank the seven teams likeliest to earn the coveted No. 1 slot on lottery night. These rankings will take current record, recent performance, upcoming schedule and injuries into account to subjectively rank the NBA's worst teams.
7. Chicago Bulls: Three candidates had real arguments for the bottom seven. Washington and its No. 25 ranked net rating has a compelling case, but the Wizards are so dedicated to mediocrity that they escape Wemby Watch for the moment. Indiana had lost four of its past five games entering Monday, but then beat Golden State on the road, so for now, we'll assume they still intend to be competitive. And then we have the Bulls, who ranked 24th in both net rating and wins. Lonzo Ball's injury remains one of the league's great mysteries. Zach LaVine's offense has plunged in just about every respect. Twitter is already earmarking Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan for the Lakers. They even cheaped out on depth this offseason to duck the luxury tax. We're one contract dispute away from Bulls Bingo here, and with no signs of improvement, Chicago is looking like this season's unexpected Wemby Watcher. Remember, Chicago keeps its first-round pick if it lands in the top four, so the Bulls are incentivized to lose if they make the decision to do so quickly enough.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: Hey, Oklahoma City, can you make up your mind? Look at how streaky this Thunder team has been this season:
- Lost their first three games
- Won their next four
- Lost their next four
- Won three of four
- Lost five of their next six
- Won their next three
This team is impossible to rank because every time I try, they do a 180.
5. Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets are quickly becoming one of the NBA's great buffets of losing. Every night is something new and equally miserable. On Saturday, they lost to a Bucks team missing Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday at home. Did any Bucks step up in their absence? Well, not really. Bobby Portis led Milwaukee with 20 points. It just turns out that it's pretty hard to lose a game when you win the rebounding, turnover, assist, block, fouls and 3-point battles, so despite employing a skeleton crew, Milwaukee stole a road game it had no business winning. Two nights later, they got to be a footnote in Kawhi Leonard's return as the former Finals MVP slayed them with both the game-tying and game-winning shots in the last 40 seconds. You never know what you're gonna get when you watch the Hornets. Well, except for a Charlotte loss.
4. Detroit Pistons: Okay, we can just say it -- Wemby Watch saved Killian Hayes' career. In his past nine games, he's averaging 13 points per game on over 44 percent from 3-point range to go along with over seven assists per game. That stretch started on Nov. 18. On Nov. 16, we essentially labeled him Detroit's tank commander. Now he's just casually stealing games from Luka Doncic in overtime. It's the best of both worlds for Detroit. Their draft position isn't compromised, but one of their older lottery picks is finally finding his NBA footing.
3. Houston Rockets: The basketball gods must've decreed that Texas can't have the two worst teams in the NBA. The Rockets started 2-12 and are 5-5 since. The Spurs started 5-2 and their record is just an all caps "LOL" since. Houston's rise probably isn't sustainable. Rocket opponents are making roughly 31 percent of their 3-pointers and below 30 percent of their mid-range looks in the fourth quarter of this stretch, suggesting that luck is contributing to some of their close wins, but give credit where it's due. Last year's Rockets weren't even good enough to benefit from good luck. That might sound like faint praise, but it's the difference between losing and tanking.
2. Orlando Magic: The Magic saw what was happening in San Antonio and declared "challenge accepted." Orlando has lost nine straight games. They rank 28th in both offense and defense in that span, and the Magic aren't helping matters with their lineup choices. Lineups featuring Terrence Ross have actually been decent for Orlando, getting outscored by only 1.1 points per 100 possessions. Ross started the first eight games of the season and has been coming off of the bench ever since. Ross is no superstar, but teams this young desperately need veterans for stability. Until Gary Harris is healthy, Orlando only really has one, and by letting opponents build up leads before bringing him into the game, the Magic are sticking their thumbs on the losing scale just enough to plunge to the bottom of the standings.
1. San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are in rarified air. The NBA has tracked offensive and defensive rating since 1997, and in that time, only two teams have ranked last in both: the 2018 Suns and the 2012 Bobcats. The 2012 Bobcats are a historic anomaly, the worst team in NBA history by a mile with a 7-59 record and a minus-15 net rating. The Spurs almost certainly won't be that bad, but they're probably going to outpace the 2018 Suns. Their net rating is 2.6 points per 100 possessions worse, and while they currently rank 29th in offense, it's worth remembering that Charlotte has been without LaMelo Ball for most of the season. If Ball returns healthy for any meaningful amount of time, San Antonio could easily slide to 30th in offense to match its 30th ranked defense. Take it in, folks. We're watching a historic level of losing here.
Loss of the week
Players don't tank. This is one of the pillars of losing in the NBA. No matter what your organization does to maximize its lottery odds, players are always going to prioritize their careers over your ambitions. However, there are subtler ways in which losing can breed more losing. Let's take a look back at one of the final plays of that Clippers-Hornets game we mentioned earlier.
With roughly 25 seconds remaining on the clock, Terry Rozier beats Kawhi Leonard off the dribble and takes off for the rim. He's not going to score at the basket. There's simply too much help there. But for a moment, it looks as though Rozier can get off a clean floater. He takes his jump, but at the last second, kicks the ball out to Jalen McDaniels for an open 3-pointer. This isn't necessarily a bad decision. Rozier was reading what the defense was giving him and McDaniels has shot fairly well from 3 this season.
But Rozier is also shooting below 26 percent in the clutch this season and below 32 percent from mid-range. Those numbers don't mean much in the grand scheme of things. They're a 20-game sample for an otherwise reliable scorer. But doubt can creep in when a player and team are struggling as much as the Hornets are this season. Rozier has never lacked for confidence. He's the sort of player you'd expect to take a shot like this. We'll never know why he didn't, but it's hard not to wonder what the outcome would have been if he'd put up that floater.
Games of the weak
Wednesday Dec. 7: Wizards at Bulls: Conveniently enough for our dilemma at the No. 7 slot, Washington and Chicago are facing off right away to help us crown our newest Wemby Watcher. Bradley Beal is injured, but, well, this wouldn't be one of the games of the weak if both sides were healthy, would it?
Thursday, Dec. 8: Rockets at Spurs: There's no such thing as a must-lose game, but if the Rockets are going to have the NBA's worst record, they probably need to lose this one to the Spurs. A victory would give them a two-win cushion, and at the rate the Spurs are winning, they might not get another two victories until Martin Luther King Day.
Sunday, Dec. 11: Lakers at Pistons: Yes, yes, I know, the Lakers have graduated out of Wemby Watch, but this is the last game of a lengthy road trip for them. If they're going to slip back into the bottom seven, this would be the moment for it to happen.