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Power Tankings: We're halfway there, failing for a prayer

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

We're halfway through the 2013-14 NBA season. You can tell because the video above is our midseason show; we wouldn't have done all that if it was just like two-fifths of the way through the season. We know there are certain teams that are better off losing as much as they can without being historically bad. The loaded draft class is starting to gear up for the tournament season and people are looking at draft boards and mock drafts. NBA GMs aren't any different as they start scouting players that could not only save their job but give them long-term security.

Instead of focusing on the bad parts of these tanking teams, I'm going to make an honest attempt to look over lineup data or young player performances that will give these fan bases a glimmer of hope that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't an oncoming train.

Here are the Week 13 Power Tankings:

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 7-33 (0-4 this week), Net Rating: -9.8 points per 100 possessions

A loss to the Pistons Wednesday night will give this team its second double-digit game losing streak of the season and we just hit the halfway point. Because I have all kinds of time to kill most days, I was looking for some glimmer of hope with this Milwaukee Bucks team that wasn't the unbridled joy of Giannis Antetokounmpo. I started looking at three-man lineup data to see where their most productive core/trio of players might be. I just wanted to find something encouraging for Bucks fans. There has to be a core of players in which you can hang your hat on and feel good about the future.

I started scrolling and scrolling and making sure I was actually seeing as many negative net ratings in a row as there actually were. Turns out, you have to get down to their 22nd most used trio of players before you get to a combination that has a positive net rating. That trio is O.J. Mayo, Nate Wolters, and Khris Middleton. I don't think that exactly screams, "Don't fret! We'll be winning in no time!" That combination does currently dominate though -- +11.9 points per 100 possessions.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 13-28 (0-4 this week), Net Rating: -8.7 points per 100 possessions

I decided to pore over some more lineup data, this time with the Philadelphia 76ers. They had one lineup that seemed fascinating to me. It's a five-man lineup that plays Michael Carter-Williams at the point, James Anderson and Evan Turner on the wings, and Thaddeus Young with Lavoy Allen as the two big men on the floor. This is a lineup that plays at a pace of just under 110 possessions per game. For a reference point, the Sixers lead the NBA with a 102.44 pace and the Timberwolves are second at 99.9. This is one of the fastest lineups in the league. The amazing thing is nothing really happens when it's on the floor.

The Sixers score just 93.4 points per 100 possessions with this lineup, which is Bucks' putrid. They also give up only 98.6 points per 100, which is pretty stellar defense. With this lineup on the floor, you literally just have two teams running up and down the floor as much as they can without concerning themselves with putting the ball in the basket. It's only been used 32 minutes this season but it's a great way to keep these guys' conditioning up. They turn the ball over 19.3 percent of the time and shoot 18.2 percent from 3-point range. Let's get more of this workout group together.

3. Orlando Magic

Record: 11-30 (1-3 this week), Net Rating: -5.8 points per 100 possessions

The Magic have done kind of a cool thing for rookie Victor Oladipo that has some inherent risks involved. By playing him out of position almost an equal amount of time to playing him at his more natural shooting guard position, they've jump-started his development playing on the ball as much as they have developed it playing off the ball. It's allowing him to make mistakes during games, instead of just having him work on new skills in the off-season and try to apply them once games start again.

I was looking over his numbers -- for what has seemed like a disappointing rookie season -- and wanted to see why he's been such a bad 3-point shooter (28.5 percent) as a rookie. Initially, I assumed it was the adjustment to the NBA 3-point line from college, but I don't really think that's the case. He's only taken 15 corner 3-point attempts this season total, eight from the left corner and seven from the right corner. He's only made three of those, but he should be taking much easier 3-point attempts. I think with him in a more defined role next season, he'll get much better outside shots and we will see him raise that percentage up quite a bit.

4. Boston Celtics

Record: 14-28 (1-3 this week), Net Rating: -4.6 points per 100 possessions

So I need to figure out something positive to say about the Boston Celtics who have lost 11 of their past 12 games and has Kris Humphries with the highest PER on the team, huh? Well, Rajon Rondo is back in the fold and even though he hasn't led them to a victory in his limited minutes over his two games back, he got to do this in a game:

So there's that!

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 16-26 (2-3 this week), Net Rating: -4.7 points per 100 possessions

Want to know which lineup for the Lakers has been the most killer for them this season? It's the lineup of Kendall Marshall at the point, Jodie Meeks and Wes Johnson on the wings, and Ryan Kelly with Pau Gasol as the two big men. This is not me trolling; this is actual statistical evidence. The sad thing is because of the injuries, this lineup has already played the second most minutes of any Lakers' lineup this season and it's only been together in six games. But it's killing when it's on the floor!

They have a net rating of +16.4 and are only giving up 85.3 points per 100 possessions. Does this make a season full of heartache, embarrassing play, talk of tanking, and a lack of Kobe Bryant just wash away like a warm shower after a shame bender in Las Vegas? Not at all. If anything, the fact that this lineup is better than the -32.9 the Kobe Bryant-Jodie Meeks-Wes Johnson-Jordan Hill-Pau Gasol lineup put up in its 50 minutes only makes it worse. Just trick yourself into thinking you're paying money to go watch the LA Defenders and it will feel better.

6. Utah Jazz

Record: 14-28 (2-2 this week), Net Rating: -8.1 points per 100 possessions

Aside from shooting 28.8 percent against the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday night, this Jazz team is legitimately competitive. They're no longer the worst net rating in the league and they're not even the second worst. Regardless of whether or not they beat the Wolves Tuesday night, they'll be .500 or better in their past 20 games. Their most used lineup of Trey Burke at the point, Gordan Hayward and Richard Jefferson on the wings, and Marvin Williams and Derrick Favors as the big men is almost an even net rating at -0.2.

They've used this lineup for 306 minutes this season, which is the 12th most used lineup in the NBA. Of those 12 most used lineups, this Jazz unit is 9th in net rating. You'd probably rather have Enes Kanter and Alec Burks in the lineup making that kind of production but it's good to see a lineup featuring Burke, Hayward, and Favors performing so well together. By the way, they've only let the Burke-Burks-Hayward-Kanter-Favors lineup play 19 minutes this season but it's a +28.3. Do this more, Ty Corbin!

 
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