Since we last checked in on the Los Angeles Lakers' tank on the first day of March, the team has gone 3-4, which needless to say is far better than their previous winning percentage. That run included an impressive and completely unforeseeable win over the Golden State Warriors as well as two nice victories over the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets in which the purple and gold rode their youth movement to victory.
Those wins were good signs of progress for the young core the Lakers are trying to build around, with D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance, Jr. all taking advantage of their opportunities to shine. The numbers reflect the team's improving play, with the Lakers ranking 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency in March (scoring 105.6 points per 100 possessions) after ranking second to last for the majority of the year.
The team's defense, on the other hand, has not been much better. The Lakers are giving up 109 points per 100 possession in March compared to 109.5 on the season, so it's fair to credit most of the team's improved winning percentage to better offense with the insertion of a new "set" and Marcelo Huertas playing over Lou Williams for the majority of those games.
Just because the Lakers were better on that end, though, doesn't mean there still aren't some tanking awards to hand out. On to this week's winners, starting with some typically strong late-game work from Los Angeles.
Tank Play of the Week: The Lakers' final out of bounds play against the New York Knicks
What the crap was that? There isn't a whole lot of magic you can hope for with 0.2 seconds left, but that is nowhere near enough time to collect and shoot. So why was the play drawn up for Kobe to get a three in the corner? And for those who want proof: If it was a designed lob and Huertas just chose to throw it to Kobe, then why did Nance, Jr. only take three steps during the whole play while Kobe sprinted off a baseline screen from Lou Williams to get to the corner?
That right there is some masterful tanking.
Tank Commander: Byron Scott
Speaking of masterful tanking, Scott comes back to claim this award after avoiding it in the season's first edition. To be fair to Scott, his opening up the offense to more screen-and-rolls, among other actions, out of his new offensive set have been a factor in the Lakers' success this month. The beleaguered coach deserves credit for that.
However, Scott could have taken home this award just on the strength (or lack thereof) of the above play alone. He truly slammed the award home, though, by benching the Lakers young core to chase a win against the Knicks and then failing to get it anyway. The Lakers have been better this month, so it would be unfair to pile too much on Scott this week, but in a stronger month from the team overall his decisions against the Knicks were enough to earn him the "honors."
Anti-Tank Mine: D'Angelo Russell
Russell was also not great against the Knicks, scoring four points on one-of-seven shooting, but he's been fantastic overall in March. The rookie point guard has averaged 20.9 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 44.4 percent from the field this month, and has knocked down 42.3 percent of his threes to boot.
Russell's first few months featured growing pains, but he steadily improved and has been really good since re-entering the starting lineup. His progress leading to wins is one of the few mines most Lakers fans won't mind if the team's tank drives over.
Tank Reinforcements: The Phoenix Suns
The most helpful factor in the Lakers' draft odds not worsening this month even with their improved record has been the simultaneous improvement of the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers' 3-4 record is only percentage points better than the Suns' own 3-5 in March, meaning the Suns still sit four games back of the Lakers for the second-worst overall record with 15 games left to play for both teams. Those fifteen games still include two games left between Phoenix and Los Angeles, but if the Lakers can lose both or split those games, their chances of maintaining the second-best odds to keep their pick look pretty good.
A look at the bottom-five teams, the odds of the Lakers' keeping their pick, and a weekly sim. Courtesy of Tankathon.
Here is the current tank race:
And here is this week's sim:
I really shouldn't be allowed to sim these anymore.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.