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Tank Watch: Lakers roll towards a chance at keeping their top-three protected pick

There are silver linings, even in another poor season.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

For the second-consecutive year, the Lakers have reminded me I should stop walking around Las Vegas Summer League telling people “at least I don’t have to write about tanking this season!”

A few weeks ago it became clear that it was once again time for the Los Angeles Lakers to embrace the tank, and consequently time to bring back this esteemed, Pulitzer-snubbed column because the Lakers have made monitoring their draft pick odds a necessity once again.

At 17-36, the team technically only has to win one more game to show improvement upon last season’s franchise-worst collapse, but the flip side of that is that the Lakers currently have the third-best odds at the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

That means it’s time to honor the individuals and teams that make the Lakers’ trek to the bottom possible. As defined for this excercise two years ago, here is a reminder of the categories:

Tank Play of the Week - A look at one of the worst (or best, depending on your perspective) plays the Lakers made during the week. Normally, we will be looking for a play that ended any chance of the Lakers winning a game, and thus helping their tank roll on.

Tank Commander - The individual who did the most during the week in review to move the tank along. This is looking more at sustained badness over a week long period, rather than just one play.

Anti-Tank Mine - This category will examine a play, player or coach who did their best to derail the Lakers' tank this week. Not necessarily limited to Lakers personnel either, for example, an opposing coach or player could win this award for making a terrible play or substitution against the Lakers.

Tank Reinforcements - Essentially the opposite of the previous category, where we acknowledge a player, coach, or team that helped the Lakers tank along or removed some potential obstacles from its path.

Top-Five Today - A look at the bottom-five teams, the odds of the Lakers' keeping their pick, and a weekly sim. Courtesy of Tankathon.

As always, tweet at us (@LakersSBN) with your nominees using the hashtag #TankWatch. Now, on to the tanking.

Tank Play of the Week: Timofey Mozgov tagging Luol Deng on defense

Okay so this is cheating a little bit because this play didn’t happen last week, but no single play over the last week tops the Lakers coaching staffs’ exasperated reactions to Mozgov and the rest of the Lakers’ defense against the Portland Trail Blazers earlier this season from this week’s episode of “Backstage Lakers”:

“What do you even say to that? Seriously?”- Luke Walton, speaking for all of us watching the Lakers play defense.

Tank Commander: Jordan Clarkson

The last month has not been kind to the Lakers’ hoped-for sixth-man of the future. Clarkson appeared to have made meaningful strides as both a defender and a scorer to start the Lakers’ season, but his last stretch of games have exposed his worst tendencies as an inefficient ball-stopper.

Clarkson’s net rating of -20.4 over the last week is the worst of any player not returning from an injury. His defensive rating (125.4) is similarly the worst of any Laker playing more than 13 minutes per game during that time.

Looking at his shot chart it’s pretty easy to see why:

Clarkson was solid around the basket and that’s a small sample size, but the rest of that is... not great.

Making things worse, Clarkson turned the ball over at a higher rate (11.4 percent) and assisting less (8.2 percent) than any Lakers guard over the last week.

His January was better, but not by much. The Lakers were outscored by 11.3 points per 100 possessions with Clarkson on the floor, also the worst of any consistent rotation player during that period.

One really bad week doesn’t make Clarkson a bad player, but he’ll have to bring a more diverse game to the table if he wants to remain as valuable a part of the Lakers’ future as the team hopes he can be.

Anti-Tank Mine: D’Angelo Russell

It should be noted this is a good thing. If any of the Lakers’ young players play well enough to derail their quest for a top-three draft pick, it just means the team is on the right path back towards respectability.

Russell’s play of late hasn’t translated to wins yet, but the Lakers have been significantly better with him on the floor over the past week since he returned to the lineup. The team has been outscored by two points per 100 possessions with Russell on the floor and a second-worst-on-the-team 13.4 when he sits, an 11.4 points per 100 possessions swing.

Russell has averaged 19.7 points, 9.7 assists, and 6.7 rebounds (with 3.7 turnovers) in 32.6 minutes per game during that span. He has additionally been the engine powering the Lakers’ offense, using up 29.4 percent of the team’s possessions and assisting on a team-high 40.9 percent of their baskets over that stretch.

Russell appears to have found the right mix of playmaking and scoring since returning from injury, and his improvement offers a reminder of why the Lakers should want to keep a top-three pick.

Tank Reinforcements: Dallas Mavericks and Miami HEAT

Both members of this weird rivalry that only exists in the NBA Finals appeared to be tanking harder than the Battle of Cambrai, but both have undergone a weird (and welcome for the Lakers) resurgence of late.

The HEAT have improbably (and historically) won 10 games in a row, the second-longest winning streak by a team under .500 ever after Miami president Pat Riley all but admitted they were ready to tank earlier this season.

The Mavericks have no less improbably won seven of their last ten due to contributions from undrafted rookie call-up Yogi Ferrell and the suddenly recovering Wesley Matthews, despite sitting in the bottom-three of the standings for much of the year.

Their wins are the Lakers’ gain, helping Los Angeles build some cushion on them in the tank race.

Top-Five Today (courtesy of Tankathon):

Weekly Lottery Sim:

They kept the pick!

All stats per and Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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