The Race to May 14th

I know what you are thinking right now. Yes, I am aware the regular season ends on April 10th. So what is May 14th you ask?

The NBA Draft Lottery is May 14th. May 14th is when one franchise’s fortunes change tremendously. May 14th is when transcendent talent, Zion Williamson, finds out where he’ll be playing next season and living for the next 8-9 years.

This year will be the first time we pick ping pong balls under the new revised odds format. The intention is to reduce the incentive to tank by dramatically decreasing the chances for the two worst teams and spreading that balance over the other 12 lottery teams. Let’s take a minute to review.

Worst Record

Old Odds for #1 Pick

New Odds for #1 Pick

1

25% 14%

2

19.9% 14%
3 13.8%

14%

4

13.7% 12.5%

5

8.8%

10.5%

6 5.3%

9%

7

5.3% 7.5%
8 2.8%

6%

9 1.7%

4.5%

10 1.1%

3%

11

0.8% 2%

12

0.7%

1.5%

13

0.6%

1%

14 0.5%

0.5%

Not sure if this will work how the league hopes. We may not see teams tank as aggressively trying to hold the worst record, but we may see more teams decide not to try to take a shot at sneaking into the playoffs as an eight-seed and instead pursue a one-in-20 lottery ticket…

There are currently four teams fighting for a top three lottery spot – The Bulls, Cavs, Suns, and Knicks are all contenders which the Hawks have played themselves into more of a long shot position after strong play from Trae Young and John Collins. Meanwhile, the Knicks have a stranglehold on the race to May 14th after dropping nine of their last 10 to fall to 14-57. The Suns and Cavs will more than likely finish with the second and third worst records as they have 17 and 18 wins, respectively, while the fourth place Bulls won 20 already. With the tanking intensity ratcheted up as the finish line gets closer, it would be surprising to see either Phoenix or Cleveland win more than 20 games. This locks in the top three as the Knicks, Suns, and Cavs will all have 14% shots at the number one pick.

Despite pretty much being locked into the fifth worst record, the Hawks actually have the best shot at landing the #1 pick. Since the Mavs traded up to snag Luka Doncic last year, they owe this year’s first rounder to the Hawks. Atlanta is locked into the five-slot with a 10.5% shot at the number one pick, and the Mavs have a high probability of finishing in sixth or seventh place. If Dallas somehow manages to exceed expectations and win a couple extra games down the stretch then maybe they fall to ninth which would give their pick a 4.5% chance at landing at 1. Under this worst case scenario, the Hawks would have a 15% chance of getting the number one pick (10.5% + 4.5% = 15%), but really their chances are much closer to 18% or 19.5%!

The real interesting race, however, is the big group from eight to 13 which includes The Wizards, Pelicans, Lakers, Hornets, T-wolves, and Magic, and they’re only separated by three games! My expectation is to see the Lakers, Hornets, and T-wolves leading the pack when the season ends. The Lakers have shut down Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, and they traded away Zubac for nothing. Additionally, LeBron will be selectively sitting games out due to load management (yes, insert joke here), and they are 1-9 in their last 10 games indicating they are actively trying to lose already. The Hornets have a lower talent level than others in this group and the Zion to the Hornets storyline would be a strong one to sell their fans on since they could pitch season ticket holders on “Zion learning from MJ”. Winning the lottery or at least placing high might also lead Kemba Walker to resign this off-season as that would bolster their playoff chances in a thin Eastern Conference. Lastly, the Timberwolves just aren’t very good. They are 13-18 since Ryan Saunders replaced Tom Thibodeau and eight of their last 11 games come against playoff teams.

While we don’t know who is going to win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, we do know that there is some atrocious basketball coming up over the next few weeks. Luckily the 4-8 seeds in the West are all within two games of each other so there will be some very exciting jockeying for positioning going on in addition to watching Zion’s last six games at Duke!

Stats from ESPN, Tankathon, SI, and Spotrac

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