When the season began, there were concerns among Sixers fans that the team was winning and the Pelicans might not be a lottery team this year. Now instead of worrying that both teams are winning too much, the concerns have shifted to both teams are losing too much. Sean has talked about the Sixers losing too much; now it is time to address whether or not the Pelicans, losers of their last eight games as of this writing, are losing too much.
As we all know, the Pelicans pick owned by the Sixers in the 2014 Draft is top 5 protected. With the Pelicans safely a lottery team at this point, there is always going to be a chance the Pelicans find themselves picking in the top 5 of this year's draft, an obvious worst-case scenario for Sam Hinkie's Sixers.
First up, let's take a look at where the Pelicans place in the standings, with the worst teams on top.
|New York Knicks||21-40|
|Los Angeles Lakers||21-39|
|New Orleans Pelicans||23-37|
Despite the expectations of a playoff berth, the Pelicans currently find themselves 2.5 games behind the Knicks for 5th worst team in the NBA. That is a place not many believed the Pelicans would find themselves in at the beginning of the season, and now it appears as if Sam Hinkie may find himself sweating a little bit more the night of the Draft Lottery.
But keep in mind, it is not just about making up 2.5 games on the Knicks. There are three teams in between the Pelicans and the Knicks, and they matter. In order to end the season in the bottom 5, the Pelicans not only have to make-up 2.5 games on the Knicks, but they also need to make up two games on the Jazz, two games on the Lakers, and two games on the Kings*. The Pelicans are not just chasing one team, they are chasing four. and all must be caught for them to end the season in the bottom 5.
*The Pellies also have to worry about not being caught by a Cavs side only a half-game behind them. But seeing as the Cavs are fighting for an Eastern Conference playoff berth, it feels unlikely they will end the season with a worse record than New Orleans.
Projecting The Future
With only 22 games remaining in the season, all schedules will not be created equally, so strength of schedule in the remaining games may make a difference in wins and losses in the final stretch of the season. With that said, let us take a look at the average win percentage of the remaining opponents of the bottom nine teams in the NBA. Strength of schedule data provided on the Eastern and Western Conference teams from playoffstatus.com.
|New York Knicks||45%|
|New Orleans Pelicans||53%|
|Los Angeles Lakers||55%|
Well that isn't the prettiest of pictures. Of the bottom nine teams, only the Lakers have a more difficult schedule ahead of them than the Pellies.
But as stated above, when four teams separate one team and a desired place in the standings, all four teams must be caught. So even if the Knicks fall out of the bottom 5 with their hilariously weak strength of schedule, the Pellies must still overcome the Lakers, among other teams, and of the bottom nine teams, the Lakers have the most difficult strength of schedule (and second most difficult strength of schedule of all NBA teams).
To bring it back to the Sixers' situation for a sentence, there may just be a chance they can catch the Bucks in the standings given the Sixers having a more difficult strength of schedule than Milwaukee. What seemed nearly improbable a few weeks ago now appears possible. A guaranteed top four Sixers pick might even go a long way in alleviating worry that the Pelicans may luck their way into a top 5 pick on lottery night.
Does any of this even matter in terms of the Draft Lottery?
This 82-game tank race is nothing more than positioning for the Draft Lottery, and being the fifth worst team does not guarantee the fifth pick in the draft. So even if the Pellies' continue their incredible losing streak and do catch the Jazz, Lakers, Kings, and Knicks, the Sixers' dreams of two first round picks are not yet dead. In fact, they will still remain very realistic.
Below is the percentage chance each position has of landing a top 5 pick on draft lottery night.
Assuming the Pelicans do end the season in fifth place, the Sixers will still have a 44.7% chance of that pick falling outside the top 5, which in laymen's terms is slightly worse coin flip odds. It is only once the Pelicans' end the season as fourth worst that things become dicey, but that would entail the Pelicans surpassing the Celtics in losses on top of everything else. While the Celtics are only three games worse than the Pelicans, the Pelicans passing all five teams in losses just is not likely as long as Anthony Davis is on the court.
What began the year feeling like a relatively safe mid-round pick as transformed itself into a suddenly exciting possibility. While there is some more risk involved here, it is mitigated by the lottery format and the possible reward of having a second top 10 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
The Sixers are in numerous good positions right now. Not only are they within striking distance of the Bucks, but the Pelicans pick is looking more and more like it might be a top 10 pick. And while it all goes to waste if it lands in the top 5 on lottery night, this is one of those situations where the alternative of a safe mid-round pick loses out. There is much more potential at the top of the draft class then there is in the middle. Given the safe odds outlined above and the climate of the NBA Draft outlined by Derek here, it is better to have gambled on the Pelicans and lost than to have never gambled at all.