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NBA Lottery: Checking in on the Lakers’ Pick

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The Lakers’ pick is owed to the Sixers, so long as it doesn’t land on or between picks 2 and 5.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers have locked in a playoff appearance for the first time since the 2011-’12 season. Which means that the Sixers own pick won’t be in the lottery for the first time since 2013, when they selected Jason Kidd Michael Carter-Williams 11th overall (Nerlens Noel was selected 6th by the Sixers in the same draft, but with the New Orleans Pelicans’ pick.)

Sixers fans have gotten so used to picking in the lottery, that it will be an odd experience to not have a representative at the lottery selection show. But the Process keeps on giving. The Sixers may not have Dr. J or Joel Embiid standing in for the organization, but Magic Johnson or Rob Pelinka or some Laker great will be there for the Sixers! Thanks MCW!

The three-way MCW trade that netted the Sixers the Lakers’ pick feels like it happened ages ago. The trade went down on February 19th, 2015, but the Lakers’ pick won’t convey until this upcoming NBA Draft. Some things that happened in that time span:

  • Philadelphia Eagles: Eagles trade for Sam Bradford on March 10th, 2015, about 3 weeks after Sixers trade MCW. Eagles draft Carson Wentz April 28th, 2016. Eagles trade Sam Bradford September 3rd, 2016. Eagles win the Super Bowl, February 4th, 2018.
  • HBO: After one of the single greatest debut seasons of a television show, HBO releases season 2 of True Detective June 21st, 2015. It is a colossal disappointment, and the show is never picked up for a 3rd season. Jon Snow dies this same summer. Jon Snow rises from the dead the following summer, completing one life and starting another before the pick conveys.
  • Villanova: Villanova had 1 National Championship when the trade was made. They now have 3.
  • Barack Obama is President when the trade is made. Donald Trump is President when the pick conveys.

You get the idea.

So here it is, the Sixers will finally get the Lakers’ pick. Well, so long as it doesn’t land on or between picks 2 and 5, in which case it goes to the Boston Celtics. So where is it going to land?

If the season ended today, the Lakers’ pick pre-lottery would be slotted at 10, meaning their 33-43 record is 10th worst in the NBA. Tankathon.com currently has the Lakers’ pick with a 4.0% chance of landing top 3, and a 1.1% chance of getting the No. 1 overall pick, so almost no shot at either of those.

Let’s say the Lakers do indeed keep pace and finish with the 10th best odds in the lottery. What exactly does that mean? Well if firmly entrenched at 10, the lottery odds breakdown like this:

  • 11 ping pong balls
  • Odds at pick 1: 1.1%
  • Odds at pick 2: 1.3%
  • Odds at pick 3: 1.6%
  • Odds at picks 4 through 9, and pick 14: Literally can’t happen
  • Odds at pick 10: 87%
  • Odds at pick 11: 8.9%
  • Odds at pick 12: 0.2%
  • Odds at pick 13: 0% (thanks to rounding. But there is a non-zero chance this happens)
  • 1.1 + 1.3 + 1.6 + 87 + 8.9 + 0.2 = 100.1%, thanks to rounding up on some of the numbers.

So the Lakers’ pick has the best odds of landing at 10, followed by 11. Not bad! But will the Lakers’ finish at a pace that slots them 10th worst in the NBA?

With 6 games to play, the worst the Lakers can finish is at 33-49, while the best they can finish is 39-43. That means that there are 9 teams the Lakers’ mathematically cannot finish worse than. I won’t exhaust you with the list, but just know that 9 teams could win out, with the Lakers losing out, and they all still would have a worse record than the Lakers.

There’s 18 teams that the Lakers mathematically cannot finish better than. Which means that in the final two weeks of the season, only two teams can alter where the Lakers finish in the standings: the Charlotte Hornets and the Detroit Pistons. The Hornets have played 2 more games than the Lakers, and have a winning percentage of .436 (34-44), just .002 points higher than that of the Lakers. The Pistons have played 1 more game than the Lakers, and have a winning percentage of .481 (37-40).

Basically: the Lakers just need to finish worse than the Hornets and the Pistons, for the Sixers best case scenario. It would give the Sixers the best odds at the highest possible pick at this point, while creating just a 2.9% chance that the pick conveys to the Celtics.

(Sidebar: I understand some would rather the pick go to the Celtics, giving the Sixers sole ownership of the Kings’ 2019 pick. That’s a different argument for another day.)

Looking ahead, 538.com projects this exact thing to happen. They have the Lakers finishing at 35-47, the Hornets at 36-46, and the Pistons at 40-42. Great job SVG! Perfect spot to pick a role player to go next to Blake Griffin’s 4 years, almost $150 million that will cripple the franchise for the foreseeable future. You suck at winning, AND you suck at sucking.

Now, I know people aren’t exactly enamored with 538 and a somewhat recent projection they got wrong. But in the Lakers 6 remaining games, they’ll face the Jazz (2x), the Spurs, the Timberwolves, The Rockets and the Clippers. All of those teams still have something to play for, except for the Rockets and maybe the Clippers, although they still technically aren’t eliminated from playoff contention. It is entirely feasible that the Lakers lose out, in which case there’s nothing else to worry about.

If they don’t lose out, the Sixers would need some help from Detroit and Charlotte, i.e. they need the two to win some games. The Pistons face 3 tanking teams in their remaining 5 games (CHI, MEM, DAL), the Raptors, who may just rest everyone, and the Sixers who will be on a back-to-back. The Hornets go against 2 tanking teams in their remaining 4 games (CHI, ORL), and the Pacers twice.

The Lottery race is on, and Sixers fans have another year of loss speculation and encouragement. Start cheering for Charlotte and Detroit. Sam Hinkie lives.