There’s nothing like ping pong balls determining the course of history and altering the future of billion-dollar businesses.
But that’s what makes the NBA Draft Lottery so much fun, because anything can happen when the top-half of the draft order is determined on Tuesday night (UAE: 03:30 +1).
Before getting down to scenarios, here’s how the lottery works.
The 14 teams that failed to make the playoffs are assigned odds to obtain one of the top three picks. The team with the worst record has the highest chance of landing a higher pick, and so on.
After the top three selections are determined, the remainder of the lottery order is in inverse order of win-loss record for the leftover teams.
The picks are assigned by each team having a certain number of four-number combinations. Those combinations are randomly drawn from 14 individual numbered ping pong balls, picked out of a standard lottery machine in a private room before the broadcast of the results.
The teams with the highest odds are the Phoenix Suns, who have a 25 per cent chance of winning the lottery and a 64.2 per cent chance at the top-three; the Memphis Grizzlies, who have a 19.9 per cent chance of winning and a 55.8 per cent chance at the top-three; and the Dallas Mavericks, who have a 13.8 per cent chance of winning a 42.6 per cent chance at the top-three.
As far as the prospects available in this year’s draft class, there are several promising players who could be franchise cornerstones, including Real Madrid playmaker Luka Doncic, Arizona centre Deandre Ayton, Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr, Duke forward Marvin Bagley, Texas centre Mo Bamba and Oklahoma guard Trae Young.
As mentioned, the stakes are sky high and no one has any control of how this is going to go.
So, let’s take a look at some of the crazy possibilities that could play out.
Cavaliers get the number one pick
On a night they’re playing the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers actually have a 2.8 per cent chance of landing the top selection, thanks to the pick being conveyed from the Brooklyn Nets.
Tomorrow is shaping up to be one of the most important days in Cleveland Cavaliers franchise history, right up with May 22, 2003 and June 19, 2016. A lot going on between Game 2 of the ECF in Boston and the NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 14, 2018
Boston, who struck gold on their trade with Brooklyn years ago, passed this year’s Nets unprotected first-rounder on to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving–Isaiah Thomas swap this past summer, so it will now pay dividends for the Cavs.
Though the Nets weren’t as bad this season as Cleveland would have liked, the pick is likely to be no worse than eight. If it does jump up though, that gives the Cavaliers better ammunition to potentially swing a trade for a star to pair with LeBron James – if he stays – or rebuild with one of the best prospects in the draft if the face of their franchise leaves again.
Celtics leap into top three
Boston’s fortune and embarrassment of riches has been off the charts lately, but there’s a chance the rich can get even richer on Tuesday night.
Thanks to the trade they made with the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of last year’s draft, in which they swapped the number one overall pick for the third selection and a 2018 first-rounder, the Celtics may get another top-three pick to add to their collection of prized assets.
That selection is from the Los Angeles Lakers and because of the protections on it, will only convey to Boston if it lands between two and five, while it would stay with the 76ers if it’s number one or six to 14.
If the Celtics don’t get it this year, the pick will become the Sacramento Kings’ top-one protected selection next year.
The Lakers finished with the 10th-worst record this season, so the Celtics have just a 2.9 per cent chance of the pick being second or third, while Philadelphia have 1.1 per cent odds of it landing first.
With how stacked Boston already are and how quickly their young guys are developing, them receiving a top-three pick would be straight up unfair.
Sixers add another number one pick
The Process may be over, but this is likely the 76ers’ last chance at adding another number one overall pick for quite some time, considering their ascension.
As stated, their odds are just 1.1 per cent, so it probably won’t happen. But if it did, imagine a world where Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are playing alongside Doncic. And that’s not even mentioning how ridiculous that core would be if Markelle Fultz becomes anything close to what he was originally projected as.
And if LeBron isn’t on the way this summer for Philadelphia, they would have an incredible asset to throw at the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.
It feels crazy to already say the 76ers are just a piece away from contending, but between them and Boston, this is the new reality for the Eastern Conference.
Pistons hanging in the balance
The Detroit Pistons are the only team who can lose their own pick in this year’s lottery.
When they traded for Blake Griffin mid-season, Detroit sent a top-four protected first-rounded to the Los Angeles Clippers, who are likely to get the pick after the Pistons finished with the 12th-worst record.
However, there’s a 2.5 per cent chance the Pistons leapfrog into the top three and keep their selection, which would be the ultimate bail-out for a team that may have been too aggressive in settling for mediocrity.
LeBron James is widely considered a basketball genius, possessing an incredible IQ, knowledge and memory of the game.
Watch the video below to see James give a detailed account of the Celtics’ run at the start of the fourth quarter that created distance with the Cavaliers.
After handling the fragile Toronto Raptors with ease in the second round, the Cavaliers are dealing with a different beast in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics are not scared to go toe-to-toe with a team that has ruled the East with an iron fist since LeBron James’ arrival in 2014 – and for good reason.
Cleveland have the best player in the world, let alone in the series, but Boston are stocked with long, athletic, two-way players who have no exploitable weaknesses on either end of the floor.
That balance and versatility was on full display in Game 1, particularly on the defensive end where the Celtics suffocated the Cavaliers’ offensive flow like a boa constrictor attacking its prey.
It all starts with Boston’s ability to shut down off-ball action. Like they did so often to J.J. Redick and Philadelphia’s shooters in the second round, the Celtics chased Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith through screens and closed their air space after the catch.
The two-man game off the ball between Kevin Love and Korver that was so unstoppable against the Raptors had little traction against Boston. Part of that is due to Smart and Brown, but it can also be attributed to the Celtics’ comfort in switching without being caught in a mismatch. Al Horford is the lynchpin of the operation with his ability to guard one through five, giving Boston a unique advantage.
When Korver curls, Brown doesn’t have to go over, or under, his own man screening. Baynes steps back and Brown shoots the gap.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) May 14, 2018
Baynes switches effectively on Korver, and they try a mismatch post-up which Brown obliterates. pic.twitter.com/bwSEwEVPz9
But even after switching everything, the most impressive part of Boston’s defensive game plan in the opener was their discipline in altering assignments mid-play.
Whenever Cleveland got a mismatch with, say, Kevin Love being guarded by Terry Rozier in the post, the Celtics would bring over the weakside defender to switch places with Rozier while the entry pass was being thrown in to Love. Just like that, the mismatch would poof, disappear.
Boston utilised the same approach in mismatches with James in the post, although when the pass beat the switch, the Celtics would send a double and zone up on the weakside. James, being the great passer he is, can pick that apart with pinpoint dishes to shooters on the perimeter, but with how quickly the Celtics can close out, those shots won’t always be open.
Boston just executed a very cool post switch. Normally you try to get out of a mismatch by switching before the ball arrives. Here, they use the ball’s flight time and switch in that window. Smart, intuitive and effective. pic.twitter.com/aYFhgGo2Gn— Dylan Murphy (@DylanTMurphy) May 13, 2018
When they are open, the Cavaliers can’t afford to miss. The 3-point shot is one of their primary weapons and while they didn’t generate the cleanest looks in Game 1, they did have several open opportunities they failed to capitalise on, hitting just 16-of-53 (30.2 per cent) on uncontested shots.
There’s a danger in assuming a positive regression to the mean against the Celtics, as the 76ers learned last round. Boston’s defence is so unrelenting and physical that it’s likely there’s some cumulative effect of shooters constantly being banged around.
Even so, it’s very unlikely Cleveland shoot just 4-of-26 from deep again in the series, especially with James now having a game’s worth of film to analyse and see where he can get his team-mates open looks.
There are small adjustments to be made, but the Cavaliers also have the option of breaking out a line-up change that could rob Boston of some of their switchability.
By inserting Tristan Thompson into the starting five alongside Love, Cleveland would most likely force the Celtics to counter by using Aron Baynes. As much as he protects the rim, having Baynes instead of Horford as the five would open up more mismatches for the Cavaliers’ perimeter players.
And if Boston choose to stay small and keep Horford at centre, they’ll be playing with fire as Thompson has a history of eating him up on the offensive glass and frustrating him defensively in head-to-head meetings. With how much the Love-Horford match-up appears to be in the Celtics’ favour, Cleveland would be better off testing out the change right away in Game 2.
More than anything, the Cavaliers can take solace in James bouncing back from one of the worst play-off performances of his career. The TD Garden has seen no shortage of special LeBron moments, especially when his back has been against the wall.
Nevertheless, Boston have set the tone and made it clear they’re going to be the aggressors. It’s Cleveland who will have to prove they’re up to the task.