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NBA Lockout and the Draft: Why Pistons Would Benefit


I don’t know if I’m being optimistic or pessimistic, but for the last few days I’ve been wondering what next year’s draft would look like if there was the 2011-2012 NBA season was canceled outright.

Luckily, I’m not the only one. Ric Bucher at ESPN filed a story on Nov. 9 puzzling over the same question. But while his story is brief, probably because he’s insanely busy reporting on the NBA lockout, I, as a fan with no access, can ruminate endlessly on the possibilities.

Bucher writes that there are several options being discussed by the league.

1. Hold the lottery and draft based on last year’s standings.

2. Hold the lottery and draft based on three-year winning percentage totals.

3. Hold the lottery and draft based on five-year winning percentage totals.

He also adds that the only other league that had to confront this issue, hockey, the league “used a formula that weighted a league-wide lottery in favor of teams that did not make the playoffs the previous three seasons. It also weighed in teams that had not received the top pick during that time.”

Obviously, the NBA already has a lottery system in place, so their system would only allow the traditional non-playoff lottery teams to enter. With all of this in mind I charted the possible lottery scenarios.

The results are after the jump in full chart goodness. If you are a fan of a particularly downtrodden team such as Detroit, Sacramento, Golden State or Toronto, you owe it to yourself to read this post. It might be one of the few things to lift your spirits!

First we have to refresh ourselves on how the NBA lottery works. The 14 non-playoff teams are entered into a lottery, with weighted odds on getting the No. 1 pick. Therefore, the worst team has the best odds and the 14th-worst team has the worst odds. The below chart is courtesy of Wikipedia.

NBA Draft lottery odds


With that in mind, let’s look at the individual scenarios outlined in Bucher’s article. The simplest method would be to have a 2011 draft all over again. Using the standings of the non-playoffs teams and letting the ping-pong balls fall where they may. As you might recall, Cleveland won the draft courtesy of the Los Angeles Clippers’ first-round pick, which was sent to the Cavs in exchange for taking on Baron Davis’ contract. Sorry, Clipper Nation, I didn’t mean to reopen old wounds. However, if all the ping-pong balls fell as expected, the Detroit Pistons would draft No. 7 overall, with a 4 percent chance of landing the first pick and a 15 percent chance of securing a top-three selection at first glance. Not great odds but the Pistons are due for some lottery luck. This is not the ideal scenario for the Pistons for reasons that will be more apparent later.

NBA Draft based on last year’s standings

Team  10-11 Standings  
Minnesota Timberwolves *1
Cleveland Cavaliers *2
Toronto Raptors3
Washington Wizards4
Sacramento Kings5
New Jersey Nets6
Detroit Pistons7
L.A. Clippers8
Charlotte Bobcats9
Milwaukee Bucks10
Golden State Warriors11
Utah Jazz *12
Phoenix Suns13
Houston Rockets14
Indiana Pacers15
Philadelphia 76ers16
New York Knicks17
Atlanta Hawks18
New Orleans Hornets19
Memphis Grizzlies20
Portland Trail Blazers21
Denver Nuggets22
Orlando Magic23
Oklahoma City Thunder24
Boston Celtics25
L.A. Lakers26
Dallas Mavericks27
Miami Heat28
San Antonio Spurs29
Chicago Bulls30

Looking at the three-year window below, the situation would be even better for the Pistons even though they slide from No. 7 to No. 8. That has everything to do with those asterisks. If the NBA does indeed take a page out of the NHL playbook and weigh the odds in favor of teams that have not experienced success in the lottery before, then that greatly benefits the Pistons. On the chart, red asterisks are teams that have selected first overall and blue asterisks indicate a team has picked in the top three. Because top selections in the NBA are the most valuable draft picks in any sport, I am assuming that if the NBA were to weigh the picks against teams who have picked either first overall or in the top three, effectively eliminating any chance those teams have of winning the lottery. Even if you’re not a Pistons fan, it’s easy to see how different teams benefit from the various draft scenarios.

If the NBA only eliminated teams that picked first overall, then on the above chart, the Pistons slide from the seventh slot up to No. 6. If factoring any team that picked in the top three puts in the fifth spot, ahead of Cleveland and Minnesota. However, if the NBA uses a three-year window as the NHL did, the news is even better for the Pistons. If the NBA effectively eliminates top-three pick recipients form contention then the Pistons leapfrog the Wolves, Wizards, Nets and Clippers. This means they go from the eighth spot to the fourth spot. If just factoring in No. 1 overall teams then they go from eighth to sixth.

NBA Draft based on three-year aggregate winning percentage

Team      3-year W%      
Minnesota Timberwolves *22.76
Sacramento Kings26.82
Washington Wizards *27.64
New Jersey Nets *28.45
L.A. Clippers *32.52
Golden State Warriors36.99
Toronto Raptors38.61
Detroit Pistons39.02
New York Knicks41.86
Indiana Pacers42.68
Philadelphia 76ers *44.3
Memphis Grizzlies *44.71
Charlotte Bobcats45.93
Milwaukee Bucks46.74
Oklahoma City Thunder *52.03
New Orleans Hornets53.65
Houston Rockets56.09
Utah Jazz *56.91
Phoenix Suns56.91
Atlanta Hawks58.53
Chicago Bulls58.53
Cleveland Cavaliers *59.34
Miami Heat60.16
Portland Trail Blazers61.78
Denver Nuggets63.82
Dallas Mavericks65.85
San Antonio Spurs67.07
Boston Celtics68.29
Orlando Magic69.1
L.A. Lakers72.76

Unfortunately, the good news for the Pistons stops here. If the NBA elects to use a five-year window, it takes the Pistons into the latter half of the Flip Saunders era of regular-season dominance. In this case, the Pistons slide all the way down to the middle of the pack at slot 16. There are eight teams who have grabbed top-three picks in that window so the Pistons would vault to the eighth spot in the draft. In other words, just about where we’ve been drafting lately. Late enough to get a difference-maker but very hard to pick a possible superstar.

NBA Draft based on five-year aggregate winning percentage

Team      5-year W%      
Minnesota Timberwolves *26.82
Sacramento Kings33.41
L.A. Clippers *34.87
Washington Wizards *37.07
Memphis Grizzlies *37.56
New York Knicks38.78
New Jersey Nets *39.02
Milwaukee Bucks41.21
Charlotte Bobcats43.41
Oklahoma City Thunder *43.65
Golden State Warriors44.14
Indiana Pacers44.14
Toronto Raptors44.63
Philadelphia 76ers *44.87
Miami Heat *50.48
Detroit Pistons50.73
Atlanta Hawks *51.46
Portland Trail Blazers *54.87
Chicago Bulls *55.12
New Orleans Hornets55.36
Cleveland Cavaliers *58.78
Utah Jazz *59.26
Houston Rockets59.75
Denver Nuggets61.46
Phoenix Suns62.43
Boston Celtics62.92
Orlando Magic63.6
L.A. Lakers67.8
San Antonio Spurs68.04
Dallas Mavericks68.29

I was curious if there was any scenario in the three- or five-year windows in which eliminating teams with draft success would leave the Pistons with the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick. If using the three-year standings as a guide, you’d have to eliminate any team that had a top-six pick. If you stay within the five-year window you would have to eliminate those who have had a top-six pick and/or made the playoffs.

But even if the Pistons are picking anywhere from second to five, the odds of them landing an impact player in the next draft are very good. Because the chance of an NBA lockout forced so many of the top collegiate players back to school, the next draft is going to be stacked. Just glancing at Chad Ford’s Big Board on ESPN, you’ve got Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Quincy Miller in the top seven.

Yes, we all want basketball to be played. Yes, I want this lockout over as soon as humanly possible. And maybe it’s just a coping mechanism as it looks less and less likely that an NBA season is going to happen at all this year. But if – IF – that is the case, it could truly be a blessing in disguise to some of the more unfortunate teams in the NBA, and I sadly but without hesitation put the Pistons into the group. Especially the Pistons, in fact.

A lost season means that Richard Hamilton’s contract goes from god-awful albatross to attractive trade chip. No season means that amnesty is all but assured and the Pistons can rid themselves of someone who doesn’t really fit such as Charlie Villanueva. A lost season means that the team is mercifully in the final year of the Jason Maxiell contract. And it sets the team up nicely to possibly grab a top-three pick in the next draft (and hopefully No. 1) and draft a true superstar that would complement Greg Monroe and the team would build everything else around them.

I’m still rooting for an NBA season this year, but I’m getting pretty good at talking myself out of it.

*Note: For those interested, I embedded the standings chart for the past five years below.

Team2010-112009-102008-092007-082006-073-year W%5-year W%10-11 Standings
Minnesota Timberwolves17-6515-6724-5822-6032-5022.7626.821
Sacramento Kings24-5825-5717-6538-4433-4926.8233.416
L.A. Clippers32-5029-5319-6323-5940-4232.5234.878
Washington Wizards23-5926-5619-6343-3941-4127.6437.074
Memphis Grizzlies46-3640-4224-5822-6022-6044.7137.5620
New York Knicks42-4029-5332-5023-5933-4941.8638.7817
New Jersey Nets24-5812-70a34-4841-4149-3328.4539.025
Milwaukee Bucks35-4746-3634-4826-5628-5446.7441.2110
Charlotte Bobcats34-4844-3835-4732-5033-4945.9343.419
Oklahoma City Thunder55-2750-3223-5920-6231-5152.0343.6524
Golden State Warriors36-4626-5629-5348-3442-4036.9944.1411
Indiana Pacers37-4532-5036-4635-4741-4142.6844.1415
Toronto Raptors22-6040-4233-4941-4147-3538.6144.633
Philadelphia 76ers41-4127-5541-4140-4235-4744.344.8716
Miami Heat58-2447-3543-3915-6744-3860.1650.4828
Detroit Pistons30-5227-5539-4359-2353-2939.0250.737
Atlanta Hawks44-3853-2947-3537-4530-5258.5351.4618
Portland Trail Blazers48-3450-3254-2841-4132-5061.7854.8721
Chicago Bulls62-2041-4141-4133-4949-3358.5355.1230
New Orleans Hornets46-3637-4549-3356-2639-4353.6555.3619
Cleveland Cavaliers19-6361-2166-1645-3750-3259.3458.782
Utah Jazz39-4353-2948-3454-2851-3156.9159.2612
Houston Rockets43-3942-4053-2955-2752-3056.0959.7514
Denver Nuggets50-3253-2954-2850-3245-3763.8261.4622
Phoenix Suns40-4254-2846-3655-2761-2156.9162.4313
Boston Celtics56-2650-3262-2066-1624-5868.2962.9225
Orlando Magic52-3059-2359-2352-3040-4269.163.623
L.A. Lakers57-2557-2565-1757-2542-4072.7667.826
San Antonio Spurs61-2150-3254-2856-2658-2467.0768.0429
Dallas Mavericks57-2555-2750-3251-3167-1565.8568.2927