Boston Celtics: 2014Jockeying
Now that the Celtics have lost the drawing, they will have 103 pingpong ball combinations (out of 1,000) at May's draft lottery, giving the team a 10.3 percent chance at the top overall pick and a 33.4 percent chance at a top-three pick. The real disadvantage is that Utah owns a tiebreaker over the Celtics and would select before Boston in the event that neither team leaps into the top three spots. The Celtics can pick no lower than eighth overall.
The Celtics and Jazz finished with matching 25-57 records, tied for the fourth-worst mark in the NBA. Ties in the lottery are broken by a random drawing.
Brooklyn and Washington finished with matching 44-38 records, and ties for non-lottery teams are broken by coin flip. By virtue of Brooklyn winning the flip, the Celtics will choose 17th overall with one of three future first-round picks acquired from the Nets in last summer's blockbuster trade.
Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren detailed the team's percentage at each pick on Celtics.com:
Pick 1: 10.3 percent
Pick 2: 11.1 percent
Pick 3: 12.0 percent
Pick 4: 0 percent
Pick 5: 23.7 percent
Pick 6: 34.2 percent
Pick 7: 8.2 percent
Pick 8: 0.3 percent
The Celtics and Jazz will split 207 ping-pong ball combinations with a random drawing to see who gets the leftover combo (and the higher pick in the event neither vault into the top 3 spots). Both teams will own roughly 33.7 percent chance at a top-3 pick and a 10.4 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick. Boston can pick no lower than eighth in June's draft.
The Celtic entered the final night with the fifth-worst record in basketball, but were aided by a Los Angeles Lakers victory over the San Antonio Spurs as well as Utah's double-overtime triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
What's more, with Washington's win over Boston, coupled with Brooklyn's loss in Cleveland, the Celtics will pick as high as 17th in June's draft with the Nets' pick received in last summer's swap. A coin flip will break the tie between the Nets and Wizards, who both finished at 44-38, meaning Boston will pick 17th or 18th overall with that selection.
Boston watched its two-game winning streak end Monday in Philadelphia as the 76ers withstood the Celtics' fourth-quarter surge and emerged with a 113-108 triumph at Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics stand in sole possession of the fifth-worst record in the NBA, which would give the team a 29.1 percent chance at a top-three pick and an 8.8 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick.
A look at the full lottery standings through Monday's games, thanks to our friends at Tankathon:
With the Lakers' triumph over the Jazz on Monday, Boston has a one-game cushion on both sides with a single game to play. With a loss on Wednesday against the Washington Wizards, the Celtics would assure themselves of no worse than the fifth position.
The final-day schedule: The Celtics host Washington; the Jazz visit the Minnesota Timberwolves; and the Lakers trek to meet the San Antonio Spurs.
If Boston finishes in a tie with Utah for the fourth-worst record, the two teams would split the lottery probability for those two spots -- meaning each team receives 103 pingpong combinations (out of 1,000). One extra combination is awarded to the team that wins a random drawing, and that team will also pick first if neither team vaults to a top-three pick.
Likewise, if the Celtics and Lakers end up knotted for the fifth-worst mark, the two teams would each receive 75 pingpong balls and draw for the extra combo and the tiebreaker.
The Wizards will have motivation to end Boston's season with a loss as they jockey for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Washington needs a win Wednesday to assure itself the sixth seed in the East, which would mean the Wizards would avoid a first-round matchup with the Miami Heat.
Regardless of Wednesday's finale, the Celtics will finish the season with the third-worst winning percentage in franchise history. Boston already owns one win more than the 2006-07 entry that went 24-58. That year, Boston's record was good enough to easily have the second-worst record in basketball (though the pingpong balls defied them and the Celtics landed the fifth pick).
If the Lakers had defeated the Jazz on Monday, Boston would have been in a three-way tie for the fourth-worst record in basketball. In that instance, the Celtics' chances at a higher pick would have been only marginally better (90 pingpong combinations) and the Celtics would have been at the mercy of a random drawing to determine if Los Angeles or Utah would be in front of them for tiebreaking purposes.
The Celtics have one more game to go in this frustrating season, and then all eyes can lock on May 20, when draft position will finally be determined at the lottery drawing.
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are the two most decorated franchises in NBA history, combining for 33 of the the league's 67 championships. But now, with matching 25-55 records, the two teams and their .313 winning percentages, are tied for the fifth worst record in basketball with two games to play. A look at the lottery standings, through Sunday's action, from our friends at Tankathon:
If the season ended today, the Celtics and Lakers would be splitting 151 ping-pong ball combinations and flipping a coin to see who gets the additional combos (and who goes first in the event that both teams are outside a top 3 spot).
According to ESPN Stats and Info, the only instance in which both teams missed the postseason in the same year was during the 1993-94 campaign. Both squads emerged with lottery picks and Boston took Eric Montross at No. 9, while the Lakers picked Eddie Jones at 10.
What's more, in the common draft era (since 1966), the Lakers and Celtics have both picked in the top 10 just twice: 1994 and 1966. It should be noted, of course, that there were only 10 teams in the league in 1966.
This has caused all sorts of consternation for some denizens of Celtics Nation who worry that Boston's recent winning streak -- which might extend with Monday's visit to the Philadelphia 76ers -- could diminish the team's chances of landing an impact player in June's draft.
So it made us wonder: Just how much difference is there between Boston's potential landing spots? Here's a glimpse at the breakdown of percentages based on where the Celtics can finish (with two games to go, they are guaranteed to land somewhere between third worst and tied for sixth worst) with percentages for a top three spot, the No. 1 overall pick and the absolute worst spot it could finish if three teams below them vaulted into the top three lottery spots.
Keep in mind, that ties are broken by a coin flip with the winning team not only earning the extra ping-pong combinations, but slotted to receive the higher draft pick in the event that neither of the tied teams lands in the top three. Therefore, there are slight differences in the percentages below based on those ties (we gave the odds for the coin-flip winner below):
Hollinger's playoff odds currently project Boston to finish 26-56 and tied with the Lakers for the firth-worst record in basketball. Pending the coin flip, Boston would have approximately a 25.5 percent chance at a top three spot and a 7.6 percent chance at the top overall pick.
What does it all mean? It'll be hard for some to swallow the notion that Boston sacrificed a 20 percent chance at a top-three pick -- and halved its shots at the No. 1 overall selection -- because of its late-season surge.
But what's prudent to keep in mind is that Boston has been scorned by the ping-pong balls in the past. The team has positioned itself to navigate this transition process without relying on luck. Sure, vaulting to a top spot wouldn't hurt, but at the end of the day, you're leaning on chance a bit regardless -- and past history tells us that teams often make the jump into the top three.
Brad Stevens has said much of the year that he aims to control what he can control. The Celtics can't control how the ping-pong balls with play out, so Stevens has remained focused on trying to get as much out of his team as possible.
If disaster strikes and the Celtics get, say, the eighth overall pick this season, there will be plenty of second-guessing. Ultimately, it's probably not worth sweating right now. The Celtics seem content to let the chips fall where they may and they've got plenty of available assets if they desire to change their selection spot in June.
The Celtics are only a half-game in front of the Lakers with two games to play. Boston is idle on Sunday, but will have an eye on the out-of-town scoreboard as the Lakers host Memphis (while Orlando visits Brooklyn).
Boston was tied with Orlando for the third-worst record in basketball before the weekend and owned as much as a 42.6 percent chance at a top 3 pick and a 13.7 percent chance at the top selection. Those percentages are down to 29.1 percent for a top 3 selection and 8.8 percent for the top spot now that Boston sits alone at the fifth-worst record.
The Celtics entered the day tied with the Orlando Magic for the third-worst record, but both Orlando and Utah lost on Friday, causing Boston to slide. The latest look at the lottery standings from our friends at Tankathon, with probabilities for top picks in next month's lottery:
A reminder: Any tie in lottery standings see the teams split the total number of available ping-pong combos (with any leftovers determined via coin flip).
On Saturday, the Celtics visit the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Utah visits the Denver Nuggets. Orlando is idle.
If the regular season ended today, the Celtics and Magic would split the probability between the third and fourth positions, leaving each team a roughly 42.5 percent chance at a top 3 pick (and a 13.7 percent chance at the top overall selection). If there's separation between the two teams before the end of the season, the difference between the two spots is noticeable. A sole third-place finish ups the chances of a top 3 pick to 46.9 percent and of the No. 1 pick to 15.6 percent (while the fourth-place finisher falls to 37.8 percent for top 3 and 11.9 percent for No. 1).
Just keep in mind that, unlike playoff position, lottery ties see teams split the available number of ping-pong ball combinations (with any odd-number leftovers determined via coin flip, leaving slight differences in the two teams' probabilities).
What's more, the Celtics are set to receive Brooklyn's first-round pick, which is just about locked into the 18th spot at this point after Wednesday's loss.
With a nod to our friends at Tankathon, here's the latest look at the updated lottery standings:
And a look at the remaining schedules for Boston, Orlando, and Utah:
• BOSTON: CHA, @CLE, @PHI, WAS
• ORLANDO: WAS, @BKN, @CHI, IND
• UTAH: POR, @DEN, LAL, @MIN
The question with Orlando is if any of the playoff-bound opponents will sit their starters, opening the gate to potentially steal more victories. The final week of the season won't lack for drama, even for teams whose seasons will end on Wednesday.
[Update: Hat tip to the eagle-eyed commenters who noted the Nets pick is 18th because whoever missed the playoffs from the Western Conference will drop to the lottery despite a better record than the Nets.]
The Celtics have an easier schedule than Orlando the rest of the way, which will make it difficult to get into the bottom three. The more interesting area to watch might be if Boston can fend off Utah. The two teams have spent recent weeks sharing that spot, but the Celtics cleared some space this weekend. The Jazz visit Golden State on Sunday night, while Boston is off again until Wednesday.
• RAPID REACTION: Boston's easier schedule still leaves them projected to climb a bit and the question is whether they'll be jockeying with Utah for that fourth spot, or with the Lakers for the fifth. The Celtics players and coaching staff still desperately crave victories, particularly after a string of tough recent losses (ignoring Wednesday's thumping in Washington), but every win the rest of the way could alter the probability of landing a top spot.
Over the final 16 days of the regular season, we'll take a glance at how the standings are shaking down after each Celtics game and keep an eye on where Boston might land. Here's a glimpse of the standings entering the games on April 1:
• RAPID REACTION: Things remain fluid in the middle of this pack and, as Hollinger's projection shows, there's unlikely to be much simulation between Orlando, Utah, Los Angeles, and Boston. What's working against the Celtics is a very easy schedule. As our friends at CelticsBlog noted, the winning percentage of Boston's remaining opponents is a mere 0.394. There's a very good chance that Boston, competitive until the final moments of recent games against quality competition, could emerge with a couple wins before season's end that might drop them in the ping-pong ball quest. Let's remember that Boston has not shied from a desire to win games, believing that victories help a young team more than an increased probability at a high pick. That said, there's a clear value in being among the bottom 5 teams, just take a glance at draft position probability by position (assuming no ties):
Even die-hard Celtics supporters might be content to hibernate for the final 21 games of the regular season and rise on May 20 when the annual pingpong-a-palooza will determine where the Celtics will pick in this year's NBA draft.
Recalling those fleeting visions of Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant in green, you know by now that the NBA determines its draft order by a lottery process. Teams with the worst records have the best chance at a top spot, but those pingpong balls have a mind of their own.
It's worth noting that the worst record in basketball hasn't landed the top pick in the draft since 2004 (Orlando Magic). In fact, over the past nine years, here's a quick rundown of where the team that emerged with the top pick ranked in the final standings:
2013: Cleveland Cavaliers (3rd-worst record)
2012: New Orleans Hornets (tied-3rd worst)
2011: Los Angeles Clippers (8th worst)
2010: Washington Wizards (5th worst)
2009: Los Angeles Clippers (tied-2nd worst)
2008: Chicago Bulls (9th worst)
2007: Portland Trail Blazers (6th worst)
2006: Toronto Raptors (5th worst)
2005: Milwaukee Bucks (6th worst)
Over the past decade, that averages out to teams with the fifth-worst record in basketball claiming the top spot.
That's part of the reason the Celtics haven't been afraid to win games this season. As hard as teams try to lose to better their draft position, the pingpong balls often have a way of scorning them (as the 1996-97 and 2006-07 Celtics know too well).
But it's undeniable that the lower you finish in the regular-season standings, the more likely you are to have a decent pick (even if you get leapfrogged along the way).
Here's what we know about the 2014 draft lottery: The bottom two positions are likely cemented. Milwaukee is 12-48, and even after gutting its roster and with the potential it might not win another game this season, Philadelphia (15-46) will be hard-pressed to make up the 2½-game difference on the Bucks.
The standings are a bit more cluttered from there. The Orlando Magic (19-44) own the third-worst record in basketball and have a two-game cushion over the Celtics (including three games in the loss column).
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