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The NBA Draft Lottery will be held tonight and if you’re anything like me you’ve probably spent a lot of time over the past week staring at the odds. However, those familiar tables of outcomes break the lottery up into discrete components. What if we start mixing and matching different probabilities to create some truly wild (if improbable) scenarios?
Golden State Warriors finish with the No. 1 and No. 4 picks
This is an absolute dream scenario for the Golden State Warriors and a nightmare for the rest of the league. It would require the Warriors winning the lottery outright (a 0.5 percent chance) and the Minnesota Timberwolves landing at No. 4 (a 9.6 percent chance), the highest possible slot where their top-three protected pick would still convey to the Warriors. The odds of those two things happening together is slim — we’d expect it to happen about five times in 10,000 iterations of the lottery — but I’m telling you there’s a chance.
The Warriors would get the opportunity to nab Cade Cunningham — a future star who can also help them chase a title next season — as well as take another swing at future upside with No. 4. Or they could take Cunningham and explore trade packages for the No. 4 pick that would help them add even more firepower for next season. It’s a scenario that could put the Warriors right back at the top of the Western Conference.
The Minnesota Timberwolves finish with the No. 1 pick, again
The Timberwolves won last year’s draft lottery and took Anthony Edwards, who finished his rookie season on a decidedly positive upswing. If the Timberwolves were to win again (a 9.0 percent chance) they’d keep their pick rather than convey it to the Warriors. They’d also be just the third team in NBA history to win the lottery in back-to-back years. The first was the Orlando Magic, who won in 1992 and 1993, selecting Shaquille O’Neal and then trading back to land Penny Hardaway. The other team to win back-to-back lotteries was the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013 and 2014. They selected Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins and then, in an interesting bit of irony, traded both players to Minnesota for Kevin Love. In addition, if the Timberwolves win the lottery they’d have three No. 1 overall picks on their roster for next season, pairing this year’s selection with Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Oklahoma City Thunder finish with the No. 1 and No. 5 picks
This scenario is considerably more likely than the Warriors ending up with No. 1 and No. 4 but it would still be a wild surprise. The Thunder would have to win the lottery outright (an 11.5 percent chance) and have the Rockets land at No. 5 (a 47.9 percent chance). The Rockets can finish no lower than No. 5 after finishing with the worst record in the league but they owe the pick (top-four protected) to the Thunder, which means this is the only scenario in which it actually conveys to Oklahoma City this year. We’d expect both things to hit in about 551 of 10,000 iterations of the lottery (a 5.51 percent chance).
The Thunder have an embarrassingly bright future with a borderline star already in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, promising young talents like Lu Dort, Darius Bazley and Aleksej Pokuševski, as well as six first-round picks and a pick swap with the Clippers in the next two NBA Drafts after this one. AND they’ll also be picking at No. 16 and No. 18 this year. Give Sam Presti this many swings and eventually a few are going over the fence.
The Central sweeps the top four in the NBA Draft lottery
The best team in the Central Division — the Milwaukee Bucks — are still playing for a chance at an NBA title. The rest of the division is focused on tonight’s NBA Draft lottery. There are a few different scenarios where the four Central teams finish with the top four picks in different orders but I think the most interesting is if they’re actually ordered by record, adding some competitiveness for next season by dispersing the best talent to the teams that need it most.
We’d expect this order — Detroit at No. 1 (a 14.0 percent chance), Cleveland at No. 2 (an 11.4 percent chance), Chicago at No. 3 (a 5.2 percent chance) and Indiana at No. 4 (a 1.4 percent chance) to occur about one time out of 100,000 iterations of the NBA Draft Lottery so we’re well into absurdist territory here. But this sure would give the division a lot of star power. Detroit gets Cade Cunningham, Cleveland gets Evan Mobley, Chicago gets Jalen Suggs, Indiana gets Jalen Green and the Milwaukee Bucks get a few more competitive games on their schedule next season.
Everything conveys, nothing conveys
For fans of both chaos and stability, there are a few different possibilities. There are essentially three picks that could change teams tonight depending on how the lottery order shakes out — the Rockets’ pick goes to the Thunder if they land at No. 5 (a 47.9 percent chance), the Timberwolves’ pick goes to the Warriors if they land outside the top three (a 72.4 percent chance) and the Bulls’ pick goes to the Magic if they outside the top four (a 79.8 percent chance). That means there’s a cumulative probability of 27.7 percent that all three picks change hands. On the flip side, there’s a 3 percent chance that none of the picks change hands.
We know the odds for tonight’s 2021 NBA Draft Lottery. But who should each team select if they pull off the miraculous and land the No. 1 pick?