Breaking down how bad the Celtics will need to be to grab a top five lottery spot
If you're anything like me, this Celtics season has become a constant analysis of where the team stands in the lottery standings. The Celtics 3-18 stretch over their last 21 games has quickly morphed them from "division title contender", all the way down to Wiggins Watch contender. As exciting as it is to watch Gerald Wallace, Phil Pressey and Chris Johnson - a lot of my attention is on the future.
At the moment the Cs sit in the #4 position in the tank standings, with the #3 spot on the line tonight vs the Sixers. Most definitely a high point in the Boston-Philadelphia rivalry.
And one question I've had on my mind for the past few weeks is how many losses will it take to grab a top five spot in the lottery? How about top three? The number one spot?
Therefore I thought it would we a worthwhile exercise to take a look back at some recent NBA seasons, and see how many losses the teams that grabbed the #1-5 lottery positions had. This will give us some historical perspective on just how many games the Celts will need to lose from here on out to earn themselves a maximum number of ping pong balls.
I went back to the 2004-05 season (nine seasons) because that's when the Bobcats joined the party, moving the NBA to it's current number of teams. Figured that's the best way to get a semi-accurate number.
Here's what I found.
Note: Numbers in bold are the draft lottery slot (1-5), numbers to the right are the number of wins the team in that slot had that season, starting in 2004-05 (far left) and finishing in 2012-13 (far right)
Note #2: The 2011-12 season was only 66 games, so for that season I took winning percentages and multiplied by 82.
#1: 13, 21, 22, 15, 17, 12, 17, 9, 20
Average season for a team in the number one spot: 16.2 wins - 65.8 losses
#2: 18, 23, 24, 20, 19, 15, 19, 25, 21
Average season for a team in the number two spot: 20.4 - 61.6
#3: 18, 26, 28, 22, 19, 25, 22, 26, 24
Average season for a team in the number three spot: 23.3 - 58.7
#4: 26, 26, 30, 22, 23, 26, 23, 26, 25
Average season for a team in the number four spot: 25.2 - 56.8
#5: 27, 27, 31, 23, 24, 26, 24, 27, 27
Average season for a team in the number five spot: 26.2 - 55.8
Ok, so over the last nine seasons it has taken 66 losses on average to get the #1 spot, 62 to get the #2 spot, 59 to get the #3 spot, 57 to get the #4 spot and 56 to get the #5 spot.
But with nearly 60% of the season behind us, it would be foolish not to take a look at where the current top five lottery teams stand in terms of winning percentage and factor that in as well.
The current #1 lottery team is Milwaukee, who is on pace to go 14.9 - 67.1
The current #2 team is Orlando, on pace to go 21.4 - 60.6
The current #3 team is Philly, on pace to go 25.5 - 56.5
The current #4 team is Boston, on pace to go 26.2 - 55.8
The current #5 team is Sacramento, on pace to go 28.0 - 54.0
So as you can see, besides the Bucks (#1 spot team), the other four spots are currently winning more games than we historically have seen out of those spots.
That's why I think it's fair to take an average of the two numbers (the average from the last nine seasons and the current pace of the team in that lottery slot this year) and create a "most likely scenario" for each of the top five draft spots.
For the #1 spot we have (16.2 + 14.9) / 2 = 15.6 wins (16-66 record)
For the #2 spot: (20.4 + 21.4) / 2 = 20.9 wins (21-61)
For the #3 spot: (23.3 + 25.5) / 2 = 24.4 wins (24-58)
For the #4 spot: (25.2 +26.2) / 2 = 25.7 wins (26-56)
For the #5 spot: (26.2 + 28) / 2 = 27.1 wins (27-55)
So with that in mind, how will the 15-32 Celtics need to finish to get each of these positions?
To get the #1 spot: 1-34 over their last 35 games.
#2 spot: 6-29
#3 spot: 9-26
#4 spot: 11-24
#5 spot: 12-23
Bottom line? Barring a Milwaukee hot streak the Celtics are dead in the water for that number one draft spot. The Celtics are bad, but the Bucks are horrific, and making up the current 5.5 game difference is too hard of a task to realistically expect.
The number two spot is also going to be really difficult, although if the Celtics can maintain their pace over the last 21 games (3-18, .143 winning %) the rest of the way, they'd actually finish 5-30. But it's difficult to imagine them staying this bad from here on out. Chances are they will eventually win a few games in a row, putting the number two spot on thin ice.
But once we get to #3-5 — we're in business. 9-26 is on the lower end of the realistic scale, but far from out of the question. Especially if Danny Ainge deals one or more of the Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries,Jeff Green trio.
And the 11-24 and 12-23 records that would allow them to hit the magic numbers for the 4/5 positions are actually exactly in line with the Celtics' current pace. If the Cs simply play to their current .319 winning % from here on out, they'll end up at 26 wins (11-24 the rest of the way), which is what history tells us it will take to maintain the #4 lottery spot.
Just for some perspective, if the Celtics do end up with the 4th-worst record, that would give them an 11.9% chance at winning the lottery, but more importantly, a 37.8% chance to land a top-three pick. If Boston is able to climb to the 3-spot, those odds increase to 15.6% and 46.9% respectively. Meanwhile if they fall to 5th they'll have an 8.8% shot to pick first, and a 29.4% chance to pick in the top three. So every spot they rise or fall impacts their chances of landing one of the three "premium" guys (Wiggins, Parker, Embiid) by around 8-10%. Pretty big deal.
Obviously this exercise is not a crystal ball. The Bucks or Magic could get red hot, or several teams with better records than the Celtics could completely implode. But history has always been the best predictor of the future, and history tells us the Celtics need to keep up their current pace (or ideally..get even worse) to maximize their chances at cashing in come draft time.