Wiggins Watch: The math behind the Celtics current lottery position, and why every loss matters
I was on vacation last week meaning it has been two weeks since a Wiggins Watch has been posted. In that time, the Celtics took advantage of an amazingly weak schedule to go 3-2 over their last five games before the All-Star break, falling one spot from fifth to sixth in this week's ranking.
Thankfully for the Cs, a bunch of other teams in the running for a top pick have won some games as well, meaning Boston really hasn't fallen very far off the pace (major exceptions: the tank machines in Milwaukee and Philly). And with the Celts ready to head out on a West Coast road trip — it's possible we look back at the mini-hot streak as a simple bump in the road. But before we dive into the tank race itself, let's catch up with our top prospects, some of which had a very interesting couple of weeks.
Julius Randle, Kentucky: 15.7 PPG, 10 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.8 BPG, 0.5 SPG 53% FG, 71% FT
Joel Embiid, Kansas: 10.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 1.3 APG, 0.8 SPG, 61% FG, 67% FT
Marcus Smart, OK State: 17.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.3 APG, 2.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 42% FG, 28% 3 PT
The big winner over the last 14 days is clearly Parker, who has rebounded from a mid-season lull to torch his last three ACC opponents to the tune of 24 PPG and 11 RPG. Parker gained a lot of attention for his demolition of Boston College (29 points, 16 boards, 3 blocks) as Danny Ainge was watching from the crowd (along with scouts from 22 NBA teams). He's by far the most polished and mature player on this list, and seems to be a stone cold lock to go in the top three.
Wiggins on the other hand has been flying under the radar, churning out four consecutive games between 14-17 points. The once consensus number one guy in NBA circles, Wiggins is now merely a consensus top three guy, an 18-year-old kid with huge talent who is struggling with both his consistency and his efficiency (last five games: 37% FG). Not every NBA star dominates as a Freshman (Paul George, Damian Lillard, Paul Pierce to name three), so those writing off Wiggins as an impact guy, or saying he's a "Jeff Green type" are really overreacting. He's immensely talented, but hasn't quite figured out how to channel those talents on a nightly basis. But just because he's struggling with that now, that doesn't he won't be able to do that when he's 21 or 22.
Wiggins' teammate, Embiid, has had a rough couple of weeks as he's been battling knee soreness. The Jayhawks big man averaged only 7.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 1.3 BPG over his last three games before being shut down against TCU on Saturday with the knee pain. He's expected to return this week, but we'll have to see if missing one game will help him return to his January form.
If Embiid had a rough couple of weeks, Marcus Smart had a disastrous stretch. He played well in two games, averaging 21 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 2.5 APG, but Oklahoma State lost both games he appeared in, running their losing streak to four games. At the end of a loss to Texas Tech, Smart pushed a Tech fan who called him something (Smart says he dropped the n-bomb, the fan says he called him a piece of crap. Either way we can agree the 50-year-old dude calling the 19-year-old either the n-word or a piece of crap is the real piece of crap), resulting in a three game suspension. Now, OK State has lost six in a row and seven of eight, falling right out of the projected NCAA tournament bracket. Smart is extremely talented, but he's shown an inability to control his temper this season, something that could hurt his draft prospects. Although if he doesn't start shooting the ball better (42% FG, 28% 3 PT) his play may do enough damage on it's own.
And then we have Randle, the quiet double-double machine from Kentucky who's numbers have been slowly tailing off throughout the season. The Wildcat big man is remarkably consistent, failing to reach double figures in points only three times in 25 games, and collecting 13 double-doubles along the way. He's not all that flashy, but he's athletic and can post you up and take you off the dribble. Combine that with his knack for rebounding (he's a high effort rebounder) and he's an amazingly safe guy to pick between 4-6. And it just so happens that he's currently projected to go to the Celtics with the 6th pick in a ton of Chad Ford's mock draft lottery scenarios.
Of course, these aren't the only five guys in the draft. There's also Dante Exum from Australia, Dario Saric from Croatia, Aaron Gordon from Arizona and Noah Vonleh from Indiana all projected to go in the top ten. As the college basketball season has progressed, the opinion on this year's draft has slowly changed from "amazing at the top with good depth", to "very good at the top with amazing depth". Some of that comes from Wiggins not living up to the ridiculous hype, but a most of it has to do with guys like Vonleh, Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Doug McDermott (Creighton) playing themselves into the lottery. Really good year for the Celtics to have two first rounders.
Ok, time to break down the teams themselves. Here are the top ten contenders for the top pick at the moment.
Note: The rankings are in terms of record, but I also will list the Hollinger lottery odds, former ESPN columnist (and current Grizzlies front office executive) John Hollinger's simulation system which predicts teams records based on their season thus far and upcoming schedule. The number you see after the Hollinger lottery odds is what place they rank in his system. 1. Bucks, 9-43 (Hollinger lottery odds: 24% - 1st)
The Bucks have won two basketball games in 2014. Two. In 21 tries. We all knew it would take a special tanking effort to get pole position in this year's draft — and man, the Bucks are special. They haven't won on the road since 2013, and despite the Sixers best efforts (more on this in a moment), have kept the entire NBA at arm's length for the #1 lottery spot, currently leading the field by an amazing five games. They're also on track to finish 49 (!!!) games behind the Pacers in the Central division (Indy is on track for 63 wins, Milwaukee for 14), which would be one of the largest gaps in NBA history. Hat tip Milwaukee — you truly are the worst.
2. 76ers, 15-39 (HLO: 19.5% - 2nd)
All season long, the Sixers have been outperforming their Pythagorean (or expected) Win-Loss based on their point differential. Meaning basically that a horrible losing streak was coming so that this truly awful basketball team's record could match their level of play.
That streak has commenced.
Philadelphia is 3-18 in their last 21 games, and 1-11 in their last 12. Had Evan Turner not hit a buzzer beater vs the Celtics, they'd have lost 12 in a row. And it's not just that they're losing, it's how they're losing. Last week they lost by 45 against the Clippers, and then the next night they lost by 43 against the Warriors. It was the worst two day span in NBA history (-88 combined points), and was quite an impressive way for the Sixers to announce their tanking presence with authority. Unfortunately for them, five games may be too much to make up on the Bucks. But they've assumed the position as the second worst team in the NBA — and don't expect that to change.
3. Magic, 16-38 (HLO: 11.6% - 3rd)
How bout them..Magic? Last week Orlando knocked off the two best teams in the NBA — Oklahoma City and Indiana — consecutively, perhaps the most impressive two game run in the NBA this season. Overall the Magic are 3-1 in their last four games, hopping the Sixers in the standings for the first time all season.
The Hollinger odds like Orlando to finish the season strong (relatively speaking), projecting the Magic to finish 11-17 in their last 28 games based on a weak schedule from here on out. If that were to happen, a lot of teams could have a shot at the #3 lottery position, the Celtics included.
But for now the three games separating Orlando from the #4 team are a nice little cushion — but they'd better stop beating the Thunder and Pacers of the world if they want it to stay that way.
T-4. Lakers, 18-35 (HLO: 8.8% - 4th)
How fun is that Friday night game against the Lakers going to be? Two teams currently separated by a mere half game in the tank standings, historic franchises looking to one up each other in the race to the bottom.
Oh that's right — not very fun at all.
As sad as it may be, many fans of the two greatest teams in NBA history are going to be hoping their team loses against it's arch rival to help fortify their lottery position.
Adding to the intrigue is that the game is taking place just one day after Thursday's trade deadline, meaning both teams could look drastically different. Pau Gasol could be gone, as could Rajon Rondo (unlikely, but possible). Both teams could also move role players such as Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Brandon Bass or Kris Humphries. As bad as both teams are now — they could be even worse by Friday night. Hell yea!
T-4. Kings, 18-35 (HLO: 5.4% - 8th)
The last time we did Wiggins Watch, I said that if the Kings could get healthy, they'd jump out of the top five. Well, they've gotten healthy, and have started showing signs of a team ready to make that jump. Not that they've been world beaters, but Sacramento is 3-3 in their last six games, beating the Bulls, Raptors and Knicks. Most importantly, the Kings are now finished with an absolutely brutal stretch of games in which they played 13 of 18 away from home. This young, offensively gifted team now comes home for four of their next six games before departing on an Eastern Conference road trip. If DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay can stay on the floor, I'd still be really surprised to see this team finish last in the West (they are currently tied with the Lakers for that distinction).
6. Celtics, 19-35 (HLO: 6.2% - 7th)
As we mentioned in the open, the Celtics have gotten pretty lucky over the last two weeks, as their 3-2 record has only caused them to lose ground on a few teams. The Magic, Jazz, Kings and Cavs have all won at least three games in the past two weeks, and even the Lakers managed to win two.
All of that means the Cs have successfully navigated the easiest stretch of their season in pretty solid lottery position. They're in sixth at the moment, but their one West Coast losing streak away from fourth (they play the Lakers, Kings and Jazz on the road in the coming week). Sure, a top three lottery position is unlikely (I wouldn't completely give up on third, but the top two are surely out of reach), but even with Rondo back in the fold the Celtics should lose a good amount of their remaining 28 games.
Just how important is it that the Celtics finish fourth in the lottery, compared to say, eighth? Incredibly important. Check out the odds for the #4 lottery spot (the Celtics best realistic spot) through the #8 lottery spot (the Celtics worst realistic spot).
4th worst team:
- 11.9% chance at #1 pick
- 12.6% chance at #2 pick
- 13.3% chance at #3 pick
- 37.8% chance at a top-three pick
- 84.8% chance at a top-five pick
5th worst team:
- 8.8% chance at #1 pick
- 9.7% chance at #2 pick
- 10.7% chance at #3 pick
- 29.2% chance at a top-three pick
- 55.2% chance at a top-five pick
6th worst team:
- 6.3% chance at the #1 pick
- 7.1% chance at the #2 pick
- 8.1% chance at the #3 pick
- 21.5% chance at a top-three pick
- 21.5% chance at a top-five pick
7th worst team:
- 4.3% chance at the #1 pick
- 4.9% chance at the #2 pick
- 5.8% chance at the #3 pick
- 15% chance at a top-three pick
- 15% chance at a top-five pick
8th worst team:
- 2.8% chance at #1 pick
- 3.3% chance at #2 pick
- 3.9% chance at #3 pick
- 10% chance at a top-three pick
- 10% chance at a top-five pick
Yikes. So the team with the fourth worst record (currently the Lakers) has 5x the chance at getting the #1 pick, 4x the chance of getting a top three pick, and 8.5x the chance of getting a top five pick than the team with the eighth worst record (currently the Cavs). And how far are the Cavs and Lakers apart in the standings? Precisely two games.
So yea, every loss matters. A lot.
7. Jazz, 19-33 (HLO: 6.3% - 6th)
Three straight wins by the Jazz before the ASB helped drop them from the fourth spot in these rankings all the way down to seventh. Which if you just read the last section, means that three game winning streak has the potential to be quite costly.
Utah is now 18-19 since their 1-14 start, a bitter sweet run that certainly must have Jazz fans excited as it has been led by their home grown players in Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors (not 100% home grown..but close enough). Unfortunately for Utah this group is also costing them a shot at filling in their one missing piece (small forward) with either Wiggins or Parker. But who knows, maybe the lottery Gods smile down on the Jazz for winning these games and give them a top three pick.
8. Cavs, 20-33 (HLO: 7.3% - 5th)
What the hell is up with the Cavs? Trade for Luol Deng - lose 10 of their next 14 games. Fire their GM and announce their entire team (minus Kyrie) was for sale - win four in a row to hurt their lottery chances.
Cleveland is now floating towards NBA purgatory, sitting in the #8 lottery position, but still sitting three games behind the Bobcats for the 8th and final playoff spot. There are now rumors that they'd be willing to trade Jarrett Jack for Jason Terry, a move that would make this team worse in the interim in exchange for cap space in 2015. But if Irving, Deng, Dion Waiters and (yes) Anthony Bennett keep playing like they have of late, the Cavs are too talented to finish with a top five lottery position. The question then becomes: are they good enough to catch not only Charlotte, but New York and Detroit as well? Hollinger's odds say it'll take 38 wins to grab the 8-seed, meaning Cleveland would need an 18-11 finish to return to the post-season. Hard to see that happening.
9. Nuggets, 24-27 (also known the 20-32 Knicks' pick) (HLO: 4.8% - 9th)
The big leapers since we last spoke are the Nuggets, who's two first round picks both have much rosier outlooks than they did two weeks ago.
Their own pick suddenly looks better after an injury to Ty Lawson and the announcement that JaVale McGee may miss the rest of the season (this along with the news that Danilo Gallinari will not return this year after all). Denver has lost four straight games, falling behind both Minnesota and Memphis in the standings, and moving to within striking distance of both New Orleans and Detroit.
Meanwhile, their pick from the Knicks continues to look better and better as the Knicks season long nightmare continues. New York is just 1-4 over the past two weeks, and now sets off on a four game road trip to start the season's second half.
The Knicks are amazingly only two and a half games out of the final playoff spot, but they're also only two and a half games away from having the fourth worst record in basketball. Needless to say, the next 30 games the Knicks play have enormous ramifications on the Nuggets.
10. Pistons, 22-30 (HLO: 2.5% - 10th)
Besides the Knicks, who are absolutely screwed, there are not many teams in worse position for the rest of 2013-2014 than the Pistons. They have a 34% chance of making the playoffs (according to the Hollinger odds), but if they make it they'll surely match-up with either the Heat or Pacers and get demolished.
On the flip side they have only a 2.5% chance of earning the #1 pick, and if they don't earn a top eight pick they must send their selection to the Bobcats. Meaning, the Pistons will very likely either barely miss the playoffs (and likely send the 9th or 10th pick to Charlotte), or make the playoffs only to get crushed in round one, and send the 15th pick to the Bobcats. Talk about a depressing next few months.
But hey, at least you guys have Andre Drummond. He's pretty awesome.