With a 110-100 defeat in Toronto Monday night, the Milwaukee Bucks locked up the worst record in the NBA this season, and thus the most ping pong balls in the much-anticipated NBA draft lottery. That the Bucks won just 15 games should surprise nobody. Since the Bucks lost their backcourt last summer – Brandon Jennings was traded to Detroit, JJ Redick signed with the Clippers and Monta Ellis signed with Dallas – it was clear they were tanking in anticipation of one of the stronger and deeper drafts in at least a decade.
Of course, having the most ping-pong balls doesn’t mean the Bucks are a lock to win the No. 1 pick in the draft. The worst team has won the first pick just three times in 24 attempts. The team with the 3rd worst record has actually won the lottery the most times (six, including Cleveland last year). The team with the 5th worst record has won the lottery the next most times (five).
There are still two more days left in the regular season, but the tanking 76ers will definitely have the 2nd worst record in the NBA (18-63 with one game left). Spots 3-6 are a logjam (currently: Orlando, Boston, Utah, LA Lakers). Lakers fans couldn’t be happy with a 119-104 win over Utah Monday when Nick Young dropped 41 points; it probably ends up costing them a ping pong ball or two.
Jim Boeheim, the successful and sensitive Syracuse coach, didn’t think there was anyone in this draft “worth tanking for,” but half a dozen teams would disagree with him. For the first time in NBA history, the Lakers, Celtics and Knicks are missing the playoffs; two of those teams obviously tanked. (Reminder: I’m pro tanking.)
The top three picks in June are almost certain to be Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker, and I’ve thought that since February. Parker looked the most polished and NBA-ready at Duke; Embiid is a shot-blocking machine with nice upside; Wiggins, the most athletic of the three, has the highest overall ceiling.
The draft lottery is May 20th. I’m not attaching too much hyperbole to that date when I say it is a night that will significantly change the future of several NBA teams.
And for anyone who thinks the NBA draft lottery is fixed, you’ll have ammo for years if the Lakers and Celtics wind up in the Top 3.
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