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March 22, 2012
Draft Projections
Who Picks Where?

by Kevin Pelton

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Earlier this week, in a series of pieces that ran on ESPN Insider, my colleague Bradford Doolittle looked at what the SCHOENE projection system has to say about the rest of the 2011-12 season. Using updated post-deadline rosters, he generated ratings for each team, then fed them into a simulation of the actual schedule to look at where teams might finish.

Bradford's focus, naturally, was on the playoffs. To complement his work, I wanted to focus on the opposite end of the spectrum. For fans in the Bay Area and Portland, the trade deadline was a signal that it's time to look ahead to the upcoming NBA Draft. Fans of other teams have had their eye on the lottery for months already. So I wanted to project where teams are likely to pick come late June.

Just like Bradford, I ran the simulation a thousand times to get a sense of the wide variety of possible outcomes. Every team finished in at least three different spots in the draft rankings, with teams in the middle seeing much more variation. Depending on the simulation, the Milwaukee Bucks picked as high as ninth and as low as 26th, the latter one time out of a thousand. (What an interesting season that must have been!) Let's take a look first at the lottery odds:

Team            LOT    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10   11   12   13   14
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Washington     100.0 49.7 37.0 12.8  0.4  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Charlotte      100.0 42.6 37.1 16.5  2.8  0.8  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
New Orleans    100.0  7.5 24.7 56.7  7.2  2.5  0.8  0.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
New Jersey     100.0  0.0  0.3  4.0 27.7 22.3 17.9 14.9  9.6  3.1  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Toronto        100.0  0.1  0.1  3.5 21.1 20.9 23.7 16.0 11.4  2.9  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Cleveland      100.0  0.0  0.3  3.1 16.3 19.9 19.9 20.7 14.2  5.3  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Detroit        100.0  0.0  0.3  2.9 18.4 22.5 22.3 18.6 11.8  2.8  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Sacramento     100.0  0.0  0.1  0.3  5.3  9.3 12.1 20.2 31.6 17.8  2.9  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0
Golden State   100.0  0.0  0.0  0.2  0.7  1.7  3.0  8.1 18.9 53.2 12.4  1.3  0.3  0.0  0.2
Phoenix         98.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  0.8  2.4 12.8 59.2 12.3  6.3  3.5  1.2
Minnesota       77.9  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  1.0  4.8 18.9 21.1 16.5 15.5
Utah            75.4  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  6.5 19.7 18.3 17.5 13.3
Portland        56.7  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.4  3.0 11.4 12.9 14.1 14.8
New York        50.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.4  4.6 15.6 13.9  9.0  7.0

Team            LOT    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10   11   12   13   14
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Denver          45.5  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  1.6  6.4  8.9 14.2 14.4
Boston          25.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  2.0  5.9  6.0  6.4  4.9
Memphis         20.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.2  1.8  3.5  7.0  8.1
Milwaukee       19.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.2  1.7  4.2  4.7  4.4  4.4
Houston         15.5  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  0.6  2.2  4.4  8.2
Dallas           9.5  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.9  0.4  2.2  6.0
Philadelphia     4.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.2  0.6  1.3  0.7  1.5
L.A. Clippers    0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.3
Atlanta          0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  0.0  0.0
Indiana          0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1

Nine teams never made the playoffs in any of the 1,000 simulations. The only surprise among this group is Cleveland. SCHOENE was dubious of the Cavaliers before the season and is even more skeptical following the Ramon Sessions trade. Since the Cavaliers are in 10th place in the East, there chances of a playoff spot are probably non-zero, but certainly not very good. The Phoenix Suns are another likely lottery participant, as their schedule is onerous the rest of the way and their statistics have never been particularly good.

We then have three teams (New York, Boston and Milwaukee) fighting for two spots in the East, with the Knicks most likely on the outside by this analysis, even after their recent Mike Woodson surge. The teams are close enough that could change in a hurry. In the West, four teams made the playoffs somewhere between 20 and 55 percent of the time. That Portland is in this group is a testament to both the randomness of the remaining schedule (the Blazers actually rate worse than the other competitors for the last two spots in the West) and the difficulty accounting for how motivated teams are to make the playoffs.

One last note is that SCHOENE has an odd affinity for the struggling Charlotte Bobcats, and therefore sees the Bobcats surpassing Washington the rest of the schedule to get out of the league's cellar.

Of course, this group is called the lottery for a reason, and this analysis merely shows the odds of beginning the lottery in each position. To calculate the chances of landing each pick, I applied the actual lottery odds to the percentages above. That yields the following chart:

Team            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10   11   12   13   14
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Washington    21.9 19.7 17.2 32.5  8.1  0.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Charlotte     21.0 19.2 17.0 31.1 10.1  1.4  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
New Orleans   16.8 16.4 15.7 24.1 21.2  4.7  0.9  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
New Jersey     8.0  8.7  9.5  3.7 16.7 20.5 16.6 11.2  4.4  0.5  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Toronto        7.5  8.2  9.0  3.0 13.8 21.5 18.8 13.0  4.6  0.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Cleveland      6.9  7.5  8.3  2.4 11.8 18.7 20.4 16.0  7.1  0.9  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Detroit        7.3  8.0  8.8  2.6 13.1 21.0 20.1 13.9  4.6  0.7  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Sacramento     4.4  4.9  5.6  0.6  4.4  9.5 16.7 28.1 20.2  5.0  0.6  0.0  0.0  0.0
Golden State   2.4  2.8  3.3  0.1  0.7  2.1  5.9 15.7 46.5 17.4  2.5  0.4  0.0  0.2
Phoenix        1.1  1.3  1.7  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.5  1.9 10.8 53.1 16.5  6.8  3.6  1.2
Minnesota      0.5  0.6  0.8  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.8  4.3 17.6 20.9 16.7 15.5
Utah           0.5  0.6  0.8  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  5.7 18.5 18.4 17.6 13.4
Portland       0.4  0.4  0.6  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.3  2.7 10.6 12.8 14.1 14.8
New York       0.4  0.4  0.5  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.3  4.1 14.6 14.0  9.2  7.0

Team            1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10   11   12   13   14
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Denver         0.3  0.3  0.4  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  1.4  6.0  8.7 14.0 14.4
Boston         0.2  0.2  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  1.8  5.5  6.0  6.4  4.9
Memphis        0.1  0.1  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.2  1.7  3.4  6.9  8.1
Milwaukee      0.1  0.2  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.2  1.5  4.0  4.7  4.4  4.4
Houston        0.1  0.1  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  0.6  2.1  4.3  8.1
Dallas         0.1  0.1  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.8  0.4  2.1  5.9
Philadelphia   0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.2  0.6  1.3  0.7  1.5
L.A. Clippers  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.3
Atlanta        0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  0.0  0.0
Indiana        0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1

The combination of two levels of uncertainty--the rest of the season and the lottery--tends to flatten these results. We can say with a good deal of confidence that Charlotte, New Orleans and Washington will pick in the top five. Meanwhile, the Phoenix front office can apparently already begin making plans for the 10th overall pick.

Now, let's flesh out this chart with the chances of teams picking 15-30:

Team            15   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29   30
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Phoenix        0.6  0.3  0.3  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Minnesota      4.2  6.0  4.4  2.6  3.2  0.9  0.5  0.1  0.1  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Utah           4.8  6.6  4.6  4.0  1.9  1.1  0.9  0.5  0.1  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Portland       5.5  9.6  8.2  7.9  4.9  3.3  2.9  0.4  0.3  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
New York      19.5  9.6  7.6  4.1  2.9  3.1  1.4  0.5  0.5  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Denver         7.6  8.3  8.5  8.5  7.4  5.5  4.7  2.2  1.2  0.2  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Boston        18.7 11.9 10.4  9.7  6.8  7.7  5.0  2.5  1.3  0.2  0.4  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Memphis        5.2  8.9 10.8 10.9 12.4 13.0 10.3  4.5  2.1  0.9  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Milwaukee     19.0 14.2 12.7 10.6  7.1  7.6  5.2  2.3  0.9  0.4  0.2  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Houston        4.8  8.3 11.6 14.9 14.5 14.5  9.5  4.1  1.6  0.4  0.2  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Philadelphia   7.1  8.7 10.8 11.1 13.4 14.1 14.8  8.8  4.0  1.8  0.7  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Dallas         2.3  6.3  7.2 10.9 15.5 14.9 15.8 10.7  4.0  2.3  0.5  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
L.A. Clippers  0.0  0.1  0.6  1.4  3.2  4.4  9.7 19.5 23.4 22.4 10.9  4.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0
Atlanta        0.4  0.6  1.4  1.7  4.6  5.3  9.9 20.5 22.3 17.4 12.4  3.2  0.1  0.0  0.0  0.0
Indiana        0.2  0.5  0.7  1.1  1.8  3.3  6.4 14.1 21.7 22.5 19.5  7.7  0.3  0.0  0.0  0.0
L.A. Lakers    0.0  0.0  0.1  0.3  0.2  1.1  2.5  7.9 13.7 21.9 30.3 17.5  4.0  0.4  0.0  0.0
Orlando        0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  0.1  0.4  1.3  2.6  8.4 20.4 53.6 12.7  0.3  0.0  0.1
San Antonio    0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  0.4  3.8 12.3 65.3 17.3  0.1  0.7
Oklahoma City  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  1.3 17.5 74.5  1.6  5.1
Chicago        0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.1  3.6 50.8 45.5
Miami          0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  0.0  3.9 47.5 48.5

The Bulls and Heat are fighting for the last two picks, with the Thunder overwhelmingly likely to pick 28th and the Spurs 27th. Before that, things get a bit more confusing. One thing worth noting is that the last two teams in the East playoffs will likely have worse records than the last two teams in the West, so expect the 13th and 14th picks to come from West teams and the 15th and 16th from the East.

The last thing worth considering here is how likely conditional picks are to change hands this season. Per Pro Basketball Transactions, a full third of this year's first-round picks have been traded conditionally. Let's take them from least likely to be conveyed to most likely.

0.0% - Charlotte to Chicago, Sacramento to Cleveland
Amazingly, the Bobcats aren't mathematically eliminated yet--their anti-magic number is seven--but they never made the playoffs in any of these simulations. Neither did the Kings. These picks will surely roll over another season.

24.6% - Utah to Minnesota
The Jazz owes the Timberwolves a first-round pick from the Al Jefferson trade if it makes the playoffs this year. In this simulation that happened a quarter of the time; given how Portland is overrated, you can probably boost those chances to closer to one in three.

33.3% - Dallas to Houston
The Rockets get the Mavericks' first-round pick through the Derek Fisher trade if the selection lands outside the top 20. That is very much still in doubt, happening almost precisely once in every three simulations.

73.7% - New Jersey to Portland
SCHOENE sees a Nets team with Gerald Wallace winning enough down the stretch to likely knock their pick out of the top three. That's exactly what the Blazers are hoping for, so they can get the selection they acquired in the Wallace deal this year. The most likely outcome has this pick landing somewhere from 5-7, which would allow Portland to add a promising talent.

82.7% - Golden State to Utah
As noted earlier, we can't account for teams' motivation the rest of the season. The Warriors front office surely wants to keep this pick, though it's unclear how much that will trickle down to Mark Jackson and his team. To some extent, it may be too late. The Warriors have been a bit too good to likely slip into the bottom seven draft picks and keep this pick.

84.5% - Houston to New Jersey
The Rockets surrender their first-rounder to the Nets if they make the playoffs, which is looking likely. Alas, Houston waived the player it got in return, wing Terrence Williams, just last week.

98.7% - New York to Houston
The good news is the Rockets will almost certainly get a pick back from New York and the Jared Jeffries trade. This selection is top-five protected, meaning the Knicks would have to completely collapse to hang on to it.

100% - L.A. Lakers to Cleveland, San Antonio to Golden State
The Lakers and Spurs played things uber-conservative by putting lottery protection on the picks they dealt away at the deadline. Neither team missed the playoffs in any of the simulations, though I suppose it never hurts to be cautious.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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