The NBA regular season is now in its final week and ends Sunday, so teams are either jockeying for playoff or lottery positioning, whether they admit the latter or not.
Now that the Pistons have a player worth building with and around, they desperately must add to their evolving talent pool and will have a great chance to accomplish that this summer. But where they pick will depend on the 2022 NBA draft lottery May 17, and those odds will be determined by their final record.
The Pistons (23-56) have won three straight, including Sunday evening in Indiana, to break a three-way tie for the league’s worst record, and now, with three games remaining, are on the verge of falling out of a coveted top-three position. Thankfully, Oklahoma City also won Sunday, upsetting Phoenix, to keep pace with the Pistons.
The annual lottery is where we learn the official draft order for the 14 teams which missed the postseason — including those eliminated in the play-in tournament. This year’s draft is June 23.
The reward is shaping up to be massive, both figuratively and literally. The consensus top three prospects are all freshmen big men, though the order will continue to be heavily debated through the spring: Gonzaga power forward/center Chet Holmgren, Auburn power forward Jabari Smith Jr. and Duke power forward Paolo Banchero. Each brings different skills and holes, but each would be a talent boon to a needy team.
How it works
The NBA flattened the lottery odds beginning in 2019, so the lottery now determines picks 1-4 (instead of 1-3) to increase the volatility in hopes of weakening season-long tanking.
The three worst teams each have a 14% chance at landing the No. 1 pick and 52.1% chance at landing in the top four. If teams finish the regular season with the same record, they split the percentages to earn equal chances at moving up, but a coin flip — which takes place before the lottery — decides who gets the higher pick if neither jumps into the top four.
After the top four picks are decided, teams slot in reverse order of regular season standings, so the remaining team with the worst record picks fifth and so on. No team can drop more than four spots from their slot entering the lottery.
The Pistons entered last year’s lottery in second, won the lottery and the No. 1 pick to send off massive celebrations, and later selected Cunningham out of Oklahoma State.
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Here are the top eight in the lottery standings via Tankathon.com, ordered by winning percentage, with corresponding odds of earning a top-four pick and the No. 1 pick:
*Entering Monday’s games; GB = Games Behind
Team, Record, GB, Top 4, No. 1
1. Magic 20-59 — 52.1% 14%
1. Rockets 20-59 — 52.1% 14%
3. Pistons 23-56 3 52.1% 14%
4. Thunder 23-55 3½ 48.1% 12.5%
5. Pacers 25-54 5 42.1% 10.5%
6. Blazers 27-51 7½ 37.2% 9%
7. Kings 29-50 9 31.9% 7.5%
8. Pelicans (via Lakers) 31-47 11½ 26.3% 6%
The Pistons and Thunder are locked in a battle in the all-important 3-4 position, with the Thunder having one more game remaining than the Pistons.
The Pistons finish the season home vs. Dallas on Wednesday, home vs. Milwaukee on Friday, and at Philadelphia on Sunday. All three teams are in the top four in their respective conference and battling for seeding. It remains to be seen how the Bucks and 76ers will play those final games, so the Pistons may have more of a shot to win one of those than you might think.
The Thunder host Portland on Tuesday, then visit Utah on Wednesday, L.A. Lakers on Friday and L.A. Clippers on Sunday. That Blazers game is by far the most winnable; Portland has lost seven straight.
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