Projecting Draft Slots for the 2015 NBA Draft

We're halfway through the NBA season. How do our rest-of-the-season projections affect the upcoming 2015 NBA Draft?

There’s always a point during every NBA season where teams have to decide who they are –- do they want to be competitive and try to finish the year strong, or is it time to look ahead to the NBA Draft in the summer? Last night’s game between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers was certainly a matchup between two teams in that latter group: the tankers.

According to our ROS projections here at numberFire, that game, along with Dallas’ beat-down of Minnesota, changed the lottery odds. Before last night, we had the Knicks projected for the lowest record and highest chance at the number-one pick. The Timberwolves were second and the 76ers were projected to have the third-worst winning percentage at season’s end. As you can see, that is now changed.

TeamProj. Win%Proj. SeedProj. OverallProj. Draft SpotKeep/Goes To...
Golden State Warriors0.7521130Keep
Atlanta Hawks0.7121229Nets
Portland Trail Blazers0.6442328Keep
Dallas Mavericks0.6403427Keep
Memphis Grizzlies0.6324526Keep
Los Angeles Clippers0.6275625Celtics
Houston Rockets0.6166724Lakers
Washington Wizards0.6152823Keep
Toronto Raptors0.6103922Keep
San Antonio Spurs0.59871021Keep
Chicago Bulls0.59141120Cavaliers
Phoenix Suns0.55781219Keep
Oklahoma City Thunder0.550-1314Keep
Cleveland Cavaliers0.52951418Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks0.50661517Keep
New Orleans Pelicans0.504-1613Rockets
Charlotte Hornets0.45671716Keep
Miami Heat0.45481815Celtics
Denver Nuggets0.444-1912Keep
Detroit Pistons0.441-2011Keep
Brooklyn Nets0.440-2110Hawks
Sacramento Kings0.411-229Keep
Indiana Pacers0.410-238Keep
Boston Celtics0.399-247Keep
Utah Jazz0.379-256Keep
Orlando Magic0.370-265Keep
Los Angeles Lakers0.345-274Keep
New York Knicks0.262-283Keep
Minnesota Timberwolves0.257-292Keep
Philadelphia 76ers0.252-301Keep

This brings up an interesting point regarding the draft –- in terms of odds to get the number-one pick, it really pays to be the worst team. However, when you have three teams as bad as the Timberwolves, Knicks, and 76ers are this year, it might come down to just a game or two. Does it really make sense for a team with just one more loss on the year to have nearly twice the odds as the second-place team?

Another draft pick will likely be decided in the last week of the season. After wins by both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns last night, our ROS projections have the Suns narrowly getting the eight seed and the Thunder missing the playoffs. If the Suns had blown their game late to the Trail Blazers, it would’ve switched the two teams’ projections. That’s how close it is in the West.

And because it’s the West, the difference between making the playoffs as the number-eight seed and missing it as the ninth will mean a five spot difference in draft order. This is due to the lottery system -– the lottery picks (top 14) are reverse order of record of non-playoff teams, and for picks 15-30, it’s then reverse order of playoff teams. If the Thunder miss the playoffs, they’ll be the last lottery team at 14, while making it would vault them ahead of inferior East playoff teams, and likely slot them in at the 19th pick.

That distinction is important this year, as the Thunder owe Denver a first-round pick that is top-18 protected. The last game of the season could likely determine whether Denver gets two first-round picks this year or just one. Having two is obviously helpful if they want to package something together to move up in the draft or acquire a player via trades this summer.

Right now we have the Lakers in the fourth-pick spot, however, if they fall just one spot to fifth, that puts them in dangerous territory in lottery selection night. If they have the fifth-worst record (their pick is top-five protected), then all it takes is one team above them to jump into the top three, like Cleveland did last year. If that happens, it will bump them to the sixth pick, and it will then convey to the Suns. The Kings are in the same spot, although the stakes are less high as theirs is top-10 protected instead of top five.

The most interesting story -– or depressing one, really -– is the pick swap between the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets from the Joe Johnson trade years ago. Before the year, this looked like a pick that would be swapped, but it wouldn’t be that big of a deal –- most projections had both Atlanta and Brooklyn in the 10-20 range of the draft.

Not anymore. With the Hawks resurgence and Brooklyn’s struggles (not to mention their active shopping of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez), the picks swapped are likely going to be quite a huge disparity. As of now, our projections have the Hawks finishing with the second-best record in the NBA, which would equal the 29th pick in the draft. We have Brooklyn projected for a top-10 pick. That means the Hawks would switch their essentially meaningless late-round pick for a top-10 one, and add a solid lottery player to an already talented roster.

There is obviously half a season left to play, so several of these projections could definitely change over the next couple of months. Regardless, it’s definitely interesting to monitor projected draft slots and who owes who first-round picks. As seen with the Hawks and Nets situation, there could be some huge ramifications this summer.