How the Rest of the NBA Season Can Impact the 2016 Draft
As you can imagine as the NBA season starts to wind down, the intensity level only rises.
After all, it's at this time of year that playoff teams, seeding and homecourt advantage all take shape. But, not every team has an NBA postseason to look forward to.
Teams who thought they'd be in the playoff hunt will find themselves on the outside looking in while others will wind up in the lottery, right where they expected to be back in October.
What (at least most of) these teams do have to look forward to is the coming NBA draft and the promise of new talent and new team vision. However, they don't have the luxury of looking past the rest of this season because so many things, including positioning and protected picks, can be affected by the last 20-plus games left on this season's schedule.
So, at this point in time, which teams should be extra attentive to not only their own but other teams' play down the stretch, and why? Those are the situations we're here to explore today.
The Lakers vs. The Suns
At 12-50, the Los Angeles Lakers are a near lock for a top-three pick come June. Realistically, the only team that can really hurt their chances of doing so are the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns are 15-46 and right on the Lakers' heels for the second overall pick -- not to mention they are set to play the Lakers head-to-head in two of their 21 games. It might not sound like much, but at the snail-like rate these two teams have been winning games, it could mean a whole lot to their lottery odds.
If that wasn't enough incentive for L.A. to lose games, if the odds are not in favor of the Lakers come lottery time, they could be in big trouble. If their pick falls within the 4 to 30 range in the first round of this year's draft, it is sent to the Philadelphia 76ers, who would be more than happy to take two of the top players in this year's draft. For the time being, Sam Hinkie has to be a Suns fan.
The Timberwolves vs. The Odds
Minnesota, with the fifth-worst record in the NBA, is more than likely headed for a top-five pick, but there is a slim (yet scary) chance they don't secure a first-round pick at all.
If the Timberwolves' pick, which will come via the lottery, lands at 13th or 14th (which is very unlikely), they'll be kissing it goodbye as it rides away into the arms of Danny Ainge and Brad Stephens in Boston.
Fortunately, Minnesota is more concerned with player development rather than winning games right now. For their sake, hopefully they don't develop too much before the end of the regular season. With the danger of losing a very valuable first-round pick while in the rebuilding process, they should be sure to secure the best odds possible before drawing their ping pong ball this summer.
The Nuggets Win, The Raptors Win More and The Knicks Lose...Again
By now, you know that the New York Knicks are a hopeless case for the 2015-16 season. What you might not know is that they're doomed for this year's draft as well.
It's going to be a close call, but if the Knicks somehow manage to out-lose the 24-37 Nuggets, the Nuggets will have the right to take that pick rather than their own. Even it is just a few places, that could be a very valuable trade-off for Denver.
No matter which team ends up with a higher pick, the Toronto Raptors are the real winner in this situation. Whichever pick the Nuggets don't choose will end up in the Raptors' lap to add to their very own first-round pick.
Kings vs. The Odds
Sacramento is practically out of the Western Conference playoff race at this point, so look to the horizon, Kings fans -- it's onto the draft. Time to start crossing your fingers.
If the Kings' lottery pick somehow ends up higher than the Sixers', no matter how much Vlade Divac might kick and scream, that pick will go to Philadelphia in a pick swap.
On the other hand, the Kings have to hope they don't drop too far in the lottery because, if the pick ends up between the 11th and 30th slots, it will be sent to the Bulls (via Cleveland). In order to avoid losing their first-round pick entirely, the Kings have to hope that the ping pong balls favor them as well as the Sixers on draft night. An ideal 1-2 punch would be the best case scenario for Sacramento to get the most out of their number-one pick.