As an Atlanta Hawks fan, there’s some schadenfreude going on with the Brooklyn Nets. Somehow Hawks general manager Danny Ferry Jedi mind tricked the Nets into taking Joe Johnson’s terrible contract and the right for the Hawks to switch first round draft picks with the Nets in 2014 and 2015. With Brooklyn, thought to be a top team in the conference, in a tailspin, and the Hawks playing well, things have gotten very interesting in a loaded 2014 NBA draft.
It’s in the Hawks best interest for Brooklyn to be terrible. The Hawks don’t attract top free agents, and their recent string of playoff appearances hasn’t allowed for high draft picks. Brooklyn is trying to buy a championship with veterans by sacrificing their future draft picks. The Johnson trade wouldn’t have mattered if they were winning, but holy oculus are the Nets in a free fall. I am positively salivating at the chance of Atlanta getting their pick, and at my peril (Jinx alert! Sorry, Al!), I’m looking at what could be in store if Brooklyn can’t get their act together this season.
The NBA Draft Lottery: An Explainer
The NBA draft is confusing enough that there usually needs to be an explainer. The non-playoff teams are thrown into a ping pong ball lottery, and they have a certain chance to receive the number first, second, or third pick. The worse the record, the bigger the chance. (The team with the worst record has a 25% chance to get the first pick.) After the first three picks are chosen through the ping pong balls, picks 4-14 are determined by the remaining teams’ records.
The lottery creates an incentive for teams to tank. Unless you can get three superstars to sign with your team at once, bottoming out for top draft picks a few years in a row is the best way to build a team. Unlike the other major team sports, a single player in the NBA can alter the history of the league, and those players are almost always in the top 10-15 picks. Tanking in the NBA is essential, important, and cynical, and the league is talking about a wheel-based system instead of a lottery.
The History of the Draft
The above chart shows the history of the modern lottery (1990-present) through winning percentage. Each black dot represents the draft pick and corresponding winning percentage for every lottery team. The red dot and line is the average winning percentage per pick since 1990. You can see that the average line is shaped like a check mark. Because of the lottery aspect of the top three picks, the fourth pick’s average winning percentage is less than one through three.
Where Brooklyn At?
As it currently stands, Brooklyn is a long shot to make the playoffs. Their odds to make it have fluctuated between 14-30% the last two weeks.The Hawks are near the top of the conference standings (their odds are 98.5% as of January 3), even though they stand no chance against the teams ahead of them, Indiana and Miami. You can see how Atlanta and Brooklyn have fared through the first 32 games of the season in the above chart.
The Nets’ projected record is a horrible 32-50 (0.390 winning percentage). Despite all of that, the Eastern Conference is so bad, they are only 2 games back from the final playoff spot. If they make the lottery (about a 70% chance based on their playoff odds), they are in line for the 10th draft pick at worst. No team but one with their current winning percentage of 0.344 has received less than the 9th pick. In fact, if their projected record comes true, they’ll almost certainly receive picks between 1-3 or 6-10. Embarrassing for the Nets franchise, lucrative for the Hawks.
Brooklyn being terrible is a boon for Atlanta. However, I’m trying not to get too excited. The NBA season is long. There are still fifty games left, the Hawks suffered a big injury (so has Brooklyn), and a small winning streak could throw BK back into the playoff hunt. They also have enough veteran talent that they should play better the rest of the way, but that’s what people thought when the season started. They have to prove it, and I, for one, hope they don’t *gets struck by lightning*.