We’ve heard, for the last two years or so, all about how awesome the 2014 draft class will be. People have apparently cooled on it since the start of the college basketball season, but the general consensus is that Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and company will be solid at worst and excellent at best.
That makes it somewhat odd that so many teams owe picks to other teams this year. Though, then again, as we’ve previously discussed, NBA GMs seem to have an addiction to trading picks, so maybe it’s not that odd after all. According to RealGM’s excellent database of who owes draft picks to whom, there are 15 first round picks that could, in theory, change hands this summer. For those of you who don’t care for math, that’s fully half the first round. The second round is even crazier, to the point where trying to track who’s sending picks where made my nose start bleeding, so we’ll leave that aside.
Here’s the draft order as it exists right now, today, at this very instant:
There are 15 teams who definitely own their 2014 first rounder, barring a trade this summer: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, both Los Angeles teams, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, Orlando, Phoenix, San Antonio, Toronto and Utah. Oddly, most of those teams are either definite playoff teams or in the race for a playoff spot, which is the opposite of what you’d expect. Of course, it’s not quite that simple, but still.
There are a further six teams that would pick in their own spots as thing stand today: Atlanta, Denver, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Sacramento. Atlanta has the right to swap picks with Brooklyn thanks to the Joe Johnson trade, but Atlanta’s pick will almost certainly come first this year, so they won’t be doing that. Denver gets a pick from the Knicks for sure, but it conveys the worst of that pick and its own to Orlando as part of the Andre Iguodala/Dwight Howard/Andrew Bynum trade, and that would be the Knicks pick as of right now.* Detroit and Minnesota owe picks to Charlotte and Phoenix, respectively, and both are protected such that both teams would just barely retain them based on today’s standings. That, however, depends on lottery luck. If the team that loses the deathmatch between Golden State, Phoenix, Dallas and Memphis for the final West playoff spot were to defy the odds and snag a top-three pick in the lottery, both teams would lose their picks. And in the Pistons’ case, they would lose their pick if any of the teams slotted 9-14 were to move into the top three. Philadelphia and Sacramento both sit well below the threshold for conveying their picks and basically can’t lose them.
*The Knicks are in a virtual tie with the Hawks for the final East playoff spot as of this moment and are ahead by percentage points, giving them the 15th pick, but if they end up tied, the Hawks would own the tiebreaker because of conference record. If the Knicks miss the playoffs, it’s entirely possible that their pick would be slightly higher than Denver’s, but it depends. Denver’s actually a half-game better in the standings, but would pick higher right now. The East!
That leaves nine teams that would give up their picks: Brooklyn, Charlotte, Dallas, Golden State, Indiana, New Orleans, New York, Portland and Washington. Of those, only Dallas is in any real doubt, as Dallas owes a top-20 protected pick to OKC, which they would keep if they wind up on the short end of that deathmatch I mentioned earlier. New Orleans technically could keep its pick if the ping pong balls bounce its way and it snags a top-three pick, but those aren’t great odds.
So what does that mean for the draft? Two things: first, as things stand right now, there are seven teams that have multiple picks, and three of them are playoff teams or close to it. Multiple picks generally allows teams to take more risks, so it’s possible that we’ll see a couple of prospects go a little higher than we expect because teams are gambling on upside. Alternatively, those playoff (or near-playoff) teams could take players who are more polished and could help right now. Either way, it lends a bit of unpredictability to the draft, which is fun.
Second, the prospects can feel better about themselves. That’s because there’s a good chance that even later picks would go to rebuilding teams where they would see decent playing time. Current lottery teams control 19 of the 30 first rounders, which you may notice is more than the usual 14. If we consider Charlotte a de facto lottery team — which feels mean, but they would be if the East didn’t suck — then it’s 20. So, two-thirds of this year’s first rounders will go to teams that will want them to play and develop, and the other third will go to playoff teams who generally seem to know how to develop younger players.
Now we just have to wait until June.