There were five protected first-round picks that appeared up for grabs a month ago when I last looked at the 2014 selections that could change hands. Now, there are only two. The Pistons have little to play for, suggesting their free fall will help them keep their pick, protected for the top-eight selections, from going to the Bobcats. The Mavs, fighting for a playoff spot, are in a much more intriguing position, with their pick headed to the Thunder if its not in the top 20.
Dallas sits 22nd in our Reverse Standings, and the Mavs are in line for the seventh playoff seed in the Western Conference. They’re also just a half-game up on the Grizzlies and Suns, who are tied for eighth. Missing the playoffs would guarantee that Dallas keeps its pick, but that’s clearly not the ideal outcome for the franchise.
The disparity between the conferences has much to do with the uncertainty. Normally, a team with the ninth-best record in the league would be a shoo-in for the playoffs, but that’s not the case this year. Dallas has a better record than all but two Eastern Conference teams, and that could still be true even if the Mavs miss the playoffs. The Bulls and Raptors are tied for 19th and 20th in our Reverse Standings, and their records are a game and a half inferior to Dallas’ 45-31 mark. Memphis, at 44-31, is a game better than the Bulls and Raptors, but the Grizzlies would be out of the playoffs if they started today.
In all likelihood, either the Bulls or Raptors will have to finish well to give the Mavs a shot to make the playoffs and keep their pick. It would help the Mavs if they, the Suns, and the Grizzlies all struggle in the season’s final days, but that seems unlikely, given their strong records and how much is at stake.
It’s so much simpler for the Pistons. They’ll be rooting for the Cavs, who are ninth in the Reverse Standings, to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race and keep winning. The Pistons have a realistic shot to finish with the sixth-worst record in the league. If they finish in the eighth position, they’d run a slight risk of having a team behind them in the order jump ahead of them during the May 20th draft lottery.
The fate of the rest of the picks is more or less decided. The Timberwolves sit 13th in the Reverse Standings, and they’d have to give their pick to the Suns if it’s No. 14 or lower. But, Minnesota is six and a half games worse than Memphis, which is currently in the 14th spot. It appears that unless the Grizzlies, or whoever finishes in the 14th spot at the end of the regular season, gets incredibly lucky in the lottery, the Wolves will keep their pick.
Here’s a rundown of all the protected picks, sorted by the likelihood that they’ll change hands:
Up in the air
- Detroit Pistons (to Bobcats if not in top 8). Current projection: tied for 7th/8th.
- Dallas Mavericks (to Thunder if not in top 20). Current projection: 22nd.
Will change hands (mathematically certain)
- Washington Wizards (to Suns if not in top 12). Current projection: 17th.
- Indiana Pacers (to Suns if not in top 14). Current projection: 26th.
Likely to change hands
- New Orleans Pelicans (to 76ers if not in top 5). Current projection: 10th.
- Charlotte Bobcats (to Bulls if not in top 10). Current projection: 16th.
- Portland Trail Blazers (to Bobcats if not in top 12). Current projection: 24th.
Unlikely to change hands
- Minnesota Timberwolves (to Suns if not in top 13). Current projection: 13th.
- Sacramento Kings (to Bulls if not in top 12). Current projection: tied for 7th/8th.
Will not change hands (mathematically certain)
- Philadelphia 76ers (to Celtics if not in top 14). Current projection: 2nd.