Traded First-Round Pick Exchange Scenarios

The season ends five weeks from Wednesday, and we still only know with 100% certainty that one first-round pick is changing hands. That’s the Nets pick that’s going to the Celtics without any protection. Every other first-rounder has some sort of protection involved, though the past several weeks since we last looked at traded first-round pick exchange scenarios have lent near-certainty to several possible outcomes. Five have become either overwhelmingly likely or unlikely to happen, and it’s become likely that the Heat will send their pick to the Sixers, an outcome we pegged as too close to call last time around.

Still, less certainty exists than last time around that Houston will send its pick to Denver, thanks to the up-and-down performance of the Rockets that has them in danger of missing the playoffs. The stretch run will resolve that matter, while other scenarios among the seven we list in the toss-up category below won’t become certainties until the lottery is over. Here’s a look at the chances that every possibility comes to pass:

  • Nets to Celtics (unprotected) — 100% certain to happen
  • Wizards to Suns (top-9 protected) — Likely to happen: Washington is four and a half games better than Sacramento, which occupies the ninth position in the reverse standings. The team entering the lottery at No. 10 stands only about a 4% chance of vaulting into the top nine, so the Wizards would have to lose that lead to have a realistic chance to keep their pick. They’re only a game and a half out of the playoffs, so any tanking is still probably a ways off.
  • Cavaliers to Suns (top-10 protected) — Overwhelmingly likely to happen: The Cavs would have to miss the playoffs to even have a chance of keeping their pick, so we can safely assume this one is headed to Phoenix.
  • Mavericks to Celtics (top-7 protected) — Likely to happen: The overtime loss Dallas suffered to the Nuggets on Sunday underscored the fact that the Mavs are no lock for the playoffs, but the fate of their pick is much more certain. The Mavs, up three in the loss column on ninth-place Utah, would still need a major lucky break in the lottery to end up keeping the pick if they miss the playoffs.
  • Heat to Warriors (Golden State gets Miami’s pick if it falls outside the top 10 and comes after Golden State’s pick and Oklahoma City’s pick) — Overwhelmingly unlikely to happen (flipped from unlikely to happen last time): A complicated set of scenarios surround this exchange, but essentially, the Heat would have to finish with a better record than the Warriors as well as the Thunder for this to happen. That’s out of the questions unless the Heat win all but one of their remaining games and the Warriors lose all but one of theirs. So, we can safely count out this scenario, and really, we could have called this one overwhelmingly unlikely some time ago.
  • Heat to Sixers (Philadelphia gets Miami’s pick if it falls outside the top 10 and comes before either Golden State’s pick or Oklahoma City’s pick) — Likely to happen (flipped from toss-up last time): This would-be swap is a corollary to the long-shot Heat/Warriors possibility described above. Since we can assume that scenario won’t happen, Philadelphia is in strong position to wind up with Miami’s pick. The Heat would have to miss the playoffs to have a shot at keeping it, but they’re up five games on the Bulls and Pistons, who are tied for the last playoff spot. They’re no certainty for the playoffs, but they’d still need to fall behind a few more teams or get lucky in the lottery to hold on to the pick.
  • Thunder to Warriors (Golden State gets Oklahoma City’s pick if it falls outside the top 15 and comes after Miami’s pick and Golden State’s pick) — Overwhelmingly unlikely to happen (flipped from unlikely to happen last time): This is another one related to the Heat/Warriors exchange above. The Thunder would have to catch the Warriors for this one to happen, and Golden State has a 13-game lead on Oklahoma City. The Warriors’ loss Sunday to the Lakers would have to be the harbinger of an epic collapse for this scenario to play out.
  • Thunder to Sixers (Philadelphia gets Miami’s pick if it falls outside the top 15 and comes before either Golden State’s pick or Oklahoma City’s pick) — Overwhelmingly likely to happen (flipped from likely to happen last time): Assuming the Thunder don’t send their pick to the Warriors, they’re almost certainly sending the pick to Philly. Oklahoma City, at 28-12, would have to miss the playoffs — or make the playoffs with the worst record among postseason teams — to keep the pick. The Thunder have a 12-game lead on the Rockets, currently the team with the worst record among those in the playoffs if they started today.
  • Warriors to Sixers (Philadelphia gets Golden State’s pick if it comes before either Miami’s pick or Oklahoma City’s pick, as long as Miami’s pick falls outside the top 10 and Oklahoma City’s pick falls outside the top 15) — Overwhelmingly unlikely to happen (flipped from unlikely to happen last time): The final of this string of five possible outcomes depends on whether the Thunder or the Heat can catch the Warriors, and as we noted above, Golden State is up 13 games on Oklahoma City, the closer of the two.
  • Rockets to Nuggets (top-14 protected) — Toss-up (flipped from likely to happen last time): This pick comes down to whether or not Houston makes the playoffs. Houston had a lead of four and a half games over ninth place the last time we did this exercise, and with the talent of the Rockets, that seemed safe. The current margin of one and a half games and the team’s continued inconsistency leave the fate of this pick uncertain.
  • Lakers to Sixers (top-3 protected) — Toss-up: The Lakers had the best of both worlds Sunday, when they beat the Warriors and the Suns also won to preserve L.A.’s margin of four and a half games for the second worst record in the league. Still, the Lakers know from last year, when they vaulted from the fourth position in the lottery to No. 2, that the fate of their pick largely comes down to ping-pong balls. The team with the second worst record entering the lottery has roughly a 43% chance of dropping out of the top three.
  • Grizzlies to Nuggets (Denver gets the Memphis pick if it falls anywhere from No. 6 to No. 14) — Unlikely to happen: The Grizzlies keep this pick if they make the playoffs, and while Sunday’s loss to the Suns is an inauspicious sign, Memphis is still seven and a half games up on ninth-place Utah. That should be enough of a cushion, even with Marc Gasol out for the season.
  • Timberwolves to Celtics (top-12 protected) — Overwhelmingly unlikely to happen (flipped from unlikely to happen last time): The mathematical chances that the lottery would drop the team that finishes with the 12th worst record into the 13th or 14th pick are only about 4%, and even lower for the team that finishes 10th or 11th worst. Thus, Minnesota would realistically have to climb out of the bottom 12 in the standings for Boston to have a shot at this pick, and the Wolves are 10 and a half games worse than 13th-place Washington.
  • Knicks to Nuggets (Denver gets the better pick of its own and New York’s) —Toss-up: The Knicks have but a half-game lead on the Nuggets, so this one is anyone’s guess.
  • Knicks to Raptors (Toronto gets New York’s pick if it comes after Denver’s pick) —Toss-up: The Raptors will end up with whichever pick the Nuggets don’t take in the pick swap described immediately above, so with precious little separation between New York and Denver, this one is just as hard to call.
  • Nuggets to Raptors (Toronto gets the Denver’s pick if it comes after New York’s pick) — Toss-up: See the explanation for the last two picks.
  • Trail Blazers to Nuggets (top-14 protected) — Toss-up: Denver gets this pick if Portland makes the playoffs. Three games separate the seventh-place Blazers from ninth-place Utah, but only two in the loss column, so it’ll be a close call.
  • Kings to Bulls (top-10 protected) — Toss-up: Sacramento is in a virtual tie with Milwaukee for the ninth and 10th places in the reverse standings, with only two games of separation between them and 11th-place Orlando. Throw in the roughly 9% chance the 10th-place team has of getting passed in the lottery, and this one’s far from decided.
  • Kings to Sixers (Philadelphia gets the better of Sacramento’s pick and its own if Sacramento’s pick falls inside the top 10) — Unlikely to happen: The Sixers are 18 games behind the Kings, but the capriciousness of the lottery helps keep this one from going into the overwhelmingly unlikely to happen category. Sacramento is only two games better than New Orleans, which occupies sixth place in the reverse standings. So the Kings could easily enter the lottery at slot No. 6 and have about a 21.5% chance of netting a top-three pick. The Sixers, assuming they hang on to their lead of four and a half games for the worst record, are poised to enter the lottery with a 35.7% chance of dropping out of the top three. So this exchange is still in limbo.
  • Sixers to Kings (Sacramento gets the inferior of its own pick and Philadelphia’s pick if its own pick falls inside the top 10) — Unlikely to happen: See the scenario immediately above.
View Comments (2)