A ton of 2018’s first- and second-round picks have been included in trades already, and many of those traded picks have protections on them. In those instances, the pick only changes hands if the protection conditions are met — for example, the Hawks traded their second-round pick to the Clippers, but included top-55 protection on it, meaning L.A. would only receive it if it falls between 56 and 60. Given Atlanta’s record, that obviously won’t happen.
For many of this year’s traded picks, there’s not much drama left related to those protections. Either they definitely won’t change hands, like that Hawks second-rounder, or they definitely will — like the Rockets‘ first-round pick, which is headed to Atlanta with top-three protections on it.
However, there are a handful of traded draft picks whose status remains up in the air. The season’s final few games will determine which teams end up with those picks, or whether they change hands at all.
Let’s dive in and take a closer look at five of those protected picks worth watching down the stretch…
- Pistons‘ first-round pick (to Clippers; top-4 protection)
- The Pistons are likely to finish the season 12th in the lottery standings, so this pick is extremely likely to end up with the Clippers. But that could change if Detroit lucks out in the lottery — at No. 12, the Pistons would have a 2.5% chance of jumping into the top three and keeping their pick.
- Bucks‘ first-round pick (to Suns; top-10 protection and 17-30 protection)
- As of today, the Bucks’ 41-36 record has them tied with the Heat for the 15th or 16th pick in the draft. That would mean the Suns receive Milwaukee’s selection. That could change though, if the Bucks get hot to finish the season, pushing the pick back to 17th or 18th overall. Milwaukee has games left against Boston, Philadelphia, and three lottery teams, so that scenario is in play. If it happens, Milwaukee would keep its 2018 first-rounder and owe the Suns a protected first-rounder (protected for 1-3 and 17-30) in 2019.
- Timberwolves‘ first-round pick (to Hawks; top-14 protection)
- At 44-34, the Timberwolves are up one game in the loss column on the ninth-seeded Nuggets, and two on the tenth-seeded Clippers. The Wolves’ remaining two games against Denver will be crucial for determining whether they make the playoffs and lose their pick or miss the playoffs and keep it (they’d owe their 2019 lottery-protected first-rounder to Atlanta in that case).
- Thunder‘s first-round pick (to Timberwolves; top-14 protection)
- The 45-33 Thunder are slightly better positioned than Minnesota to clinch a playoff spot, but that could change quickly — Oklahoma City has games against Golden State, Houston, and Miami on tap, and doesn’t hold a tiebreaker edge over most of the other Western Conference playoff contenders. I expect the Thunder to hang onto a playoff spot, but if they don’t, they’ll keep their 2018 first-rounder and owe their 2019 lottery-protected first-rounder to Minnesota. Interestingly, if the final playoff spot comes down to the Thunder and Wolves, Minnesota could end up with two first-round picks for 2018 or none.
- Bucks‘ second-round pick (to Nets if in 31-47 range; to Suns if in 48-60 range)
- As is the case with their first-round pick, the Bucks’ second-round selection is right on the edge here, currently projected to be 45th or 46th. A strong finish for the Bucks could mean that second-rounder lands with Phoenix, but for now it seems more likely to head to Brooklyn.