Checking In On NBA’s 2021 Lottery Standings, Projected Draft Order

The 2020/21 NBA regular season is officially over, but the draft order for July 29 has not yet been set. A handful of factors, including the play-in results, random tiebreakers, and – of course – the lottery results themselves will ultimately determine what the 60 picks in the 2021 NBA draft look like. But with the 72-game season in the books, there’s plenty we do know.

Let’s dive in and check in on a few key aspects of the lottery standings and projected draft order…

Tentative lottery standings/odds

So far, only 10 of the 14 teams involved in the draft lottery are known, since the four teams eliminated in the play-in tournament will occupy spots 11 through 14. With the help of data from Tankathon and our own reverse standings, here’s a general idea of what their odds will look like for those top 10 teams:

Team 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
HOU 14 13.4 12.7 12 47.9
DET 14 13.4 12.7 12 27.8 20
ORL 14 13.4 12.7 12 14.8 26 7
OKC* 11.5 11.4 11.2 11 7.4 27.1 18 2.4
CLE* 11.5 11.4 11.2 11 2.0 18.2 25.5 8.6 0.6
MIN 9 9.2 9.4 9.6 8.6 29.8 20.6 3.7 0.1
TOR 7.5 7.8 8.1 8.5 19.7 34.1 12.9 1.3 >0
SAC* 4.5 4.8 5.2 5.7 34.5 36.2 8.5 0.5 >0
CHI* 4.5 4.8 5.2 5.7 46.4 29.4 3.9 0.1 >0
NOP* 4.5 4.8 5.2 5.7 60.6 17.9 1.2 >0 >0

Because the Thunder and Cavaliers finished with matching 22-50 records and the Kings, Bulls, and Pelicans all tied at 31-41, random tiebreakers will be completed to determine their exact lottery positioning. So their lottery odds, in italics, are just tentative so far.

While those tied teams receive identical odds at landing a top-four pick, regardless of the tiebreaker results, their spot in the lottery standings will affect where they land if they don’t move into the top four.

For instance, the Magic – who own Chicago’s first-rounder if it’s not in the top four – will certainly be rooting for the Bulls to win their tiebreaker over Sacramento and New Orleans. If the Bulls win that tiebreaker, their odds of moving into the top four won’t change, but the pick could be as high as No. 8 if it’s sent to the Magic. Should the Bulls lose that three-team tiebreaker, Orlando couldn’t receive a pick higher than No. 10.

The different colors in the chart above reflect that those teams could lose their picks. The Rockets‘ pick is top-four protected and will be sent to the Thunder if it lands at No. 5. The Timberwolves‘ pick is top-three protected and will go to the Warriors if it falls outside the top three. And, as discussed above, the Magic will receive the Bulls’ pick if it’s outside of the top four.

The play-in factor

The final four spots in the draft lottery will belong to the four teams that are eliminated in this week’s play-in tournament, sorted by record (worst to best). Here are the eight play-in teams:

  • San Antonio Spurs (33-39)
  • Charlotte Hornets (33-39)
  • Indiana Pacers (34-38)
  • Washington Wizards (34-38)
  • Boston Celtics (36-36)
  • Memphis Grizzlies (38-34)
  • Golden State Warriors (39-33)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (42-30)

Based on their 42-30 record, the Lakers could end up with a pick as low as No. 23 in the first round of the draft (depending on tiebreaker results). However, in the unlikely event that they lose two play-in games this week and don’t make the playoffs at all, they’d hold the No. 14 spot in the lottery instead.

It’s worth noting that the Spurs and Hornets finished with matching 33-39 records, while the Pacers and Wizards were each 34-38, so if both teams in either of those pairs are eliminated in the play-in tournament, a tiebreaker will be required to determine their spots in the lottery standings.

The tiebreakers

Many tiebreakers will be required to determine either lottery positioning or a team’s specific draft pick. Here are all the teams that finished with identical records, creating a situation where a tiebreaker will (or may) be required:

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder / Cleveland Cavaliers (22-50)
  2. Sacramento Kings / Chicago Bulls / New Orleans Pelicans (31-41)
    • Note: The Bulls’ pick will be sent to the Magic if it falls outside of the top four.
  3. San Antonio Spurs / Charlotte Hornets (33-39)
    • Note: A tiebreaker would not be required if one team makes the playoffs and the other doesn’t.
  4. Indiana Pacers / Washington Wizards (34-38)
    • Note: A tiebreaker would not be required if one team makes the playoffs and the other doesn’t.
  5. New York Knicks / Atlanta Hawks (41-31)
  6. Los Angeles Lakers / Portland Trail Blazers / Dallas Mavericks (42-30)
    • Note: The Blazers’ pick will be sent to the Rockets; the Mavericks’ pick will be sent to the Knicks.
  7. Denver Nuggets / Los Angeles Clippers (47-25)

The traded first-round picks

Here’s a breakdown of the traded first-round picks for the 2021 NBA draft:

Picks that will change hands:

  • Knicks acquiring Mavericks‘ pick (unprotected).
    • This pick will land somewhere in the 21-23 range, depending on the tiebreaker results.
  • Thunder acquiring Heat‘s pick (unprotected).
    • This pick will land at either No. 18 or 19. While the Thunder will initially control it, they could end up swapping it for the Rockets’ pick — more details on that are below.
  • Rockets acquiring Trail Blazers‘ pick (top-14 protected).
    • This pick will land somewhere in the 21-23 range, depending on the tiebreaker results.
  • Rockets acquiring Bucks‘ pick (top-nine protected swap).
    • The Rockets will swap their second-round pick (No. 31) for the Bucks’ first-round pick (No. 24).

Picks that won’t change hands:

  • Grizzlies acquiring Jazz‘s pick (1-7 and 15-30 protection).
    • This pick will be No. 30, falling in its protected range. The Jazz will instead owe the Grizzlies their 2022 first-round pick (top-six protected).
  • Rockets acquiring Pistons‘ pick (top-16 protected).
    • This pick will be between 1-6, falling in its protected range. The Pistons will instead owe the Rockets their 2022 first-round pick (top-16 protected).
  • Thunder acquiring Warriors‘ pick (top-20 protected).
    • This pick could theoretically as high as No. 1 and as low as No. 18, depending on the play-in and lottery results. In any scenario, it will be protected, so the Warriors will instead send the Timberwolves’ second-round pick (No. 36) to the Thunder.
  • Knicks acquiring Clippers‘ pick (unprotected swap)
    • The Knicks’ pick will land at No. 19 or 20, while the Clippers’ pick will be No. 25 or 26, so the Knicks will hang onto their own first-rounder rather than swapping.
  • Rockets acquiring Nets‘ pick (unprotected swap)
    • The Rockets have the ability to swap their own pick, the Trail Blazers’ pick, or the Heat’s pick for the Nets’ pick, but the Nets’ pick will be the lowest (No. 27) of the bunch, so Brooklyn will keep it.

Picks that might change hands:

  • Warriors acquiring Timberwolves‘ pick (top-three protected).
    • As detailed above, the Timberwolves will have a 27.6% chance of keeping this pick (in the 1-3 range). The Warriors will have a 72.4% chance of receiving it (No. 4 or in the 6-10 range).
  • Magic acquiring Bulls‘ pick (top-four protected).
    • As detailed above, the Bulls will have a 20.2% chance of keeping this pick (in the 1-4 range). The Magic will have a 79.8% chance of receiving it (somewhere in the 8-14 range, depending on tiebreaker results).
  • Pelicans acquiring Lakers‘ pick (8-30 protection).
    • In the unlikely event that the Lakers miss the playoffs, they’d still have a 97.6% chance to keep this pick (at No. 14). The Pelicans would have a 2.4% chance of receiving it (in the 1-4 range).
  • Thunder acquiring Rockets‘ pick (top-four protected swap)
    • The Thunder will have the ability to swap the Heat’s pick (No. 18 or 19) for the Rockets’ pick if Houston lands at No. 5. There’s a 47.9% chance that happens, and a 52.1% chance the Rockets will land in the top four and keep their pick. If Houston hangs onto its pick, the Thunder would keep Miami’s first-rounder.
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