Last month of the season. A time where every game has meaning. Teams are either jockeying of playoff positioning or draft positioning. The worst teams are balancing between increasing their chances in the NBA draft lottery and creating a late season winning attitude to carry over into the next season. And the best teams are either trying to solidify their spot in the playoff rankings in an effort to get home court advantage throughout the playoffs, or trying to get into the playoffs.
For most teams in the playoff hunt, the only thing they are worried about is playoff seeding. For these teams, their draft picks for the next draft will be in the 15-30 range, and unfortunately, there aren’t too many franchise saviors drafted in that range. What these teams will end up drafting in this range are solid rotation players, Euro-stashes, and players that most fans won’t hear about again once their rookie contracts have run their course. But sometimes, due to prior trades or deals, some of these teams luck into a lottery pick.
The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in the position of battling for the number 1 seed in the Western Conference and picking in the lottery in the following NBA draft. When the Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets, some of the assets that OKC obtained were draft picks. These are the 3 draft picks the Thunder obtained in that trade and their restrictions:
- Dallas Mavericks 1st round pick (Top 20 protected until 2018)
- Charlotte Bobcats 2nd round pick (no restrictions)
- Toronto Raptors 1st round pick (Top 3 and 15-30 protected in 2013 and 2014, Top 2 and 15-30 protected in 2015 and 2016, Top 1 and 15-30 protected in 2017 and 2018, unprotected after that.)
The Dallas pick probably won’t come to fruition in this draft as Dallas is currently in the lottery and has a very small chance of even reaching the 21st pick if they make the playoffs. They would need to win out and have the 7 other playoff teams currently under 45 wins completely fall apart. A scenario that is very unlikely. The Toronto and Charlotte picks, on the other hand, are in play for the 2013 Draft. As a fan of the Thunder, this has made scoreboard watching in April must-see-TV.
Toronto Pick (Teams that warrant watching – Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota, Sacramento, New Orleans, and Toronto)
Again, this pick is Top 3 and 15-30 protected for this upcoming draft. Since the Raptors aren’t making the playoffs this season, you can eliminate the 15-30 protection from their draft pick. As of April 1st, the Raptors are slated to pick No.8. With 8 games left, the Raptors have the possibility of picking as high as third (if they lose out) or as low as 13th (if they win out). The position of the Raptors’ pick is not only dependent on their play, but also on the play of the teams around Toronto in the league standings. This is how the teams listed above are currently slotted and how far apart they are in games as of April 1st:
11. Philadelphia –
10. Washington 3
9. Minnesota 3
8. Toronto 3.5
7. Sacramento 3.5
6. New Orleans 4.5
So there are currently 3.5 games separating Toronto from the Number 11 slot in the draft and 1 game separating Toronto from the Number 6 slot in the draft. A lot of movement is possible in the standings within the final 2 weeks of the season.
Charlotte Pick (Teams that warrant watching – Orlando and Charlotte)
The Charlotte pick is not protected meaning wherever Charlotte’s pick falls in the 2nd round, that’s where Oklahoma City will pick. Granted, 2nd round picks are more miss than hit. The players selected in the 2nd round of the NBA draft fall into one of four categories. You have the 1st round talents that slipped into the 2nd round for a myriad of reasons, the Euro-stashes, the upper classmen that may surprise and make it onto an NBA roster, and the players that are a reach. Usually, the higher you pick in the 2nd round, the higher the probability of success in the NBA.
With the worst record in the NBA, the Charlotte Bobcats would get the 1st pick of the 2nd round (pick No. 31). Here’s a list of the last 5 players selected with the 31st pick:
- 2008: Nikola Pekovic (currently with the Minnesota Timberwolves)
- 2009: Jeff Pendergraph (currently with the Indiana Pacers)
- 2010: Tibor Pleiss (still playing in Europe, rights owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder)
- 2011: Bojan Bogdanovic (still playing in Europe, rights owned by the Brooklyn Nets)
- 2012: Jeffrey Taylor (currently with the Charlotte Bobcats)
These are 3 quality players that were obtained with the first pick in the 2nd round, along with two Euro-stashes whose NBA careers have yet to begin. The allure of a 2nd round pick is that the contract is not initially guaranteed. Every player selected in the first round gets a contract that is guaranteed in the first two seasons with team options for the next 2 seasons at a set salary depending on where they were drafted. Most second round players have to prove their worth in summer league and training camps before the team offers them a guaranteed contract.
For a while it appeared that Charlotte had a stranglehold on the bottom spot in the NBA. In the last few weeks, though, Orlando has lost their veteran interior presence (Glen Davis) to injury, traded their veteran wing/bench scorer (JJ Redick), and lost their starting shooting guard (Arron Afflalo) to injury. Combine that with the general rebuilding nature the franchise currently finds itself, and that has led to Orlando losing 9 of its last 10 games. Orlando trails Charlotte by only 1.5 games for the final spot in the NBA.
Is there a difference between the 31st and 32nd pick? I don’t know, but of the last 5 players selected with the 32nd pick, only one is still the NBA (Dexter Pittman) and one is still in Europe. The other three have fizzled out and are currently out of the league. Based on this recent history, it is definitely better to get the 31st pick instead of the 32nd pick.
Number 1 seed in the Western Conference (Teams that warrant watching – San Antonio and Oklahoma City)
With the Oklahoma City Thunder trailing the San Antonio Spurs by one game for the top spot in the Western Conference, every game from here on out is of tantamount importance to both teams. The two teams play each other one more time on April 4th. As I mentioned in a previous article, home court advantage may be more important to the Thunder this season than it was last season, when the Thunder beat the No.1 seeded Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had an overhaul to their bench before the season began, and have a couple unproven players (as far as playoff experience goes) that perform better at home than on the road.
Every day that goes by offers a game that is of importance to the Thunder. It is a fun time to be a fan of the team, and a fan of the NBA in general. Whether it affects their future or present, you can be certain that Thunder fans will be watching that scoreboard every day until the season ends.