The Spurs have officially clinched one of the three worst records in the league and with it the best shot at the top pick in the draft. Even if they win out from now on, they won’t overtake the Hornets, currently sitting with the fourth-worst record in the standings.
From the start of this rebuilding season, getting the best odds at nabbing Victor Wembanyama was San Antonio’s main goal and it has been achieved. Since Spurs fans are not used to monitoring lottery positioning, here’s what that means.
How does the lottery work?
The lottery is more complex (and hard to rig) than people think. The simplest explanation is that the process consists of adding 14 ping-pong balls numbered one to 14 to a lottery machine. The 14 balls add up to 1,001 possible combinations, which are assigned to the 14 lottery teams, with the three with the lowest records getting the most. The more combinations assigned to a team, the likelier one of theirs gets selected.
Four balls are picked after being mixed to reveal a combination. The team that owns that combination gets the first pick. The process is repeated three more times to determine the order of the top four picks and then the lottery ends. What that means is...
The Spurs won’t pick lower than seventh
In an effort to curb tanking, the NBA flattened the lottery odds for the top picks of the three worst teams and gave others a better shot at jumping up. The top three teams have a 14 percent chance at getting the top pick, the fourth 12.5 percent and so on in descending order. Teams can only move into the top four, which means the lowest San Antonio will pick is seventh. For that to happen they would have to be extremely unlucky, but it is a possibility. Last year the Pistons dropped from third to fifth, as the Thunder and Kings climbed up, for example.
The Spurs have a good shot at the top pick, but it’s not guaranteed. The good thing is that even if they don’t luck into it, it would be hard for them to really drop out of the top five. Ideally they would end up with a worse record than the Rockets, to eliminate the possibility of falling below sixth, but even if that doesn’t happen, they should be fine unless the basketball gods turn on them that day.
This is not just a one-player draft
All eyes are on Victor Wembanyama coming into this draft. The French phenom has the potential to be an All-NBA talent and franchise player. His combination of size and skill is unprecedented. Anyone who has been even tangentially following upcoming NBA prospects knows about him at this point. But he’s not the only youngster worth praise.
For most of the year Sccot Henderson was considered the consensus second pick. The athletic guard projects to be an offensive engine at the pro level thanks to his ability to get to the paint. The Spurs could use a player like that.
Some now have Henderson below Alabama’s Brandon Miller. The scoring forward has a sweet stroke and the length to be a versatile defender. His performance in the NCAA Tournament has raised some doubts about his skills, but he’ll likely be a top-five pick.
Outside of those three, the Thompson twins, Anthony Black, Cam Whitmore and others have draft experts extremely excited. Obviously it would be fantastic if the Spurs actually landed the top pick, but even if they don’t, they could come away with a core piece for the future.
When is the lottery?
The lottery will be held on Tuesday, May 16 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, so there’s plenty of time left to enjoy the end of the season before having to familiarize yourself with draft prospects before the big day.