In one month, the 2018-19 NBA season will be history and, for 16 teams, the season will continue. The other 14 will entertain the idea of ending up with the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft later this June. With roughly 15 games remaining, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Phoenix Suns are the only three teams mathematically eliminated from the postseason. Each team also has the inside track on one of the coveted top three draft spots.
Changes to the Draft Lottery The NBA has tweaked the current lottery system to discourage tanking a season just to ensure getting the No. 1 pick in the next draft. Previously, the team finishing dead last in the entire league had a 25 percent chance to get the first overall pick. The second-worst team had a 19.9 percent chance and third-worst checked in at 15.6.
Under the new rules, the three teams with the worst overall records at the end of the regular season will each have a 14 percent chance at obtaining the top pick. The scale then slides beginning with the fourth-worst team having a 12.5 percent chance, fifth-worst a 10.5 percent chance, and so on.
The Bottom Three The Knicks have the worst overall record in the NBA having won just 13 games in 67 tries. Phoenix, which is just 16-52 for the season, most recently beat the Western Conference’s best team, Golden State. The win over the Warriors broke an 18-game losing streak to Golden State. The Suns won as 17-point underdogs. Over the last 20 NBA seasons (and postseasons), teams that were at least a 17-point underdogs were a combined 1-85 straight up.
The Next Two After the triumvirate that is New York, Cleveland, and Phoenix; the next closest team to earning a 14 percent shot at the No. 1 pick is the Chicago Bulls. Currently, the Bulls are 19-49 and would be the fourth-worst team in the league. The Bulls are 5-5 in their last ten games, but they have a tough home stretch with two games each with Toronto and Philadelphia. Chicago does face the Knicks twice before the end of the season.
The only other team with a real shot at the Bottom Three is the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are four games ahead of Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings and are 23-45 overall. Of Atlanta’s 14 remaining games, 10 (and potentially 12) of them are against playoff teams. The Hawks will face Boston, Houston, Utah, Philadelphia twice, Portland, Indiana, San Antonio, and Milwaukee twice. Atlanta also faces Orlando two times, both on the road. The Magic are a game behind Miami in the race for the final playoff spot in the East.
How It Plays Out Atlanta and Cleveland have the most difficult schedule of any of the five teams mentioned in the race for the top overall pick. The Suns have the easiest remaining schedule. The Knicks had lost six straight prior to a Tuesday game at Indiana.
Maybe even more interesting than the race for the Bottom Three is the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers will have a shot at the top pick. The Lakers are currently 30-36 and have won just twice in their last ten games. Should the Lakers end up with the top pick, it could make a potential deal for New Orleans forward Anthony Davis that much sweeter.