Wall or Nothing

With the NBA season now a couple games into its second half, most fans have a good feeling about which teams will be around for the playoffs come mid April. On the flip side, it’s also easy to tell which teams stand no chance whatsoever for postseason glory as many of the basketball bottom feeders are as close to being eliminated as a team can get. For these fan bases, there is pretty much only one thing left for them to be excited about… the possibility of acquiring the number one selection in the NBA Draft Lottery! Fans have even more reason to be excited about this year’s top pick as the grand prize of this year’s draft class is one of the best prospects to come along this decade. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past three months or lost your ability to communicate with society, you know that losing teams are dreaming for the chance to take John Wall, the 6’4” Freshman Point Guard from Kentucky, with the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Now if this were football or baseball, there would be no speculation over which team would have the first pick in the draft; the club with the worst regular season record would be awarded the first selection. But in basketball, this is not the case. In an effort to cut down on teams giving up on their seasons by just losing games on purpose in order to get a high draft pick, the NBA developed the lottery system in use today. The lottery’s inception came in 1985, when all seven teams who didn’t make the playoffs got a equal chance at acquiring center Patrick Ewing of Georgetown, that years “can’t miss” prospect, with the New York Knicks ultimately winning the lottery.

After tinkering with the system over the years, the NBA arrived at its current lottery format. All fourteen teams who missed the postseason are entered in to get a shot at the number one pick.  To start the process, a set of ping-pong balls, numbered one to fourteen, are placed in a drum. With these fourteen numbers, 1,001 four number combinations are possible. Based on a team’s record, they are given a certain number of combinations with the worst team getting the majority, the second worst getting the next most, and so on and so forth. 1,000 of the 1,001 combinations are handed out to the teams; if the one set of numbers not distributed comes up, the balls are redrawn. The lottery balls are used to only select the top three picks of the draft; after the first three teams are placed, the teams picking from spots 4-14 are placed by their season winning percentage. This rule was put into place so that if one of the worst teams did not get a top three selection, they would not have to worry about dropping so far in the draft that they would miss out on a quality player who could maybe help their struggling franchise.

A lot of basketball fans like this lottery system because of the reasons it was created: it prevents teams from mailing in games, losing on purpose, and gives a level of opportunity for all non playoff teams to claim the top pick in the draft. I, myself, have never had a serious problem with the draft lottery… that is, until this year. For those of you who know me, I am one of the very few New Jersey Nets fans in this world. I have been with this team since the days of Sam Cassell, Kendal Gill, and Keith Van Horn. I’ve seen the highs of two NBA Finals appearances and the lows of, well, this ENTIRE FRICKEN SEASON! The Nets, if you haven’t heard already, are an NBA worst 4-44 on the season (as of February 3, 2010, as this article is going up, they are 5-48) and are on pace to have the worst record ever posted by an NBA team (the current record is held by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers with a 9-73 record). Now tell me if I’m wrong, but I think it would be pretty unfair to have to suffer through the worst season ever by an NBA team just to see someone like the Detroit Pistons or Indiana Pacers end up getting basically a guaranteed superstar in John Wall. With this pessimistic view in mind, I begin to basically panic when thinking about May 18th when the Draft Lottery will be held.

While hoping for more losses every game from my team to wrap up the best chance at getting Wall on draft night, I came across a page on ESPN.com created by NBA Insider Chad Ford. On this page, Ford created a mock Draft Lottery, simulating every possible teams chance at winning the “John Wall Sweepstakes”, based on current standings and percentage odds. When playing with the fake lottery one day, dying slightly inside every time a Warrior or Kings logo showed up next to Wall’s name rather than a Nets, I decided to conduct an experiment to see the actual chance of this Freshman star coming to New Jersey next year (and then leaving for Brooklyn soon after, but that’s another story). I decided to simulate the lottery process 100 times, documenting every team that came up with the number one pick, which teams made it in the top three lottery picks, seeing who teams were picking in positions 2-4 when they missed out on Wall, and documenting drafting patterns of each team on the rest of the players in this draft class. I then took a special look at the lowly Nets to see how they would be affected by the lottery. I took into account where they picked during every single simulation and which player they ended up selecting. The lottery positions reflect the team’s records as of February 1, 2010.

Teams Odds for #1 pick Record
New Jersey Nets 25.0% 4-42
Minnesota Timberwolves 19.9% 11-38
Golden State Warriors 15.6% 13-33
Detroit Pistons 11.9% 15-31
Indiana Pacers 8.8 % 16-32
Philadelphia 76ers 6.3% 16-31
Washington Wizards 3.6% 16-30
Sacramento Kings 3.5% 16-30
Utah Jazz (via New York Knicks) 1.7% 18-29
Los Angeles Clippers 1.1% 20-27
Milwaukee Bucks 0.8% 20-25
Houston Rockets 0.7% 25-22
Memphis Grizzlies 0.6% 25-21
Oklahoma City Thunder 0.5% 26-21

* Note: The way the teams in the Western Conference are playing, there is always going to be a changing of the order of the teams with the last three picks. Currently, the teams in the 4th playoff spot in the West are only five games up on the team in 10th in the Conference. The Lakers and Nuggets seem to be the only teams who are in no danger… for now.

** Note: There are many other traded 1st round picks already, besides the one the Jazz relieved from the Knicks that goes back to the fantastic Stephon Marbury trade from earlier this decade. There are also a couple of conditional picks that could change over to another team if a certain stipulation is met. Here they all are:

– Oklahoma City receives the Phoenix Suns’ first pick.

– The Clippers get the Timberwolves pick if it is not in the first 10.

– The Timberwolves receive the Charlotte Bobcats first pick if it is not in the first 12.

-The Nets receive the Dallas Mavericks first round pick.

During my simulation of the Lottery, I only focused in on the top players in this upcoming draft class, documenting which teams they went to and where they were commonly picked. But, to give you some names of upcoming “players to watch”, especially with March Madness coming up in about a month and a half, you can watch the tourney and have some players in mind for your NBA team that can help your franchise get out of the lottery and into the playoffs. Here they are in their projected draft order if the lottery were to give teams with the worst losing percentage the top picks.

Player College Position, Year Height, Weight
John Wall Kentucky PG, FR 6’4”, 185
Evan Turner Ohio State SG, JR 6’7”, 205
Derrick Favors Georgia Tech PF, FR 6’9”, 215
Al-Farouq Aminu Wake Forest SF, SO 6’8”, 205
Ed Davis North Carolina PF, SO 6’10”, 215
Wesley Johnson Syracuse SF, JR 6’7”, 198
Cole Aldrich Kansas C, JR 6’11”, 245
Demarcus Cousins Kentucky PF, FR 6’10”, 250
Xavier Henry Kansas SG, FR 6’7”, 220
Dontas Motiejunas (None) Lithuania PF 7’0”, 220
Patrick Patterson Kentucky JR, PF 6’9”, 245
Willie Warren Oklahoma PG, SO 6’4”, 210
Hassan Whiteside Marshall PF, FR 6’11”, 225
Solomon Alabi Florida State C, SO 7’1”, 245

All of these players could contribute in some way to the teams in this lottery. Some could be good role players, coming off the bench or bringing a special trait to a team that needs one. Others could contribute from day one and maybe one day make an All Star team or two. But in this class, there is one, AND ONLY ONE PLAYER, who won’t maybe, but WILL become an absolute superstar and a dominating force in the National Basketball Association. That player is John Wall. So, without further ado, I give you the results of 100 simulations of the NBA Draft Lottery, A.K.A. “The John Wall Sweepstakes”.

Team Number Of Times Won #1 Pick More/Less times won than % odds
New Jersey Nets 32 More (25.0%)
Minnesota Timberwolves 15 Less (19.9%)
Golden State Warriors 14 Less (15.6%)
Detroit Pistons 9 Less (11.9%)
Indiana Pacers 7 Less (8.8%)
Philadelphia 76ers 2 Less (6.3%)
Washington Wizards 10 More (3.6%)
Sacramento Kings 8 More (3.5%)
Utah Jazz (via NYK) 3 More (1.7%)
Los Angeles Clippers 0 Less (1.1%)
Milwaukee Bucks 0 Less (0.8%)
Houston Rockets 0 Less (0.7%)
New Orleans Hornets 0 Less (0.6%)
Oklahoma City Thunder 0 Less (0.5%)

When breaking down these numbers, it’s clear to see that you don’t have to be at the top of the draft lottery odds order to have success in landing the top pick. The Wizards, with only a 3.6% chance, were able to select John Wall 10 times in the simulation. Guess they wouldn’t be missing Gilbert Arenas so much next year with the best point guard to come out of the draft since Chris Paul (who Wall is being compared to by scouts, with only one difference… more upside!). The Kings also had a good amount of success based on their chances of getting Wall. Honestly, imagine a backcourt of John Wall and Tyreke Evans in Sacramento for the next five years… WOW!

The T-Wolves and Warriors were just under their percentage marks but still got to choose at number one 15 and 14 times respectively. These two teams would most likely have to make a trade or two if they either landed Wall due to the overloads they would have of young, developing, and talented guards. The Warriors have four year, 24-year-old Monta Ellis, who is sixth in the league in scoring at 26.5 PPG at shooting guard and Rookie, 21-year-old point guard Stephen Curry, who is one of the top five fist year players in the league. One would have to go, most likely Curry, despite Golden State not seeing his full potential yet. Wall is a better fit at point and could get the ball to Ellis at will while creating his own shot, too. Curry could be dealt for a big man, most likely a power forward, considering Vladimir Radmanovic is currently starting and Anthony Randolph dealing with an ankle injury… oh, and also the fact that Don Nelson is completely holding him back from reaching his potential. Just don’t cry about it Anthony. 

Meanwhile, as hard as it seems to imagine Minnesota drafting another guard after last years draft when they took PG Ricky Rubio at #5, PG Johnny Flynn with the very next pick, PG Ty Lawson at #18 (who was then traded to Denver), and SG Wayne Ellington at #28. But again, no one can pass on Wall, so they would have to take him. Flynn is safe in Minnesota, though, due to the very strong campaign he’s putting as a rookie (14.0 PPG, 4.4 APG). Rubio is the likely trade candidate due to the fact that he is a very highly ranked player on a lot of scout’s lists and has been playing pro ball since he was 15 overseas. A team would have to give up a pretty nice deal to land a player of Rubio’s caliber but not as much as if he were playing in the league now due to the fact that his current contract with Regal Barcelona only gives him the option to leave for the NBA after the 2010-11 season. A team will be willing to wait for the Spaniard though and make a deal and the T-Wolves will be willing to let him go because Wall is already better than Rubio.

A quick comment on these numbers: Ask any Knicks fan who doesn’t hate the Stephon Marbury trade with 100% of their being yet when they see the three #1 picks going to the Jazz in this simulation if they can’t stand it completely yet. That’s three times they land Wall and add an incentive for LeBron James to come to New York. But hey, no future whatsoever with only six players scheduled to come back to the team, the best of which is Danilo Gallinari, is just screaming, “Hey LeBron, come WIN in New York”!

Now to the team that I decided to write this all about, the New Jersey Nets. They have already guaranteed one of the worst seasons ever recorded in NBA history and are on pace to break the 1972-73 76ers record of a 9-73 campaign. Following this Nets season has been tough as a fan. I try to get by with cracking a joke here and there, such as, “On opposite day, we’ll be champions” or by claiming a win in Knockout with my suitemates as property of the Nets to give them something to feel good about. But all of this, the humiliation, the jokes, the anguish, will be worth it if those ping pong balls just work out in our favor. With a ton of cap room to spend freely, a move from the run down Izod Center in the Meadowlands to the state of the art Prudential Center in Newark, and the number one pick in the Nets position, New Jersey looks like a fantastic place to play for such free agents like Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James. Wall is the essential part of the puzzle. Devin Harris has struggled with injury troubles and some poor performance this year (although what is he supposed to do with the roster around him) and now is now is no longer “untouchable” in trade talks. If Wall goes to Jersey, free agents have an eventual superstar at both point guard and center in John and Brook Lopez at the core of a young and talented nucleolus. Not to mention, Harris is traded for a player that can be inserted into the Nets lineup and instantly contribute.

While the Nets did get more #1 overall selections than half the next closest team received, they still missed out on drafting Wall 68 times. Because I knew the Nets couldn’t draft the freshman phenom every single simulation, I not only took note of when every team won the first pick, but when they gained a top three selection in the draft. This chart outlines the total of all those picks. When a team got the first pick, they received three points. When they were awarded pick #2, they added on two points to their score. And when each team picked third, they received one point. Here are the results:

Team Total Points
New Jersey Nets 145
Minnesota Timberwolves 104
Golden State Warriors 80
Detroit Pistons 67
Indiana Pacers 65
Philadelphia 76ers 30
Washington Wizards 38
Sacramento Kings 33
Utah Jazz (via NYK) 12
Los Angeles Clippers 3
Milwaukee Bucks 6
Houston Rockets 6
New Orleans Hornets 3
Oklahoma City Thunder 5

I also singled out New Jersey specifically and documented where they picked every single time. If they did not receive a top three pick, they were automatically given the #4 selection because they have the worst winning percentage in the NBA. Here is a breakdown of where they picked after every single simulation:

Draft Position Times Nets picked there
#1 32
#2 18
#3 16
#4 34

As you can see, the Nets picked in the top three spots more than anybody in the lottery but ended up drafting in the four spot more than any other position. Now if you ask me, when you have the chance to post the worst record in basketball history, I think you should be able to not have to worry about missing out on the best prospects available in a draft class. So I took a look at whom the Nets selected every time they went to pick and came up with these results:

Player # Of times picked
John Wall 32
Evan Turner 31
Wesley Johnson 37

New Jersey only selected thee different players in their draft picks. They obviously took Wall whenever they were at #1. When they picked at #2, Turner was always their selection, choosing him over Derrick Favors. If they picked at three, they would also choose Johnson over Favors if the latter were still on the board. In fact, the Nets and T-Wolves were the only two teams that would choose Turner or Johnson over Favors. Every other team would go with the freshman from Georgia Tech. To better show he draft tendencies of these lottery teams, I marked down which players were drafted after Wall was gone in the next three picks that followed him. So here are the draft spots of every player picked between selections 2-4:

Player #2 Pick #3 Pick #4 Pick
Evan Turner 54 37 9
Derrick Favors 45 47 8
Wesley Johnson 0 9 21
Ed Davis 0 9 21
Al-Farouq Aminu 0 0 6

All right so let’s break down this table. Turner was the next pick after John Wall whenever the Nets and Timberwolves were picking at #2. Every other team would pick Favors though when they were in the two spot. New Jersey and Minnesota would also choose Johnson over Favors but they were in the minority in that, also. Teams like the Warriors and Pacers were high on Davis, but with his recent wrist injury, it’ll be interesting to see if his draft stock drops. Aminu was only picked in the top four by the Pistons and no one else. One player that will undoubtedly join this field in a top four selection will be DeMarcus Cousins, whose interest from NBA teams has been skyrocketing lately. The thing is, none of these guys have the same ceiling as Wall. Guys like Turner, Cousins, and Favors could have multiple all-star appearances in their futures, but Wall is a frontrunner to become a part of NBA royalty.

With great hype, comes great responsibility, and that is what people will hold to John Wall when he is the first overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. No matter where he goes, Washington, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, or New Jersey (PLEASE BE NEW JERSEY!!! O MY GOODNESS!!! PLEASE BASKETBALL GODS!!! HAVE MERCY ON THE NETS!!!), he is going to be looked upon as the savior of the franchise. We saw it happen this decade with LeBron James in Cleveland, Dwight Howard in Orlando, Greg Oden in Portland, and Kevin Durant in Seattle. And while Oden has yet to pan out due to extensive injuries (which may or may not have to do with the fact that he might secretly be 76 years old), the three other guys are definitely top 10, maybe top five, players in the league right now. This will be expected from Wall. He cannot just be an All-Star, but the LeBron version of a point guard. If people give him the two or three years they gave James, Howard, and Durant, Wall will be fine.

So to the fans, let me tell you this. Wall belongs in the aforementioned group of players whose hype has been in another world before coming to the NBA. And based on those other four names, he has about an 80% chance to reach the highest peak in basketball. And that number is a lot better than the chances a lottery team has to draft him.

Contact Information:
Greg Brzozowski
WSOE Sports
gbrzozowski@elon.edu

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One thought on “Wall or Nothing

  1. Robert W. says:

    Incredible research and information. Personally, I love the idea that the best team not to make the playoffs should get the first pick. It would increase competition throughout the season and make virtually every game meaningful. The Nets are dreadful. It’s a shame a talent like Wall should have to suffer. Talent like Carr and Stafford in the NFL deserve better than what they were handed. IMO.

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