The Denver Nuggets have the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA, and arguably the most injury-devastated roster to boot. Taken together, these two tough realities suggest that it will be very difficult for the Nuggets to win many of their remaining games.
But while proponents of tanking might take heart in this likelihood of losing, at the end of the day it almost certainly will hardly matter either way. As has been the case for months, Denver’s best chance for a high draft pick remains with the (increasiningly unlikely) hope that the Knicks will crash and burn down the stretch. And even if the Nuggets lose out, they probably won’t move up more than a single spot in the draft.
Here is where the lottery picture stands now:
If the playoffs started right now, Denver would get the 10th lotto draw from New York, moving up two positions, but effectively remaining in the lower echelon of the draft lottery. In this current situation, as has been true for nearly the entire season, Denver’s draft pick is entirely dependent on where the Knicks end up and not at all on how they do themselves.
But what if they really tanked hard, and got lucky with a number of lower teams winning a few?
Denver would move up significantly in the best case tanking scenario. If both the Nuggets and the Knicks lost out through the end of the season, and all their draft competitors won out in the process, Denver’s chances for a high draft pick would increase considerably. (Yes, this scenario is actually impossible since some of the teams play each other, but this is just to illustrate a point).
Mathematically, Denver’s not out of the tanking hunt yet. Under perfect circumstances they could move up about five or six spots, or even more if New York hit the skids.
But that just ain’t gonna happen.
John Hollinger’s playoff odds, which are based on his statistically-derived power rankings, have proven to be fairly accurate in the past, and increasingly so as the end of the season draws near, and the body of data increases.
Here are the final records of the lottery teams as predicted by Hollinger’s model, with the exception of both Denver and New York losing out:
And it is here where we get to the real crux of the situation.
The bottom line is this: Even if the Nuggets lose out, the chances are that they will move up only one draft position (Knicks notwithstanding), from 12th to 11th. In practical terms, this would signify increasing their chances of a top three pick from 2.5% to 2.9%, and their chances of a number one pick from 0.7% to 0.8%.
The truth is, in terms of the odds, there is very little the Nuggets can do of their own accord at this late point in the season to change their draft position.
With their remaining schedule and depleted roster, they simply cannot win out. These last eleven games will be a series of brick walls. They crash through a few, but not most of them.
And given the minimal projected shift in the standings, taking a proactive tanking stance almost certainly won’t help very much. Irrespective of nearly anything within the Nuggets’ control, their best hope remains a New York skid.
Given all this, they might as well play hard and play to win, and simply hope that the Knicks – as they have been known to do – will find a way to screw things up.
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