The Portland Trail Blazers have three picks in the 2017 NBA draft: their own, the Memphis Grizzlies pick (from Denver through the Jusuf Nurkić-Mason Plumlee trade), and the Cleveland Cavaliers pick (for taking on Anderson Varejao last season). Heading into the final night of the season there is a lot of variation regarding where those picks will end up. In the best-case scenario the Blazers could end up with picks 15, 18, and 23. In the worst-case scenario they could end up with picks 18, 20, and 27.
One important note: the exact draft positions for teams that finish the regular season with identical records are broken through random drawings. They do not follow the same rules as tie breakers for playoff seeding. Let’s get to the different scenarios.
Portland’s own pick can fall anywhere between 15 and 18. The Blazers are 41-40 heading into Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. This puts them even with the Indiana Pacers, one game ahead of the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, and one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks (one of the Pacers, Bulls, and Heat will be in the lottery). If Portland wins Wednesday, their pick will be between 16 and 18 depending on what Indiana and Milwaukee do. If they lose, then it will be between 15 and 17 depending on what Indiana, Chicago, and Miami do.
The Memphis pick can fall anywhere between 18 and 20. Memphis, at 43-38, is tied with the Atlanta Hawks, and one game ahead of the Bucks.
The Cleveland pick has the greatest potential range. It can fall anywhere between 23 and 27 depending on what happens Wednesday night. At 51-30, the Cavs currently sit one game behind the Boston Celtics in the standings and one game ahead of the LA Clippers, Toronto Raptors, and Utah Jazz. If Cleveland loses and the Jazz, Raptors, and Clippers all win, they will be in a 4-team tie and picks 23 through 26 will be determined by random drawings.
So, if you want the Blazers to end up with the best picks possible you should be rooting for:
- Cleveland to lose and Utah, Toronto, and LA to win
- Memphis to lose and Milwaukee to win—unless Cleveland wins (see variables below)
- Either Miami or Chicago to win
- Portland to lose (unless you just can’t bring yourself to root for that)
- The Celtics are playing the Bucks, so the Bucks winning would help make sure the Blazers’ pick would be lower than 18, but by beating the Celtics they would make it possible for the Cavs’ pick to go up as high as 27 if Cleveland wins.
- The Hawks and Pacers are playing each other. A win by the Hawks can make the Memphis pick better, but a win by Indiana can make Portland’s own pick better. Tough to tell which one to root for there.
Is there anything besides draft positioning at stake for the teams?
- Memphis and Portland have nothing to play for…although that didn’t stop the Blazer reserves from beating the Spurs on Monday night.
- Atlanta and Milwaukee are jockeying for playoff position, so they should be motivated to win.
- Indiana, Chicago, and Miami are each fighting for the final two playoff spots in the East.
- Boston and Cleveland are battling for the top seed in the East. Toronto is locked into the 3-seed in the East.
- The Clippers and Jazz are fighting for home court against each other in their first round match up.
Now you know who to root for in the last nights of the season. Chances are at least one of Portland’s draft picks will be left up to the NBA’s random drawing to determine its specific spot in the order. The NBA typically conducts these random drawings shortly after the season ends.