The Portland Trail Blazers might currently be in the play-in picture, but with just 22 games left, this franchise is looking down the standings.
Yes, Justise Winslow was convinced the team had playoff aspirations before the All Star break but as Jusuf Nurkic sits with an injury he managed to play through all season, the writing is well and truly on the wall. It’s lottery time.
And why not? With the Blazers plummeting down the standings and the New Orleans Pelicans specializing in mediocrity, Interim General Manager Joe Cronin could have two lottery picks to play with on June 23.
Yes, the active players will do their best to win, but the Blazers front office is now overtly making it difficult for Chauncey Billups to stay competitive.
Why? Well, for anyone who’s seen Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero ply their trade, it’s obvious. Snagging a top three pick will either put the Blazers in a position to draft a member of said trio or trade them for a difference maker to pair with Damian Lillard next season.
As we speak, the Blazers sit 25-35 with the league’s ninth-worst record, which means this team still has a lot of losing to do if it wants to get close to the players mentioned above.
The Last 22 Games
Eight of the final 22 games are against teams currently above .500 and 11 are against those below .400.
Those 11 games are against teams with a worse record than Portland, which means losses in those specific games deliver double the value, bumping up the opponent while paving the Blazers’ way down the standings.
Clearly the the Blazers front office is intent on tanking and they’ll be helped by the fact that only eight of those games will be played at the Moda Center. The away schedule is brutal, made up of a four-game and two five-game road trips, the first a particularly brutal mission including the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves twice and the Utah Jazz.
And with the lion share of this team made up of rookie-scale and overall inexperienced talent, consistency on long road trips is going to be hard to expect and might even produce some considerably ugly outings.
To get an idea of the Blazers’ most realistic win-loss record and their best odds at a top three player, I looked at lottery records over the past seven 82-game seasons between 2012-2019.
Averaging the seven records of each pick, gave us the below.
Records and picks
Looking at the above, the Blazers have already locked themselves out of the four worst records. If they win only two more games, they are in line for the fifth-worst record and so on and so forth.
Conservatively, let’s assume — with Nurkic likely sitting out the rest of the season — the Blazers win another five games, finishing 30-52, potentially the seventh-worst record.
Under the recently changed lottery chance percentages, the seventh-worst record has a 31.9 percent chance at a top 4 pick, a 19.8 percent chance at the seventh pick, 33.9 percent at the eighth pick and 13 percent at the ninth pick.
The eighth worst record, 31-51, has a 20.3 percent chance at top 3, 34.5 percent of the eighth pick, 36.2 percent at the ninth pick and 8.5 percent at the 10th pick.
So finishing seventh or eighth would guarantee the franchise a top 10 pick and between a 20 and 30 percent chance of a top three selection. Realistically the best they can currently hope for, unless they miraculously lose out.
Best Case Scenario
For the sake of argument, let’s imagine the Blazers do lose every single game, finishing 25-57 and, if referring to the above, finishing with the fifth worst record.
This gives the Blazers a 45 percent chance at a top four pick, 2 percent at the fifth pick, 18.2 percent at the sixth pick, 25.5 percent at the seventh pick and 8.8 percent at the eight pick. Oh, and a miniscule 0.6 percent chance at the ninth selection.
As a result, losing out gives this team an almost 50-50 chance at a top four selection and an all-but guaranteed top eight pick.
If there was any doubt about what result the Blazers’ front office was looking for from the rest of the season, it was announced by Wednesday’s Woj bomb, alerting us to Nurkic’s convalescence.
No offense to Drew Eubanks’ capabilities.
But in order to get the best bang for the tanking buck, this team will need to lose as many games as possible. Ideally, every game.
Because unfortunately, the four games won before the All Star break have put the Blazers behind the eight ball. And every win from here on in, drops their chances of landing a franchise-changing pick.