In the midst of a losing season, filled with injuries and trades, the Portland Trail Blazers are scraping for things to look forward to. Their biggest, and brightest, future hope comes via the 2022 NBA Draft, where they *may* hold significant draft picks. “May” needs to be emphasized, because there’s a possibility they might not have any first-round picks in the draft. We just don’t know yet.
Let’s make sense of this nearly-unprecedented situation in this edition of the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
In last week’s [Dave and Dia] podcast you said our draft position was shaky or weird or something. Whatever you said I got the sense of unsureness. You also called it unique I think. Can you explain more why you think this? Please keep it simple because I don’t follow these things that well.
This isn’t too hard, but it is strange. Whether the Blazers have two, one, or zero lottery picks depends on how the final standings shake out.
The weirdness comes courtesy of two trades made by the Blazers in the past year, plus the propensity of modern NBA teams to “protect” draft picks they trade away. Protection means postponing the consummation of the trade if a pick falls in an area of the draft that would seriously imbalance the exchange. For instance, many teams “Lottery Protect” picks they trade away. They’ll give the pick to the receiving team as long as it doesn’t end up in lottery range (the Top 14 picks in a draft). If it does, the pick becomes too valuable to convey. In that case, alternate compensation is granted instead.
The Blazers are in the middle of that situation this year, twice.
Portland’s Own Pick
The Blazers traded their own 2022 NBA Draft pick to the Chicago Bulls last August as part of the deal in which they acquired forward Larry Nance, Jr. (since traded to the New Orleans Pelicans...more on that later). The pick is lottery-protected.
If the Blazers miss the 2022 NBA Playoffs, that pick will fall in the range of 1-14. In that case, the Blazers would keep this year’s pick, trading a different one to Chicago next season (or the first future year in which the pick didn’t end up in the lottery).
The Blazers currently sit in the 12th position in the Western Conference. If they edge out the teams just ahead of them in the standings, finishing 10th or better, they will participate in the Play-In tournament to determine who earns the 7th and 8th seeds in the West for the playoffs. Should they win a place in the playoffs in that tournament, they would lose their lottery standing and the pick would belong to Chicago.
Operative Question: Do the Blazers make the playoffs via the Play-In Tournament?
If yes, they lose the pick to Chicago. If no, they keep it.
New Orleans Pelicans Pick
The Blazers also received a 2022 first-round pick from the New Orleans Pelicans in the trade that sent CJ McCollum and Nance, Jr. to New Orleans at this year’s NBA Trade Deadline. That pick is protected in a different way.
If the pick lands in the 15th-30th spots, outside of the lottery, OR it lands in the 1st-4th spots, at the top of the lottery, New Orleans keeps it. Only if the pick falls in the “Goldilocks Zone” of 5th-14th in this year’s lottery do the Blazers get it.
Operative Question #1: Do the Pelicans make the playoffs?
If yes, they keep the pick instead of Portland. If no, go to Question 2.
Operative Question #2: Does New Orleans get lucky as their pick jumps to #1-4 via the lottery drawing?
If yes, they keep the pick. If no, Portland gets it.
Here are the scenarios in play.
The Blazers get TWO lottery picks if neither they, nor New Orleans, make the playoffs and New Orleans does not win one of the Top 4 picks.
The Blazers get NO first-round picks at all if they AND New Orleans both make the playoffs (unlikely) or if Portland makes the playoffs while New Orleans wins a Top 4 pick.
The Blazers get ONE lottery pick if they don’t make the playoffs and the Pelicans do.
The Blazers get ONE lottery pick if they do make the playoffs, the Pelicans don’t, and New Orleans’ pick falls between 5th-14th in the draft order.
The Ideal Solution
If you want the Blazers to get the biggest haul possible from this year’s draft, it’s obvious what to root for.
First, root for the Blazers to miss the playoffs. They don’t even want to mess with the Play-In tournament. Losing is your friend.
Second, root for the Pelicans to miss the playoffs as well, losing as many games as possible. This pushes their pick as high up the order as possible. (No worries at this point that they’ll earn a Top 4 position based on their record alone. Go ahead and hope for them to lose in droves.)
Finally, when the lottery drawing happens, hope the Blazers get lucky with their ping pong ball bounces while the Pelicans do NOT.
If all that goes right, the Blazers would earn a Top 4 pick themselves, then have a second lottery pick at whatever position the Pelicans earn.
Even if the Blazers don’t get the lucky bounce, as long as they get the Pelicans pick they’ll still have their own mid-range lottery pick and the Pelicans’ as well. That’s not too bad.
You do NOT want New Orleans to win the lottery or make the playoffs. That’s the super-sad scenario for Portland, as it would cost them an entire pick.
Hope that was simple enough! Enjoy rooting for whomever plays Portland and New Orleans on a given night!
You can send your own questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try to answer them!