Heading into 2014, the Boston Celtics were well aware which day would be their most important. It wasn’t opening night or the last game before All-Star weekend.
It wasn’t Rajon Rondo’s return or their first matchup against Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Brooklyn Nets, either. All along, Boston’s ownership, coaching staff, general manager and fanbase knew May 20 would be the most significant date of their year and season.
That, of course, is the NBA Draft Lottery, when ping-pong balls will decide Boston's immediate fate, making their short- and long-term future a bit less blurry.
The lottery is a night of mystery, but somehow we still know a few important details as it approaches. The Celtics have two first-round picks to play with. The second, coming from Brooklyn, is already locked in at No. 17. No matter what happens on May 20, Boston has that pick.
Before the drawing even occurs, we also know the odds. Boston finished the regular season 25-57, tying the Utah Jazz for the fourth-worst record in the NBA. The Celtics then lost a coin flip to give them the fifth slot.
The math from here on gets very confusing, so here’s Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren, breaking down all the relevant percentages, as reported on the official Celtics website:
…it turns out that entering the lottery, with 103 combinations, the Celtics have a 10.3% chance of getting the top pick, a 11.1% chance of getting the 2nd pick, and a 12.0% chance of getting the 3rd pick. This means that entering the lottery, we have a 21.4% chance of getting a top 2 pick, and a 33.4% chance of getting a top 3 pick.
Now, what do these numbers mean in relation to the players that are actually available? The 2014 draft class is either loaded and deep or thin and top-heavy, depending on who you ask. But almost everyone agrees that getting a top-3 pick could potentially reap a franchise-altering ingredient.
The three players are: Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid. Reported on KUsports.com, here’s Celtics general manager Danny Ainge discussing just how good those three are in relation to the rest of the field, and why their absence at the Draft Combine will have no bearing on their current standing:
Well, it could sway it, even though it’s very, very rare that you go do an interview with someone at this stage of the season and you all of a sudden just have a drastically different opinion of a kid…But the difference is that in most cases, with most teams, you’re only drafting one guy. So you may be having a hard time deciding between five or six different guys, and maybe there’s something said or found that becomes a tiebreaker. But it’s just a tiny piece of the whole puzzle. We’ve watched these guys in some cases for a few years. We know all about them and we know their histories.
The Celtics have about a one-in-three shot at getting a top-three pick. Selecting that high would be fantastic. In terms of on-court needs, Embiid is an obvious fit on both ends. Boston has no real bigs on its roster, and adding one who projects to be one of the best centers in the league in a few years would be perfect.
Parker and Wiggins are two talents on the wing, an area of severe need for a team that’s trudging along with an indifferent difference-maker named Jeff Green and little else behind him. All three would also be perfect complements to Rajon Rondo, and vice versa.
The odds aren’t in favor of Boston getting one of these players. There’s a 66.1 percent chance they’re designated with pick No. 5, 6 or 7. The good news: even though Embiid, Parker and Wiggins are clearly projected to go in the top three, the players who could realistically be available at five, six or seven are all good enough to have gone No. 1 in last year’s draft.
Chances are, Boston will wind up with Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh or Marcus Smart. Two of these players (Exum and Smart) belong in the backcourt, where it’s presumed Boston is already set with Rondo and restricted free agent Avery Bradley.
But don’t be surprised to see Ainge take the best player available regardless of position, especially if it’s Exum, the most intriguing prospect in this entire class. The other guys all either have All-Star potential or fit one of the team’s immediate needs.
Nobody knows which player from this class will have the best career. But right now, the odds are stacked against Boston landing the presumed best player available.
Still, where they’re currently slotted to pick will almost definitely make them a better team in years ahead. There’s too much talent in this class to miss.