By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
With all of the excitement of the NBA playoffs, it’s easy to forget about the annual draft lottery, which happens during the conference finals every season.
The NBA is unique in its draft process, as all non-playoff teams are given a chance to win a top-three selection. Based on the team’s record, odds are given to each team, which are basically digital ping pong balls in a computer. The team with the worst record has a 25 percent chance at one of the top three picks, and each lottery team in ascending order of record has a slightly lower chance. After the top three slots are determined, the rest of the lottery is slotted in reverse order of record.
The lottery had an interesting twist this year, because the Boston Celtics won the first pick despite playing in the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics obtained this pick from the Brooklyn Nets—who finished with the worst record this season—in a blockbuster trade that happened back in 2013. The trade included aging stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce going from Boston to Brooklyn, with the Nets sending back first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018, along with the right to swap first-round picks this year.
The trade was questionable at the time, with Garnett and Pierce on the downside of their careers, but in hindsight it looks like one of the worst trades in league history. A mere four years later, Garnett and Pierce are long gone from the Nets’ squad, while valuable draft picks are still being sent to the Celtics. The Nets have the worst roster in the league right now and don’t have the necessary draft assets to rebuild.
The Celtics on the other hand are in the rare position of competing deep into the playoffs while still stockpiling young talent—through excellent coaching and savvy trades and free agent deals that brought All-Stars Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford to the team. Last year’s first round pick from the Nets ended up being the third overall selection, which Boston used to grab small forward Jaylen Brown.
Brown had minimal impact on a competitive team this season, averaging 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game. However, he’s a long, athletic wing who shot 34.1 percent from beyond the arc in his rookie year, and has the potential to develop into a legitimate wing defender and possibly a third option on the offensive end.
With the first pick in this year’s draft, Boston stands to add elite talent to an already potent roster. Whether they select a top prospect like Washington guard Markelle Fultz, or trade the pick to get veteran help, the Celtics should get some immediate help as they make another run at a championship next season. Fultz has the ability to be an impact scorer and could play well in the backcourt with Thomas.
To make matters worse for Brooklyn, the Nets’ roster doesn’t look like it’s going to be much better next year than it was this season, meaning that 2018 pick could very well end up being another top-three selection for Boston. The Nets are clear of this trade after that, but if Fultz ends up being a franchise player, his entire career will be a constant reminder to Brooklyn fans of what might have been.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.