The NBA’s eight seeding games as part of next month's Orlando restart benefits the Boston Celtics in many ways, including a chance to shake off rust, the opportunity to push for the No. 2 seed, and the possibility of avoiding a team like the Philadelphia 76ers in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Those games might also deliver the Celtics a lottery pick.
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The Celtics are set to receive the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round pick — pursuant to the 2015 trade that delivered Jeff Green to Memphis — if it lands outside the top 6 in this year’s draft.
Before the 2019-20 season paused, the Grizzlies held the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and projected to send the 17th pick to Boston. Now, as part of the restart, the Grizzlies will have to fend off five other teams for that spot.
There will be a play-in tournament between the eighth and ninth seeds in the West if those two teams finish the restart within four games of each other. Even with a 3.5-game cushion over three teams at the start of the seeding games, the Grizzlies will be challenged to hold onto that spot.
Memphis has one of the toughest schedules in the reboot, with one strength-of-schedule metric pegging them with the fifth-hardest slate. What’s more, the Grizzlies have head-to-head battles with three of the teams chasing them out of the gates (Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans) before playing a brutal stretch that includes the top 3 teams in the East.
There is the very real chance that Boston could aid Memphis’ plunge to the lottery with a head-to-head matchup on August 11.
Just how tough is Memphis’ schedule? Before the season paused, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projected the Grizzlies to win just three of their final 16 games based on pre-pause performance. The only outright win it offers now is a matchup with New Orleans.
It doesn’t help Memphis’ cause that the Pelicans have the easiest remaining schedule of all 22 bubble teams, opening the door for New Orleans to make a strong push for that final spot. The league certainly wouldn’t hate a LeBron James-Zion Williamson pairing in Round 1 of these bubble playoffs.
If the Grizzlies make the playoffs, it’s unlikely that their pick will move from 17 (they could theoretically slide behind the Nets or Magic in overall record, but it seems unlikely if the Grizzlies are to fend off the teams behind them).
If the Grizzlies miss the playoffs, they will project at the No. 14 overall pick, having the best record among all non-playoff teams. Memphis would enter the draft lottery with only a 2.4 percent chance to vault into one of the top 4 spots in this year’s draft and thereby trigger the protections on the pick. Even if that did happen, Boston would be in line to receive an unprotected first-round pick from Memphis in 2021 — not the worst situation because of the unpredictable nature of the league, even for a team like Memphis that seems to be on the rise with its young talent.
Is shuffling from No. 17 to No. 14 that big of a deal?
Two years ago, being at No. 14 positioned Denver to snag Michael Porter Jr. as he slid down the draft board due to injury concerns. In 2017, Miami landed Bam Adebayo at 14. You could still get Giannis Antetokounmpo at 14 in 2013. Sure, you can play this game with any draft and there’s undoubtedly gems to be found at 14 (and beyond). But drafting three spots earlier than expected can certainly aid a team’s quest to get the player they desire most.
The Celtics could have as many as three first-round picks in this year’s draft. They also project at Nos. 26 (their own pick) and 30 (Milwaukee).