How the NBA restart could deliver the Celtics a lottery pick

How the NBA restart could deliver the Celtics a lottery pick

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.

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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).

2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

2020 NBA restart: Celtics' three-game scrimmage schedule in Orlando revealed

By this time three weeks from now, the Boston Celtics will be back on the court playing other NBA teams.

The Celtics' first game of the 2020 NBA season restart isn't until July 31, but they'll start warming up a week earlier with three scrimmage games at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.

Here's Boston's three-game scrimmage schedule in the bubble:

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Friday, July 24
Celtics vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (5 p.m. ET)

Sunday, July 26
Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns (1:30 p.m. ET)

Tuesday, July 28
Celtics vs. Houston Rockets (8 p.m. ET)

The C's face three Western Conference opponents who aren't on their eight-game "seeding round" slate. Their final tune-up against James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Rockets should be entertaining, although it's possible each team's starters play limited minutes as squads shake off the rust.

The NBA plans to release "potential" broadcast details at a later date, so it's unclear whether any of these games will be televised.

The Celtics began official practices July 1 and are set to travel to Orlando between July 7 and 9, where they'll join 21 other teams in the "bubble." Boston is the current No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and could be a legitimate championship contender.

Check out the Celtics' eight-game seeding schedule below:

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

Gordon Hayward recalls rollercoaster Celtics tenure, three years after signing

It was three years ago that the fireworks that Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck had previously talked about (and we absolutely loved to talk about over and over and over again), actually came to fruition for the Celtics. 

That's when Boston did what no Celtics team under Danny Ainge’s watch had ever done. 

They went out and signed an All-Star free agent, then-27-year-old Gordon Hayward, who was still in his prime as a player. 

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“I can’t believe it’s been three years already, to be honest,” Hayward said during a teleconference call with reporters on Friday. “A lot has happened for me, for my family.”

It is impossible to look at the Hayward narrative in Boston without delving into the gruesome left leg injury he suffered just five minutes into this first game as a Boston Celtic. 

Once he was cleared to resume playing, there was the usual rust associated with a long layover. But more than the time off, Hayward had hurdles to clear beyond being physically able to return to play. 

For most of his career, Hayward leaned on his basketball instincts when it came to making plays at both ends of the floor. 

The injury changed that. 

Hayward had developed the kind of muscle memory with his game that allowed him to ascend to an All-Star level while in Utah, with play that on many nights looked seemingly effortless. The injury, which sidelined him for the rest of the 2017-2018 season, forced him to work at bridging the divide that now existed between his mind and body as far as what he was capable of doing on the court.

It wasn’t all that surprising that it led to mixed results, with Hayward looking like the best player on the floor some nights and then inexplicably struggling against inferior competition the next. 

And just like fans at times would become frustrated with his inconsistent play, Hayward wasn’t enjoying this rollercoaster of emotions fueled by his up-and-down play either. 

The 6-foot-8 forward has spent his entire basketball career working to strengthen his body to withstand the physical rigors that come with being a slashing, attacking-the-rim wing who can also make teams pay for sagging off him with a mid-range game that can extend beyond the 3-point line. 

But the injury forced Hayward to really work at strengthening his mind, something that he quickly acknowledged as being the biggest takeaway from his time thus far in Boston. 

“For sure I hit a low during my injury,” Hayward said. “And had to work more than ever on that mental side, more than I ever had in my basketball career on that mental side. That’s for sure something that takes work.”

The topic of mental health among professional athletes has gained significant traction in recent years as a discussion which professional players such as Hayward are far more comfortable addressing publicly. 

“For sure the mental side is where I’ve grown,” he said.

And that growth has Hayward in arguably the best position he has been in as a Celtic. 

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While he was initially brought in to be either the team’s go-to guy or next in line, Hayward has effectively settled into more of a jack-of-all-trades role, allowing him to make an impact of significance without necessarily having to carry the team on a night-in, night-out basis. 

He’s averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season, his best numbers in those categories since becoming a Celtic. 

Just as impressive has been his efficiency — he's shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range this season.

And while he’ll be the first to tell you that his time in Boston has indeed been a rollercoaster of sorts, he has no regrets about his decision to become a Celtic which reunited him with his college coach at Butler, Brad Stevens.

“It’s been some great moments for sure,” Hayward said of his time in Boston. “Obviously some not-great moments with the injury and everything but some great moments. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”