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Wizards' losing has created bizarre situation in NBA standings, lottery odds

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The NBA only taking 22 teams to Orlando for its restart had the potential for some really strange things to shake out in the standings and now that the Wizards have started out 0-4, those possibilities are being realized.

Just look at the East right now. The Wizards are technically not eliminated from the playoffs, yet they have a worse record than the Charlotte Hornets, who are eliminated from postseason contention.


ESPN.com

Notice the 'e's.' When else would you see something like that? Maybe in college football, if a team loses postseason eligibility, but continues on playing games. 

Those standings, though, are just an odd element of some extraordinary circumstances as the NBA did what it could to resume playing basketball. Things could get much more real when it comes to the draft lottery.

By losing to the Sixers on Wednesday, the Wizards dropped below the Hornets in terms of win percentage, as you see above. Washington now has the eighth-worst record in the NBA.

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But because the league changed the lottery rules for the restart, the Wizards would have the ninth-best lottery odds if the season ended today. The bottom eight teams, including Charlotte, are cemented in where they stood when the league shut down on March 11.

 

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What that would mean if it holds up is a strange situation on lottery night. The Wizards could have fewer ping pong balls than a team that has a better record than them. They could even slide past the Bulls if they keep losing and have worse odds than two teams with better records than theirs.

On lottery night, it will be the difference of a few percentage points, which on the face of it might not seem all that important. Here is how the odds break down for the No. 7 through 9 teams:

7th-best odds - 7.5 % chance at No. 1 pick, 31.9 % chance at top-4
8th-best odds - 6.0 % chance at No. 1 pick, 26.2 % chance at top-4
9th-best odds - 4.5 % chance at No. 1 pick, 20.2 % chance at top-4

As you see there, the Wizards would only be missing out on either 1.5% or 3.0% in terms of odds to get the No. 1 pick. But when you add the percentages up for the top-four selections, their odds are affected by as much as 11.7 percent. That is fairly substantial.

The thing is, however, it could work both ways. The Wizards could be hurt by the lottery odds, but still end up getting lucky by staying at ninth. The ninth spot in the lottery could yield them a really high draft pick and therefore make Chicago or Charlotte wish the rules were different.

But just consider how things went in last year's draft lottery, the first under the new system of rules. The No. 1 pick went to the team that had the seventh-best odds, the New Orleans Pelicans. The No. 2 pick went to the team with the eighth-best odds, the Memphis Grizzlies. And the team with the ninth-best odds, the Atlanta Hawks, fell a spot to land at No. 10.

The No. 1 pick was Zion Williamson, the No. 2 pick was Ja Morant and the No. 10 pick was Cam Reddish. That is a huge difference.

If the same class was available this year, and the lottery shook out the same way, the Wizards would pick 10th and come away feeling like they got robbed of Williamson or Morant, both of whom appear to be generational players. That would be a stroke of bad luck that would take years, if not decades, to get over.

This draft does not seem to have that type of talent at the top, depending on how you feel about guys like James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball. But it's still an NBA draft and every year there are future All-Stars available. Most years there are future Hall of Famers to be had.

 

All of this may not matter much, or it could matter a lot. In the most extreme scenario, it could legitimately have a major effect on the future course of the league.

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