When the New York Knicks took on the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, I was asked who the Toronto Raptors should be rooting for. (Or against.)
The Raptors are owed a 2016 first-round pick from the Knicks – thank you, Andrea Bargnani – but the Nuggets have first claim at it following the lottery. The Raptors, then, will receive the worst/lesser of the two picks, the projection of which you can track on our main page or by going here.
The projection, however, assumes the lottery unfolds in the same order as the standings, hardly a certainty.
There are 91 possible in-lottery standings iterations for the two teams, ranging from finishing 29th and 30th – the Raptors would have a 12.84-percent chance at the No. 2 pick – to finishing 17th and 18th – the Raptors would have a 0.006-percent chance at the No. 2 pick – but posting all of them would be insane (it’s a lot of multi-conditional probability and makes my head hurt). Those are numbers we can crunch come lottery time once we know the final landing spot of each team.
For now, all Raptors fans have to do is root against the Knicks and Nuggets. The Nuggets won Tuesday’s game, and as a result, the two sides are essentially even in the standings – New York has an extra win and loss for a better winning percentage, but in “games behind” they’re even.
The Raptors want both teams to do poorly down the stretch, as the worse off each is, the higher the Raptors’ potential pick will be.
On the Nuggets side, Danilo Gallinari is out injured and, while he’s ahead of schedule, there would be a good argument to be made for shutting him down late in the year. The Nuggets are OK with their own pick being bad, too, after all. Wilson Chandler is also out for the season, providing an opportunity for Raptors 905 call-up Axel Toupane, who, sadly, hasn’t been sent as a sleeper agent to intentionally cost Denver games. According to NBA.com, 10 of the Nuggets remaining 18 games come against teams who are .500 or better, good for a strength of schedule of .506. They also play 10 of their final 18 on the road.
The Knicks, meanwhile, don’t appear ready to stop playing Carmelo Anthony 40 minutes a night. The Knicks have no incentive to be worse, as they don’t get their own pick, and while their sights should be on the future and developing young players, interim head coach Kurt Rambis is coaching for a job. As a result, he’s doing things like overworking Anthony on an iffy knee and starting Sasha Vujacic. Arron Afflalo and Lance Thomas are banged up, too. The Knicks have a slightly easier schedule than Denver from here out, facing a .490 winning percentage, though 10 of their 16 games are against teams above .500 and they only have seven home games remaining.
According to TeamRankings.com, a projection engine, the Knicks are currently expected to win 33.6 games, which would be good for the eighth-best lottery odds. Denver is projected for 33.1 and the seventh-best odds. Five Thirty Eight has the Knicks and Nuggets flipped in those two spots, though their projected records round to even (and a tie wouldn’t matter since all of those ping-pong balls belong to Denver, anyway). ESPN’s BPI has the Knicks one win above Denver, once again in the Nos. 7 & 8 spots.
The reality is, though, that projection systems aren’t going to price in a ton of difference over the final 16-18 games, and things like opponent rest, injuries, and a shift in on-court priority could swing a game or two. The area that matters to Raptors fans – from New Orleans to Orlando, the cut-off for “actually trying to make the playoffs” teams, the teams slotted sixth to 11th in the lottery could still shake up a fair amount.
So root against the Knicks and Nuggets and for the other teams in that group, hoping for a best-case scenario where the Knicks and Nuggets are slotted sixth and seventh in whatever order (the Raptors would have a 0.57-percent chance of picking second and would be most likely to land seventh). Here’s a look at how Chad Ford and DraftExpress rank (not mock) the top-10 prospects:
The Raptors also have their own pick, currently slated to be 26th overall. Here’s a look at who’s ranked in the 22-30 range:
The Raptors seem unlikely to use both picks on roster players, but a lot can change between now and the start of next season. Using both, trading both, using one and trading the other, draft-and-stashing someone…none of these options can be ruled out. These picks, particularly the Knicks/Nuggets one, are big assets not just for potential trades or to land a player, but because if the pick hits, they also stand to provide pretty serious surplus value with a fixed rookie scale in a rising cap environment.
So, yeah, go everyone who is playing against the Knicks and Nuggets.