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It's unusual for a team to hope for failure. Sure, fans of bad teams love to see tanking at the end of the season. We all want a chance at a true superstar, and whether a team finishes with 30 wins or 35 wins doesn't matter to most people. But in something like the NBA Draft Lottery, most teams want their pick to finish as high as possible, no matter what.
Yet, tonight, the Thunder will find themselves hoping that their pick fails to get into the top three. You see, as part of the James Harden trade, they received the Raptors' protected first round pick. But if that pick, by some stroke of luck, lands in the top three, the Thunder will have to wait until next year, or longer, to make their selection.
The conditions of the pick are a convoluted mess, but I'll make clear that the Thunder are in a win-win situation. Either way, they're going to find themselves with a lottery pick within the next few years. It would take a multi-year streak of Raptor success or extreme failure to make the pick fall out of the lottery. The table below shows where the pick has to land in order for the Thunder to get it. Currently, the pick sits at #12.
Still, I'm betting that most fans want to make the pick right now. You might have heard that the draft class this year is weaker, and while that is true near the top, it's also true that the solid talent is deeper, extending into the late lottery. That means the Thunder could draft a player who makes an impact immediately.
That wasn't so important two or three years ago, but now the Thunder are going to have to start mixing up their rotation. Kevin Martin and Derek Fisher may not return next year, and the bench is going to need some serious scoring help. If Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones aren't up to the challenge, it could be a Dennis Schroeder, Kelly Olynyk, or Michael Carter-Williams that gives the Thunder a boost next season.
So, what's the likelihood of Toronto moving up to the top three and taking the pick back? Well, they have a 0.7% chance of getting the first pick. Then, a 0.8% chance of getting the second pick. Finally, they'll have a 1% chance of getting the third pick. All in all, the chance is there, but it's like cheering for the Bobcats to beat the Heat and Spurs on a back-to-back.
How the ping-pong balls will bounce is anybody's guess, but we'll be finding out tonight at 7:30 Central Time on ESPN. In addition to the Raptors pick, the Thunder also unconditionally own the #29 pick and the #32 pick. The NBA Draft is on June 27th at 6 PM.