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The best and worst-case scenarios for the Magic’s draft lottery

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Complications at the top of the draft make things a little more interesting this year than most

NBA: All Star Game-Commissioner Press Conference Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

A couple weeks ago, Aaron put together an excellent preview of what’s at stake for the Magic entering tonight’s lottery. I strongly encourage you to read up on that to get an idea of the odds that the ping pong balls bounce in the Magic’s favor. I figured I’d put together a few other scenarios, too, including some more...exotic possibilities.

Before we get to those, though, let’s start with the obvious:

Best-case scenario: Magic pick 1st, Lakers pick 6th

Not too much to say here. The Magic could sorely use the top pick to start building some momentum back in the right direction. The interesting twist, as with many of these scenarios, is that the ideal outcome involves not just the Magic’s positioning, but the Lakers’ as well.

The Lakers conveying a first to the Magic doesn’t actually depend on them being 6th specifically, of course. They only have to fall out of the top-3, and if you assume the Magic jump them in the draft, that chance increases significantly. We’re going for absolute best-case scenarios, though, and from the Magic’s perspective, it’s best if the Lakers’ pick falls as low as possible. In theory, the worse pick they get this year, the worse the team will be in the coming seasons, which therefore makes the Magic’s pick more valuable when they receive it in 2019. Ergo, the very best thing that can happen is that three different teams jump ahead of Los Angeles, including, of course, Orlando at the very top.

Fortunately, there’s a site out there than can calculate these very specific probabilities for us. At lotterybucket.com, I queried the probability of “Orlando picks at 1 and Philly (via Los Angeles) picks at 6.” The probability, as you might expect, is pretty low, less than a 1% chance. If we broaden the scenario to include L.A. picking anywhere outside the top-3, though, the chances get a lot more reasonable, about 5%.

Probability of this scenario: 0.76%

The Darkest Timeline: Magic pick 7th, Lakers pick top-3

Again, thanks to the unusual nature of the pick protections this year, the absolute worst thing that could happen to the Magic isn’t that their pick drops as low as possible, to 8th. In that situation, three teams below the Magic in the lottery would jump them, but that also implies that they jump the Lakers as well.

In other words, the Magic would much rather pick 8th than 7th in a lot of scenarios, because it would mean the Lakers get bounced out of the top-3, therefore conveying the 2019 pick. Of course, it’d be better if the Magic could pick 7th and the Lakers still get bumped, but we’re talking about the worst-case scenario here.

Unlike the previous example, it doesn’t matter too much which pick L.A. gets, since they wouldn’t be sending the future first-rounder anyway.

Probability of this scenario: 1.90%

The most likely outcome: The draft goes chalk
The least-likely outcome: Miami, Denver, and Detroit jump into the top-3

The single most likely thing to happen on Tuesday night is, naturally, that every team picks exactly where their odds dictate. In other words, Boston wins the lottery (via Brooklyn), Phoenix gets the second spot, and Los Angeles gets third, and nobody jumps up in the draft order. As you might remember, this is how it shook out last year.

The funny thing is, this one specific scenario is very unlikely to happen, as is any specific top-3 ordering. Only about 1.9% of the time will the top 3 picks fall this way, but that just goes to show how many thousands of outcomes are possible.

On the other end of the spectrum, we ask: what happens if the three lowest-odds teams actually win the lottery? Specifically, the least probable outcome is that Miami, with the worst odds, takes the top spot, the second-worst odds team (Denver) drafts next, followed by the third-lowest, Detroit. This is so unlikely to happen that the NBA would have to exist for millions of years to have even a decent chance of this outcome occurring even once.

(Sidenote: we’re talking about the Miami-Denver-Detroit order specifically. The odds that they all make it into the top-3 in general is much higher, about 1 in 50.)

Probability of the most-likely outcome: 1.87%
Probability of the least-likely outcome: 0.00000213%, or about 1 in 4.7 million

Thanks to lotterybucket.com for the draft odds calculations