While Boston's picks obtained from the Brooklyn Nets ended up netting them Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and later helped bolster a deal for Kyrie Irving, their luck hasn't been nearly as good so far with Sacramento and Memphis' picks.
If the season ended today, the Sacramento Kings would be tied for the 8th worst record in the league, and their first round pick would have a 23.1% chance of being top-4. Unlike, say, New Orleans, who are 6-4 in their last 10 games and may finally have Zion Williamson healthy again soon, there's not much reason to believe a turnaround is coming for the Kings, who are 1-9 in their last 10 games. For Celtics fans, this is one of those "of course this is happening" moments after Sacramento played well enough last year for their first round pick that Boston owned to fall all the way to the last pick of the lottery. Boston ended up with Romeo Langford at pick #14, who was once a top-5 projected pick and could very well pan out to be that level of player, but the Kings' unexpected success was still frustrating given how bad we all expected them to be last season. I believe in Langford's long term potential as much as anybody, but if the pick had ended up even one spot higher, who's to say that they couldn't have gotten a more immediate contributor off the bench like Tyler Herro, or another young big man to groom like Jaxson Hayes in the case that Robert Williams doesn't prove to be the long term answer down low.
This year, the bad luck is continuing. After Memphis' top-8 protected pick failed to convey to Boston last season -- as many Celtics fans wanted it to -- people seemed to start looking past the weaker 2020 draft class and towards what should be a stacked 2021 draft class. The deal for Boston is, if Memphis' now top-6 protected pick fails to convey to them again this year, it becomes unprotected in 2021, raising it's value enormously whether they decide to use it as a draft pick or a trade asset. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies are taking a page out of the playbook of last year's Kings team, and are currently overachieving relative to the expectations that most had set for them heading into the year. As of today, January 6th, they sit a half-game back of the 8th seed in the Western conference at 15-22 and are on pace for 33 wins. If the season ended today, the pick would have a 96.6% chance of landing at #14 and conveying to Boston, and just a 3.4% chance of failing to convey and becoming an unprotected pick for Boston in 2021.
Now, crazier things have happened -- after all, the Grizzlies ended up with the #2 pick last season despite just a 6.3% chance of that happening -- but it's rare that we see a lottery as shaken up as last year's was. There's also always the chance that Memphis falls from their current place in the standings and those odds of the pick becoming top-6 increase. Currently, ESPN's BPI playoff projections have Memphis finishing tied for the 7th worst record in the league which could move the odds of the pick landing top-6 to as high as 31% from the 3.4% chance that it would currently have if the season ended today. What we're seeing from Memphis as of late, however, doesn't suggest any upcoming regression. If anything, Memphis has gotten better and better as the season has gone along. In October, the Grizzlies were 1-3 with a 29th-ranked -12.3 net rating. In November, that number rose slightly to a 25th-ranked -6.4 as they went 4-10 in the month. In December, they started to really figure things out, going 8-8 with a 17th ranked -1.3 net rating. Now, in the small sample size of 3 games, they've started January with a 6th-ranked net rating of +8.4 and a 2-1 record including road wins against the Clippers -- who they blew out 140-114 in regulation -- and the Suns. In those 3 games, Ja Morant is averaging 19/3/8 on 61/44/89 shooting splits, looking as good as he's looked at any point this season.
Looking ahead at the Grizzlies schedule, it's not entirely unlikely that this success continues. In their remaining 12 games in January, they play just 3 teams with winning records -- Houston, Boston and Denver, and Boston is the only one of the three that they'll face on the road. The only other road games that Memphis will play this month are against the Pistons, the Knicks, and the Pelicans. Currently, they're getting set to begin a 6 game home-stand tomorrow in which they'll have one tough matchup against Houston, but otherwise will get to host the likes of Minnesota, San Antonio, Golden State, Cleveland, and New Orleans.
Is it too early to start worrying about what's going to happen with the Memphis pick, and who might be available for the Celtics to select with it if it does convey this year? Probably. But it's not too early to start paying a little more attention to Memphis than you might normally just to keep tabs on where they sit in the standings. The young core of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Brandon Clarke are going to be an exciting group to watch for years to come, and they're incredibly easy to root for, but man would it be nice if they could just take it easy on the winning for another year or two.
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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