I don’t like to talk about the upcoming draft lottery. On a recent podcast (listen here!) I was asked about the potential pick and noted, without any sarcasm, that it is too stressful to worry about whether or not the Lakers keep their top-3 protected pick. If the Lakers finish with the 2nd worst record in the league, they have a 55.8% chance of keeping their pick. If they fall to the 3rd worst record, they have a 46.9% chance of keeping their pick.
These odds are okay (2nd worst) and not at all what I would want to deal with (3rd worst), but I’m not having it anyway. You should have seen me last May during the lottery special when the draft order was revealed. I was holding my then 3 year old and was a wreck. When the drawing revealed the Lakers kept their pick, I let out a wail of relief. When they jumped to #2, I yelled with joy.
But those moments leading up to when the #6 team was announced were pure torment. This year, with worse odds and higher stakes, I can’t bring myself to focus on it. My blood pressure means too much to me. And I do not want to be “rooting” for losses or worried about how a win affects the standings. I mean, on Sunday night the Lakers beat the Warriors! You think I’m not getting excited about that?
Anyways, this matters, now, because the Lakers are, sort of, trending up lately. It’s not just the win against the Warriors. The W/L column is just as littered with L’s (the team is 2-8 in their last 10), but the Lakers have flashed longer stretches, within games, of better play. They look more comfortable on offense, have shown more life defensively (even if it doesn’t always translate to stops), and, in general, look like a better team than they did before the All-Star break.
Even more encouraging is that the Lakers’ young players are leading the way. Look at their production in the chart below, pre and post-All-Star break (all stats are per-36 minutes)
Randle and Russell have also experienced major jumps in FG% while Clarkson has seen a big jump in 3-point FG% since the break as well.
This increase in productivity may yet lead to wins the Lakers were not projected to win based on their season long win/loss trends. Wins that could see the Lakers leapfrog Phoenix in the standings, even with the Suns also playing better than expected. Especially since the Lakers play the Suns two more times before the end of the season. With the difference between these two teams only 5 games in the loss column, imagine the Lakers sweeping the Suns and then catching a few more wins that seemed totally unlikely just a couple of weeks ago.
This leads to a question that I have been asking myself more and more lately: would you trade a surge in development and strong play from the young core down the stretch of the season for a better chance of the Lakers keeping their protected draft pick? Would you celebrate wins like the one on Sunday against the Warriors or against the Nets where Russell exploded for 39 points knowing it might help contribute to worse odds when the lottery is determined?
For me, that answer is yes. But, like I said above, I’ve been so reluctant to even consider the Lakers keeping their pick that I’ve rarely embraced the idea the pick was coming. Of course I’ve hoped they would keep it and have watched some of the top prospects in this year’s draft, but before the season I also thought the Lakers would be better than they are and had it set up in my mind they would lose the pick anyway.
This season has not unfolded that way, though. With the Lakers being as bad as they have been to this point, I understand those who would see this season as disastrous should the pick go to the 76ers this summer. After all, much like last year, when you’re this bad you want some type of reward for that suffering. And, for some, seeing progress late in the year by the young core isn’t enough of a reward. I get that. I really do.
For me, though, I see the odds, combine it with promising play from the young players, and then remember that if the Lakers lose their pick this year they keep next year’s for sure and the blow is softened. Not removed entirely, mind you, just carrying less an impact.
Here’s hoping that’s not how it goes. Even though that’s exactly what I am preparing for.