Tankathon 2016: The Home Stretch

Published: March 24, 2016

With just 12 games left in the Pelicans season, and nearly every relevant player hurt and/or shut down for the season, there is only one thing that gives this fan base any hope – ping pong balls. And despite a truly horrible season, the number of ping pong balls they will receive is far from certain. A truly horrible final stretch and they can finish with the 5th most ping pong balls, but a good final 12 games and they can jettison all the way up to 11. And not only should we be watching the Pelicans and the team around them in the standings for the sake of their first pick, but how these final few games play out will effect both their 2nd round picks, and the Western Conference as well. With that in mind, let’s answer some of the pressing questions as the tank revs into high gear.

Can the Pelicans Catch the Timberwolves?

When you are talking tank, you actually look at the win column, not the loss column. It’s the inverse of when you are looking up the standings. So, for that purpose, the Pelicans are 3 games “ahead” of Minnesota. The Timberwolves have a young core that is playing hard, and trying to win. And you would figure they would continue to do so all the way down to the wire, but the problem is that they just aren’t very good. Their schedule isn’t particularly easy either, as 7 of their final 11 games are against playoff teams and/or teams fighting for a playoff birth. Interestingly enough, their final game of the season is at home against New Orleans. In all likelihood, for that game to matter, the Pelicans would have had to win 2 or fewer of these next 11 games. But while it is a longshot, it is something to pull for, as evidenced by Ryan Schwan’s draft value piece. Historically, the 5th pick has a better chance of producing value than the 6th or 7th. In addition, the 5th most ping pong balls gives you a 29.2% chance of landing in the top 3, compared to a 21.5% chance if you finish behind Minnesota. So, even if its a small chance, catching Minnesota is well worth rooting for.

Can the Kings Out Tank New Orleans?

The Kings have been even worse than the Pelicans lately, with a defense that has been historically awful. Since February 24th, they are 3-13 and are giving up 109.6 points per game. They currently have one more win than the Pelicans, and all of a sudden Boogie Cousins has a sore knee. Luckily, for the Pelicans, the Kings have Phoenix on the schedule two more times and also play Minnesota and Denver. Winning 2-3 of those games alone could put them out of the Pelicans reach. 7 out of their next 9 games are at home, and if all goes well, they can separate themselves over the next two weeks.

Who Else do the Pelicans Have to Worry About Passing?

The Pelicans have seven winnable games over their final 12. Winning three or fewer means they finish somewhere between 5 and 7. But what if they win more than that? All of a sudden, that brings a couple of more teams into the picture. The Knicks and Nuggets are sitting at 29 wins right now, with the Magic and Bucks at 30. Of the four, the Knicks and Nuggets have the least incentive to tank. The Knicks don’t have their pick, and the Nuggets have the right to swap with the Knicks, so they will likely have the same pick regardless. The Orlando Magic are the team to watch here. They have lost 5 straight and have a pretty tough schedule. Their easy games include Brooklyn, who is actually trying to win, and they also have Milwaukee twice. Outside of that, their schedule is full of teams fighting for playoffs and/or playoff positioning. They could easily finish with just 30 or 31 wins.

What is the deal with the Pelicans Second Round Picks?

The Pelicans will get Denver’s pick and the lesser of their own pick and Sacramento’s. So, long story short, you want to root for the Kings and Nuggets to lose just enough to be worse than all those other bad teams, except for the Pelicans. Ideally, the Pelicans finish 5th or 6th and the Kings and Nuggets finish 7th and 8th. This would give New Orleans the 37th and 38th pick in the NBA Draft, in addition to their first rounder. Picks in that range have produced some quality players the last few years, but once you get into the 40’s, the odds of getting a contributor tail off. So, root for Kings and Nuggets losses– just not TOO many.

What Else Should We Be Rooting For?

If the Trailblazers and Rockets make the playoffs, their picks go to the Denver Nuggets. You can go either way on this one. It would be nice to see Western Conference teams lose assets, but giving Denver three top-18 picks could help elevate them to another level if they use them properly. It also might be wise to root for Washington to make the playoffs, since their pick is likely to go to Phoenix, who already has their own pick and Cleveland’s. Dallas is already set to lose their pick to Boston, so perhaps the best case scenario is for Houston to leap into the playoffs and Dallas to fall out. This would leave a couple of the fringe playoff teams with no picks this summer, and a possible path for the Pelicans to jump a few teams if they nail this offseason.

Best Case Scenario

Obviously, the best case scenario is that the Pelicans land the #1 pick, but having another team jump into the top-3 and push the Lakers out would be pretty nice too, since that would send their pick to Philadelphia. A Pelicans-Bucks-Sixers top three, for instance, would get the Lakers out of the draft and send teams like Phoenix and Minnesota out of the range of a good to great prospect. The odds of the Pelicans catching the Spurs or Warriors any time soon seems far fetched, but it is not inconceivable that they could get themselves into the next tier if everything breaks right. And with all the bad luck this franchise has suffered lately, they seem kind of due, don’t they?


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