Barry Jackson

Let’s end this playoffs vs. lottery Heat debate once and for all

Miami Heat president Pat Riley, shares some experiences with about former Miami Heat player Shaquille O'Neal, at a press conference before the Heat retires his No. 32 jersey, during a special halftime ceremony of the Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers, NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Dec. 22, 2016.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley, shares some experiences with about former Miami Heat player Shaquille O'Neal, at a press conference before the Heat retires his No. 32 jersey, during a special halftime ceremony of the Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers, NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Dec. 22, 2016. pportal@miamiherald.com

Have you been conflicted about whether it’s in the Heat’s best interests to make the playoffs (and potentially lose in the first round) or take your chances in the draft lottery? Don’t be.

Unless the Heat misses the playoffs and gets extraordinarily lucky in the lottery, data this century shows there’s absolutely no difference in the quality of player available in the draft if you barely miss the playoffs as opposed to making it as a low seed. And Miami is now in position to either make it or barely miss, standing 1.5 games out of both seventh and eighth in the East and 2.5 games out of sixth.

A few things to consider:

• The Heat has the NBA’s 15th worst record but would stand to pick 14th if the season ended today, with all non-playoff teams picking first. If that’s where the Heat finishes, Miami would have just a 1.8 percent chance of landing a top three draft pick, a range that would give teams a choice among elite point guards Lonzo Ball (UCLA) and Markelle Fultz (Washington), Kansas forward Josh Jackson, Kentucky guard Malik Monk, Duke forward Jayson Tatum, NC State point guard Dennis Smith and FSU forward Jonathan Isaac.

The Heat, at the very least, appears likely to finish with no worse than the 10th worst record, and likely will be better than that. For teams that finish 10 through 14, the odds of a top three pick are, in order, 6.5 to 2.9 to 2.5 to 2.2 to 1.8 percent.

After the top three is determined, teams pick in inverse order of record.

So if the Heat finishes in that range, Miami likely would be looking at players such as French forward Frank Ntilikina, Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen, Kentucky point guard D’Aaron Fox, Duke forward Harry Giles, Michigan State forward Miles Bridges, Creighton center Justin Patton, Texas A&M forward Robert Williams, UCLA forward TJ Leaf, Texas center Jarrett Allen, Cal forward Ivan Raab and Indiana guard OG Anunoby (out for the season after knee surgery).

One veteran scout said he really likes Bridges from that group, noting “he does a lot of the things Justise Winslow does but is a better shooter.”

• Among the 105 players selected this century by the teams picking 10th to 16th in the draft (excluding the too-early-to-read 2016 draft), only eight became All-Stars. And five of them were picked 10th: Joe Johnson, Caron Butler, Andrew Bynum, Brook Lopez and Paul George.

But this century, there has been no significant difference in quality of players chosen between picks 11, 12, 13 and 14 (the final four lottery picks) and picks 15 and 16 (the last two playoff qualifiers).

In fact, since the turn of the century, the 15th pick (non-lottery) has produced more All Stars (Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo) than lottery picks 11 through 14 combined. The only 21st century player selected 11th through 14th that became an All-Star: Klay Thompson, who was selected 11th.

This century, draft picks for teams that have barely missed the playoffs have been an underwhelming bunch. The 12th pick was an undistinguished group, with Steven Adams, Vlad Radmanovic and Thaddeus Young the best of the bunch. The 13th delivered Richard Jefferson, Markieff Morris and a bunch of backups and busts. The 14th served up more mediocre backups and busts, plus John Henson and Marcus Morris.

At least the 15th pick (the worst playoff team) delivered Leonard, Antetokounmpo and Al Jefferson – arguably better pros than any player picked 12th, 13th and 14th this century, though a case could be made for Richard Jefferson over Al Jefferson when they were in their primes.

The best of the 16th picks? Hedo Turkoglu, Nick Young and James Johnson.

So here’s the point: There’s a clear advantage to being bad enough to pick in the top 10 over, say, 15th or 16th. But if the Heat is going to finish with a good enough record to barely miss the playoffs, there’s no historic draft advantage to being one of the first few teams out of the playoffs as opposed to being one of the last teams in, unless you collect on two percent odds and move up to the top three.

In fact, the NBA scout said even though he sees a drop-off after about 10 players in this year’s draft, there’s not much difference in the next half dozen prospects on his board and he believes a team will get a rotation player in the range.

So there should be no debate now among Heat fans: It’s clearly better, at this point, to make the playoffs. Because 11 through 14 has produced far more Tyler Hansbroughs and Stromile Swifts and Sean Mays than quality NBA starters. And making the playoffs should, in theory, make your organization more appealing to attractive free agents.

Please click here for my Heat/UM post from earlier today, including more historical feats for the Heat.

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