Scoreboard Watching: It’s Not Too Late to Focus on Those Lottery Odds!
As the weeks go by after a do-nothing trade deadline, the Chicago Bulls’ lottery odds are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
The organization is just 3-8 over their past 11 games, despite Arturas Karnisovas’ push for the postseason. This is the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference over that span and the fourth-worst in the NBA. While the Bulls might still be just 1.5 games out from the final Play-In Tournament spot, they’re also just 2.0 games back of the East’s 13th-worst record, which is currently held by the Orlando ‘We Won the Vooch Trade’ Magic.
Believing the Bulls have what it takes to surpass the Pacers and Wizards for the final Play-In spot isn’t easy, especially with just 17 games left to go in the regular season. Indeed, arguably the Bulls’ best chance to reclaim a postseason position was over these past 10 or so games. They got to play a depleted Nets team, a youthful Magic team, a rebuilding Pacers team, and a similarly-struggling Toronto Raptors team. They lost to each of those squads at least once, and they’ll now have to face a much tougher path over their final few weeks.
Tankathon currently gives the Bulls the 13th-toughest strength of schedule over the remainder of the season. The main reason why is that 11 of their next 17 will come against squads that are currently .500 or better. This will include matchups against the Nuggets, Kings, Timberwolves, and 76ers (x2) over their next seven games. The Bulls have just one win against those four teams this season (and it came when Joel Embiid was off the floor for the 76ers).
Look, it’s not out of the question that the Bulls put together some sort of run (not that they’d necessarily bet on themselves). To their credit, they’ve played a lot better against above-average teams than below-average teams this season. But the fact of the matter is that their chances of keeping this year’s first-round pick remain significantly better than their chances of making the Play-In Tournament.
Basketball-Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report currently gives the Bulls a 13.2 percent chance at making the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight’s algorithm has dropped the Bulls’ chances all the way down to 6 percent. Meanwhile, their chances of earning a top-4 selection (and thus keeping their pick from going to Orlando) sits at 34.8 percent. This would also increase up to roughly 37.0 percent if the Pacers were to take a 1.0 game lead on the Bulls (the two are currently tied but Chicago is considered 12th because Indiana has won the season series 3-1).
Heck, even if we take a look at the Bulls’ chance of winning the Wemby Sweepstakes and earning the No. 1-overall pick … it’s better than their chance to make the playoffs! If they end up with sole possession of the 6th-worst record in the NBA, their odds at the first-overall pick will sit at 9.0 percent. Tied with the Pacers right now, that number is at 8.3 percent.
So at what point will this team try to do what’s best for their long-term future? As brutal as it might be to tank and give the Magic the No. 5th pick in the NBA Draft, they’re on pace to do that anyway! Not to mention, as I continue to stress, that pick is a sunk cost. Having it finish as the 5th pick or the 8th pick doesn’t really matter at this point. If it makes more sense for the Bulls’ long-term future to go for the No. 4-overall pick, they have to heavily consider doing that with just a little over one month to go in the regular season.
After all, it doesn’t sound like their locker room is bought into the alternative …