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Crossroads: Thunder’s fate to be determined by ping-pong balls

Since the departure of Chris Paul in November, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s timeline became evident — it was time for a rebuild.

This sense of reconstruction became as clear as day as the months progressed. From starting the season with just six returning players to phasing out Al Horford for Moses Brown and Tony Bradley — Oklahoma City’s youth movement went from an in-house secret to a proclaimed tank job in a snap.

Now, Oklahoma City’s future will be set from a sequence of four numbered lottery balls.

The Thunder will enter Tuesday’s Draft Lottery with the fourth-best lottery odds, ousting the Cleveland Cavaliers in last month’s coin flip for enhanced odds outside of the top 4.

Both teams finished with 22-50 records on the season.

Oklahoma City will hit the Lottery with the most intriguing outcomes out of the 14 respective participants. For the Thunder’s selection, the team holds an 11.5% percent chance at harvesting the top selection in the class, while in full having a 45.1% slice at taking a top 4 choice in the class. Outside of the top 4, the Thunder is sitting on a hotbed with picks 6 and 7. Oklahoma City holds the largest odds in the league at receiving pick no. 6 post-lottery with a 27.1% chance, while also taking an 18.0% chance at collecting pick no. 7. In full, the Thunder has an equal chance at garnering picks 6 or 7 (45.1%) than receiving a top 4 pick. 

This slate of draft percentages is as close to clean-cut as it gets. However, those odds get a lot more complicated when you take into account Houston’s first-round pick.

Houston’s first-round pick had originally been one-of-four first-round choices bundled in the Westbrook-Paul deal orchestrated back in July of 2019. That first-round pick had been nothing but a throw-in leading into this season, but after the franchise faced qualms with cornerstone guard James Harden — the Rockets are on the verge of a catastrophe.

The Rockets hold a 1-4 pick protection with their selection — meaning if their picks land anywhere inside the top 4, they’ll be the pick’s lone possesser heading into July’s draft. The kicker — if their pick slips to 5, Oklahoma City will acquire the selection.

Due to Lottery rules, Houston’s pick at its worst-case scenario will plummet to 5. However, Houston’s shot at retaining their draft pick is near 50-50 as there is a 47.9% chance Oklahoma City will take the Rockets’ choice at 5.

With an added layer of opportunity, Oklahoma City’s range of pick combinations expands to 13. At best, Oklahoma City could have top selections at picks 1 and 5 — at worst, they may roll out of Tuesday at picks 7 and 18. Due to Oklahoma City’s fourth-place finish, the Thunder has a 2.4% cut at holding pick no. 8, but in this scenario — it also guarantees Oklahoma City will take Houston’s pick at no. 5.

The Thunder’s most likely scenario will result in a haul of picks 6 and 18 (18.07%), while picks 5 and 7 (12.00%), and picks 5 and 6 round out the top three most common rolls. 

In all, Oklahoma City has a 75% chance at walking away with one top 5 pick, while there will be a 25% chance at sneaking away with two out the five top 5 choices.  

Former Thunder center and current Oklahoma City Blue General Manager Nazr Mohammed will represent the franchise as the team’s virtual representative. Mohammed, age 43, will be attending the Lottery from Chicago in preparation for the NBA Draft Combine which will begin Wednesday as the big man will also take part in scouting for the Thunder.

The 2021 NBA Draft Lottery will be aired Tuesday at 7:30 CST on ESPN.

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