If the Heat doesn’t turn this around and finishes the season in the range of where it stands now – with the NBA’s seventh-worst record – here’s the bright side:
Miami’s chances of snagging a top three pick in a potentially loaded NBA draft are significantly higher than they would have been for a mid-lottery team a year ago.
As a result of changes made to the NBA’s lottery system in September 2017 – changes that will be implemented in the 2019 draft and are designed to remove some of the incentive for finishing with the worst record – teams with the seventh through 10th worst records now will have a clearly better chance of landing a top three pick than in past years.
Even in a worst-case scenario (or best-case, if you’re among those rooting for Heat tanking), it’s difficult to envision the Heat finishing with a bottom five record. Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago, New York and Cleveland are heavy front-runners for the five worst records in the league, in some order.
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And the Heat could still turn this around and emerge with the sixth, seventh or eighth playoff seeds, with Miami, Charlotte, Detroit, improved Orlando, Brooklyn and Washington (if the Wizards ever get their act together) essentially competing for three spots behind Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Indiana.
But if the Heat doesn’t, a few things to keep in mind:
▪ The NBA’s new lottery system gives the three worst teams the same chance to get the number No. 1 overall pick (14 percent for each of the three) – as opposed to the old system that gave the worst team the best chance (25 percent).
But this is what’s potentially relevant to the Heat if Miami doesn’t start playing better: The teams with the fourth through 13th worst records now have a better chance to get the top pick.
The team with the sixth-worst record now has a nine percent chance (compared with 6.3 last year), while the team with the seventh worst record (where Miami stands now) has a 7.5 percent chance, compared with 4.3 last year.
▪ A team finishing in the Heat’s current range has a more-than-slightly better chance of landing a top three pick. The team with the sixth-worst record now has a 28 percent chance, compared with 22 last year. The seventh-worst team has a 23 percent chance, compared with 15 last year. The eighth-worst team has a 19 percent chance, compared with 10 last year. The ninth-worst team has a 15 percent chance, compared with 6 percent last year.
The odds also have increased for a top five pick. The team with the seventh-worst record now has a 32 percent chance for a top five pick, compared with 15 last year.
▪ All of this is important because if a bunch of talented underclassmen turn pro – including three from Duke – the 2019 draft could be among the best in years.
Early mock drafts have Duke freshman phenom power forward Zion Williamson as the front-runner for the No. 1 pick, followed in some order by Duke freshman shooting guard RJ Barrett, North Carolina freshman small forward Nassir Little, Duke freshman small forward Cam Reddish and Indiana freshman small forward Romeo Langford.
Kentucky small forward Keldon Johnson, Kansas swingman Quentin Grimes and LSU center Nazreon Reid among other freshmen pushing for a top-five spot.
But any of the Duke freshmen would make an NBA team giddy, particularly Williamson.
”It is not hyperbolic to suggest we’ve never seen anything like Williamson at any level of basketball — because he’s a 6-foot-7, 285-pounder who can handle the ball, pass it, overwhelm in transition and put his chin on the rim,” said CBS’ Gary Parrish, who has freshmen as the first 10 picks in his very early mock draft.
The Heat has its first-round pick in the 2019 and 2020 drafts but its unprotected 2021 first-round pick was dealt to Phoenix in the Goran Dragic deal and is now owned by Philadelphia.