A Little Luck

Pistons win 2 tiebreakers, go into June draft armed with 3 picks

The Pistons' last three No. 1 draft picks.
The Pistons have found solid contributors in the last several drafts.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
For a franchise that hasn’t gotten many breaks lately, the Pistons got two Friday afternoon – perhaps an omen that better fortune lies ahead. They won both tiebreakers that involved them for determining lottery position and draft order.

As a result, the Pistons will go into the May 21 lottery in the No. 7 spot. They’ll pick ahead of Washington, with which they shared a 29-52 record, if neither team moves into the top three for the June 27 draft. Washington will thus pick ahead of the Pistons in the second round, which means the Pistons will have the 38th pick. They will also choose 56th as a result of the Los Angeles Clippers winning their tiebreaker with Memphis.

The Pistons were in a similar spot going into the 2010 draft, when they tied with Philadelphia for the sixth spot but lost the tiebreaker. Philadelphia wound up drawing the No. 2 pick and the Pistons picked seventh, selecting Greg Monroe.

With 1,000 possible four-digit lottery combinations split proportionate to record among the 14 lottery teams, the Pistons – as a result of winning the tiebreaker with Washington – will have 36 such combinations compared to 35 for the Wizards. The Pistons will have a 3.6 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, a 4.1 percent chance of getting the No. 2 pick and a 4.85 percent chance of picking third. The likeliest scenario is the Pistons would pick seventh or eighth.

The Clippers’ pick owed to them is a bonus the Pistons never anticipated. It’s the remnant of a 2009 trade-deadline deal that sent Alex Acker to the Clippers to enable the Pistons to avoid paying luxury taxes for that season. The pick came with protection that at the time of the trade appeared ironclad: It would only be conveyed if it was one of the last five picks in the draft, 56-60.

Had the Clippers lost their tiebreaker with Memphis, the pick would have stayed with Los Angeles. But because the Clippers will pick ahead of Memphis in the first round, Memphis picks ahead of the Clippers in the second round. That made the 55th pick the property of Memphis and the 56th pick the property of the Clippers – who then were obligated to convey it to the Pistons.

While the hit rate for picks in the 50s is maybe 10 percent, the pick could still turn out to be valuable. The two likeliest ways for that to prove true: (1) The Pistons use it on an international player whose contract status is murky but whose talent is apparent, likely resulting in the player needing to remain overseas for two or more seasons; or (2) the Pistons combine 38 and 56 in order to move into the late first round, dealing with a team that faces luxury-tax consequences and wishes to avoid paying the guaranteed salary slot assigned to a first-round pick.

That’s more than a remote possibility, too. Most teams picking in the mid to late 20s are title contenders with heavy payrolls. The 2013-14 season will be the first where the more punitive luxury tax assessments are in place following the 2011 lockout and subsequent collective bargaining agreement. There could be several teams looking to trade out of the first round. The Pistons picked up an extra bargaining chip by winning the second tiebreaker.