Bucks playing to win, despite chance to improve lottery prospects
MILWAUKEE — With a draft class that’s been anticipated for months, the word "tank" has become popular among fans of certain NBA teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks, this season.
But the Bucks haven’t tanked. They have just lost. There’s a clear difference between the two, as Milwaukee has played hard most nights despite being ravaged by injuries.
Nonetheless, it makes sense why fans of the Bucks want to see them lose. Milwaukee is two games behind Philadelphia with seven games to play for the worst record in the NBA, meaning the Bucks would currently have the best chance of landing the first pick in the draft.
Bucks coach Larry Drew knows there are fans of the team out there hoping they lose on a nightly basis, but says he doesn’t have any reaction to that.
"With all sincerity, I don’t," Drew said. "I go out and coach these games to try to win. I don’t look at where we are or what our season is about right now. My job is to get these gentlemen ready to play every single night and to play hard. Given what our situation is, it’s easy to play the season out.
"But we’re not going to do that. We’re going to try to step out on the floor and be competitive the whole time we’re out there. Wherever we end up, that’s where we end up. But we are not, under any circumstance, going to go out there and fold the tent."
The team finishing with the league’s worst record has a 25 percent chance (250 combinations out of 1,000) to win the lottery and pick first. That team has a 21.5 percent chance to pick second, a 17.8 percent chance to land the third pick and a 35.7 percent chance to have the fourth-overall selection.
Outside of decreased odds to get the first pick, the team with the second-worst record can fall to the fifth pick. The No. 2 team has a 19.9 percent of getting the top pick, an 18.8 percent chance of landing the second pick, a 17.1 percent chance of picking third, a 31.9 percent chance of getting the fourth pick and a 12.3 percent chance of falling to five.
If the Bucks and Sixers would happen to tie for the worst record, the combinations would be split in half. A coin flip would determine which team has 225 combinations and which has 224. The winner of the flip would have increased odds of falling to the fourth pick, but the loser could drop to fifth.
"I know people are looking at the future, as far as the draft is concerned," Drew said. "They’ve already got their eyes pinpointed on players of the future, and that’s normal. I don’t fault them at all for that. But I just let it be known I don’t pay too much attention to that. I just go out and try to coach this team, and wherever we end up, that’s where we are."
Philadelphia tied an NBA record with a 26-game losing streak that was finally snapped last Saturday. Despite not winning for exactly two months, the Sixers are still two games better than the Bucks at 16-59. The only two potential wins left on their schedule appear to be a pair of games with Boston, as five of Philadelphia’s final seven games are against teams in the playoff hunt.
It’s a lot easier to make a case for the Sixers tanking than the Bucks, as Philadelphia implemented its current plan before the season even started.
"I don’t know," Drew said, when asked if Philadelphia is taking a different approach than his team. "I can’t speak for Philly. I don’t know what their whole thought process is. I have not seen them play. I’ve just watched highlights.
"I don’t know what’s going on within their camp, to be perfectly honest."
Simply having the worst record certainly doesn’t guarantee landing the top pick. Only two teams with the worst record have won the lottery since it began its current format in 1994 — Cleveland in 2003 (LeBron James) and Orlando in 2004 (Dwight Howard). Philadelphia won the lottery with the second-worst record in the league in 1996, but Vancouver wasn’t eligible to have the top pick because it was an expansion franchise.
The Bucks won the lottery in 1994 with the second-worst record, while they had the sixth-worst record in 2005 when they took Andrew Bogut with the top pick.
Since 2004, teams finishing with the fifth, sixth, eighth or ninth-worst record have received the top pick in six of the nine years.
Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter