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Feeling the Draft

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I don't know if you've played with the Draft Lottery Machine on ESPN.com yet, but it's petty addictive.  Especially considering how pointless and simplistic it is, you can spend a fair amount of time clicking that lottery button.

Things are going to change plenty between now and June, but if Chad Ford is even close to right on his predictions of what teams are going to do, I hope you're a fan of O.J. Mayo.  His name comes up for the Clippers about 80% of the time.  Of course, the team also has a chance to move into the top 3.  If they do get lucky, Ford has them picking Beasley 1, Rose 2 and Gordon 3 - which is pretty much what everyone else would do as well based on the situation today.

But as long as we're being obsessive compulsive on this thing, let's do it right.  First of all, where do we think the Clippers will finish the season?

The Clippers currently have the 6th worst record in the NBA at 20-39.  They've been 6th or 7th for a couple months now.  The 5th place Knicks are 18-43, 3 games worse than the Clippers.  7th place Charlotte is 22-39, one game better thanks to a 3 game winning streak (go Bobcats!)  And 4 more Eastern Conference teams are within 4 games of the Clippers.  So one mildly warm streak (forget about getting hot) could conceivable move them from 6th to 11th, though it's highly unlikely.

It also seems unlikely that they'll fall in the standings.  Of the teams worse than the Clippers, the Grizzlies and the Sonics did the most to help their ping pong ball cause prior to the trade deadline by getting rid of starters in exchange for... pretty much nothing.  So those two teams have no intention of going on any winning streaks, and couldn't really do it even if they wanted to.  The Heat didn't exactly get nothing back for Shaquille O'Neal, but that trade nonetheless signaled a total lack of interest on their part in finishing strong (a trend re-enforced by Pat Riley's potential scouting hiatus).

That leaves the Wolves and the Knicks as teams who at least haven't explicitly tried to make themselves worse during the season.  Of course, they don't really have to try, it just comes naturally.  The Wolves actually won 5 of 7 culminating with their victory over the Clippers February 1, and the thought at the time was that maybe they could put together something and be OK down the stretch.  Those 5 wins after all doubled their total on the season to that point.  They've since lost 12 of 14, putting them right back in the hunt for worst overall record.  The Knicks simply remain a train wreck.  They're 8 games out of the final playoff spot with 21 games left - even in the horrid East.  There's a chance that Isiah will be fired soon and that a new or interim coach will get them to play hard for the last month of the season, but it's more likely that they'll just go so further into the tank regardless of what happens.

So it seems highly unlikely that the Clippers will finish any worse than 6th.  Don't forget, none of those teams are expecting to add an All Star power forward in the next 6 weeks.  For what it's worth, the 6th place team has a 6.3% chance of getting the number 1 pick, while the 5th place team has an 8.8% chance.

But what about moving up in the standings, thereby likely moving down in the draft?  The team would like to go on a little streak with Elton Brand in the lineup to build some momentum for next season, but how many draft positions will it cost them?

This is where the diluted Eastern Conference is finally going to help the Clippers.  The next 6 worst records belong to East teams, and one of those is currently in the playoffs.  The Bobcats, a mere game ahead of the Clippers, are only 4 games out of the final playoff spot.  Whether all of those teams continue pushing for a postseason berth, or for how long, remains to be seen.  But they all have a lot more to play for than the typical below .400 team in the final 6 weeks.

So let's assume that none of those 6 actually tank, but that they continue to play as they have so far this season - poorly, but not intentionally so.  It is then up to the Clippers to catch them or not.  Assuming that the Generic Clippers, especially without Cassell, really are the .333 team they've been so far this season, and that MDsr is serious about keeping Brand out until the end of the month, we would expect them to win 5 of the 15 games left in March.  In a really good scenario, they could go 6-2 in the 8 April games with Brand, end the season on a high note, and finish the season 31-52.  That's a winning percentage of .378, likely moving them ahead of Charlotte in the standings, and into a tie with the Bucks.  (That's where winning that game in Milwaukee comes back to haunt you - thank theFSM they were swept by the Bobcats this season!)  31 wins is not out of the question, but probably aggressive given the go slow approach on Brand - so figure the Clippers will pick 7th.

The players will continue to rise and fall. Mayo was considered the number 1 pick back in October, and now he's anywhere from 6 to 12, so fortunes definitely change.

In the top group, there seem to be three bigs, and four guards. Michael Beasley's close to a consensus number 1, and DeAndre Jordan and Brook Lopez are the other two highly coveted big guys. Derrick Rose, Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless are all rated ahead of Mayo right now. Basically, if there are enough teams who want a big player drafting ahead of the Clippers, they should do no worse than Mayo even if they drop some in the draft order. (In fact, in the Lottery Machine, if Mayo makes it past the Clippers and the Knicks, he tends to fall to the Kings picking 12th.)

After Rose, Gordon, Bayless and Mayo, there is a perceived drop off to D.J. Augustin, Ty Lawson, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison. Part of the problem for the Clippers is that Augustin, Lawson and Collison are all 6'0" or less - after 2 months of Brevin Knight and Dan Dickau, it'll be tough to spend a mid-lottery pick on a 6 footer.

The very skinny elephant in the room on all of this is Shaun Livingston. Will he be able to play in 2008? Will he be effective? Is it more important to draft Livingston's replacement, or Mobley's? If the pick is high enough, then you can take the best player. But the further you drop, the more you may consider need - and it's hard to determine the Clippers' biggest need without knowing more about Livingston.

Obviously, if you'd told anyone in October that the Clippers would get O.J. Mayo in the 2008 draft they would have been thrilled. And clearly they could do worse. He's got the size to play the two, and the skills to play the one. (But let's face it, not too many players have successfully made that transition.) He can flat score, and he's got a name, not too mention that he could pull in some fans after playing at USC. That 2-8, 10 turnover game against UCLA left a bad impression for many... but he's had 6 games of 29 or more also.

There's a long way to go, and the landscape will continue to shift. But keep an eye on Mayo in March.