Later this evening, Thunder fans will be where they are used to being in the summertime; squarely on the edge of their seats.
Ah yes, surrounded by family and friends. Decked out in Thunder gear head to toe. Popcorn popping. Maybe you prepared a full meal. I’m not one to judge. After the pleasantries, the laughs, the overall good times; something shifts. The atmosphere doesn’t feel “happy”, but it doesn’t feel “depressing” either. There is anticipation, intensity, and (so much) anxiety. As every ball that bounces our heart skips a beat.
As every ball falls, we hold our breath until we turn the color of Billy Donovan arguing a foul call. This event, this moment, can change everything.
Wait a second, you’re thinking about playoffs? (In my best Jim Mora impression) We’re talking about playoffs?
No, this is something much more trivial and spontaneous than this year’s game of last man standing. We aren’t hanging onto every bounce of basketballs. Our joy, mental health, and our livelihood is 100% reliant on the bounces of ping pong balls.
For those of you (like my previous self) who are not entirely familiar with how the lottery works, allow me to try my best with an explanation. Hopefully one you find less boring and monotonous than that of the Executive VP of Basketball Operations.
There are 14 ping pong balls (unclear if they are sized or weighed for a recreational game) that are inserted into a glass, or plastic container. (I’m kinda fuzzy on what the container’s consistency is, so let’s say it’s Glasstic).
They turn on a reverse vacuum, air compressor type system that puts the ping pong balls into what I’m going to so lovingly call, “The Tornado of Bounce”. And after a certain amount of time, they will pull a ball out. Then they will repeat the process 3 times, creating a 4 number combination. They’ll read out the 4 number combination, “12, 3, 8, 11”, you’ll hear someone yell bingo (no not really) and the process repeats 3 more times. Basically each team has a set amount of numerical combinations that equal them getting the No. 1 pick. As teams solidify themselves into the top 4, the rest stay where they are based on the gaps that are filled.
The best way I can describe that process is like a game near and dear to my heart, Jenga. Jenga isn’t so much a game of skill, moreso strategy. Much like tanking, rebuilding, whatever you tell yourself it’s called to make you sleep better at night. For those of you that haven’t played Jenga (or the wood block stacking game according to some retailers), you have a tower of wooden blocks. These wooden blocks are set side by side in groups of 3, and then cross stacked until it assembles a tower. You then take turns removing a piece from the middle or bottom (if you dare) and replace those pieces on top. You repeat this until someone ultimately causes the untimely collapse of tower de Jenga.
It’s not 100% carbon copy but that’s kinda how the draft lottery is. As teams below the top 4 get picked for a top 4 pick, the rest of the group goes down as a reaction to it. So the order 1-14 goes like, well this:
Say the 4th (yes, I’m a homer), 13th, 2nd, 11th teams get selected. Then it looks like so:
In this beautiful, pure, authentic, not hopelessly optimistic scenario the Thunder not only acquire the No. 1 pick, but they also take the Rockets pick at No. 5.
*cue 20 consecutive seconds of laughter*
**Dr. Evil style**
That’s the endgame. That’s what we want THE MOST. That’s the apex. That’s bliss. That’s Nirvana. That’s euphoria. That is magneto-perfection.gif.
But that is a longer shot than the one Steph Curry hit on us in 2016. Sorry, I know it’s still too soon.
The worst case scenario has us getting the 7 pick (if we get 8 we automatically get the 5 pick [Rockets] because that means 4 teams jumped us both) and the 18 pick which we acquire from the Heat in the event the Rockets keep their top 4 pick.
That’s catastrophe. That’s despair. That’s turmoil. That’s disappointment. That’s dog-burning-building-this-is-fine.gif; BUT IT IS NOT FINE.
While getting a top 7 pick isn’t inherently bad, especially not in this draft, it’s not the reward you want to receive after a last ditch effort at season’s end to tank their way to the top.
It is not an understatement to say that this draft lottery could legitimately shift the balance of power in the league for the next decade.
The Wolves owe the Warriors their pick if it isn’t top 3. Bounces of ping pong balls determine whether the Wolves get a guy like Jalen Suggs to round out the young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, DeAngelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards or if the Warriors get ANOTHER dip into the top of the draft to try to make Curry’s prime worthwhile.
Ping pong balls.
The Rockets traded away superstar James Harden for what many consider $.75 on the $1.00. Bounces of ping pong balls determine whether they replace him with a guy like Cade Cunningham, or Evan Mobley or if they come out of the draft with Jaden Springer and Usman Garuba.
Ping pong balls.
And the big one, the Thunder have a chance at not 1, but 2 top 5 picks. The possibility of teaming of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with Cade, Mobley, Suggs, Jalen Green or Jonathan Kuminga and potentially starting to make the transition in the play-in/playoff contention. But also the possibility to come away with Moses Moody, and Kai Jones. Again, good players in their own right; but not enough to make that much of a difference and not end up in the lottery again.
Ping pong balls.
Yes, there is a large number of possibilities for what picks the Thunder ultimately end up with. If you follow @TylerCarroll12 or @SteveThunderfan you probably already know them. But as we draw nearer to that Tuesday evening, allow me to leave you with 2 thoughts that will hopefully put your mind at ease.
- According to the aforementioned @SteveThunderfan, the chances of getting 1&5 are about the same as us getting 7&18. That means we have the same chances of getting the best scenario, as the absolutely worst scenario.
- Sam Presti is our GM. We get the 1&5, Presti has a proven track record at the top of the draft. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden. EVER HEARD OF THEM?! If we get towards the worst case, he has plenty of bargaining chips to potentially move up to get the guy he likes. Or we stand pat, trust our development and try the lottery next year. Chet Holmgren, Paulo Banchero, Patrick Baldwin, etc. Trust. The. Presti.
Ping pong balls, not basketballs will determine the immediate future of the NBA, and most importantly the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And I can’t freaking wait to watch.