Schmeelk: Different Ways the NBA's Return Could Impact Knicks

John Schmeelk
May 26, 2020 - 12:30 pm

We should know by the end of the week, when the NBA Board Governors Meeting concludes on Friday, exactly what the resumed NBA season is going to look like. There are a lot of different proposals floating around with very little decided. One thing that appears close to certain is the league will resume with all their teams located and playing in Orlando.

Will it be all 30 teams? Will it just be the 16 playoff teams? Will there be a play-in tournament? How many regular season games would be played if all thirty teams are welcomed back? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions.

Depending on the format, the impact on the Knicks will be very different. If the league decides to bring back all 30 teams to complete a shorter regular season, the Knicks could use those games, presumably around five, to give their younger developmental players a longer look. Mike Miller stubbornly continued to play the team’s veterans into March, despite the team’s playoff hopes extinguished.

Frank Ntilikina could get the lion’s share minutes at point guard. Mitchell Robinson could start averaging over thirty minutes per game. Kevin Knox could approach thirty minutes per game. Dennis Smith Jr. could get some extended run, perhaps playing next to Frank Ntilikina. Damyean Dotson could re-enter the rotation and play major minutes. Ignas Brazdeikis could get his first opportunity of extended play time in the NBA after excelling in the G-League.

Given the games are taking place after such a long break, it would be dangerous to gleam too much from such a small sample in unique conditions. Even so, it would give Leon Rose a longer peak at what the younger players on the roster might looks like before having to decide how to build on the current roster.

The Knicks could also have their standing in the NBA Lottery drawings changed. Right now, the Knicks hold the sixth-worst record in the NBA. This is how the worst seven teams line up in terms of their current lottery odds.  

Team                1st        2nd       3rd       4th        5th        6th        7th        8th        9th                 10th           11th

Warriors            14%   13.4% 12.7% 12%   47.9%

Cavaliers          14%   13.4% 12.7% 12%   27.8% 20%

Timberwolves   14%   13.4% 12.7% 12%   14.8% 26%   7%

Hawks              12.5% 12.2% 11.9% 11.5% 7.2%  25.7% 16.8% 2.2%

Pistons             10.5% 10.5% 10.6% 10.5% 2.2%  19.6% 26.7% 8.7%  .6%

Knicks                  9.0%  9.2%  9.4%  9.6%                 8.6%  29.8% 20.6% 3.7%  .1%

Bulls                     7.5%  7.8%  8.1%  8.5%                                   19.7% 34.1%           12.9%     1.3%  <.1%


The standings show the teams ranked two through seven separated by only one or two losses to determine their lottery standing. The Warriors have four more losses than the Cavs and own the league’s worst record.


Team                 Record              Games Back                    Winning %        Games Played

Cavaliers           19-46                 2nd worst record               .292                   65

Timberwolves   19-45                 .5                                      .297                   64

Hawks               20-47                 .5                                      .299                   67

Pistons              20-46                 .5                                      .303                   66

Knicks               21-45                 1.5                                    .318                   66

Bulls                  22-43                 3                                       .338                   65


These teams can move up or down in terms of lottery odds depending on what happens in the five or so games that could be tacked on to the end of the season. The final drawing odds could go a long way in deciding what teams have the chance to select their preferred player in what is considered a flat draft class in terms of talent level. If the NBA chooses to return to play with all thirty teams, the teams already secure in the lottery could be more concerned improving their lottery odds rather than winning games. They would prefer to lose and their fans would too. It would be a bad look for the league.  

The NBA would be wise not to ask teams like these to play out the string. It will help the franchises by giving them more local television games, but those benefits would not help the league’s ultimate efforts of keeping the NBA virus-free and simplifying end of season procedures. The more teams that are in Orlando, the better chance someone shows up infected with COVID-19. The league may decide, however, that excluding nearly half the league from a resumed season isn’t fair.

Whether each team plays again or not, there will still be fair complaints from teams at the bottom of the standings about schedule strength, home versus road games played, and simply the sheer numbers of games played to provide equity in the eventual lottery drawing. For this season only, the league should consider completely levelling out the lottery odds for the teams in the different lottery tiers based off the final standings. All five of the teams ranked second through sixth — the Cavs, Timberwolves, Hawks, Pistons and Knicks — for example, are within two wins or two losses of each other with anywhere from 1-3 games in hand between the teams.

Creating a truly equitable situation between all the teams would be impossible, which would make a levelling of the lottery odds an option that might make sense for the league. The league would have to differentiate between teams in the lottery to some extent, so teams that just miss the playoffs don’t have the same odds as truly bad teams. It would be difficult, but probably a better compromise than the status quo.

If the league does intend to make the teams at the top of the lottery finish out the season, levelling the odds would remove any incentives for the teams to try to lose their remaining games. Players like Steph Curry, Trae Young, Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell could actually play to close out the season instead of being rested to maintain lottery position. Those five teams ranked second through sixth, for example, would all get a 12% chance of finishing with the top spot and the odds for the other spots could be calculated similarly.

The odds could be similarly flattened out for other teams clustered together further down the lottery standings. Given the uniqueness of the season, it would be a good adjustment for the bottom of the standings, much like a small play-in tournament could create a more reasonable situation for teams just on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

There are honest and valid complaints about the fairness of an arbitrarily shortened season. Completely levelling out the odds for team clustered closely in the standings would be a good way to address some of the complaints for the teams in the league with the worst records. It would also improve the quality of play in whatever games those teams will be asked to play. It would be a complicated math problem, but one worth solving to make the most of an imperfect world.