The NBA’s return-to-play plan was approved Thursday with a 29-1 vote from the league’s board of governors, and that’s great news for the Boston Celtics.
Basketball returning is good news for everyone involved, but the Celtics could reap the benefits of this plan as much as any other team if the chips fall in their favor.
Boston is set to receive the Memphis Grizzlies’ first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft as things stand right now. The Grizzlies currently sit in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference, which would give the Celtics the No. 17 overall selection. But with the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans each trailing Memphis by 3.5 games, there’s a chance we could see some reshuffling.
At the end of the eight-game regular season, teams within four games of that final playoff spot will take part in a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed. If Memphis remains in eighth heading into the play-in games, it will need to lose twice to be eliminated.
In any scenario, if the Grizzlies move below the No. 8 seed, they’ll jump into the lottery. If Memphis ends up landing a top-six pick, the selection will convey to Boston in the 2021 draft where it is unprotected. The Celtics would love that appealing but unlikely scenario, as the 2021 class is loaded compared to this year’s group. Emphasis on “unlikely,” however, as the Grizzlies would have the worst lottery odds with a 2.4 percent chance of moving into the top four.
There’s a good chance the Celtics could move into the 13-15 range in this draft, which could be the difference in getting a chance at a solid role player to bolster their bench. Say they get lucky and land the No. 13 pick — it’s possible Aaron Nesmith, Saddiq Bey, or even Isaac Okoro may still be on the board. What if Devin Vassell or Tyrese Haliburton slip to the mid-teens? These are prospects who might not be available at No. 17, but could still be up for grabs just a few spots higher. The back-end of the lottery will see a lot of those plug-and-play role players get selected, so moving up just a few picks could benefit the Celtics.
As the draft inches closer and closer, the value of role players with higher floors surely will continue to rise. With that in mind, moving into the back-end of the lottery could really help the Celtics’ chances of getting a prospect they hope will improve their depth right off the bat. Of course, the best-case scenario for Boston is if the Grizzlies’ pick surprisingly shoots up the board and becomes a top-four selection. Memphis’ top-six protection would push the pick to next year, where the Celtics could likely put it to even better use.
There is one more potential benefit for Boston in the NBA’s return-to-play plan, but this has its 2020 postseason run in mind.
The Celtics currently hold the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, sitting three games back of the Toronto Raptors and 2.5 games ahead of the Miami Heat. It’s likely the Celtics will remain in third place with just eight regular-season games remaining, but avoiding the Philadelphia 76ers in round one is still in play.
Philadelphia is tied with the Pacers at the No. 5 spot, with Indiana holding the upper hand in the tiebreaker. If things stay where they are, Boston would get the Sixers in round one, which is a tough matchup for Brad Stevens and Co. Philadelphia should have a healthy Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and the Sixers’ size alone hurts Boston. Avoiding a series with Embiid would bode well for the Celtics. Indiana, on the other hand, would be a much better first-round opponent for the Celtics, meaning some mid-standings movement could help their postseason outlook.
Again, all of this is discussing a best-case scenario for Boston. If the Celtics were to struggle over their eight regular-season games and allow the Miami Heat to take the No. 3 spot, it could go south quickly for Boston. Say Miami takes third and the 76ers get the upper hand over the Pacers — that would mean the Celtics still get Philadelphia in round one and face a potential matchup with the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks in round two.
Regardless, basketball is back, and the Celtics could benefit from the new format in a variety of ways. Time will tell if the chips fall in Boston’s favor.