2013 NBA Draft: Figuring out Pistons' expected draft position

Elsa

Using math to figure out how the NBA draft order will likely shake out by the end of the season. Hint: Detroit is climbing the ladder.

It's no news that the Detroit Pistons are a bad team. They are one of 11 NBA teams with a winning percentage less than .400. They currently sit at 23-40 (.365). But there 40 losses are only two less than the Sacramento Kings, who own the third-worst record in the league. Let's examine the remaining schedules of all 11 of the NBA's worst teams and see if they can be expected to climb to the top (bottom) of the ranks.

Toronto Raptors: 24-38 (.387)
Philadelphia 76ers: 23-37 (.383)
Detroit Pistons: 23-40 (.365)
Minnesota Timberwolves: 21-37 (.362)
Cleveland Cavaliers: 21-40 (.344)
Phoenix Suns: 21-40 (.344)
New Orleans Hornets: 21-41 (.339)
Sacramento Kings: 21-42 (.333)
Washington Wizards: 19-40 (.322)
Orlando Magic: 17-45 (.274)
Charlotte Bobcats: 13-48 (.213)

Upcoming Schedule

Now lets look at some actual numbers. Most of the teams on this list will be underdogs for most of their remaining games and most of the NBA's worst teams seriously struggle on the road. So how many games does each team have against teams under .400? Home and road?

Team Home Road Sub.-400 Home Sub.-400 Road
Toronto Raptors 10 10 CLE, CHA, DET, WAS CHA, DET, WAS, MIN
Philadelphia 76ers 8 14 CHA, CLE ORL, SAC, CLE, CHA, WAS, DET
Detroit Pistons 7 12 MIN, TOR, CHA, PHI CHA, TOR, CLE, MIN
Minnesota Timberwolves 12 12 NO, TOR, DET, PHX SAC, PHX, DET
Cleveland Cavaliers 11 10 WAS, PHI, ORL, DET TOR, NO, PHI, CHA
Phoenix Suns 11 10 WAS, MIN, SAC, NO SAC, WAS, MIN
New Orleans Hornets 10 10 WAS, MIN, PHX, SAC CLE
Sacramento Kings 12 7 PHX, MIN, PHI, NO PHX
Washington Wizards 10 13 CHA, NO, PHX, TOR, PHI CLE, CHA, PHX, ORL, TOR
Orlando Magic 9 11 PHI, WAS CHA, CLE
Charlotte Bobcats 11 10 WAS, TOR, DET, ORL, PHI, CLE WAS, TOR, PHI, DET

You can't take too much from this list. After all, one month ago Detroit creamed a Tony Parker-led San Antonio Spurs team by 10. Then, on March 3 Tony Parker was out injured and the Spurs got revenge in a 39-point drubbing. You can use the above chart to mix and match presumed wins and losses (under the assumption all the above teams win roughly the same number of surprise games. Or we can use even nerdier, more informative math, to try and figure out where this season is headed.

Pythagorean Wins

Pythagorean wins gives you an idea of your team's quality by comparing how many points it has scored and how many points it has surrendered. It then gives you an expected win-loss total. You can then compare it to a team's actual win-loss total to see if it has been lucky or unlucky during the given period. But you can also use it to figure out if team's have improved or not over a given timeframe. The calculation used by basketball reference is as follows:

Games x (Points^14 / (Points^14 + Opp. Points^14))

We can use that formula to get a more accurate reading of the current state of the above crappy teams. The Magic and Bobcats are obviously in a class of their own and have virtually assured themselves the two worst records in the NBA. But everything else is up for grabs. Could Detroit slide from ninth-worst team to third-worst? Well, some teams are playing better while others are playing worse. Over the past 20 games only two teams have been outscored by more than the Pistons -- Orlando and Charlotte (no surprise there). What might be surprising is just how much worse Detroit has been than almost everyone else. The Pistons have been outscored by 159 points (tying the Suns). The Kings (-148) and Wolves (-100) are next. But the next team, the Sixers, sits all the way at -69, a huge gap in competitiveness. Lets look at where the team's above stand in the past 20 games:

20-Game Plus-Minus

Charlotte Bobcats: -291
Orlando Magic: -224
Detroit Pistons: -159
Phoenix Suns: -159
Sacramento Kings: -148
Minnesota Timberwolves: -100
Philadelphia 76ers: -69
New Orleans Hornets: -58
Toronto Raptors: +1
Cleveland Cavaliers: +16
Washington Wizards: +22

This helps put things in perspective. It keys in on just how bad the Pistons have been while showing what improvements Toronto, Cleveland, Washington and, to a lesser extent, New Orleans have made. It also makes logical sense. Toronto now has Rudy Gay, Cleveland has Kyrie Irving, Washington has John Wall and New Orleans has Anthony Davis healthy again. So if they have the same margins over the course of the rest of the season how many more victories could each team expect?

Expected Wins

Charlotte Bobcats: 2.23
Orlando Magic: 3.34
Detroit Pistons: 4.51
Phoenix Suns: 4.98
Sacramento Kings: 5.15
Minnesota Timberwolves: 7.86
Philadelphia 76ers: 8.17
New Orleans Hornets: 7.95
Toronto Raptors: 10.03
Cleveland Cavaliers: 11.06
Washington Wizards: 12.44

And, finally, lets see what the final standings looked like if the season played out as outlined above (rounding up and down normally).

Expected Draft Order

1. Charlotte Bobcats: 15-67
2. Orlando Magic: 20-62
3. Phoenix Suns: 26-56
4. Sacramento Kings: 26-56
5. Detroit Pistons: 28-54
6. Minnesota Timberwolves: 29-53
7. New Orleans Hornets: 29-53
8. Philadelphia 76ers: 31-51
9. Washington Wizards: 31-51
10. Cleveland Cavaliers: 32-50
11. Toronto Raptors: 34-48

Suddenly, the Pistons go from ninth position to fifth position and only two extra losses away from third position. So if there is anything to look forward to over these last 19 games, I guess it might be that Detroit's actual pick might be higher than it has since 1994 when the team drafted Grant Hill (we'll blame Darko on the Grizzlies).

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