The Denver Nuggets are currently seeded 10th in the western conference and have a 3% chance of winning next June's NBA lottery. Those aren't very good odds but the reward of the #1 pick is worth holding out hope that the basketball gods will look down on us with favor, awarding a loyal fanbase for years upon years of misfortune. There was the 2003 NBA draft when the Nuggets had the worst record in the league, only to miss out on Lebron James. Or 1998 when the Nuggets had the best shot at winning the lottery, only to fall to 3rd and draft Raef LaFrentz.
Lady luck has been bad to the Nuggets over the years but that can all change this season as the Nuggets are sitting on a very, very small chance at landing four picks in the first round of the draft. This possibility, slim as it may be, has been made possible thanks to the culmination of several years worth of trades. From the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011 to the Ty Lawson trade a few months ago, the Nuggets have added protected 1st round draft picks that could, in theory, all convey this season. Let's look at what needs to happen.
1. Nuggets make the playoffs as a 6 seed.
The very first part of this best case scenario is that the Nuggets make the NBA playoffs. The Nuggets are currently just two games behind the Jazz for the 8th seed in the western conference despite being just two weeks removed from an eight-game losing streak. One of the teams ahead of the Nuggets is the Phoenix Suns who have lost 12 of their last 17 and are free-falling since their hot start. The Utah Jazz have lost seven of their last 10 games since losing Rudy Gobert and it may be a few more weeks until the Stifle Tower returns.
Still, making the playoffs is a pretty big stretch for the Nuggets, not to mention climbing all the way up to 6th. Very few NBA analysts predicted the Nuggets would be anywhere near playoff contention and there is a much better chance that they will fall even further down the standing, rather than sneaking into the top 6. However, making the playoffs would be huge for this young team. There are certain benchmarks that teams usually take on their ascent toward title contention. The first one is building a foundation of young talent. The Nuggets have already done that by drafting Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Emmanuel Mudiay as well as adding Will Barton via trade. The core of this team is young and talented.
The second benchmark for rebuilding teams is making it into the playoffs. Even if that means a 4-0 sweep to a juggernaut like the Warriors or Spurs, that playoff atmosphere and experience is vital to a team's development. By making the playoffs a year ahead of schedule, that increases the likelihood of a team competing for a playoff win the following season. Making the playoffs also helps go a long way toward bringing the fans back. Most casual fans only catch big headline events or news. Making the playoffs would certainly bring fans back from their three-year hiatus and make for a much more exciting season in 2016. I'll rank the likelihood of this happening as: Possible, but not likely
2. The Knicks miss the playoffs and win the lottery
Like the Nuggets, the Knicks are also two games back from the playoffs. Since the Knicks owe the Nuggets the better of their pick and the Nuggets' own pick in the 2016 draft, Nuggets fans can hold out hope that the Knicks miraculously win the lottery next June. Currently, the Knicks have the 12th worst record and therefore only a 0.7% chance on the #1 pick and a 2.3% chance of a top three pick. However, they are just four games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks who own the league's 5th worst record and a 7.6% chance at the #1 pick.
The Knicks haven't looked like a playoff team or a bottom seven lottery team so far and there is a really good chance that they hover around mediocrity all year. But that shouldn't stop Nuggets fans from rooting against the Knicks every chance they get. There is also the chance that the Knicks will look to trade one of their veteran players, like Carmelo Anthony, in a move that would help them fully commit to a rebuild and perhaps grab a 1st round draft pick from someone else. Either way, the Nuggets may have outsourced their tank if they can both make the playoffs and win the lottery. It's the have your cake and eat it too scenario. I'll rank the likelihood of the Knicks both missing the playoffs and winning the lottery as extremely unlikely.
3. The Memphis Grizzlies fall out of the playoffs
The Nuggets also own the Grizzlies pick which the Nuggets acquired from the Cavaliers in the TImofey Mozgov trade. The pick is protected 1-5, and 15-30 which means the Nuggets need Memphis to miss the playoffs but not win the lottery.
The Grizzlies are currently in the playoffs but hold just a 2.5 game lead over Phoenix, Denver, Sacramento, and Minnesota. Nonetheless, it's very unlikely that the Grizzlies would slide far enough to completely miss the playoffs unless the team suffered a major injury or the front office makes the decision to completely blow up the roster. The blow-it-up scenario is also unlikely since the Grizzlies don't own a 1st round lottery pick. If they are to make changes to their roster, it would likely be to improve, not to start over.
Still, there is a chance that the Grizzlies fall into the lottery and an even smaller chance that they drop far enough down for the Nuggets to get a pick in the 6-14 range. I'll rank the likelihood of them sending us a top 10 pick as extremely unlikely.
4. The Rockets make the 7th seed in the western conference.
The Rockets are currently the 7th seed in the western conference and have been playing moderately better over the last few weeks. Despite some chemistry issues, injury issues, and the fact that they have already placed newly acquired Ty Lawson on the trading block, the Rockets look like a team that is likely to climb the standings, not slip. However, the Rockets owe the Nuggets their first round pick in the 2016 draft so long as they make the playoffs. That means the best the pick can be is 15th. The Rockets will almost certainly convey their pick to the Nuggets, but it is probably going to be somewhere around 20th when it is all said and done, not 16. The likelihood of the pick being 16: extremely unlikely.
5. The Trailblazers make the 8th seed in the western conference
The Nuggets own the Trailblazers pick from the Will Barton, Arron Afflalo trade, as long as that pick is not in the lottery. That means that, like the Rockets, the Trailblazers need to just barely sneak into the playoffs in order for their pick to be of value to Denver. Portland is already four games behind the 8 seed and hasn't looked anything like a playoff team over the last several weeks. Of all of the far-fetched scenarios, this one is the least likely. I'll rank it as bruh, seriously?
Best case scenario
The absolute best case scenario is that all of the following happen:
The Nuggets make the playoffs as the 6 seed
The Rockets make the playoffs as the 7 seed and have a worse overall record than the 8 seed in the east
The Trailblazers make the playoffs as the 8 seed and have a worse overall record than the 8 seed in the east.
The Knicks miss the playoffs
The Knicks win the lottery
The Grizzlies finish with the 6th worst record in the NBA and get the 6th pick in the draft
None of these things are likely but if they all miraculously happen, the Nuggets will receive:
The #1 pick in the draft
The #6 pick in the draft
The #15 pick in the draft
The #16 pick in the draft
That is a lot of draft picks. Are you excited!!!??? Well, you probably shouldn't be. The Nuggets haven't ever gotten lucky in the draft so hoping that the team gets struck by lightning six times in one draft is pretty unreasonable. The basketball gods owe us some good luck, but I'd say the odds of them blessing us this much are something like one in a million.