The 2024 Spurs-Raptors Pick

Spurs Basketball Probability Draft

Diving into lottery probabilities because Wemby needs help.

Ryan McShane

In the two games after All-Star Break, Wemby averaged a 5x5 (in a back-to-back, nonetheless). After the game he was asked about the significance of being the first player since Michael Jordan to collect [at least] 5 blocks and 5 steals in two sequential games, and Wemby asked, “I wonder if he did it in wins” (and he did).

Ladies and gentlemen, Victor Wembanyama wants a competitive core around him and he wanted it yesterday. The Spurs front office is now in the precarious position of trying to grow organically through the draft over several years or starting to make win-now moves to placate the greatest NBA prospect of all time. Thinking back to Kawhi’s rookie season, I recall him talking about his admiration for Kobe. Even then, I was afraid he would leave the “small town” Spurs for his hometown Los Angeles (although didn’t have him joining the Clippers on my bingo card). Kawhi’s game was modeled after Kobe’s, including the love for the usually inefficient midrange shot. Fortunately, Wemby’s utopia isn’t another city in North America, but a team with which he’s winning. The Spurs can fix their current losing ways; they can’t change their city.

So, how are they going to accomplish it? If Bill Simmons had his druthers, the Spurs would have traded for better players (read: players more advanced on the age curve). Bill Simmons is also a fan of two large-market teams (Celtics and Clippers) who have consistently traded their way into playoff relevance with only one championship to show for it in my lifetime. Meanwhile, the Spurs have spent the last 37 years working nearly singularly through the draft (and have won five championships in that span). It was only after the Kawhi trade demand that they began making major trades, and each successive trade (Kawhi/Danny, DeMar, Derrick, Thaddeus, Dejounte, Jakob) mined their roster for future draft assets. In the process, the Spurs lost all of Manu’s two-way protégés (Kawhi, Danny, Derrick, Dejounte – Kyle Anderson, George Hill, and Cory Joseph are in this club, too). Keldon has very much been the next player in this mold (and I hope the Spurs keep him to see that through), but the clock is ticking on his development. Devin is on course, and Jeremy is starting to find a purpose around Wemby. To Bill Simmons, I say that the market is simply too demanding in trades; the Spurs will likely REALLY want to build through the draft. The Spurs have also shown that Tre Jones is not their starting point guard of the future – they spent the first third of the season trying to make fetch happen with Jeremy at PG (and hopefully his time at PG was a worthwhile investment for his play-making abilities in the future).

Which brings me to the big question looming over the Spurs’ front office this summer – what do they want from this draft? Can they find a diamond in the rough (Sarr, Topić, Risacher, Dillingham, Buzelis, Williams) with their own pick? Will they get a second lottery pick from Toronto? Between the two picks, will they be able to get their point guard of the future? Will they trade some of their draft assets for one of Atlanta’s point guards?

While it’s certainly debatable whether the best quality player will be available with the Raptors’ 7th (or worse) pick in 2024/2025/2026 (and right now, consensus appears to be that this is the weakest draft at the top in over a decade, but that this class does have some surprising depth), I think it’s fairly clear that Wemby would prefer that the Spurs do something ASAP to help him out (relatedly: I would love to see the Spurs waive Morris and kick the tires on Cory Joseph). I think one thing that could make Wemby happy this summer is if the Spurs were able to collect the Jakob Poeltl draft pick from the Raptors. It’s top-6 protected, so will only convey if the Raptors land at 7th or worse in the lottery. The Spurs would then be able to add two lottery-caliber rookies and begin the next phase of their rebuild in earnest (while slowly building their depth with their war chest of draft picks as former Spurs Assistant GM Sam Presti has done with the Thunder since the Paul George trade).

So, I dusted off the calculations behind these tweets (the former from before the new lottery system was to be implemented in Summer 2019), where I calculated the probability of landing a pick number based on lottery seed:

In reviewing my calculations, I was surprised to find that the probability that the Spurs get the Raptors’ pick doesn’t drastically drop off if the Raptors wiggle into the sixth worst record – the Spurs get a pick from the Raptors in 54.15% of draft lotteries this summer. With the seventh worst record, the Spurs get the pick in 68.04% of lotteries, and with the 8th worst record, the Spurs have a 73.69% chance of getting the pick. What I found even more fascinating was that the Spurs actually have a higher chance of getting the seventh pick if the Raptors finish with the sixth-worst record (29.77%) than if they finish with the seventh-worst record (19.72%).

Meanwhile, the Raptors simply don’t control their fate with their pick this year – there’s just about no realistic scenario where they put themselves in a position where they are more likely to keep the pick than not (unlike the Mavs at the end of last season, who by losing the last two games dropped from a 90.58% chance of losing their top-10 protected pick to a 20.21% chance of losing their draft pick – and in turn, may have gifted the Spurs Wemby by shifting their ping pong ball combinations from the worst record to the second-worst record). On the other hand, the Raptors could try to win a few games to make it more likely that they get the pick off of their books. If they lost the pick now, they would guarantee the second-best draft pick outcome of four – they would give up an early-ish lottery pick in 2024 instead of 2025 or 2026 and would be able to be more proactive in roster planning during this new rebuild era. If they tried to hold onto the pick for three years straight, they would risk giving up a potentially better pick in the following two summers and they would also be forced to be bad for two and a half more seasons while their “star-in-waiting” Scottie Barnes languishes on a losing team. I honestly don’t know which outcome they prefer more; neither is particularly great.

But what I have learned is that, as a Spurs fan, I shouldn’t get too worked up over the Raptors’ position in the standings – no matter what, it’s more likely than not that the Spurs will be getting the Raptors’ pick this summer, and that’s probably a good thing for Wemby.