Raptors' injury-fueled tank is only helping, not guaranteeing, this necessary outcome

Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors
Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors / Mark Blinch/GettyImages

The Toronto Raptors have now lost 13 straight games, one of the longest losing streaks in franchise history and a truly depressing end to a tumultuous season.

From the moment that Scottie Barnes fractured his hand and needed surgery this team's playoff hopes were extinguished. When Jakob Poeltl joined him on the bench the idea of truly competing became something of a pipe dream.

Then Chris Boucher went down, Jontay Porter got caught, RJ Barrett stepped away from the team and Immanuel Quickley missed a couple of weeks. Suddenly Toronto had gone from postseason candidate to, quite probably, the worst team in the league.

Given the fact that the Raptors had nothing to play for, losing a lot down the stretch isn't necessarily a bad thing -- at least, from a cold, dispassionate point of view. Teams "tank" to end a season quite often in the NBA; the Portland Trail Blazers have made it something of an art form the past few seasons, and landed Shaedon Sharpe and Scoot Henderson for their efforts.

The Toronto Raptors owe their first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs this season if it falls outside of the Top 6 picks; they traded away those rights in the Poeltl deal last season. By losing 13-straight games, the Raptors have fallen behind the Memphis Grizzlies and are in prime position to finish with the sixth-worst record in the NBA this season.

The Raptors' losing streak hasn't accomplished all that much

That may seem like a massive accomplishment toward keeping that pick, but the reality is a lot more muted. The pick does not stay with Toronto if they finish with one of the six-worst records; it stays with them if they finish with one of the first six picks.

That means the Raptors need to come out of the NBA Draft Lottery in May still in sixth or better, and that's a much less likelier outcome. The NBA's relatively-new flattened lottery odds mean it's much easier for teams to leap up in the lottery, and it's much easier for teams to fall back a spot or two.

When the Raptors began their losing streak they had the seventh-worst record in the NBA. Because of the great gulf between the very worst teams in the league and the playoff field, the Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies floated in the middle. Neither one has any real chance of moving higher than sixth in the reverse standings or lower than seventh.

That means that if the Raptors had not lost 13-straight games and gone a more pedestrian 5-8, for example, they would have the seventh-best lottery odds and have a 31.9 percent chance of retaining their Top-6 protected pick (by leaping into the Top 4). By performing like the worst team in the league over the last few weeks, they have instead moved up to sixth, adding 14.1 percent to their odds of keeping the pick.

That's it. Even by finishing with the league's sixth-worst record they have less than a 50 percent chance of retaining their pick. They have around a 37 percent chance of leaping into the Top 4 and just an 8.6 percent chance of staying at No. 6; they have a 30 percent chance of falling back to seventh and another 20 percent chance of falling all the way to eighth; in either scenario they would send their pick to the San Antonio Spurs.

The 2024 NBA Draft is not being talked about as a difference-making draft, but the Raptors would almost certainly rather keep the seventh or eighth pick and hopefully give up a much worse pick next season. A player such as Ron Holland or Donovan Clingan could be waiting at No. 6 and turn out to be a true difference-maker, jump-starting the Raptors' rebuild.

This losing streak has moved the Raptors into a better position, but it's not all that great of one. The trade they made last season to mortgage a premium pick (plus another two picks) for Jakob Poeltl continues to hamper their future. That mistake is being compounded by their poor record this season, and their dejected level of play the last month has only helped a little bit.