Why Raptors fans are rooting for the Grizzlies the rest of the season

Vince Williams Jr. and Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Vince Williams Jr. and Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies / Cole Burston/GettyImages

The Memphis Grizzlies play the San Antonio Spurs tonight, Friday March 22nd, in a game that is probably more interesting to fans of the Toronto Raptors than their own matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

That's not merely because Rookie of the Year favorite Victor Wembanyama is playing. The game has incredible stakes for both the Raptors and the Spurs, and it's the reason that fans of the Raptors should be rooting as hard as they can for the Memphis Grizzlies to win tonight and every night for the rest of the season.

The Raptors are rooting for the Grizzlies now

At last season's Trade Deadline the Toronto Raptors dealt for center Jakob Poeltl, sending the San Antonio Spurs matching salary and three draft picks. We recently blasted the deal in our re-grade of the trade, and the evaluation could get even worse.

The first-round pick that the Raptors owe the Spurs is protected 1-6, meaning that if the Raptors walk out of the NBA Draft Lottery with one of the first six slots they keep the pick and their obligation to the Spurs rolls over into next year.

The Raptors began this season believing that they would give up a mid first-round pick to the Spurs, but they have struggled right from the start. Small injuries have snowballed into major ones, the team's best veterans were moved ahead of the Trade Deadline this season and Toronto's season is spiraling out of control.

Currently rising star Scottie Barnes is sidelined with a hand fracture, RJ Barrett is away from the team after the death of his brother and Poeltl himself is unavailable after finger surgery. As of this writing, the Raptors have lost eight straight games and 10 of their last 11. That losing streak is certainly bleak, but it has a silver lining.

The Raptors were once on the fringe of the Play-In Tournament, but their losing streak has instead positioned them to catch the Memphis Grizzlies for the sixth-worst record in the league. On Friday morning the Raptors are 23-46, just a half-game back of the Grizzlies at 23-47.

How the Raptors can keep their pick

If Toronto ends with the seventh-best odds to keep their pick, as they are currently positioned to do, they would have a 31.9 percent chance of keeping their Top-6 protected pick, made up entirely of their odds of leaping into the Top 4. If they can "catch" the Grizzlies by losing more than they do down the stretch, then the Raptors' odds of keeping their pick leap up to 45.8 percent, nearly a coin flip.

Working in Toronto's favor is the fact that the Grizzlies have an easier schedule the rest of the way. They have two games each remaining against the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, two of the three worst teams in the league, That starts tonight, in a game with some fascinating motivaitons on all sides.

The Spurs are generally incentivized to lose basketball games to improve their own lottery standing, but in tonight's game a loss would make it less likely they get the Raptors' pick this season. Would they rather push to win -- that may happen anyway with Victor Wembanyama suiting up -- and improve the odds that the Raptors send the seventh or eighth pick this year? Or would they like to lose, improving their odds and increasing the chances the pick rolls over to a more highly-regarded draft like 2025 or 2026?

The Raptors host the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight and are 15.5 point underdogs. Their path to losing should be safe. What happens in San Antonio, however, could matter nearly as much as to whether or not they keep their first-round pick or send it to the Spurs.

Tonight and every night, Toronto fans should be cheering for the Memphis Grizzlies. A win for Memphis is a win for them. Sort of.

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