At 23-49, with just 10 games remaining Boston is in a heated battle with the Lakers (24-48) and Jazz (23-50) for the 4th, 5th and 6th worst records in the NBA. While this may seem insignificant, because of the way the lottery percentages work, and the players available in this draft, it is in fact a very big deal for the Celtics.
The projected top 5 picks this year have gone unchanged since before the college season even started. The order may vary slightly, but they are Kansas freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Kentucky freshman Julius Randle, and Dante Exum from Australia. Boston would really like one of these guys.
Only the first three selections are actually determined by a lottery; meaning if you're the team with the 14th worst record (the last team to qualify) and you don't win picks one, two or three, you're choosing 14th. So if the Celtics finish with the 4th worst record, they are guaranteed to draft no worse than 7th.
The probable 6th and 7th picks are Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart, and Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon. Not top 5, but still nice options; and good reason for Boston to want a bottom 4 record.
But the real motivation for finishing 4th (actually 27 of 30, but obviously I'm going backwards in this article) is the difference in the odds of getting a top 5 selection: it's an 82.8% chance for #4, just 55.3% for #5, and only 21.5% for #6.
Since the Celtics, Lakers and Jazz are all currently within a single win of each other, any one victory in their last 10 games could easily cause more than a 60% swing in Boston's likelihood of a top 5 pick.
Here's are the chances of choosing in the top 5 (and top 3) by order of worst record, as well as the complete lottery percentage breakdown:
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2 - 100% (55.8% top 3)
3 - 96% (46.9% top 3)
4 - 82.8% (37.8% top 3)
5 - 55.3% (29.2% top 3, can't pick 4th)
6 - 21.5% (6-14 can only move up to top 3)
7 - 15%
8 - 10%
9 - 6.1%
10 - 4%
11 - 2.9%
12 - 2.5%
13 - 2.2%
14 - 1.8%