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Celtics have best lottery odds, but there are long odds, too

The 2017 NBA Draft lottery takes place Tuesday night.
The 2017 NBA Draft lottery takes place Tuesday night.Jason DeCrow/AP/File/2013

The Celtics have a lot to look forward to when the NBA draft lottery is held.

The draft pick Boston will receive from the Brooklyn Nets has the best lottery odds of any pick. It has a 25 percent chance of turning into the No. 1 choice, a 21.5 percent chance of being No. 2, a 17.8 percent chance of being No. 3 and a 35.7 percent chance of being No. 4. It cannot fall beyond that.

In the last six years, the team with the best lottery odds received either the No. 1 or No. 2 pick each time. That seemed a bit startling, considering there is just a 46.5 percent chance of that happening each year.


So I crunched some numbers and found that the odds of that happening six years in a row were approximately 1 in 98. And if the Celtics continued the streak and made it seven years in a row, they will have defied odds of about 1 in 212.

So Boston should prepare for heartbreak once again, right? Well, not quite.

I called my brother, Josh, who is a math professor at Catholic University in Washington. (He is not a Wizards fan, by the way, unless a Syracuse University basketball player happens to be playing for them.)

He was a little disappointed in my guesswork, pointing me toward the gambler’s fallacy, or the idea that if something happens more often than normal during one period, it will thus happen less often than normal in the future. These are all independent events with no impact on those that follow, he explained.

“If you had talked to me in 2011 and asked me what are the odds that this will happen seven years in a row, that would be 1 in 212,” my brother explained. “But talking to me this year, it doesn’t matter what happened the last six years. They still have a 46.5 percent chance.”


If anyone has ever played roulette, you might have noticed the bright, flashy screen above the wheel that shows the last 20 or so spins. It is there to give bettors a false sense of control. If the last 20 spins landed on red numbers, the belief is that there is no way it can happen a 21st time. And then it does.

So the Celtics might receive a top-2 pick on Tuesday night, or they might not. But whatever happens, the six lotteries that preceded this one will not really have any impact.

Used to pressure

Entering Monday night, only a few Celtics had played in Game 7 before. But coach Brad Stevens has pointed out that almost all of them have experienced the win-or-go-home feeling that comes from playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Stevens, of course, has not coached in a Game 7, either. But he did become an NCAA Tournament regular during his coaching career at Butler, including back-to-back trips to the national title game.

Still, Stevens said he did not really draw on those journeys as he prepared for this one.

“I think that obviously it’s great to have had a chance to experience those things,” he said. “There’s no question about it. And a lot of players at this level have experienced those things as well.”

Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

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Stevens has consistently preached to his players about the importance of controlling what they can control, and not overthinking what they cannot. Before his team faced the Wizards on Monday, he pointed out that it is a mantra that has taken root in Foxborough.


“I think the person who certainly says it all the time around here that we talk about is [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick, with the idea of doing your job and staying in the moment and focusing on the task at hand,” Stevens said, “because that’s really all you can do.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.