Are the Miami Heat Picks Really That Worthless?

Insight3 months ago6 min readJohn Jablonka

So, the Miami Heat are the potential landing spot for Damian Lillard and it’s looking like that is the most likely outcome. But that came with a lot of questions, such as what could the Heat even offer that has value? But more particularly, how many valuable picks can they offer?

This is something that I’ve seen multiple times now, especially whenever the Heat are to be involved in any trades. Their picks are mentioned to be less valuable. Teams that are looking to rebuild won’t want to trade to get the Heat’s picks.

This does make sense since the Heat almost never tank. Something drastic has to happen for them to consider tanking. Even in that era post LeBron James, their average number of wins was 41.8. And if you track it since Pat Riley arrived, the Heat have missed the playoffs six times out of 28 seasons. 78 percent of the time, they’re in the playoffs. They also have 13 seasons with a winning percentage of 60 or higher.

Comparing that to the rest of the league, here are the top 10 teams with the highest win percentage since 1995:

This is just consistent success. So, seeing as the Heat have the fourth-best record since 1995 and knowing them as an organization that they won’t tank unless necessary, chances are that their picks are top-three, top-five, or even just in the lottery are quite low.

But that doesn’t really tell us about the quality of each pick. Just because those teams above have had the most success, it doesn’t mean their picks are equal. Those teams may have a similar amount of lottery picks, but that doesn’t tell us the average position in the lottery.

To find that out, I went through every team’s original draft position. This includes their original position and not any trades that happened to move up, down, or any swaps. For example, this means that the Philadelphia 76ers’ number 1 pick in 2017 counts for Brooklyn.

In this chart, there is:

  • The average draft number selection
  • The total number of top-5 picks
  • The total number of lottery picks
  • The average of lottery picks
  • The total number of picks between 15-19
  • The total number of picks 20 or higher

Obviously, the average and the amount of lottery picks will correlate with the team’s winning percentage, so the more interesting thing here is the average lottery pick, especially compared to the other successful teams.

And when you sort by lottery average:

So, the Heat are still towards the top when it comes to the quality of their lottery picks, but it’s also not extremely bad to make it seem like the Heat’s picks are completely worthless. I also don’t remember anyone saying this same thing about the Indiana Pacers, the Utah Jazz, or any other teams that have a similar average.

To go a step further looking into this, I tried to track all of the picks that had been traded before the draft and see where each pick ended up from that team.

This doesn’t include draft day or post-lottery trades. For example, I didn’t count the Dallas Mavericks and the Atlanta Hawks trade in 2018. That’s because the draft position was already known. The team trading for that pick already knew what they were getting.

I wanted to see picks that were traded in the future and how many of them actually ended up being a top pick. I have double-checked this but it was a lot of picks to track, so there might be some inaccuracies.

In total, I counted 210 picks that were traded before that draft’s lottery. Here are some takeaways:

  • The average selection was 18.7
  • 49 picks ended up in the lottery
  • The average of those lottery picks was 8.7
  • The San Antonio Spurs have the highest average with 26.8
  • The Brooklyn Nets have the lowest average with 9.8
  • 21 teams have traded a pick that ended up in the lottery
  • 12 teams have an average of 20 or higher
  • The Mavericks have traded the most picks with 13 and the average selection was 19.4
  • Seven teams have traded 10 or more picks

This is the average draft position of those traded picks for those seven teams:

Outside of both New York teams, there isn’t any significant difference.

The teams that have consistently been great and have also traded multiple picks in that period, those picks are mostly outside of the lottery. Only 14 percent of the picks traded end up as a top 10 pick and five percent end up in the top-five.

So, to answer the question of whether the picks that the Heat trade are valuable, I think that’s an easy no. They have consistently been in the playoffs, so that means less of a chance at a lottery pick. And even in the lottery, they never tank, so you’re getting high lottery picks.

But! This doesn’t apply to just the Heat. The Heat’s picks aren’t any less valuable compared to other elite organizations. Teams that trade with the Houston Rockets, the Spurs, the Mavericks, or even the Los Angeles Lakers, they’re just as likely to receive a similar pick.

I suspect what makes people think otherwise is they expect what happened with the Nets. When you think of these huge, multiple-pick trades they will turn out the same way as what happened with the Celtics and the Nets. This was, however, the exception. This hasn’t happened for any other team.

With all that said, the Blazers shouldn’t look at the Heat’s picks as any less valuable because it would be the same for almost(unless they’re trading with the Knicks or Nets) all teams and it’s tough to predict where picks will end up. There’s so much that can happen that can change everything. At the end of the day, it will be a risk and that’s just the cost of it.