Nylon Calculus: How much draft capital do the Thunder, Rockets and Pelicans hold?

Houston Rockets, NBA Draft, New Orleans Pelicans, Nylon Calculus, Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans have leveraged superstar trades into a huge number of draft picks. But how far ahead of the pack are they?

The past two years have seen a succession of enormous, superstar trades in the NBA, with Anthony Davis, Paul George, Russell Westbrook (twice), Chris Paul and now James Harden all being moved. In most cases, those deals have been built around hefty collections of draft picks heading in the opposite direction.

In all, 16 present and future first-round picks changed hands in deals for those five players, not to mention a slew of pick swap options that were included. The result has been a concerted pooling of future draft capital in the hands of just a few teams.

Which team has the most future draft picks: the Rockets, Thunder or Pelicans?

The graph below covers the next seven drafts (2021-2026) which is as far out as future first-round picks have been traded. For each team, it shows how many future first-picks they currently hold. For comparison, you can also see the baseline, if all 30 teams still held all of their own picks in the upcoming drafts.

The Oklahoma City Thunder lead the pack in extra picks with 16 first-round picks, nine beyond their baseline. The Rockets hold 14, the Pelicans have 12 and the New York Knicks have 10. The only other teams with extra first-round picks in the next seven drafts are the Grizzlies (two extra) and the Hawks (one extra). There are other teams that hold the rights to incoming draft picks but they’re balanced out by picks they owe in other years.

A total of 18 teams either have the rights to seven or six first picks, essentially even or just down a single pick. The teams at a serious deficit of draft value are the Mavericks (two owed), Heat (two owed), Bucks (three owed), Clippers (three owed), Lakers (three owed) and the Nets (down five).

The other variable here is the control of pick swaps. The Thunder have control of three different possible first-round pick swaps, which further maximizes the value of all those extra picks. The Rockets and Pelicans each have control of two upcoming possible pick swaps.

Without the draft order locked in, there are far too many variables to meaningfully assign expected values to any of these picks, individually or in the aggregate. But the Thunder, Rockets and Pelicans each have roughly twice as much draft capital as the average team and control of the pick swaps will ultimately inflate the nebulous expected value even further.

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