Tonight, the future of the entire NBA will change at right around 8:30 ET. That is when this year’s NBA Draft lottery kicks off, and we begin to find out what this year’s draft will look like.
Yup, now that players have declared for the draft, this is the next big step in the process, to go along with individual workouts, the NBA Draft Combine (also taking place this week) and of course the draft itself on June on Thursday, June 20th.
So with the NBA Draft Lottery tonight, what do you need to know? Here are a few things:
What is the NBA Draft Lottery?
I find it impossible to believe that anyone reading this article wouldn’t know what the NBA Draft lottery is, but for the one percent of one percent who might not be sure, here goes:
The NBA Draft lottery is a literal lottery (with ping pong balls and everything) which helps the NBA determine the draft order. Every team that didn’t make the playoffs this season (assuming they haven’t traded their pick) is eligible, with the worst teams having the best odds of landing the number one pick.
Only the top three picks are determined by the lottery, and from then on, the draft order is determined based on win-loss record. The worst teams get the highest picks.
Coverage of the draft lottery begins at 8:30 ET, which means that by 9:00 p.m., we will all know who is selecting where. And the fortune of one franchise will change forever (more on that coming).
So, who has the best likelihood of getting the No. 1 pick this year?
Based on the virtue of being truly terrible, the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns all have the best shot at getting the No. 1 pick, with each having a 14 percent shot to earn the spot. From there, everyone’s odds go down, with only the Chicago Bulls (12.5 percent) and the Atlanta Hawks (10.5 percent) having a better than 10 percent chance to earn the top pick.
Here are the official odds via NBA.com. Based on pre-existing trades, Memphis, Dallas and Sacramento’s picks could all be moved, depending on where each team ends up in the lottery.
New York: 14.0%
New Orleans: 6.0%
Los Angeles Lakers: 2.0%
Why is this year’s lottery so important?
I mean, umm, have you heard of a guy named Zion Williamson?
Look, I know that virtually no one (if anyone at all) reading this article is a Duke fan, but still, it would be disingenuous not to talk about Zion in this space. While there are some concerns about how he will translate to the NBA level (like any player), he was one of the most truly transcendent college players that we’ve seen in years, after averaging 23 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks a game at Duke last season. With a fully healthy lineup including Zion, Duke only lost twice last season – to Gonzaga in November, and again in the Elite Eight to Michigan State.
Again, there are things to pick apart in Zion’s game, and I’m not totally sold that he’s a can’t miss, no-doubt-about-it NBA superstar. But he’s the most dominant college player we’ve seen in years, and there’s a reason that so many NBA teams were actively losing this season to try and draft him.
Is there any chance Zion doesn’t go No. 1?
As long as there is no major injury, off-the-court issue (which there won’t be) or alien abduction between now and the draft, there is a zero percent chance anyone other than Zion will go No. 1. Sorry to ruin the suspense. But you’re more likely to catch Coach K admitting to dying his hair the last 20 years than you are to see anyone other than Zion go No. 1.
For starters, he’s the best player in the draft, and while Ja Morant is really, REALLY good (more on him coming) the gap between Zion and everyone else is massive. Even for teams that don’t necessarily need a player at Zion’s position (like say the Phoenix Suns) there is just no chance that anyone is going to pass on the opportunity to draft the next, great NBA star.
And while part of that has to do with his skill-set, a lot of it has to do with simple box office appeal.
The bottom-line is that while scouts and GM’s spent the whole season evaluating college players, what you need to remember is that in most organizations NBA owners have final say on draft picks. At least draft picks that are *this* important. And I just can’t see any NBA owner allowing their GM to pass on the most hyped NBA Draft prospect since LeBron.
And again, it’s not just because of his skill, but his star power. Remember, this is a guy who created buzz at the college level that few have ever seen, with guys like LeBron James, Floyd Mayweather and Barack Obama stopping in to see him play this season. Duke games regularly out-rated NBA games with Zion on the court, including the Blue Devils’ Elite Eight game which brought in 16 million viewers – 16 MILLION! For comparison’s sake, Rockets-Warriors Game 6 the other night did just 4.4 million viewers, basically a quarter of what Zion brought to the table in his final March Madness game.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business. And no NBA owner will pass up the business opportunity of bringing in Zion at No. 1.
What is the most interesting landing spot for Zion?
The obvious answer here is the New York Knicks, the franchise that has been an embarrassment for pretty much as long as any of us can remember. The Knicks haven’t won a title since 1973 (how is that possible??), haven’t made the Finals since 1999 and have only won one playoff series… this century.
Well, you know what would maybe help the Knicks go from “laughingstock” to “maybe, sorta, decent?” How about drafting one of the best prospects to hit the league in years? That’s especially the case if the Knicks can somehow convince Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to come to New York in free agency, as pretty much everyone in America is reporting at this point.
But whether the Knicks ultimately get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is really unimportant for this conversation. What is important is that if the NBA had a choice, they’d want Zion in New York.
What would be the wildest result on Tuesday night?
How about the Cleveland Cavaliers getting the No. 1 pick?
Remember, the Cavs won the NBA Draft lottery in 2003, which landed them LeBron James, and then when LeBron left, proceeded to win the lottery in 2011 (they drafted Kyrie Irving), 2013 (Anthony Bennett) and 2014 (Andrew Wiggins). That’s three times they’ve won the draft lottery in last eight years, and they haven’t even been in the lottery for four of those seasons!
You can guarantee that there would be a LOT of angry people behind the scenes in the NBA if Cleveland again wins the top pick.
Who’s No. 2?
Since we all know Zion is going No. 1 regardless of who gets the top pick, what has almost become more fascinating is to see what happens at No. 2. In my opinion, Ja Morant is the second-best player in this draft, but I’m not necessarily sold that he will be the second pick in the draft. I honestly think it depends on who on who gets the pick.
That’s because there are several teams at the top that already have their lead-guards of the present and future. Would the Cavaliers really move off Collin Sexton one year after drafting him in favor of Morant? Probably not. It’s the same with the Atlanta Hawks who are building around Trae Young. My hunch is that both those teams would take RJ Barrett at No. 2 if they ended up with that pick.
As for teams that would take Ja Morant at No. 2? The Knicks seems likely, and the Suns would be all but a lock. Phoenix already has building blocks like DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker, but the one piece they’re missing is a star point guard.
Ja Morant would fill that void.
What’s the wildest potential landing spot for Ja?
Can you imagine if the Lakers ended up with the No. 2 pick? And if they did, would they consider moving off Lonzo Ball just two years after he was drafted and was named the savior of the franchise?
It sounds crazy, but it isn’t inconceivable. One, there’s that crazy dad of his, who is – at any given time – just an hour or two away from creating chaos of the court. More importantly however is the overall health of Lonzo. Keep in mind he has struggled to stay healthy, missing 30+ games in each of his two seasons in the NBA.
Considering that the Lakers would need a miracle just to get into the Top 3 picks, it seems unlikely they’d even be in position to take Morant. But if they some how land in the Top 3, it’d be fascinating to see how everything plays out.
Could any Kentucky Wildcats sneak into the lottery?
Since this is a Kentucky based website, my hunch is that I should at least mention a few Wildcats. But the bottom-line is that this draft does feel like a “One Wildcat in the Lottery” kind of deal. That player is P.J. Washington, who was truly fantastic this season, averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds on his way to earning All-SEC honors.
By draft night I think it’s a lock that Washington goes somewhere in the Top 10-12, but beyond him it’s hard to know if any other Wildcat will go in the lottery.
My hunch is that with the way he shoots the ball, Tyler Herro could very well sneak his way into the Top 14 picks. It only takes one team to fall in love, and there is a lot to love with Herro’s game.
What else is worth discussing with the lottery?
Honestly, it just depends on how the ping pong balls bounce, and from there, the storylines get fascinating.
From there, we’ll start to have a clearer idea of where some of the bigger stars in college basketball this year (Barrett, Jarrett Culver, DeAndre Hunter) might land. On the flip side, we’ll also start to piece together what could the potential landing spots be for some of the sleepers in this draft like Washington, Gonzaga’s Brandon Clarke (two of my favorite guys outside the Top 10) and others.
Point being there is a lot to learn, and a lot to find out.
And we will start to get those details later tonight, with the NBA Draft Lottery!