CHICAGO – A compelling case can be made that the most anticipated NBA draft lotteries of this decade took place in 2012 and 2019, when the consensus No. 1 pick was ranked so far ahead of other prospects that there was no debate about who’d be the top selection. Incredibly, despite 13.6 percent odds in ’12 and only a 6.0 percent chance in Tuesday’s drawing, the New Orleans Pelicans won both.
Given the stakes this time, the team that landed the first overall pick in the June 20 draft figured to be the event’s biggest winner, a description that applied to the Pelicans after their unlikely lotto triumph. New Orleans already expected to be at the forefront of conversation around the NBA this summer even if it ended up with a mid-lottery pick, but that discussion zoomed to a completely different level Tuesday.
“We said coming into this, we didn’t know what would happen (at the lottery), but we knew we were sort of the epicenter of the offseason,” Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said. “Now that’s true to an even greater degree. So we’re really grateful. (The lottery win is) meaningful. We hope it’s just one of another many positive things for us this offseason.”
Here are some of the most impacted teams based on the outcome of Tuesday’s lottery, in particular as it relates to New Orleans and the West:
Griffin and Alvin Gentry understandably were frequently asked late Tuesday about Duke forward Zion Williamson, but the new executive VP and four-year Pelicans head coach shied away from delving into details. Griffin responded to a variation of a common Williamson question by saying, “I don’t want to talk a whole lot of specifics about individual players, but I look at this as a situation where he is a wholly and unique talent. And we feel what we’re going to build is going to be wholly and unique as well. Hopefully all of this sort of comes to a place where we all feel like we’re meant to be together. This is about fit as much as anything else. Certainly the elite talent and the special characteristics are there, but most important to us are special human beings.”
So much for the notion – floated by some in the weeks prior to the lottery – that the Grizzlies were better off conveying their ’19 first-round pick to Boston, to avoid losing it in future years when it holds fewer protections. Instead of the Celtics taking over the choice at perhaps 9 or 10, the top-eight protected pick remained in Memphis. The Grizzlies now can add a major foundation piece after two straight losing seasons.
As monumental as New Orleans’ lottery victory was, the Lakers actually moved up even more spots than the Pelicans did Tuesday, jumping from 11th to fourth. In a draft where some consider the top two “tiers” to include only three players, getting the No. 4 pick may not be completely satisfying, but Los Angeles still gained a huge edge on numerous teams that had worse records in ’18-19.
Lottery reform/lottery drama
The decision to flatten the odds between lottery participants ended up having a major impact. With the league’s three worst teams only holding 14 percent odds to win the lottery (as opposed to the worst team carrying a 25 percent chance in the recent past), it helped pave the way for an extremely unpredictable event. The teams that placed first, second and fourth at the lottery came from pre-lottery slots of 7, 8 and 11 (New York was the only bottom-three team rewarded with a top-four selection).
If the message hadn’t already been delivered clearly enough that, on average, losing isn’t going to pay off the way it had previously, it was further cemented when 19-win Phoenix dropped all the way to the No. 6 pick; 19-win Cleveland slipped to No. 5; and 29-win Atlanta placed eighth.
The Mavericks were applauded early in ’18-19 – while the Hawks were simultaneously ridiculed – as Luke Doncic clearly outplayed Trae Young, but Young narrowed the gap between the rookie guards after the All-Star break. Now Dallas has also lost what turned out to be a ‘19 lottery pick to Atlanta, part of last year’s Doncic-Young trade. The Hawks’ rebuild should receive another big boost next month, when they pick eighth and 10th.
Parity between conferences
To the Eastern Conference’s credit, it was noticeably more competitive in head-to-head matchups vs. the superior West in ’18-19, but despite the East having more bottom-feeding teams, it won’t have an edge at the June 20 draft. Three of the first four lottery picks went to Western clubs, as well as four of the top six selections.