NBA Draft Lottery: Previewing what’s at stake for each team
Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery doesn’t have quite as much overt consequence to it as we’ve seen in past years—no team is losing its pick as a result of the ping pong balls, and there may not be a sure-thing superstar lying in wait—but that doesn’t mean there’s not quite a bit on the line. We may not know what all the implications are yet, but the randomness of lottery night always leaves a wide-ranging impact on the shape of the NBA. The chaos draws ever-near.
There’s a really intriguing group of players at the top of this draft, and a pretty strong top 10 that should leave teams happy even if they don’t strike gold on Tuesday and draft in the top four. There’s still ongoing debate about who the No. 1 pick should be, but as has been the case for the past several months, I’d consider Jabari Smith the frontrunner and Chet Holmgren as a dark horse, depending on which team wins the lottery. Remember that there are only 13 teams with a chance at the No. 1 pick this year—the Thunder hold the Clippers’ pick in addition to their own.
As usual, we’ll have a full mock draft coming Tuesday as soon as we know the results. Until then, here’s what you should know about each team heading into lottery night.
Houston Rockets (20-62)
Chance to win: 14%
Chance of top four pick: 52.1%
What’s at stake: The Rockets enter Year 2 of their rebuild hoping for a prospect that can complement Jalen Green, who was their prize in last year’s draft and a player Houston hopes will be its long-term centerpiece. After another season that didn’t involve very much winning, they again will have the best possible odds at the No. 1 pick. They also hold the No. 17 pick, acquired from Brooklyn in the James Harden trade. The Rockets used all four of their first-rounders in last year’s draft, and there’s not much pressure for them to be good anytime soon, giving them flexibility to pick without over-concerning themselves with positional overlap (as long as whoever they take doesn’t step on Green’s toes). They’re in position to take chances.
That said, Houston does have a long-term need at forward and has a fairly good chance to add one of Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero, who have differing skill sets but would potentially all slot in quite well here. They don’t need to win the lottery to walk away pleased with how this shakes out, but it obviously would be a nice coup for the Rockets to have their choice. They’re in a good position to add talent and, unlike last year, they aren’t at risk of sending their first-rounder elsewhere, so the stakes aren’t quite as high this year. The furthest Houston can fall is No. 5 (a 47.9% chance), which would be less than ideal, but not the end of the world.
Orlando Magic (22-60)
Chance to win: 14%
Chance of top four pick: 52.1%
What’s at stake: The Magic also have the best possible odds of winning the lottery and can pick no lower than sixth. They had two top 10 picks last year and walked away with two building blocks in Jalen Suggs (who had an uneven rookie year) and Franz Wagner (who was tremendous and exceeded expectations). Orlando has the rights to all its future firsts and remains in a bit of a transition period with its roster, with eight former first-round picks under the age of 25 under contract for next season, plus Mo Bamba, who’s hitting restricted free agency. Logic suggests they simply draft who they want and sort the rest out afterward, but some changes are probably due.
Orlando would theoretically be a good fit for any of the top forward prospects. It has historically been content to roster young players and allow the talent hierarchy to sort itself out. Jabari Smith and his shooting are probably the best fit for the roster as constituted, but the Magic would strongly benefit from adding any of the top guys. Jaden Ivey perhaps isn’t a natural fit with the guards already on the roster. Making the right pick here could really accelerate Orlando’s timeline for a return to playoff contention, but right now the odds are they’ll also be picking in the lottery next year. Picking anywhere in the top three would be ideal, and falling to No. 5 or No. 6 would be a tough break.
Detroit Pistons (23-59)
Chance to win: 14%
Chance of top four pick: 52.1%
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What’s at stake: After winning last year’s lottery and drafting Cade Cunningham, the Pistons are the third team with the best draft odds, but could also pick as low as seventh, creating a wider variance in outcomes. Detroit is still at a juncture of its rebuild where it can draft creatively, aided by the selection of Cunningham, who can toggle between positions and effectively play alongside pretty much anyone. Having noted that, it’s worth mentioning that the Pistons figure to move on from Jerami Grant via trade before he hits free agency in 2024, and if they intend to re-sign Marvin Bagley long term and give him real run at power forward, that may factor into who they prefer from among the top prospects. (Banchero in particular would create some duplication.)
The Pistons aren’t under any win-now pressure, but they’re still very much laying the foundation for whatever their next team will look like. The sooner they can find another franchise-quality talent to pair with Cunningham, the quicker they can jump-start their push for relevance. Considering that the roster is otherwise not that heavy on young talent—Killian Hayes hasn’t shown enough, and Isaiah Stewart projects as a role player—you could argue it’s a bit more critical for Detroit than some other teams to nail its pick this year, wherever it may land. Smith and Ivey would both be excellent fits here, but landing any of the top four prospects would be a win.
Oklahoma City Thunder (24-58)
Chance to win: 14%
Chance of top four pick: 55.2%
What’s at stake: The Thunder hold the unprotected rights to the Clippers’ pick, presently slotted at No. 12, which slightly boosts their odds of a top-four result. That pick has a 1.5% chance of winning the lottery and a 7.1% chance of leaping into the top four, which coupled with OKC’s own odds gives them the strongest chance of any team to pick in that range, and an equal chance to the top three teams to actually win it. They also have the No. 30 pick, giving them three in the first round. Factor in that the Thunder own the rights to a potential 17 first-round picks in the next five drafts, and that Sam Presti probably has more job security than anyone in the league, and Oklahoma City has the ability to take big swings and maneuver accordingly.
OKC fell from fourth to sixth in last year’s draft and still wound up with a coup in Josh Giddey. Considering the team’s need for frontcourt talent, walking away from this draft without Smith, Holmgren or Banchero would be kind of a bummer. The Thunder aren’t really trying to be good right now, and considering their massive cache of picks, there’s not quite as much pressure here to deliver. But other than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who continues to surface in trade rumors, there are good pieces but still no surefire star on the roster. Two lottery picks gives the Thunder a great opportunity to add talent this year, and the unlikely (but possible) scenario they wind up picking twice in the top four would be an unbelievable break. But don’t bet on it.
Indiana Pacers (25-57)
Chance to win: 10.5%
Chance of top four pick: 42.1%
What’s at stake: The Pacers lost 10 straight games to end the season, enhancing their chances of a great outcome in the draft. Indiana can pick no lower than ninth and will wind up with their highest selection since the ‘80s. It hasn’t been the organization’s style to ever go full teardown, and they have a terrific player to build around in Tyrese Haliburton. Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson showed promise as rookies, but the rest of the roster feels fluid. This is a key opportunity to add a blue-chip talent and avoid having to bottom out moving forward. Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield and Myles Turner will likely be the subject of trade chatter.
Due to the structure of the lottery, Indiana is much more likely to pick sixth, seventh or eighth than it is fifth, considering the likelihood teams leap ahead of them. Factoring in the quality of this class, with some strong options in the top 10, they’re in pretty good position to add to their core. The Pacers have a need up front and would be a terrific and realistic fit for Keegan Murray, who figures to be available to them. Indiana hasn’t drafted in the top 10 since taking Paul George in 2010, so this is a pretty big opportunity to add a player to its core.
Portland Trail Blazers (27-55)
Chance to win: 9%
Chance of top four pick: 37.2%
What’s at stake: Portland doesn’t typically draft in the lottery, but opted to bottom out late in the season, moving C.J. McCollum at the deadline and dropping 11 straight games to close its schedule. The Blazers still want to stay relevant with Damian Lillard in his early 30s, and the window to figure things out isn’t especially wide. This pick represents a critical potential value add for the franchise. Whether the Blazers opt to draft a young player or decide to trade the pick presumably hinges on how the lottery falls and which prospects are available to them. They already caught a bad break with the Pelicans winning the Western Conference play-in, which dropped New Orleans’s pick (acquired in the McCollum trade) out of the lottery to No. 15 and sent it to Charlotte instead. Portland just elevated Joe Cronin from interim to permanent general manager, so he would seem to have security to make decisions as he sees fit.
If the Blazers use the pick and wind up drafting seventh or eighth (as the odds suggest), there would probably be emphasis on selecting a player who can help them next season. Considering the state of their rotation, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for a rookie to find minutes, but the fit will also hinge on what Portland wants to do in free agency, and how much it wants to commit to going all-in. Keegan Murray, Dyson Daniels and Bennedict Mathurin would all be strong fits for the Blazers as rookies who can probably help out early while allowing the team to keep a post-Lillard future in mind. How Portland chooses to use this pick should be one of the more intriguing situations to monitor as the draft nears.
Sacramento Kings (30-52)
Chance to win: 7.5%
Chance of top four pick: 32%
What’s at stake: It’s always hard to know exactly what the Kings are doing, but fit may come into play a bit more for them in this draft: they’ve made clear that they’re building around the De’Aaron Fox/Domantas Sabonis pairing, and they drafted Davion Mitchell ninth in last year’s draft. That would seem to put Sacramento in the market for a bigger wing, and may dissuade them from selecting certain guards and bigs with duplicate skill sets. If they don’t move into the top four, they’re probably drafting seventh or eighth, which puts them in a fairly good spot to address a need. Shaedon Sharpe and Mathurin look like good potential matches, and they could also consider a big like Jalen Duren.
If they do move up, things get interesting: the Kings would be a tricky fit for Jaden Ivey and Paolo Banchero due to the presence of Fox and Sabonis, respectively. Speculatively, that type of outcome might make them a candidate to trade back, depending on where the pick falls. Regardless, Sacramento continues to push for a playoff spot, and I wouldn’t rule anything out. If they do move up and wind up with Smith or Holmgren, it would be a significant boost to their fortunes.
New Orleans Pelicans (36-46)
Chance to win: 6%
Chance of top four pick: 26.3%
What’s at stake: The Pelicans acquired the Lakers’ unprotected first-round pick as part of the Anthony Davis trade, and L.A.’s downward spiral of a season became a serious boon for New Orleans, which retained a valuable draft spot as it successfully pushed for the playoffs. Moving into the top four would be sweet, but simply adding talent to the promising core in place is a good outcome for the Pelicans, who already have two young stars in Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson (who should be fully available to start next season). They’ll be in good position to do that drafting eighth or ninth, which is kind of a sweet spot for value in the lottery.
New Orleans has plenty of future draft capital still coming from the Lakers and Bucks, helping it to facilitate trades and also take bigger swings in the draft if need be. One or two of Daniels, Johnny Davis and Mathurin will likely be available to them, all of whom would fit in and add something different. There likely won’t be pressure on the Pelicans’ draft pick to play immediately, which gives them some added flexibility in terms of timeline. They don’t need to get younger, and they could look to use this pick as a chip to add another veteran, but there’s certainly a case to keep adding to a young and relatively deep roster.
San Antonio Spurs (34-48)
Chance to win: 4.5%
Chance of top four pick: 20.3%
What’s at stake: The last time the Spurs drafted in the top 10, it was 1997, when they took Tim Duncan No. 1. Times have certainly changed, and they’re in a rebuilding phase, but San Antonio remains pragmatic: they went outside the box last year and picked Josh Primo at No. 12, and clearly have a long game in mind. They’ve assembled good young players, but don’t have a true star to anchor the franchise, and they probably won’t get one drafting ninth. But the Spurs are confident in their player development capabilities, and while they’ve needed a big for some time, I wouldn’t assume they’ll be tethered to positional need in any way. Their roster is still a few years from getting expensive and they can be flexible here.
Potential options like Daniels and Jeremy Sochan neatly fit what San Antonio tends to value, as versatile, unselfish players who add value on both ends. Jalen Duren could be in play here if they believe in his upside, although the emergence of Jakob Poeltl has made the center position less of an issue. The Spurs may never be bad enough to nab favorable odds at the top of the draft, so a leap into the top four would be a massive turn of events. If not, they’ll probably draft well anyway.
Washington Wizards (35-47)
Chance to win: 3%
Chance of top four pick: 13.9%
What’s at stake: The Wizards are in a fairly good spot if they stay at No. 10, positioned to grab whichever player from the second tier of prospects slips to their spot. The big-picture item for Washington is keeping Bradley Beal in the fold—he has a player option to decide on this summer—but as long as he plans to stick around, the organization will try to work its way back into the playoffs. The Wizards probably need to keep giving minutes to their array of recent first-round picks—Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert have all yet to leave a major imprint—and have a need to strengthen the backcourt more than anything. Still, this is a bit of an underwhelming guard class, so this could also be an opportunity for Washington to use this pick in a trade. Moving up in the draft might force them to rethink some things, but that would be a good problem to have.
New York Knicks (37-45)
Chance to win: 2%
Chance of top four pick: 9.4%
What’s at stake: Well, the Knicks are still stuck in the middle of the pack. They don’t have great odds to move up, and there’s a 77.6% chance they’re drafting 11th. That still puts them in a good position to add talent, but they’re a bit outside what looks like the value wheelhouse. New York doesn’t have serious positional clutter and can take whoever it deems the best prospect, but if they opt not to retain Mitchell Robinson, this could be a spot to add a big. Jalen Duren and Mark Williams could be fits here in that regard. The Knicks probably aren’t getting a franchise-changing player at this spot, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get better. The bigger question is how much organizational patience they’ll have (and historically, the answer has been not much).
Charlotte Hornets (43-39)
Chance to win: 1%
Chance of top four pick: 4.8%
What’s at stake: The Hornets probably aren’t winning the lottery. But they do need a center, with Mark Williams and potentially Jalen Duren available in their range. We’ll see whether or not that’s the direction they decide to go. Going to get a veteran big would provide a more immediate solution. Neither of their first-round picks in last year’s draft (James Bouknight and Kai Jones) contributed as rookies, and it’s unclear how much patience they’ll get, also considering Charlotte’s pending coaching change. This is probably going to be a transition year for the Hornets, who will probably have to pay up big to keep restricted free agent Miles Bridges, and they don’t necessarily need to add a rookie here, so staying flexible might be wise. Also remember that the Hornets have the 15th pick, giving them some options to move around in the draft and/or take chances.
Cleveland Cavaliers (44-38)
Chance to win: 0.5%
Chance of top four pick: 2.4%
What’s at stake: The Cavs narrowly missed the playoffs after faltering in the play-in round, but remain on an upward trajectory going into next season. They certainly don’t need bigs, and they’re probably not moving up in the lottery, so this is an obvious spot for Cleveland to add a wing or trade its pick to improve the roster. With Evan Mobley, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen all blossoming, there’s way less pressure here than there was a year ago. The Cavs look like a playoff-caliber team moving forward, and this is a good opportunity to try and find one more piece.
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