Patrick Smith/Getty Images
New formatting will give every eligible team a plausible chance of winning this year’s NBA draft lottery. The squads buried at the bottom of the standings, however, will enter Tuesday’s random selection process with even more nerves than usual.
In a move to temper tanking, the NBA leveled out the odds so that the Association’s three worst teams each have a 14-percent probability of snagging the first choice. Under previous rules, the worst team had a one-in-four chance of receiving pick No. 1.
Those odds paid off in each of the last four years, but the New York Knicks are now more likely to pick No. 5 than they are to resuscitate their franchise with Duke standout Zion Williamson or Murray State guard Ja Morant.
Let’s examine this new layout, courtesy of NBA.com, before looking at the teams with the best (but dwindled) chance of leaving Tuesday the most satisfied.
When: Tuesday, May 14 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Odds to Win 2019 NBA Draft Lottery
New York Knicks: 14.0%
Cleveland Cavaliers 14.0%
Phoenix Suns: 14.0%
Chicago Bulls: 12.5%
Atlanta Hawks: 10.5%
Washington Wizards: 9.0%
New Orleans Pelicans: 6.0%
Memphis Grizzlies*: 6.0%
Dallas Mavericks**: 6.0%
Minnesota Timberwolves: 3.0%
Los Angeles Lakers: 2.0%
Charlotte Hornets: 1.0%
Miami Heat: 1.0%
Sacramento Kings***: 1.0%
* Pick goes to Boston Celtics if outside top eight
** Pick goes to Atlanta Hawks if outside top five
*** Pick transfers from Philadelphia to Boston unless No. 1 overall, in which case it goes to 76ers
Teams To Watch
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
The Cleveland Cavaliers owe everything to the lottery.
They won the ultimate jackpot in 2003 when securing the rights to draft Ohio’s own LeBron James. Without the greatest player of this generation, they would have spent multiple more seasons hoping the ping pong balls landed their way.
Had they not received another top selection (Kyrie Irving) via the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011 and drew the first pick again in 2014, they wouldn’t have had the capital to bring back James and cement their only title in franchise history.
Sure, Anthony Bennett could go down as the worst No. 1 pick in NBA history, but did anyone good really come out of the 2013 draft class?
Lady Luck could bail them out once more. Once James departed to the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland immediately capsized from four straight Finals appearances to a 19-63 finish. Having already traded a disgruntled Irving, the former Eastern Conference juggernaut is now left with just a 30-year-old Kevin Love and a few semi-interesting young players.
Given the new odds structure, the Cavaliers are more likely to pick fifth or sixth than first. De’Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish isn’t going to drag this depleted organization out of the gutter, so they need to hit the jackpot one more time.
New York Knicks
Sarah Stier/Getty Images
The Knicks, on the other hand, haven’t picked first since landing Patrick Ewing in 1985. In typical Knicks fashion, they waited until the lottery odds disincentivized a last-place finish before bottoming out completely.
There might not be a team with more on the line Tuesday night. The Knicks have spent years clamoring for a new face of the franchise to lead them back to relevancy. They found him, and then they traded him to the Dallas Mavericks to start over again.
In the last 19 seasons, the Knicks have won just one playoff series. With a top-five draft pick and enough cap room to sign two players to max deals, that could swiftly change next season.
Fans will envision a best-case scenario of the Knicks drafting Williamson, who could potentially sway top free agents Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving to the Big Apple.
This speculation is nothing new, as Williamson addressed the possibility back in early February:
Adam Zagoria @AdamZagoria
‘It would be dope to play with KD and Kyrie but whatever team drafts me I’m going to be ready to play hard and work’ @Zion told me
They could even take the same path as the Cavaliers, who exchanged Andrew Wiggins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Love to give James a reason to return. Yet according to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the New Orleans Pelicans would want more than Williamson in a deal for Anthony Davis, who is under contract for one more year.
Or they could take Reddish with the fifth pick and invest their savings in DeMarcus Cousins after striking out on the top options. While the lottery’s outcome won’t make or break their pivotal offseason, attaining the top pick would go a long way toward reviving a floundering franchise.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Cavaliers have proven incompetent without James carrying the squad. If not for their prominent location, the lottery would be the only thing capable of saving the Knicks from many more years of gloom.
At least the rebuilding Phoenix Suns already have reasons for optimism.
Despite finishing with a Western Conference-worst 19-63 record, they watched Devin Booker progress with a career-high 26.6 points and 6.8 assists per game. The 22-year-old guard has a star running mate in DeAndre Ayton. Last year’s first pick announced his arrival by averaging 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per contest.
Out of these three squads, Phoenix would likely be the most content settling for the second selection. According to The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, sources around the league believe the Suns would even “prefer to end up with” Morant.
While they would be foolish to pass up Williamson’s transcendent athleticism if picking first, they could certainly use a point guard to pair with Booker. Morant would give them an explosive perimeter combo to pair with an emerging interior presence.
With two future All-Stars in place, Phoenix also shouldn’t feel too gutted if relegated to the No. 3-6 range. They may not escape the lottery next year, but the Suns are at least firmly on an upward trajectory regardless of Tuesday’s outcome.