Two things you didn’t ask me but I’m going to tell you anyways: My favourite sporting event of the year is the NBA Draft. My second favourite? The draft lottery.
The lottery is an imperfect system in which the future course of the NBA is determined (mostly) by chance.
It’s the reason why LeBron James began his career playing for his hometown Cavaliers despite having the same odds as being a Denver Nugget this time fourteen years ago. It’s why Tim Duncan led a Spurs dynasty instead of a Celtics or Grizzlies one, two teams that finished with worse records than San Antonio the season the future hall-of-famer was drafted. It’s why Andrea Bargnani became the bein of Raptors’ fans existence, after Toronto jumped up five spots in 2006 to presumably be in a position to land a franchise player.
It’s unpredictable, and it’s why I love it.
And it all goes down once more tonight, when the ping pong balls will be sorted and the final order for the 2017 draft will be determined. While this year isn’t necessarily the deepest draft, the lottery (top 14 picks) is loaded with potential star talent at numerous positions. On the whole, point guards are taking centre stage, with names like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, and De’Aaron Fox headlining the class of ’17, but there are dynamic players at all positions to help fill a need as teams look to build for the future.
Here’s a look at who has the most at stake heading into tonight’s lottery (8:00 pm ET):
1. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
For much of the second half of the season the Lakers were in a race for worst out West— until they messed up and won five of their last six to close out the campaign. So why is this a bad thing? Because it dropped Los Angeles’ odds at landing in the top-three.
And why, exactly, is that catastrophic in a draft year in which star talent will still be on the board anywhere inside the top-10?
Because if the Lakers don’t land a top-three pick, they lose their first-round selection entirely, thanks to the Steve Nash trade with Phoenix way back in 2012. The Suns acquired the Lakers 2017 (top-three protected) first-rounder in that deal, and later flipped it to Philadelphia as part of the three-way trade that sent Michael Carter-Williams from the 76ers to the Bucks, and Brandon Knight to Phoenix.
The Lakers are still in the embryonic stages of their rebuild, and their young roster is promising but lacks a centrepiece. Between Ball, Kansas swingman Josh Jackson, and consensus top propsect Markelle Fultz, the Lakers could very well nab that centrepiece in the draft. Or miss out on that opportunity altogether.
So, again, if the Lakers land in the top-three they could land their next superstar. Anything past that and their pick goes to the Sixers. Speaking of…
2. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
After finishing with the second-worst record in the East, Philadelphia already has the fourth-best odds at winning the lottery. With that Lakers pick in sight as well, the Sixers have an outside chance of landing two of the top four picks in the draft.
Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo has had the ping pong balls fall his way before, and should it happen again Philly would be very-well positioned in their current rebuild.
Despite promising talent on the roster the team still has glaring holes in the backcourt and on the wing, positions where there’ll be legit prospects available atop the draft, like De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, or Malik Monk. With star centre Joel Embiid and Rookie of the Year favourite Dario Saric already on the roster, along with last year’s first-overall pick Ben Simmons (who missed all of 2016-17 to injury), the notion of adding two more names to that impressive list is enough to give Sixers fans plenty of hope for the future.
3. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Ok, hang on, this might be a bit confusing, but thanks to a pair of trades the Kings “performance” at tonight’s lottery could have major implications on three teams.
If Sacramento finishes in the top ten and ahead of Philly, then the 76ers will be able to swap with the Kings for the better of the two picks, thanks to the deal that sent Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia last year.
A much bigger Kings trade was the shocker that sent all-star DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans back in February. The Pelicans sent a first-round pick to Sacramento (along with Buddy Hield) in exchange for Cousins, but that pick is top-three protected. That means that if the Pelicans, who enter the lottery in the ninth spot, move into the top-three then they get to keep their pick and will have officially absolutely fleeced the Kings.
So the Kings, who have some interesting pieces like Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein, but no real direction or star power on the roster, could potentially have two picks in the top 11.
4. NEW YORK KNICKS
The Knicks are desperate. Sure, their roster boasts a game-changing future all-star in Kristaps Porzingis and promising young rookie centre Willy Hernangomez. But after that? It’s slim pickings, especially given that Carmelo Anthony will likely be moved and his trade value has plummeted over the course of his NYC tenure.
After finishing the season tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves with a 31-51 record, the Knicks lost a tie-breaker with Minny, meaning they now have the eight-best odds at landing the top pick. With a shoddy history in that region of the draft, to put it mildly, Knicks fans and the front office alike would love to move up in the draft where not only can they land a potential star who can bring winning basketball back to Madison Square Garden, but there’s also a smaller chance of Phil Jackson & Co. screwing it up.
For what it’s worth, when I take a moment out of each day to take a quick spin on RealGM‘s draft lottery simulator, the Knicks seems to land in the top three virtually half the time. Scientific, I know.
5. LAVAR BALL
2017’s most infamous sports dad hasn’t exactly hid his affinity to marketing and the importance he places on brand development when it comes to his son Lonzo’s NBA career.
He also has made it clear that he wants Lonzo, the second-ranked player on most draft boards (though reports have trickled that his stock is falling slightly as the draft nears), to play for his hometown Lakers in Los Angeles, the NBA’s biggest west-coast market.
Should the Lakers win the lottery, however, they’d be fools to pass on Fultz at first overall (even if they draft second an argument can be made that Josh Jackson fills a greater need given they drafted point guard D’Angelo Russell in the top-three just two seasons ago). And, of course, falling out of the the-top three would mean they lose their pick, opening the door for a less-visible market like Minnesota or Orlando to land Ball.
6. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
In some ways, the Timberwolves are already the envy of most lottery teams. They boast two franchise pillars and a legit Batman/Robin in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and will have a decent shot at landing a second-straight top-five pick heading into tonight.
It could mean either adding a point-guard-of-the-future like Ball, or get some much-needed complimentary scoring in the form of Duke’s Jayson Tatum. Or, a lucky draw in tonight’s lottery could give Minny an extremely valuable trade chip to flip for a more established player that could help accelerate the Timberwolves’ path to the playoffs.
7. BOSTON CELTICS
The Celtics famously own the Nets’ pick both this year and next, thanks to the 2013 trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn four years ago. The Nets happened to be the NBA’s worst team this season, meaning Boston has the best odds at landing the first overall pick.
It’s basically found money, so the Celtics and their fans are likely happy to be drafting anywhere near the top of the board after finishing first overall in the conference and having just booked their ticket to the East Finals.
But, needless to say, the notion of adding the best player in the draft, Fultz, to an already potent roster would be a major boost going forward. The scenario is somewhat reminiscent of when the San Antonio Spurs won the ’97 lottery and drafted Tim Duncan to a team that already boasted David Robinson, and would go on to win the championship the following season. Of course, Isaiah Thomas is no Robinson, and Fultz is certainly no Duncan, but the framework is there for an already good team to become great, fast.
Check back to Sportsnet.ca Wednesday morning for an updated post-lottery mock draft.