Winners and losers of the NBA Draft Lottery
MANILA, Philippines - While the duel between James Harden’s Houston Rockets and Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals was the main attraction on Wednesday, May 20 (PH time), the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery served as the perfect appetizer to the morning’s events.
Fans of teams who didn’t make the NBA playoffs don’t have much to look forward to from April to June, but there are two occasions when you’ll find them glued to a television screen during that stretch: the lottery, and the NBA Draft itself.
These fans spend nights praying for the lottery gods to be in their favor; praying for a lucky bounce of a ping-pong ball that could alter the fate of their favorite team forever. It worked for Cleveland fans in 2003. It worked for Pelicans fans in 2012. On Wednesday, it worked for fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers.
And for fans of the New York Knicks? Well, not so much.
Here are the winners and losers of the 2015 NBA Draft Lottery, along with a first version of a mock draft for the first 10 teams selecting:
Winner: Minnesota Timberwolves
The T-Wolves are going to have the top overall picks of the NBA Draft in 2013 (Anthony Bennett), 2014 (Andrew Wiggins), and 2015 (TBD). If they don’t trade their ’15 pick, they’ll be the first ever NBA team to have three straight no. 1 overalls in their roster.
Bennett’s future with the team is uncertain since he’s only shown a few flashes of being a trustworthy rotation piece, but Wiggins, the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year, is going to be at least an All-Star in the NBA.
The team’s other young pieces in Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad figure to stay unless they’re attached in a trade that lands Minnesota another veteran who can push the team from lottery contender to a postseason squad - think what David West did for Indiana in 2012.
Speaking of veterans, the Timberwolves already have one in Kevin Garnett, who will at the least tutor his young teammates about what it takes to win at the highest level and being professionals. He’s already started throwing away the phones of his teammates during pre-game locker room sessions. Vintage KG.
But Garnett’s skills on the court have diminished, and while reports have surfaced that he might play another year or two, it’s tough to predict if his 39-year-old body will permit him to do that. Minnesota, who had a league-best 25% chance to win the top pick and became the first bottom-ranked team to do so since the 2004 Orlando Magic, will use their top selection on either Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns.
Towns is already a defensive menace, and while his offense is more exciting for promise than substance right now, training and hard work will help him develop into a threat on that end of the floor. Okafor is a force in the post and already has humongous hands for catching passes from Rubio, but needs to improve on his jump and free throw shooting. On defense, he has ways to go.
Both guys are clearly the best of their class, and the Timberwolves having one of them guarantees the franchise to be a winner come draft day. Having Garnett to mentor either of them helps ensure they pan out long-term.
Whoever gets picked, however, will just have to make sure they keep their phones tucked and hidden. Oh, and also live with the thought that had they been drafted a spot later, they would instead be living in Los Angeles. Speaking of the Lakers…
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers had just an 11.9% chance of winning the top pick and were projected to get #4, but they ended up with #2, because the basketball gods love Los Angeles, hate the Knicks, and, because, of course, they’re the Lakers.
If you think it takes more than 4 years for Los Angeles to get back to the top on the higher echelon of NBA pyramid, then clearly, you haven’t read enough about NBA history. Someway, somehow, this franchise always finds a way to return to contender status quicker than almost anyone else in the league.
So, what does Los Angeles now have? They have at least one more year of Kobe Bryant, they have a returning Julius Randle, who was picked #7 last year and missed the entire season due to a broken leg, a great young talent in Jordan Clarkson (first team All-NBA Rookie), cap space, and, either Towns or Okafor.
Pack that team up with other pieces from free agency like a Jeff Green or Arron Afflalo (they both have player options though) and suddenly, this team is in the hunt for a playoff seed - assuming Clarkson’s first season wasn’t a fluke, Randle is in top shape, and Bryant stops thinking he’s 25-year-old who gets to take 28 shots a game.
They have a team option on Jordan Hill that they should use for a back-up big man. If they can have Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer come back on cheaper deals as well, that’s great too.
And then they’re going to have even more cap space in 2016, when Bryant’s mammoth $25 million contract comes off the books and they can go after someone like Kevin Durant, Chandler Parsons (player option), or Al Horford. If they can convince Bryant to return one more season on a discount - he’ll be tempted to climb even further up the all-time scoring list - then even better.
Loser: Philadelphia 76ers
The best case for the Philadelphia Tanking Master 76ers was to come away of the lottery with the #1 (they had a third-best 15.6% chance of winning), #6 (Los Angeles owed them a top 5-protected pick), and #11 (Miami owed them a top 10-protected pick) picks. Instead, they’ll go to the draft getting to pick #3 for a second straight year.
Maybe the entire tanking thing doesn’t work out after all?
On a brighter note - brighter being the least amount of optimism - Philadelphia now won’t have to choose between either Towns or Okafor to add to their already crowded young frontcourt pieces in Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. Sure, having a shot at the most talented players would have been great, but they now get to concentrate on finding a perimeter threat to complement their two bigs.
Loser: New York Knicks
The Knicks, who had the 2nd worst record in the NBA this past regular season and the worst season in their franchise’s history, had the 2nd-best shot at winning the top pick (19.9%).
Besides Carmelo Anthony (and maybe Andrea Bargnani), they have no player on their roster you can confidently say could be a key guy in a playoff team. Anthony just had knee surgery, is on the wrong side of 30, and both looked and played overweight last season. Bargnani played only 29 games. Their big-man rotation last year was Cole Aldrich, Jason Smith, Lou Amundson, and Quincy Acy.
Saying they could have really used Towns or Okafor, both franchise-changing potential guys, would be an understatement.
And, voilà, the Knicks landed the #4 pick instead.
Here’s something important to note: New York had just one less loss than the Timberwolves last regular season. They finished their last 6 games winning 3 meaningless games that, had they lost even just two instead, would have given them the worst record in the league.
But, they won those games against Philadelphia, Orlando, and Atlanta. So the Timberwolves got the 25% chance and 250 lottery ball combinations for the #1 pick, while the Knicks ended up with 199 combinations - none of which came out when the top 3 picks were selected.
Winner: Miami Heat
The Miami Heat had a 91% chance of retaining their #10 pick, but given the franchise’s luck over the past year - from losing the best player in the world for nothing, to losing Chris Bosh for the entire season due to blood clots, to having a relatively healthy Dwyane Wade but still missing the playoffs by a game - many of the team’s fans expected bad luck to strike again, leading to the 76ers getting their selection.
But alas, the lottery gods were in their favor and the Heat will get to add a lottery pick to their impressive roster that’s expected to be a major player in the East next season, health permitting. Chances are picking #10 won’t land a superstar, but guys like Paul George, Paul Pierce, and Caron Butler (whom Miami took in 2002) were taken in the same slot and became game-changers for their respective clubs. You just never know.
Pat Riley has been known for punting draft picks in favor of veterans, so Miami fans shouldn’t start obsessing over mock drafts without a grain of salt. But if Riley keeps the selection, it’s likely he’ll pick up someone like a Stanley Johnson or Kelly Oubre Jr. - guys who can back-up Wade and be playmakers off the bench.
The draft could be step one to the Heat’s bounce back from the nightmare of 2014-2015.
1. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl Anthony-Towns, Kentucky
The T-Wolves were the worst defensive team last regular season in terms of points allowed and a lot of that had to do with Nikola Pekovic’s inability to protect the rim. Towns is a much better paint defender than Okafor, and he already has some shooting range that could fit better with Dieng’s limited range. Flip Saunders may be enamored with Okafor as reported, but Towns is the way to go here.
2. Los Angeles Lakers: Jahlil Okafor, Duke
This should be a no-brainer.
3. Philadelphia 76ers: D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State
Russell is a fantastic scorer who had legitimate 3-point range in college (41.1%) that should carry over to the NBA. Philadelphia needs all the perimeter help they can get, and Russell is the best option here.
4. New York Knicks: Emmanuel Mudiay, China
Mudiay might be the most pro-ready player out of the draft, having gotten used to the 24-second shot clock system in China - along with the stress of traveling - as opposed to the 35-second shot clock in college. The Knicks also need an upgrade at point guard over the aging Jose Calderon.
5. Orlando Magic: Justise Winslow, Duke
A defensive line-up of Elfrid Payton Jr., Victor Oladipo, and Winslow would be scary for Orlando’s opponents - and even scarier if Tom Thibodeau coaches this team.
6. Sacramento Kings: Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia
For the longest time, Sacramento has searched for a power forward to complement DeMarcus Cousins. Porzingis’s ability to spread the floor and mobility will do just that. His only knock is that he needs to improve his rebounding.
7. Denver Nuggets: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky
Cauley-Stein is going to be a defensive force in the NBA and, at the least, develop into a reliable pick-and-roll weapon. Denver has a project big man in Jusuf Nurkic, but their unpredictable relationship with Kenneth Faried and his expensive $50 million contract makes investing on another big a wise choice.
8. Detroit Pistons: Mario Hezonja, Croatia
At 6-foot-8, Hezonja is a prototypical small forward in today’s NBA. Play him at the 2-guard and he’ll have a height advantage over almost all of his other opposing shooting guards. He already has impressive shooting and off-ball cutting abilities - great attributes to complement Andre Drummond.
9. Charlotte Hornets: Stanley Johnson, Arizona
The Hornets may be tempted to draft a big guy as insurance for Al Jefferson, who could leave via free agency, but their need for some help at the wing is of more importance. That’s why they’ll pick Stanley Johnson, a terrific shooting guard and small forward with a 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan and can score, rebound, pass, and defend.
10. Miami Heat: Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas
Oubre wasn’t the most consistent wing in college - he racked up a few 0-point performances - but his 7-foot-2 wingspan and respectable shooting ability will benefit a Heat team in need of some assurance for Wade and Luol Deng, who both have tendencies to miss games. At least he’ll be a stout defender off the bench.